You’ve been talking about getting organized and decluttering for weeks, months, years. You just can’t seem to get started. Get motivated. Get going. What’s holding you back?
Decluttering and organizing are not unlike other forms of self-care such as eating healthier, getting in shape or reducing your stress. Accomplishing these takes a plan, consistent action and focus.
It can be as simple as setting a goal, breaking that goal into small parts and making sure you have what you need to obtain and meet your goal. Just like walking – taking one step and then another – you are seemingly doing the same thing over and over.
What you are also doing is creating other types of change you might not notice right away in your body, your brain, your mood. All these changes work on each other to improve your actual, as well as perceived, sense of wellbeing. The same is true for organizing.
The beginning of the year is a great time to resolve to get organized. Even if you are feeling motivated, your chances of success will depend on your having a simple, actionable plan and the ability to overcome distractions, both internal and external.
Make a Plan
In the case of organizing, think about what you will need to get the job done.
Gathering your supplies is a form of taking action. Clearing a surface for sorting is also a form of taking action. Even getting your music set up is an action. The secret to success is taking small, achievable consistent action every time you embark on an organizing project.
For many this can be the most difficult part of embarking on an organizing project. You have great intentions but once the reality of going through items, making decision after decision and physically moving or transporting items, you will lose focus, get bored and maybe want to give up. Don’t!
Just like walking – taking one step and then another – you are seemingly doing the same thing over and over. But what you are also doing is creating other types of change you might not notice right away in your body, your brain, your mood. All these changes work on each other to improve your actual, as well as perceived, sense of wellbeing. The same is true for organizing.
When you focus on the tasks of physical organizing and decluttering, there are some very real ways you are enhancing your body and mind’s wellbeing.
For those with cognitive impairments caused by traumatic brain injury, stroke or age-related dementia, you may have a more difficult time with organizing. These conditions often impact your ability to process the information needed to organize your physical surroundings. With support and professional guidance these obstacles can be overcome or diminished.
Organizing physical items in your home – by sorting, editing and assigning where they live – is a form of self-care that improves your body, brain and mood. It may feel difficult, painful or even boring at first but with a plan, consistent action and focus, you will likely feel good, less stress and an improved attitude toward your life and wellbeing.
Lis McKinley, M.A., is a certified professional organizer, move manager and owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC based in Oakland, Ca.
Is your bathroom full of unused self-care items that you just don’t need anymore? Chances are many of them are still usable. Why not put them to use and do good in this time of uncertainty. You’ll feel good about not throwing away perfectly acceptable products while helping others.
Empty your bathroom cabinets of small and travel-size items you’ve collected from hotels, department stores, and airlines. Create Hygiene-To-Go Bags to donate to organizations such as The Salvation Army, Operation Care and Comfort, or local homeless or women’s shelters in your community.
Here’s how it works:
*Scented items can cause allergic reactions for some individuals or may leak scents into other donated items such as food.
Recently I learned about something called the Intention-Action Gap. The intention-action gap is a term used by people, mainly behavioral experts, who study the reasons why we do or don’t do things that are good for us.
In simple terms, the intention-action gap refers to the difference between what people say they would like / plan to do and what they actually do. For example, people say they want to get organized, or lose weight, or get more exercise or eat healthier but they don’t.
Behavioral experts explain this “gap” between our intentions and our actions in several ways but recently I came across an article written by Ozoda Muminova, a London-based researcher, business and organizational consultant who helped me understand this disconnect between what we want and what we actually do in a delightful and amusing way.
Basically she said that as humans there are certain barriers to changing our behaviors. Things like, habit, unknown impact, feeling isolated and overcoming difficulty. Her answer, in short: make it fun, make it social, make it personal and make it immediately rewarding.
Ozoda created this simple model to explain how to meet every barrier to change, with an enabler of change:
I got to thinking about this in the context of why so many of us, myself included, really want to achieve a certain goal like losing weight, exercising more and even getting organized, but can’t follow through. You may start but within a moment you find yourself procrastinating or putting it off again.
