Editor’s Note: Cara Lanz is a freelance writer, digital marketer, and self-proclaimed word nerd. She is also a god-send to me. This month she is my guest blogger. When she isn’t creating digital content for clients across the country, she is blogging on MidwesternHomeLife, her own lifestyle website. She loves to share simple and (sometimes) healthy recipes, debt-free tips, and inspiration for creating a happy home in the heartland. You can find Cara at https://midwesternhomelife.com/.
I knew I needed to declutter my dishes when it came down to a math problem I just couldn’t solve. I had two people in the house and a dinnerware cabinet brimming with — among other things — 21 dinner plates, 12 salad plates, 17 saucers, and 20 soup bowls.
Now, in my defense, they were all matching– well, as matching as Fiestaware can be — and neatly organized. No haphazard piles or plastic containers shoved in there. So, on its face, it didn’t really appear as though I needed to declutter my dishes.
But the math just didn’t work. Plus, I had other cabinets bursting at the seams with things I wanted to move into my dinnerware cabinet.
How would I go about deciding what to keep and what to get rid of?
Enter Lis McKinley, owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM. As an organizational expert, she’s helped hundreds of others figure this very thing out.
But, I wondered: Would she finally be the one to pry my superfluous Fiestaware from my gripped fingers, or would I be the one and only person she has not been able to help? I really had no idea which way this was going to go.
So we set up a Zoom meeting.
When I first got on a call with Lis, I noticed two things right away. She’s warm and welcoming and made every crazy organizational dilemma I had seem like it was totally normal, and she’s heard it a million times. She’s also extremely decisive in that teacher kind of way that just made me want to do what she said because I knew she knew what she was talking about.
She laid out our plan for exactly what we were going to do during our time together. She even had a clever acronym for her process: S.P.A.C.E. She gently took the time to explain what each of the steps meant and made sure I understood them.
For the next hour, we:
Here’s what that looked like.
To get started, I pulled all my dishes out of the cabinet and put them into like piles. Bowls with bowls, plates with plates. Not only did this help me to see with clarity exactly what I was dealing with, but it also gave me an empty cabinet, aka, a clean slate, to start all over again.
The goal of purging was to make decisions about which items I wanted to keep, based on four criteria: Do I love them, want them, need them, or use them? We had really thoughtful conversations and she asked me things like, “If you saw that in a store, would you buy it again?” We also discussed how often we entertain, how many adults and kids, and which dishes we need to accommodate them. Then we pared down from there. It all made perfect sense.
We also sifted through things that I knew just weren’t going to go back into the cupboard. These super fussy 2-part martini chiller/chilled appetizer glasses, for example. Also, some heirloom dishes that are pretty enough, but I’m just not using them.
During the assign process, I had to find a home for everything. To figure that out, I had to think about where I would most likely look for things if I needed to use them. So a good amount of my dinnerware was assigned back to the cupboard.
Those fussy 2-part glasses — and other things I’ll never use again — went straight into the “Donate” box. The heirloom dishes went into my “Ask Mom If She Wants Them Back” box. But that wasn’t the end of it. Lis made me pick a date when I would drop off the “Donate” items and send a pic to my mom of the items that were potentially going to boomerang back to her. So, now I was accountable. But, it was all on a timeline that I chose.
Now it was time to put things back. Contain my pared-down dishes into the cupboard. But it wasn’t just, “Okay now put everything back.” Lis asked me to think about each item I was putting back and where it would be best to put it. We had discussions about things like, “Well, we really use these bowls more than those bowls,” and “I can’t reach those plates very well when the dishwasher is open.” So it was super strategic, and I could tell it was going to set me up for long-term success.
Also, Lis knew one of my goals was to get rid of so much stuff in this cupboard that I could free up my entire top shelf, drop it down to a level I could actually reach, and transport items I use all the time from another hard-to-reach cupboard. So while Lis sat in the Zoom room, I hauled over a bar stool, climbed up on my counter, and dropped down that top shelf. Just like that, that cupboard became 33.33% more useful to me!
During the equalize phase — this was the tidying up at the end of it all — I easily put things back where they belonged. Lis explained that the process of assigning and containing is what makes it possible to equalize, because I had already established a home for everything.
I had a pile of plates and bowls that were going to be put away into my pantry for when I needed them for a large party. I had certain dishes I only use for my food blog that needed to go where those things live. At last, everything was where it should be.
