Posts Tagged ‘Growth and Change’

The Meaning of Things

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Recently I’ve been thinking about things. Not things in a colloquial sense but literal things, objects: the computer; my grandmother’s sculpture; the four pairs of eyeglasses I own. I’ve also been thinking about memories. What it means to have a memory? What it means to lose your memory? What it means to lose your memories, as thousands of people did last week when they lost their homes in the Northern California fires, just about 90 minutes from my home in Oakland.

I work with people nearly every week helping them decide what to do when they want (or need) to let go of stuff. Not just the things that remind them of who they once were, or places they once visited but also regular things too; Things they find useful or once did.

Two of my close friends lost their home in the Northern California fires. They lost everything they owned. They had just enough time to escape with their dogs and the clothes they must have quickly put on since it was 1 a.m. when they evacuated. My friends are extremely resilient. They’ve chosen to move forward, not look back. I know it must be hard. I wonder how often during the day they face the inconvenience of no longer having small things, or feel the waves of grief flow over them when they think about the loss of more important stuff.

I’ve heard many of my clients say to me, “I can’t let that go. It reminds me of ….” I sometimes ask, what would happen if (blank) should disappear? Would the memory go with it? In some cases it could and it does. I think this is what is so profoundly difficult about the process of getting organized, downsized or as I like to call it “curating” your life’s contents.

A long time ago I was hired to clear out a small storage unit belonging to a woman who had died and whose family was not interested in claiming the contents. There was in fact nothing of significant monetary value left behind but there were “memories.”  Commemorative plaques; a community service award; several family photos, a child’s simple drawings as well as knickknacks and other personal items. Things that were obtained, given, created for her and about her. Without her, I realized they didn’t mean much to me but they meant something to her.

People who lost everything in the Northern California fires last week and for that matter from the storms in Texas and Puerto Rico just days earlier, are heard in the news saying how “grateful” they are for having their families, for having survived, for knowing how “lucky” they were. It’s an amazing testament to their humanity that they can recognize this at one of the lowest points of their lives. And I have no doubt that they too are grieving the loss of their memories and possessions.

I’m not sure what all this has taught me as a professional organizer or even just as another human being. Of course, like many, I’ve considered what I would do and feel if I was in a similar circumstance. As a professional, I wholeheartedly encourage planning whether it be creating a safety plan with your family, an emergency kit or getting your most treasured memories and important documents digitized.

Being prepared also means helping those you love be better prepared to grieve by making your wishes known ahead of time, like a living will. This type of document lets others know what matters most to you when you can no longer make those decisions yourself. A dear friend did this about six months before she passed away and it made a world of difference to her closest friends and family. She wrote her plans down. At the top of the page she’d written the title, “End Of Life Matters.” The irony was not lost on either of us.

Last week my crew and I helped a couple downsize their home of twenty plus years. It’s something I’ve done many, many times yet each experience is different. Together and separately my clients made literally thousands of decisions in just a few days. Some of those decisions were easy. Many more were not. Even the most seemingly benign objects brought back memories of family gatherings, professional obligations, personal triumphs and poignant losses. Without context they are just things but for them they represented the meaning of their lives.

When my clients let go of things sometimes the memories go with them. I see my clients resist and I feel that struggle. Sometimes I even feel it directed at me though I know it’s not. I tell them, “I don’t have an opinion about what you keep. I do, however, have an opinion about helping you get to where you want to go.”

Letting go of things can sometimes feel like choosing to let go of memories. And who chooses to let go of their memories?! At least with my clients the choice is theirs. This wasn’t the case for the people in the recent fires. Do their memories go with them even when they have lost everything?

I hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confronting our monsters

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At 8:00 this morning, I had my own private celebration. It took place in my head.

An hour earlier I was driving and thinking about how terrifying it must be for some of my clients to do the one thing that scares them the most; To finally confront what’s kept them from moving forward in their lives because they feel overwhelmed and stuck and it’s showing up as piles of papers, boxes and who knows what else, on their desks, on the floor, in their drawers, everywhere.

I was thinking about what it means to do the one thing that scares you the most and to have the courage to do it anyway because you know you have to. Because you know not doing so will have far greater consequences.

For people who are chronically disorganized, the consequence of not facing their fears can be enormous.  For some it’s a loss of control over their lives. For others, it’s isolation. I know people who have lost their children, their spouses and their very security because of their inability to face their fears head on.  I also know people who have shown great courage and have discovered the meaning of making room in their lives.