Inspired by these ideas of challenging each barrier with a positive enabler, consider this simple 5 step approach to changing old habits that get in the way of your happiness.
For every barrier you have to your goal, whether it be losing weight, exercising more, getting more organized or something else, do what you can to make it fun, make it relevant to you personally, make it possible to see change immediately so you’ll keep going, make it social, that is, look for evidence that others are doing it too and make it rewarding!
Let’s say you want to organize your closet. Here’s an example of how you could apply this simple plan to get it done!
1. Make it fun
Play your favorite upbeat music or ask your best (most fun) friend to help you. Put on your most colorful and silly clothes to get you inspired or set up sturdy bins and practice your awesome basketball dunk or free throw for those items you are sending to donation. The point is, if you make it fun and easy you are more likely to get it done.
2. Make it personally relevant
Be clear about why you are getting organized, in other words ask yourself, what’s in it for me? Will you enjoy being able to see your newly organized closet? Will it make it easier for you to find what you need when you need it? Will it make you feel good about yourself and what you’ve accomplished? If you can equate the task to something meaningful to you – my discarded stuff could help others, getting dressed in the morning will be easy and fun, I will feel good about showing off my home to my friends – you are more likely to get it done.
3. Look for immediate change
Next consider a plan for how to see change immediately. I recommend breaking the task into smaller pieces . Instead of attacking the entire closet, start with just the top shelf or one side before tackling the rest. Psychologically, we are motivated to continue once we see small changes. If you are tackling a larger space, clear off a surface – the floor or a table – as you are more likely to continue when you see clear space versus something you can’t see such as a drawer. Remember you can only climb a flight of stairs, one or maybe two, steps at a time. The point is you’ll still get there.
4. Make it social
If you are unable to enlist the help of your family or friends (or if you don’t want to), consider that you are not alone in your desire to get organized. The popularity of people like Marie Kondo and The Container Store are evidence of the trend in organizing. Why not set up a challenge with an online friend or find a virtual room for other like-minded people to share your progress with on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or FlyLady.net. You could also arrange to have an “accountability” partner. This is someone you know who you can report your progress to with no judgement. I often do this for my clients.
5. Make it rewarding
Finishing an organizing project is its own reward. I know the satisfaction I feel when I complete a large organizing project for a client and sometimes I want to celebrate my accomplishment with my crew. We may go out for dinner or to a local tap room for a beer or I may just go home and take a luxurious hot, bubble bath.
The intention-action gap explains why we can’t overcome our resistance to change or existing habits. Understanding the 5 barriers to change and replacing them with these 5 “enablers” of change can turn bad habits into new behaviors that lead to a happier and more satisfied life.
I believe getting organized is about making room in your life for what you enjoy the most. So now that you’re done, go do something just for you or do it with others so you can celebrate your success together!
Every so often I have to declutter something in my home.
I don’t want to lose touch with what my clients experience and I like what it does for my peace of mind. It frees me of some amorphous burden I sometimes experience in other parts of my life. It’s like a form of exercise or meditation for stress relief.
Today’s lesson is brought to you by hair conditioner.
You see, I have very thick, wavy hair that gets tangled easily if I don’t use some kind of detangler or conditioner. Years ago, maybe once when I was a child, I was washing my hair and I’d run out of detangler. The next thing I knew, my mother was doing her best to detangle my matted mess and causing me much pain and anguish in the process.
I never thought about it until today but while I was decluttering my bathroom and utility cabinets I noticed I had a lot of hair conditioner. Even more striking however was how much I resisted letting it go, even though I wanted to declutter. I thought, “How many bottles of hair conditioner do I really need?”
In fact, I thought about all the rationale questions I ask my clients:
“If it disappeared could it easily be replaced? YES.”
“Do I love this particular bottle? NO.”