By the end of our hour and a half together, my cupboard was whittled down to a svelte 10 dinner plates, 10 salad plates, and 10 soup bowls. Zero saucers. Lots of room for everything we need, in the places that make the most sense. AND a completely empty shelf ready to take on the overflow when I use the S.P.A.C.E. method to clear out my next cupboard.
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.
Stuck at home. You’ve had your morning coffee, read the gloomy newspaper or scanned your social media apps. You have something pressing to do but avoid it and mindlessly start shuffling papers on your desk.
You wander around aimlessly, straightening pictures, moving a pile of books from one surface to another, throwing out an obvious piece of trash. You know you’re barely making a dent but somehow it seems important in the moment.
You look around your home and feel the familiar pang of shame that comes from knowing your house is more than a “bit of a mess.” Books and knick-knacks piled two-deep on shelves. Your cabinets and drawers packed full with a lifetime of items that meant something to you once but now you can’t even remember where half of them came from.
Almost every surface covered with the residue of the week.
Don’t Go It Alone!
You look around at the 20 or 30 years of accumulated stuff. You wonder if you have the resources to hire a professional organizer who would somehow magically transform your home into a picture straight out of Real Simple Magazine. You know this is impossible now. Money is tight and you’ve just paid your property taxes or your son’s tuition or an unexpected medical bill from a procedure you had last year before something called Covid-19 stole your “normal” life.
Momentarily the thought disappears as your alarm reminds you it’s time for your weekly Zoom call.
During the meeting you happen to mention your desire to get decluttered and curiously ask if anyone else is feeling the same. All at once, hands shoot up in the air. You let out a sigh of relief and recognition. You are not alone in this struggle and that’s when it hits you. “Why not start a clutter support group?”
This is exactly what happened to C.J. Hayden, a business coach, trainer and author of six books including, the bestselling, Get Clients Now! A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, and Coaches.
The idea came to C.J. during a recent Zoom meeting she was conducting with her clients – mostly other self-employed people. C.J. casually mentioned she’d like to be more organized and asked if anyone else was experiencing the same thing.
“Half the hands in the room shot up” C.J. told me recently by phone. She then posed the question to the group, “Maybe we should form a pod? That’s how it started. It was totally spontaneous.”
Within a few days C.J. had come up with a group structure — action oriented, not just a support group – a name, The Decluttering Divas and a schedule. They meet virtually once a week on Monday mornings and keep their computer’s microphones and cameras turned on so everyone else in the group can “get the visceral sounds of decluttering.” C.J. gets the group going but it is strictly peer-support that keeps everyone on task.
Tame Your Inner Critic
Perhaps the biggest value of the group has been the way it helps silence everyone’s inner critic, including C.J’s.
“She tells me this is too big a job and I’ll never be able to complete it. But I keep telling her that as long as I break it down into manageable chunks, and have support, I really can.”
The group shares another bond – that of facing the many challenges of life as baby-boomers. Several of the group’s members juggle their lives and their businesses, often with competing responsibilities for aging parents, adult children and the self-imposed pressure of changing attitudes towards the things they own. For some, decluttering runs into direct conflict with their parent’s depression-era views of save everything
In C.J.’s case, that meant, among other things, coming across a collection of old hair accessories and incredulously wondering why she had kept them. “The last time I had hair long enough to wear hair ornaments was probably in the mid-90s!”
Join A Worldwide Movement
It turns out Decluttering Divas is not alone. A search of other decluttering groups on the popular Meetup.com website found 71 groups consisting of nearly 18,000 members in 62 cities across 16 countries around the world.
While it’s unlikely the Covid-19 pandemic, with more and more people being sequestered at home, lead to the phenomena of worldwide clutter groups, as well as popular topics such as minimalism, online selling, tiny houses, and home editing, it’s probably one of it’s few silver linings. Even C.J.s group has one participant from the United Kingdom.
The reasons people join a decluttering group are as varied as their stuff. In “Decluttering Divas,” one member was dealing with the clutter left behind by her parents who lived with her for many years but who have since moved on to retirement communities or passed away.
Another is an artist who wanted more time for her art and hobbies and was getting too distracted by her clutter.
For C.J. herself it came down to being able to be more productive at work as a busy entrepreneur who travels extensively as well as to be able to relax at home.
Even her husband, without prompting, caught the decluttering bug.