My fears are about public speaking. And yet, as a small business person I know the value it brings to others in the form of information and sometimes even inspiration. But I do it quite frankly because I have to. Working with people in their homes and in their offices or helping them move is tactical but it’s also very personal. I know that if people see me and feel I am someone they can trust, and recognize I  have the expertise to help them, then they often will remember me when it comes time to organize their offices, or their bedrooms or help them plan and oversee their move to a new home.

The Paper MonsterThis is what I was thinking at seven o’clock this morning, on my way to speak to a group of fifty small business owners and entrepreneurs about how to face their fears, specifically about how to confront their own Paper Monsters.  I did this presentation a few weeks earlier and it had not lived up to my expectations  – perfectionism, my monster, rearing it’s ugly head, yet again –  and now I was getting ready to face him again.  Was I scared? Petrified, which is why at that moment I started thinking about my clients.

“If  they can have the courage to hire me, then I can damn well find the courage to face my fears as well, ” I thought.  And so I did. And it went fine. It wasn’t perfect but it was good enough. And that’s good enough. But to be honest, I’m glad it’s over. At least for today I can celebrate.

Tomorrow, I do it again.

My Top 10 Must Do’s

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What would you do if you learned you only had a year to live?

Fortunately, this hasn’t happened to me (at least not today) but I recently compiled a list of ten things I want to do in my life. I shared my list with a group of about 40 other women who also shared theirs during a monthly women’s social group I attend.

The idea of a “Bucket List” was made popular by the movie of the same name starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. The movie is about two terminally ill men (portrayed by Nicholson and Freeman) on a final road trip with a wish list of things to do before they “kick the bucket.”

I haven’t seen the movie but I would bet that the movie character’s lists don’t veer too far from what I heard from the women in my group.  Sure, there were some creative and unusual wishes: “Get the keys to every major museum in the world (and) go in at night and wander around with an art historian,” to “Witness a contact from outer space,” but mostly I was struck by how similar our lists were.

The most common themes included the desire to experience the natural world (animals, landscapes, oceans, parks); travel; grow old to see our children (including nieces and nephews) and grandchildren thrive; be healthy or live healthier (presumably as compared to how we are now); do something creative or adventurous; learn a new skill; contribute to our communities in a meaningful and lasting way; and most, if not all wanted to experience more love in our lives either toward those closest to us, toward those we hope to meet and not surprisingly, toward ourselves.

With the possible exception of growing older in health, it was reassuring to realize that just about all these themes are achievable and for the most part, well within our control.

Yet, sadly, many of us never even get close to living our dreams. Instead we get caught up in the demands of daily life, the burden of keeping up with too much stuff and too much information (seemingly urgent but rarely important) and the false belief that our heart’s desires can only be achieved through some miraculous intervention or enormous compromise.

I am a victim of this belief as much as anyone. So much so that when I tried to imagine how I would achieve my greatest wish – to take a trip on the famed Orient Express from London through, Strasbourg and finally to Paris and back, the only way I could imagine my wish becoming reality was to wait until I was diagnosed with some terminal disease and then cash in my retirement money to pay for it (since I probably would no longer have a need for a “retirement.” )

Here is my “bucket” list if you’re curious:

  1. Take a week long vacation on the actual Orient Express – London, Strasbourg, Paris, and back.
  2. Visit a wildlife preserve in Africa
  3. Vacation in the  North Italian coastal region of the Cinque Terre
  4. Write and have a book published by a major publishing house
  5. Meet Joni Mitchell
  6. Be on television, featured for my expertise.
  7. Learn to speak Spanish
  8. Go to Esalen at Big Sur and soak in the hot tubs overlooking the Pacific
  9. Get a dog
  10. See the Aurora Borealis (aka the “northern lights”)

The absurdity of my realization is the essential dilemma we all face. Do we choose a life of practicality, security and presumed “peace of mind,” or do we throw the dice and risk losing it all (whatever ‘all’ is) to experience our dreams but at the possible expense of our long term survival?

I wish I had an answer to this question. I don’t. All I know is that I only have one life to live (excuse the soap opera reference) and at the end of it I’m not going to wish I’d spent more time regretting what I never did.

How An Anti-Socialite Became a Joiner

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The famous comedian, Groucho Marx once said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

I grew up with a family of non-joiners. This got passed down to me in many ways. I never was a Girl Scout (or a Brownie) as all my friends were. I didn’t attend Sunday school.  I never played team sports, except one summer when I joined my camp’s co-ed softball team and they put me in left field hoping I’d never have to catch a ball.   I never joined clubs in high school. I didn’t even attend my high school graduation, although once I volunteered to MC a high school fashion show but was  replaced by a young Puerto Rican kid who wore jeans with sharp creases that I envied. My mother never ironed any of my jeans. She was too busy working a full-time job as a copywriter.