“Did I have enough already? ABSOLUTELY!”
So when it came down to really examining my own resistance to letting go of an abundance of hair conditioner, I had to trace it back to that moment of pain. I never wanted to be caught without it again. “Doing so,” my brain told me, “would surely lead to pain and suffering.”
In California recently, thousands of people have lost their homes to wildfires. I know from my experience as a professional organizer and from friends who have lost their homes in fires, that going through extreme trauma and loss can be devastating. The recovery process is long, complicated and fraught with real fears of attachment and letting go.
I once had a client who had survived the loss of two homes through fire. Her collection of emergency supplies could fill a small garage.
Fear lives in your body and your psyche for a long time. Fear of loss, fear of change, fear of re-experiencing pain. Fear is such a strong and powerful emotion, it doesn’t matter how much time goes by or even what caused it in the first place; It continues to rule our behaviors and our habits.
So what can you do when you notice fear ruling you at a time when you need to feel strong?
Let’s say you need to downsize your home because you are moving to a smaller space. When it comes to doing the simplest decluttering, pay attention when you see yourself holding on to something for apparently no obvious reason. Notice what emotions come up.
Ask yourself,”what does this item remind me of?” Don’t minimize it, no matter how silly it may seem. If a memory gets triggered, allow yourself to review it.
Imagine letting go of the item and see what comes up and what you would do if it happened.
There is amazing information in our brains that can help with not just the act of organizing or decluttering but can also give us insight into ourselves to help us heal from our biggest traumas or even small ones. The pain is real.
The question is can you control how you react to it now? Doing so will empower you to take control of the fear.
Once you can objectively examine the real benefit of getting to where you want to go, you will realize the real price is holding onto an old fear when you no longer need to be afraid or even better, when you know you’ve survived.
I can throw out that old hair conditioner now.
How to keep your office organized when it’s is in your bedroom
You are finally in bed after a long day. You cover yourself with a blanket; feel the warm comfort of your pillow beneath your head and the soft, cool sheets against your tired body. You begin to relax into a night of slumber when you are suddenly startled by the pinging sounds of your computer sending notifications about tomorrow’s busy day. You get up and turn down the volume and get back in bed. That’s when you notice the pile of papers strewn across your desk, in varying heights and reminding you of a slew of unfinished tasks, unpaid bills and projects still yet to be started. You shut your light out, hoping in darkness you will forget the site of all that you have left undone. All of a sudden you see the blinking of all your devices in random rhythms, your router, your modem, your phone. Your room lights up with a blue blinking glow. You cover your face with a pillow and somehow manage to fall into an exhausted sleep.
In general, I don’t think a bedroom is a great place for your office. Your bedroom should be a place of respite, relaxation and most of all sleep. Yet sometimes, there is no choice. Space is at a premium. You share a home or an apartment and there is no other available space to work.
This doesn’t mean you should lose sleep when your office is in your bedroom. Here are some ways you can minimize those distractions without sacrificing your personal productivity.
The other day I decided to organize my one and only recipe binder. Most recipes I look up online. A few I take from cherished cookbooks and an old 3-ring, 1-inch recipe binder I’ve had for years. I found myself wanting to organize the binder recently after it took me a little too long find a recipe I needed.
When I started the process of organizing the binder- emptying the contents, sorting each recipe by category, disposing of the ones I knew I would never make again, then putting them back in order – I thought to myself, “I really don’t feel like doing this right now.”
Being organized is all about developing an organizing habit. It requires a thought, a motivation, an acton and a result.
Developing an organizing habit comes from a desire to continually survey your environment and be willing to improve your surroundings so you can function on a day to day basis with more ease.
It takes a willingness to regularly decide whether or not this thing or that still serves you or adds value to your life. Once decided, it then should be followed up with action – a choice to retain and store it logically and aesthetically, or to let it go to to find a new life somewhere else or to dispose of it safely and conscientiously. It’s not easy. Even sometimes for an organizer.