“One day I came out of my meeting and found a bunch of cups and glasses on the counter. He decided it was time to clear out a kitchen cabinet.” Together they got rid of most of them, offering them for free to neighbors through the popular site, Nextdoor.com
Applying what you already know to get organized
While not a professional organizer herself, C.J. had worked with a few in the past, and had read several books about organizing and several of her clients are professional organizers. Along the way, she’s learned techniques and strategies for decluttering but it’s been her coaching and group facilitation experience that turned her casual question into a satisfying reality.
When the group first met, C.J. posed three “focusing questions” to ensure each member had a real action-oriented purpose for being there.
The focusing questions asked members to set and share a specific and attainable goal, explain why they had chosen that goal and set a deadline for completing the goal. Members who could not set a realistic deadline were asked to scale back their goals until they could.
To keep it “manageable,” there are a total of 8 people in the group though other peer-lead groups around the country, according to MeetUp.com show as many as 600 members.
During meetings, members of the group share their goals and even post before and after pics. Offline the group shares or exchanges resources such as where and how to get rid of things, especially useful during the current health restrictions when many charities are not accepting or limiting their donation services.
Members even share links to organizing products they see online such as containers and bins.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the group has been the fact each member understands what it’s like to feel overwhelmed by clutter and want to help each other.
“Having this group has meant I have support, camaraderie, and benevolent peer pressure from being surrounded by others on the same path.”
Lis McKinley is a Certified Professional Organizer®, Move Management Specialist and Owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC based in Oakland, California. She leads her own virtual “No Excuses Decluttering Group.”
For more information or to register go to NO EXCUSES DECLUTTER GROUP
I have three rules I ask my clients to agree to when I start an organizing or downsizing project with them.
Rule #1: I only work with the owner of the decision when it comes to deciding what is kept vs. not kept (sold, donated, tossed).
Rule #2: The owner of the decision cannot be overruled unless they explicitly delegate their decision to someone else.
Rule #3: If you were given items from family or friends, whether you wanted them or not, you and only you are the owner of the decision.
Most of us know when a gift is given. Usually it’s done with the receiver in mind.
Sometimes things are given (or kept) because the giver and receiver don’t know what else to do; They don’t want it but they can’t just toss it.
When the giver does this it’s called re-gifting.
When the receiver keeps it, but doesn’t really want it, it’s called…stuck.
“I can’t just give away my grandma’s china to anyone! I would feel terrible. Maybe my daughter or granddaughter will take it off my hands.”
Problem solved. I don’t have to feel guilty…you can!
But what good is a gift given – or kept – out of guilt? How does that honor grandma’s memory?
Things are just things until we impose an external value onto them.
Even an item that’s worth something does not make it valuable to the owner unless they feel connected to it in some way – emotionally, aesthetically, practically.
“I loved Grandma and remember her using this china. I would like to have it because it reminds me of her.”
But what if you loved Grandma but her china is simply not your style? It doesn’t fit the way you live because every piece has to be hand-washed or you don’t have room for it in your tiny home?
Keep in mind there is likely someone somewhere who will enjoy it for what it is, even without the sentimental attachment.
As the owner of the decision, you get to decide. Here’s an easy way to make a guilt-free decision.
Grab the box of china, take another good look at it and ask yourself these three questions:
Question #1. “Would I buy this for myself if I saw it in a store or thrift shop?” If no, you probably don’t want it but still feel attached in some way. Go to question #2.
Question #2. “Are there any individual pieces I can use that I like?”
The soup tureen repurposed as a vase. A single teacup and saucer to enjoy a morning cup of tea?
Keeping one or two pieces from the set will make it easier to give away the rest. Alternately, you could take a picture of it and preserve the memory that way.
Don’t worry about breaking up the set unless it is super valuable and chances are it isn’t. If you want to check the value, you can look up the pattern on Replacements Ltd.
Question #3. Is there some place or someone nearby who would take it? If you are working with a professional organizer, they will be super helpful here.
Consider thrift shops, antique stores, school auctions, a church rummage sale or swap meet. There are also traditional charities like Goodwill, Salvation Army or Out of the Closet. You could also post it online – check out Craigslist, eBay, Freecycle.
Still not sure, do a Google search, “donate china set near me” (Keep in mind some places may still be closed due to the current Covid health emergency, so call first. )
While this generally takes longer you get the satisfaction of giving it directly to someone who wants it. Just don’t look for the “perfect” solution. Perfection is a convenient ploy for procrastinators.
Once you’ve decided, let it go as soon as you can. You’ll feel so much freer for having done so and trust me, Grandma won’t mind.
LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC
Lis Golden McKinley, M.A.