So when I started my own business, I learned quickly that getting business meant I was going to have to renounce my family’s anti-social culture and become ‘a joiner.’

The first group I joined was the one for my industry, the National Association of Professional Organizers also known as NAPO.  I have been a member of NAPO for almost three years.  Just learning  there was a group for organizers was a huge relief. It meant that I wasn’t crazy to think I could make money helping people avoid or at least reduce chaos in their lives.  I was always good at this, but getting paid for it? Sign me up!

Joining NAPO was a great way to embody my new organizer identity and meet other like-minded professionals who, like me, discovered their passion for helping people find the space in their homes, offices and lives to focus on what truly mattered to them.

After NAPO, I joined another related group called the Institute for Challenging Disorganization or ICD.  ICD started as a subgroup of NAPO in 1992 but eventually split off to become it’s own organization. It’s focus is education and research about chronic disorganization, more popularly known as “hoarding.” Their mission is to help people with chronic disorganization, but they are also a great resource for professional organizers and other related professionals such as mental health counselors.  ICD offers its members free teleclasses on a variety of subjects related to the understanding, treatment and support of people who have been impacted by this sometimes crippling need to acquire and hoard. For me, as an organizer, it has helped me better understand my clients tendencies toward disorganization as I believe the seeds of hoarding exist in all of us.

I am also part of a group called EBUG. For months I couldn’t remember what the acronym stood for so I just called it East Bay Uncommon Girls. It’s actually East Bay UNITED Gals though I’m not sure exactly what unites us other than we are all women looking to have some more fun and friendship in our lives.

EBUG, which currently claims about 200 members, was started by a group of four friends so they would have more opportunities to socialize and feel less isolated after a long day’s work.  EBUG is known as “the book club without the books.” It’s perfect for someone like me who hasn’t read a piece of fiction since Clinton was in the White House. EBUG meets roughly once a month for all kinds of interesting and fun member-led events such as chocolate and wine tastings, kayaking, outdoor hiking, palmistry and Tarot card readings, movie nights, barbeques and belly dancing.

I originally joined thinking it would be a great opportunity to network without the usual pressure to collect business cards but it’s turned out to be so much more. I’ve made some great new friends (who thought that would be possible in mid-life?) and after nearly 25 years of living in California actually feel part of a community, not a geographic one but a community of smart, savvy, fun-loving women. Now that I think of it, maybe that’s why it’s call United gals.

Earlier this year, I went to a networking event sponsored by the Mount Diablo Business Women, or MDBW,  a group whose mission is to enhance it’s members “business, social, professional, and personal well being.” I first learned about this group from someone I met at EBUG.

I confess,  I went initially because it was held at a really nice hotel.  I figured if the meeting was a bust I could still walk around the elegant, marble-floored lobby and pretend I was a guest. Instead, what I discovered was another great group of women, only these women, had taken the plunge to start their own businesses, like me.   MDBW is not so much about exchanging business cards as it is  about developing relationships and learning new skills and perspectives as fellow travelers on the road to success.  Besides, that the food is really good!

Then, this past September you could say I really drank the Kool-aid. I joined BNI.  BNI stands for Business Networking International.  It is the networking group of all networking groups. Their whole philosophy can be boiled down into their two word motto, “givers gain” or to give it a more street interpretation, ‘I watch your back, you watch mine.’

According to it’s website, BNI generated business referrals resulting in $2.8 billion worth of business for its’ members in the past year. It was founded in 1985 by Dr. Ivan Misner, an author, columnist and networking guru.

I joined BNI for one reason. I wanted more business.  The meeting format is not for the faint of heart. Some have even called it ‘cult-like.’ I prefer to think of it as enthusiastically supportive. Each group works on a one-profession-per-chapter model to eliminate competition or the perception of it within each group. Before I joined, I almost joined. Two years earlier I had learned about BNI from someone I knew through EBUG.  I submitted an application (yes, one needs to be approved by the individual chapter members) then subsequently withdrew it because I just wasn’t ready.

Membership really depends on your ability to make referrals, and that requires knowing people and being in situations to know more of them. It also means being a serious business owner. The cost to join is steep (about $1000 a year) for a sole proprietor but I expect to make back my investment soon.   So two years after I almost joined,  the stars aligned to let me know I was ready this time around.  It came in the form of another organizer who told me there was an “opening” for an organizer at my group, which by the way, meets at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. every Tuesday. Still, I have to say that I am really glad I joined. Partly because I genuinely like the people – people’s true colors are vivid that early in the morning – and partly because they have a great track record of upholding the ‘givers gain’ model.  It’s like knowing you got the best seat in the house or got picked to play on the winning team.