I had no strong motivation, nothing forcing me to undertake this little project. I also realized if I wanted to find a recipe in the binder, I still could, if I was willing to tolerate the inconvenience of looking for it (I was). There were other more pressing priorities in my life. I’d just returned from a trip to New York and was still adjusting to the time change and catching up on my to-do list.
It’s nice to be organized but let’s face it, it’s not always easy to get organized. When do you really have to get organized? It differs for everyone but in general here are some reasons you don’t have to get organized:
Here’s when you probably should think about getting organized:
I frequently meet people who when they find out I’m a professional organizer will say, “oh, I need you!” but in fact they really don’t because they’ve learned to live with and tolerate their cluttered closets and messy garages. They put up with the fights with their kids or their spouses. Or they just don’t feel like doing it even when someone can do it for them because it’s one more thing on their to-do list.
Most people realize the time to get help is when the disorder exceeds their ability to tolerate the consequence. It’s when it costs them more in money or peace of mind to do nothing. Sadly, this is also when they are least equipped to take on the task. Like me in that moment with recipe binder, they are just too tired and there’s too much else they have to get done first.
Think you want to organize your office? What’s it costing you not to? What can’t you do now? How would it help you if you could find what you need when you needed it?
Want to organize your kitchen, living room or closets? What’s it costing you not to? Are you unable to prepare a meal? Are you fighting with your spouse because there’s no place to sit and play with your kids in your living room?
Are you feeling sick to your stomach every time you open a closet, cabinet or cupboard because the mess is unbearable?
Are you moving and waking up nights thinking about how the heck you’re going to get all the stuff from your 2,500 square-foot home into a 1,200 square-foot condo with no garage!?
I often say to my clients, don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff. What I mean by this is consider the cost of not taking action.
If it’s small, like my deciding not to organize my recipe binder right now, there is relatively little consequence. But if you defer taking action or decide you can do it all yourself, consider the cost to your health, your marriage, even your dreams and goals. For those large painful organizing projects that are impeding your life or causing you great stress, it’s not whether you can afford to do it, it’s whether you can afford not to.
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 when we want to change something about ourselves or our homes.
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, such as when we decide to get organized, 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.
This is the phase marked by general feelings of dissatisfaction with the status quo. It’s a kind of restlessness combined with a heightened level of awareness. It may come about after you’ve read a book, seen a TV show or heard someone talk about something that makes you uncomfortable, angry, sad, frustrated or overwhelmed. Those close to you may have even hinted to you that something was wrong. You’ve been feeling “not yourself” but you’re not ready to take action yet.
The sad part is some people stay at this phase forever. This happens when the pain of changing exceeds the pain of the status quo.
Such is the case for some people with severe and chronic disorganization or Chronic Hoarding Disorder This happens when people pose a risk to their own (or other’s) health and safety by retaining extreme levels of indoor and outdoor clutter.
Unfortunately, the anxiety they feel when they consider letting go of possessions, no matter what condition, can exceed the pain of living in spaces that are completely unusable. Thus they remain stuck in a kind of limbo until forced to make a change against their own will. Most people who feel disorganized are not “Hoarders.” Instead we all fall somewhere along a spectrum from minimalist to severe acquirer. Most people are somewhere in the middle.
When you ask yourself the question, What needs changing or what needs organizing? You are at this phase. This is where the soul-searching begins. You start thinking about resources for answers but you’re still apprehensive about verbalizing your thoughts or asking for help. Early attempts to express your dissatisfaction may result in your retreating to your shell especially if you are feeling unsure of yourself or if you are concerned about the judgment of others.
At this point you may be ready to look for some information or answers to help you better understand your feelings. These are actions that would include talking to friends and family as well as gathering information through research, online searches or consulting with professionals. You may start reading or attending talks or asking for advice. You’re dipping your toes in the water but you’re not yet ready to dive in. You’ve started to realize you can’t make the change you want by yourself and you may even start to feel some hope as you move to the next phase of being ready to take some action.