Certified Professional Organizer
Owner, LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC
It’s time. You’ve set aside the day, taken off work, brought in the garbage bags and the packing boxes. No more excuses. It’s you versus the clutter. This time you intend to win because you’ve decided to put your house up for sale.
The late comedian George Carlin used to say,
“Your house is just a place for your stuff. If you didn’t have so much G-D stuff, you wouldn’t need a house!?”
But what happens when your stuff is too connected to memories? Carlin joked no one wants that stuff either but guess what they do!
When I say stuff, I don’t only mean furniture and household items. I mean the sentimental stuff you’ve buried in your closet or shoved into the back of an attic or basement. Stuff like your son’s grade school artwork, even though he’s in college now. Grandpa’s set of World War II history books. The two crocheted baby blankets grandma made for your kids.
“Keep them for the grandkids!” You protest and back into the closet it goes. Except you have way too much in your closet already. So instead you pay hundreds of dollars a month to store stuff you can’t bear to part with at the local public storage.
That’s when it hits you. It’s not only your house you have to downsize, but your storage unit too.
Exasperated, you slump down in your arm chair and wonder, “how am I going to do this?” and pour yourself another glass of wine.
As Baby Boomers get older – and by the way, I’m one of them — they start thinking about their health and the desire to simplify their lives.
75% of people who want to downsize their lives say they can’t. The reason? They have too much stuff, according to research conducted by Kansas University.
The good news is you don’t have to throw the baby-doll out with the bathwater. Instead, you can actually feel good about letting go. Less regret, guilt or incurring the wrath of your family.
It is important to remember that not everything you are sentimental about has to go. Instead, the key is taking the time to curate your collection of sentimental items and giving away what you don’t want to the right people (or places).
Curating is about deciding what is going to be part of your permanent collection and what isn’t and where it can go. It also includes saying goodbye, with gratitude, to the things that have served out their purpose and forgiving yourself for doing the best you can to dispose of them responsibly.
Part of this process always involves making decisions about the items we most commonly get attached to: Books, clothing, photographs, sentimental cards and letters, memories – both ours and our kids.
When it’s time to curate these items, I find it useful to think about them in three ways:
This collection contains items that are damaged beyond repair or are not worth your time or money to repair.
You can appreciate what they were in their original form and know that their time has come to an end. Anything that still makes you sad to let go of, you can take a picture of. That way you will still have the memory of the item.
This collection contains your favorites. Items you love so much you would use or display again. The ones that you would remember and miss if they disappeared. Better yet, they are the ones that fit into your new, simplified lifestyle. These are the best of the best!
This collection contains both high quality and useable quality items you don’t want. They could be of a high enough quality you could sell or consign them, or special enough that you would prefer to give them to a particular person or organization. In other words your decision to let them go is contingent on them getting to the right recipient or organization. This collection also includes useable quality items that could be donated to charities such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or Out of the Closet
If they are not sellable but the recipient is important to you, do an online search by type in your area. For example “Senior center thrift shop near me.” There’s a wonderful place in San Francisco called SCRAP that accepts donations of all types of craft and teaching materials (though they are closed temporarily due to Covid-19). Here are a few other examples of unique places to donate your higher quality items. (Due to Covid-19 some of these will be temporarily closed. Check before going.)
There are also online websites such as Nextdoor.com where you can post your unwanted items. Be careful not to post your personal information. Instead ask people to direct message you if they want your item.
Use “Say goodbye with gratitude,” “Keep for my new life” and “Give to others” with other types of sentimental items you have. Here are few tips for downsizing other sentimental household items:
(If you are downsizing and you have an excess and need space)
First decide on the greatest number of bookshelves you will keep so you will know how much you need to downsize.
Keep books you still refer to or hold special memories or can’t find online.
Donate duplicate books, books you’ve never read, are not likely to read or don’t hold interest for you. Also donate books from a previous chapter of your life. Someone is bound to appreciate them. Take them to your local library or college. Most Goodwill stores will also accept books for donation but not text books.
Recycle any that have mold. Mold travels and will contaminate other books.
Sentimental Cards and Letters
(If you have more than will fit into a banker box or small suitcase)
These are often the hardest to let go. Keep the ones that express a personal sentiment to you, not a generic greeting. You can also photograph these and let the physical card go.
This is the stuff you’ve tossed in a “keep” box but never looked at except when you’ve moved. It could be anything from rocks you collected, to tickets stubs, to small medals you received as a kid to souvenirs from family trips.
