By Susan Caplan McCarthy
If you’ve been struggling with decluttering (or, really, anything that requires the consistent effort of habits), knowing how you respond when faced with your or others’ expectations, can help you to work with your personality instead of against it.
Back when I read Gretchen Rubin’s books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, one thing that stood out the most for me was the number of resolutions she assigned herself each month (and, the fact that the resolutions were cumulative, so she was adding more resolution every month).
She offered downloads of her personal resolution charts and convenient blank charts so that anyone could create their own list. Although I could think of plenty of things that I wanted to accomplish and develop as habits, I was frustrated that most times I’d never get through the first day. On several occasions, I wrote the chart and promptly forgot it, meaning I never even started.
Apparently, Gretchen Rubin noticed that most people couldn’t establish new habits as easily as she seemed to. A few years back, as she did research for a book on habits, she started to realize that some people could meet their expectations for their actions, while other people better met the expectations others had for them.
For this aspect of personality, she saw people fall into Four Tendencies depending on how they met inner (personal) expectations and outer (other’s) expectations.
For example, if you’re trying to start a habit of walking in the morning, are you likelier to do it if you know your neighbor is waiting for you, or could you go for those walks because you decided to?
I’m no expert in the Rubin Tendencies, but here’s my translation of how they can apply to someone who is trying to declutter their home.
Obligers and Decluttering
Obligers can meet the expectations of others (they feel obliged), but struggle with the expectations they set for themselves. If you want to get something done, you’ll have better success if you know someone is expecting you to complete the task. However, if you get too much pushed on you, you may end up in Obliger-rebellion. Overwhelmed by other’s expectations, the Obliger will just stop.
How to Declutter if You’re an Obliger – Ask someone to be your accountability buddy. Or, work with a professional organizer and ask that she give you homework … chances are you’ll do it because you know she’s expecting the tasks to be done by your next meeting. You could even invite someone over to your house and know that they’ll expect a clear space to sit down in your living room.
At first, I thought I was an Obliger. I remember commenting on one of Gretchen’s blogs about how I seemed to be in permanent Obliger-rebellion. She then pointed out that perhaps I should consider that I was a Rebel. I thought this was ridiculous as I’m a quiet, hang-in-the-corner kinda girl; I was no rebel. I finally realized that the only time I met other’s expectations was when I was willing, otherwise, I could be quietly ornery.
Rebels and Decluttering
Rebels aren’t stubborn for the sake of making a point. Rebels are motivated by their sense of identity. They don’t meet other’s expectations or even their own if they don’t feel it aligns with their identity. A rebel may refuse to file papers or fold their clothing and put them in drawers if they think that’s the expectation (I don’t mind doing these things). A rebel might want to create their own system – say, storing clothing on a shelf or in a cubby because that isn’t the regular expectation.
How to Declutter if You’re a Rebel – If you revel in an identity as the disorganized creative or the one with the crazy organizing system no one else understands, you may need to work on a new way of identifying yourself. Yeah, not an easy one.
Questioners and Decluttering
Questioners can get into analysis-paralysis. They don’t easily meet expectations that others have for the Questioner’s behavior but will meet their own expectations because they feel their expectations make more sense.
How to Declutter if You’re a Questioner – You have to (although, you don’t have to do anything) decide that decluttering (and specific decluttering methods and “rules”) makes sense to you and for you. Deadlines and accountability buddies won’t work for you unless you decide that they’ll work for you. Knowing your goals or vision for your home can keep you focused on why you are decluttering. You may find yourself questioning all organizing advice because that’s who you are.
Upholders and Decluttering
Upholders can meet both their own expectations as well as the expectations of others. (Gretchen Rubin is an Upholder, which explains why she could give herself eight resolutions for the month and do a good job at completing most of them every day.) However, Upholders may try to take on too much. If you give yourself a rule to follow or a task to complete, you may not stop to question if it’s the best thing to be doing; or, you may continue following a “rule” even when your situation changes.
How to Declutter if You’re an Upholder – Make a list and then do it. You might want to make sure any rules that you’ve set for yourself still make sense for your current life. For example, you may feel that you have to have ‘x’ number of coffee cups or serving plates and bowls to be a good hostess, but your life has changed, and you no longer host gatherings for a dozen people.
Developing Habits in Ways that Makes Sense to You
You can go to Gretchen’s website and take a quiz to help you figure out your Tendency. Does your tendency matter when it comes to decluttering, or, anything else for that matter? I find things like learning styles and personality traits illuminating. If you find yourself frustrated with yourself, knowing how you tend to meet expectations can help you learn how to best work toward what’s important to you.
Since decluttering and organizing involves developing new habits (putting things away, tidying up at the end of the day) as well as going through the process of decluttering (finding the time to do it, working on a deadline, staying focused on the task), knowing your Tendency can help you get out of your own way.
What's your Tendency? Do you feel it helps you get the right things done? Or, do you feel that you trip over your own personality? Leave a comment below.
I help people focus on what's important to them by guiding them through clearing clutter and distractions from their lives. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; courses; speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.