You are now committed to using the physical, emotional or financial resources you have to start making some changes. You’ve hired a professional, received some good advice, or resolved to take action yourself. You may be feeling both relieved and impatient as you realize you want to make change happen sooner rather than later.
During the “Doing” phase, you experience the ups and downs of progress. Slip-ups may occur and you may feel discouraged. Motivation is replaced by the need for habits and contingency plans. Your ability to achieve your desired change is dependent upon your ability to withstand the disappointments, backsliding and obstacles. This is where planning is so critical to the process of change. If you don’t have a plan of action, you may get to this part of your journey and want to give up. Having a plan is something you should have in place by this phase. This is where hiring a professional organizer is worthwhile because he or she will have the expertise to help you plan for all contingencies, anticipating problems and suggesting alternatives.
Circumstances change from inside and out. Making small changes can have a big impact on your life. As a result of the changes you make and the actions you take, major events may occur. You can experience these as both “good” and “bad”. You’ll gain greater clarity around goals and desires and your energy increases but you may also see the unexpected consequence of the actions you’ve taken. People around you may behave differently towards you. Some may try to sabotage you. If you need to, seek some outside advice from friends or professionals who have tread the same path or who can advise you about how to manage unsupportive people. When you get to where you want to be, you can reflect on how far you’ve come.
Moving is expensive (and stressful)
The American Moving and Storage Association states that the average cost of an interstate household move is about $4,300 (distance of 1,225 miles) and the average cost of an intrastate move is about $2,300 (4 movers at $200 per hour). Both average moving costs are for 7,400 pounds. If you live in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York or Washington DC, the costs are even higher. Since movers typically charge based on volume or weight, it follows that the less you have the less it will cost. This is just one great reason to downsize your home. Here are four more great reasons to downsize your home, moving or not:
Her calendar is packed full of appointments, events and meetings. Her cell phone rings, buzzes and beeps almost constantly with notifications that go unanswered. Her unopened emails go on for pages. Her enormous home is tidy, beautifully decorated and as warm as she is but every inch of her storage – closets, cabinets, cupboards, drawers – are packed full. There isn’t an inch to spare.
Barbara is like the juggler who can keep ten plates spinning simultaneously at the top of ten poles without dropping them because each of them are equally important.
But when you treat everything in your life as equally important, spinning those 10 plates for days, weeks, months or even years (not just minutes) because you believe or behave as if everything is equally important, eventually one of two things happen. One or more of the plates break or you do.
It can be a quick break or a slow one but even the juggler knows when it’s time to stop.
When Barbara said to me recently that she’d turned down a number of invitations because she realized they weren’t worth her time, I felt a sense of relief for her because she was discovering that saying no meant she was finally saying yes… to herself. I also knew she had finally started to see the cost of making everything in her life equally important.
For every task, project, meeting, coffee date, or invitation you receive, before you do it, take it on or schedule it, before you say yes, ask yourself these 3 questions:
1) Is it important to me?
Is this your priority or someone else’s? Say yes to you before you say yes to someone else. If you are the kind of person that likes to be helping others but find yourself doing so at your own expense, it’s okay to say, “thank you for thinking of me but I just don’t have the time right now.”
2) If I don’t do this will it cost me?
What would happen if you didn’t do it? If you’re not sure whether to take something on, imagine not doing it. You don’t want to end up spending a little effort on lot of things instead of a lot of effort on what’s truly important.
3) Is it worth my time?
Only you can answer this question. If it saves you from stress and doesn’t cost you something to say no, then say no. You’ll only be saying yes to what’s really worth your time.
The bottom line is don’t hold on to stuff, projects, even old beliefs about yourself when they are no longer useful to you. Be willing to be brave. Be willing to make hard choices for the bigger rewards. Make room in your life for what matters most!