They best represent the “memories” of your childhood. It’s likely none of it is valuable, unless it’s in its original packaging and in pristine condition. If you’re not sure, you can always check sites like Etsy or Ebay.
First sort those into two piles – usable quality and higher quality. As you come across anything that that you don’t want but are afraid of forgetting, take a picture of it! That way you will always have the memory.
If the items are small, you can display them in a large fishbowl, brandy snifter or inside a shadow box. I’ve seen these for just about out every imaginable collectible: medals, matchboxes, toy cars, record albums, sports memorabilia even old postcards.
Check out some “memorabilia storage” ideas on Pinterest or Etsy If you’re not up to this, ask someone in your family who has a talent for crafts or art to do it for you. What a perfect birthday or Christmas present!
If you wouldn’t pay to have the items repurposed into something new, chances are you don’t love it enough to keep it. You can always take a picture of it if you’re scared of losing the memory. If it’s a small quantity of items you are keeping, give them a home in a small treasure box. I always think of a the little cigar box the character Scout kept under her bed from the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Don’t use your kids as a reason to keep stuff that you don’t have room for in your new home. If possible, ask them to come and get it by a certain date. If they live far away or don’t care, let them know your plan to donate whatever is usable. Keep your favorites, the ones you consider “heirlooms” and limit them to no more than will fit into a small bin or box. Your kids won’t miss the rest and neither will you.
A final note about trash, landfill and forgiveness
It’s likely you will have to throw out more than you intended. Recycle as much as you can but accept the limitations of what is and is not recyclable in your community.
When you bought it 30 or 40 years ago, you weren’t thinking about whether it was recyclable. You needed it and it served its purpose. Again, dispose of it with gratitude. If it has to go to landfill, forgive yourself. Know that you have learned to be a more responsible citizen and consumer. Now you can enjoy and maintain your simple and spacious new life with the things you love the most.
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Nanette is a home organizer who works with me as an associate of LET’S MAKE ROOM. We haven’t worked or seen each other in more than two months. She and her husband, two adult children and their dog are sheltering-in-place during the Covid-19 health emergency.
Yesterday she shared a personal story with me of using this time to attend to her own home organizing projects. She is looking ahead to a time after her kids have moved on, when she may be ready to sell her home. Having worked with me for years, Nanette knows how the task of downsizing for a move can be daunting so she recently decided to take on a couple of her own projects.
Nanette’s story illustrates just how personally satisfying it can be to embark on a home organizing project, any time, but especially now, when families have the benefit of being home together more than usual. Here is her story:
The “shelter-in-place” order was the perfect opportunity to organize our cluttered storage closet. My 24-year-old daughter and 20-year old-son have been here with us and my husband is working from home.
The closet held toys, keepsakes, books, table linens, photos and homeless items.
With everyone home I could get their input on what they wanted to keep and what could I could donate.
I began by emptying the closet and sorting items by owner – me, my husband, daughter and son. I asked each to sort their items into two piles; “keep” or “donate.” Each accomplished the task in their own unique way.
Our daughter sorted through her items alone and needed no help in her decision making. She donated all her collectible dolls, which she never liked, even though I had saved them for her. She kept the toys and keepsakes she felt connected to and that were usable or could be displayed.
At first, our 20-year old son said, “Mom you decide because I don’t know what I should keep.”
I got him started by sorting his bins and asked him first to decide on the big items. I am glad I did as I didn’t expect him to keep the miniature baseball bats. I then took the smaller items and sorted ‘like with like’ and asked him to keep what he wanted.
He grabbed toys he said he remembered playing with and he combed through looking for all the extra parts.
When done, my son told me sorting items into smaller categories helped him make decisions.
After dinner that evening, while we all still were at the table, our son picked up a box of his medals and sorted them. He selected the medals he wanted to keep and shared the rationale for keeping each medal.
After completing the task our daughter said she had kept all her medals and she later sorted hers as well.
The stack of beautiful table linens that I have never used, got donated. While beautiful and given to me by family members, they are not something I ever used. The matching napkins I kept as I do use linen napkins.
The silver items, all blackened from sitting in storage, unused, got sorted. My husband’s silver baby cup got cleaned and moved into the cabinet. The tarnished candelabra went into the Halloween bin. The utensils got polished and moved into the kitchen. Everything we kept now had a home.Everything else we donated. (Actually stored until the donation sites can open).
My husband did not want to make decisions right away so I put the items he had not made decisions about on his desk. He will make a decision at some point but I decided not to store the items until he committed.