Having never been on any team (with the exception of that camp softball league) I have to confess, in spite of my anti-social upbringing, I like it.  With all due respect to Groucho and my family, being a joiner, afterall, ain’t that bad.

 

 

Disorganization is a symptom not a cause

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Question markPeople often say they can’t get things done because they are too disorganized.

The causes of disorganization can be both personal as well as situational. In either case it requires an ability to make effective decisions.

Even with plenty of space, you can still be disorganized. Why? Because getting organized requires taking action and action requires decision making.  Disorganization is often the result of delayed decision making or deficits in decision making. If you find you have difficulty making decisions it may be because:

  1. The task ahead of you is too overwhelming
  2. You are afraid that you’ll lose something or accidentally get rid of something you’ll need later
  3. You group important and non-important items together
  4. You don’t have the time, mental capacity or physical ability to devote to organizing
  5. People around you do not support your organizing goals and may even sabotage them intentionally or otherwise
  6. You don’t have a system for maintaining your changes once you’ve made them. In other words having a S Y S T E M will Save You Space Time Energy and Money
  7. Your space does not efficiently accommodate the stuff you have such as a poorly designed closet or a storage area is inaccessible, broken or filled to capacity
  8. You’re afraid of the consequence of your decision
  9. You’re not really motivated to decide – that is there’s nothing compelling you enough to take an action
  10. Poor health in the moment or on an ongoing basis. This can be temporary such as fatigue or more chronic such as neurological conditions that affect your brain’s ability to distinguish between options.

If you experience these or any other moments of indecisiveness, try one of these ideas to get you unstuck:

  1. Give yourself less options: Instead of focusing on all that you have to do, choose the two that get your attention the most and pick one of them. (Flip a coin if you have to.)
  2. Ask yourself if making the decision will improve your life in any way and if so, how?
  3. Recognize that not everything is important and that some things are more important than others. Imagine you had one hour to leave your home, what would you take with you? What would you leave behind? What do you know you would be able to find again if you had to?
  4. Understand and accept your limitations. Most of us are good at some things but not at everything. Not even dentists can fill their own cavities.
  5. Take the advice of people who have what you want. Don’t listen to people who discourage you if you suspect they don’t have your best interests at heart or if they have something to gain from your staying stuck.
  6. Look for alternatives. If you can’t afford the high-end closet organizing system you dream about, get a design estimate for one anyway, then look for ways you can build or create your own system that will accomplish the same functional goals even if you have to let go of the pretty wood finishes.
  7. Imagine the worst. Go ahead, take yourself through the scenario of what you are really afraid of and then ask yourself, “Is it true?” or “Will this really happen?” If you are convinced it will,  then try a different route.
  8. Get absolutely clear on what’s in it for you.  What would you stand to gain or lose? Is this really that important to you? If not, then it’s not going to motivate you to take action. Find something that you absolutely care about without question.
  9. Do nothing for a while and wait to see if anything changes. Do you feel worse? Are others impacted by your indecision and do their feelings matter to you? Are you stressed by your own inaction? These are the times to ask for help since you know that something has to change but you know you can’t do it alone.
  10. Ask yourself what is this costing me in terms of my time, money or my quality of life? Are you spending your time doing what you want to be doing? Are you able to afford what you need and a few extras too without feelings stressed about the consequences? Does your life feel rich with the things that really matter to you be them friends, family, community, a sense of purpose, fun, health or whatever else makes you happy? If not, then it’s time to make a change.

What a lobster can teach us about change.

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I’m going to tell you a short story about a lobster to illustrate what happens to us when we experience change and more importantly when we are called to take action in response to change.

As a lobster ages and grows, it needs to shed it’s shell. It does this by finding the safest place it can in the rough surf of the ocean and far away from other predators. As it matures, its shell starts to constrict around it’s body. If it didn’t shed its shell, it would suffocate and die. This means that until its new shell hardens, the lobster will be completely vulnerable to the elements. It has an instinctual need to risk its life in order to grow and thrive.

For many of us “change,” even when it’s for the good, makes us feel like that lobster.  We know we need to move forward but sometimes the thought scares us as much as being thrown into a violent ocean current.  Not changing can also mean suffocating in our own shells.  It’s no wonder facing change and taking action can be so overwhelming.

Change, though not a linear process, is like the lifespan of the lobster. It involves a process of feeling uncomfortable enough to make a change that will bring us to know ourselves better.  It involves several phases which I’ve narrowed down to six.

To read more about the Six Phases of Change, subscribe to Back On Track, the monthly e-guide from LET’S MAKE ROOM or email me at lis@letsmakeroom.com.