My husband painted the closet and installed movable-shelves, replacing our fixed wood shelves.
I reused the smaller bins and stored the frequently-used items on the upper shelves.
I rolled my table runners and put them into a basket on the floor which opened up shelving.
I ordered a wrapping station to mount on a side wall.
I have more space to use for new items that come into our home and I love being able to find what I need.
Now I have a great functioning storage closet.
I was walking my dog today thinking about how this so called “new normal ” is surfacing some of my old habits. Some of them not so great.
I’m eating more, working out less, and most of all feeling stuck in more than a few places. For some reason when I’m feeling stuck I start thinking about The Roomba.
The Roomba is a self-governing, robotic vacuum cleaner that navigates the floor area of a home to clean it. When the Roomba hits an obstacle, it senses the obstacle and adjusts itself to go in a different direction to complete the task of cleaning.
It occurred to me today while walking my little Cherrier (Chihuahua-Terrier) in the park, I could be more like The Roomba.
Think about it. How many times have you set a goal for yourself or intended to do something only to be stopped by an obstacle? The obstacle in itself may not be inherently bad or good. It is what it is. But then you start thinking, “what’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I do this?” Why am I so ____?” fill in the blank. Lazy, stupid, fat, scared. Then I thought about The Roomba. The Roomba doesn’t tear itself down when it hits an obstacle. It doesn’t berate itself for things beyond its immediate control, it doesn’t judge itself. What does it do? It shifts direction.
Last week I kept thinking, “I need to record some video presentations and share them.” This shouldn’t have been that difficult. Afterall I speak publicly quite often. I have grown quite comfortable with getting up in front of a room and sharing my expertise. So why then was it so hard for me to record what I already know I can do? The more I kept thinking about it, the more anxious I became. My inner critic starting shouting at me. I felt myself banging up against the same old obstacle.
So what did I do? Just like The Roomba, I shifted direction, in this case to something I knew I could do without fear. Instead of recording my talk, I organized my office. (Yes, even organizers need to stay organized.) Then I reached out to some clients by email; I participated in a webinar with other small business owners; and I even took an online class which I could add to my CEU requirement. Then I went out and took a walk with my dog.
In other words I pivoted. It’s a word I’m hearing a lot lately to describe how businesses are responding when they find they suddenly don’t have any business, but it’s also a great strategy for overcoming internal obstacles. Not to mention, it’s one of the cultural and behavioral outcomes of this pandemic – a new lingo just like social-distancing and flatten the curve.
If like me, this horrible pandemic is keeping you from being your best self or scaring the living daylights out of you, or something in between, get out there, turn your switch on, pay attention to what your sensors tell you and if you hit an obstacle, shift directions. Just keep moving. You will get through this. You will more than likely survive. Be like The Roomba.
The answer? It’s not because you are a collector. It’s because you don’t know why you are collecting.
Having collections in and of itself does not make you disorganized. If that were true every museum and gallery in the world would be a cluttered mess.
It’s more likely your collections need to be reviewed for their personal relevance to you the same way a museum, gallery or boutique will display and collect their collections to fit their particular vision, style or mission.
Are you collecting items that have meaning to you or are you attached to them for another reason? If your mother passed, and you have everything she ever owned, how is that honoring her memory? How does that enhance your life? Is that a collection or just a collection of stuff?
No one is going to come to you and say, “you can’t get rid of that!” unless you let them. If an heirloom was given to you, you are the owner of that decision. Not the person who gave it to you. Not even your spouse or your children. Just you. If you don’t like something you were given, someone else will. I was given a gift of a cookbook from a friend but I know I will never use it. Instead I am giving it to someone who I know will love it.
You probably have more collectibles than you have room to store them. Prioritize which of those collectibles you want on display or to use yourself. The rest are just things taking up space. Consider giving them new life somewhere else as a gift or donation.
Your decision about what and how much to store, will depend on your available space and of course how much value they have to you.
You can be both “a collector” and still suffer from chronic hoarding disorder, a mental health disorder in which an individual excessively saves items that the consensus among the general public would be to view as worthless or to such excess as to render their living space uninhabitable or non-functioning.
Assuming you do not fit the criteria for hoarding disorder, (people aren’t hoarders, they have hoarding disorder) there are several possible causes of why you are disorganized.
Now that you know where, why, how and when, decide whether you can do it alone or if you need help. Either way, congratulate yourself for making the decision to make more room in your life for what matters most.
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!