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.
By Susan Caplan McCarthy
To give someone a gift of your time may be the most precious gift you can offer someone. Whatever your schedule looks like, devoting a few hours to a friend or family member lets that person know how you value your relationship.
And, of course, a gift of time is truly a minimalist gift with a maximum effect. When giving this type of gift, consider what the individual would most appreciate and what you are able to give. While some of these clutter-free gifts cost nothing, not all are free.
Homemade Gift Certificates
Your first impression may be that homemade gift certificates for a service you can offer belong to the realm of poor teenagers and college students. However, whatever your age, you can offer a specialized service or skill that will be appreciated by the person you are giving the gift to.
Consider things that you enjoy doing or don’t mind offering to do for someone else. Be specific – are you offering to mow someone’s lawn once or once a week throughout the summer? Don’t undervalue your gift just because you aren’t spending money and end up committing to doing more than you can comfortably fit into your schedule.
Presenting Your Gift Certificate
You can download blank gift certificates from online or your word processing software … or, you can make one from a sheet of paper and decorate it as you wish. You don’t want to appear to have forgotten to purchase a gift, making your offer seem like a half-assed attempt to coverup this omission.
If you have any restrictions on what you are offering, list them on the gift certificate. If you’re offering to clean the cars of a half dozen people, you don’t want all of them to try and schedule you for the same day or to expect you’ll do this task with a couple hours’ notice. Even if you’re retired and your schedule is flexible, there will be days when you’ve made other plans. You may want to ask for two days’ notice, or even a request a week in advance.
And, as with any gift, always make certain that your offer suits the individual.
Have you given a gift of your time to someone? What skill or service did you offer? Do you have any tips for transforming a gift of time into a memorable event? Please share in the comments section below.
By Susan Caplan McCarthy
If decluttering at home has inspired you to give clutter-free gifts, one possibility is edible items - which go far beyond the plate of cookies or the gift box of assorted cheeses and sausages. Knowing what someone likes to eat and what they’ll be willing to try means that you won’t be giving everyone the same gift, so your gifts will still be thoughtful.
Some ideas for themed or assorted edible gifts:
Find more ideas for clutter-free gifts in Gift Giving and Receiving when You're Decluttering and Minimizing.
Do you have a favorite edible gift that you give (or have received)? Leave your suggestions in the comment section?
I was teaching a class about decluttering the other day and one of the participants pointed out that I seemed to be using the words ‘organizing’ and ‘decluttering’ interchangeably. Oops. And, I know I do this when I write articles about decluttering.
Decluttering and organizing are different actions – and thought processes – although there will be times when you’ll be doing both actions at the same time.
Decluttering = Getting Rid of What You Don’t Want or Like
Decluttering is eliminating things that you don’t – or can’t – use (and don’t foresee using in a year) and don’t like.
Although this sounds simple, decluttering becomes challenging when it gets caught up in thoughts like, “It was so expensive,” “It was a gift,” “It was supposed to help me be _____ (healthier, more productive)” – and emotions such as guilt, shame, and embarrassment.
That’s a lot of negativity stuck to things like a vegetable shredder, books you never read, a pair of pants that fit 15 years ago, and a pair of snowshoes.
To get rid of physical items, you need to view the items without being attached to the thoughts and emotions stuck to the items. Even if you like something, you may realize that you no longer need to hold onto it – maybe a photo or scanned image will be enough for you. (Then, you may feel guilty releasing something that you like!)
How to Release Thoughts and Emotions Stuck to Your Clutter
The simplest way to do this is to move items to a ‘holding box(es)’ where the item is moved out of sight for three-to-six months. If you don’t go looking for the item, you know you don’t need it. And, if you haven’t given its absence a thought, chances are that you aren’t as emotionally attached to it as you thought.
What if you do go rooting through the box for an item? That’s fine. It just means that now isn’t the time to get rid of the item. You can try again in half a year. And, if you pull everything out of the box? Start out with some journaling or talking to a good (nonjudgmental) friend to see if you can figure out why you are attached to the items. If that doesn’t move you forward, you may want to consider talking to a therapist.
Organizing = Give Everything a Home
All those bins, boxes, rolling carts, drawer organizers, cubbies, et al. aren’t supposed to put items out of sight (which is how they often get used), but to give the items a home. Giving an item a home means that when you go looking for the item, you know where to find it. And, when you put the item away (which you have to do, or the item becomes clutter), you know where to return it.
Pinterest is full of fun ways to organize, well, everything. Before you get caught up in color-coordinating and labeling a single thing, always consider if the organizing system makes it easy for you (and everyone in your family) to find and put the items away.
Oh, and an item’s home doesn’t have to be positioned to the millimeter. Knowing that’s the shelf where the mugs live, or this drawer is for your workout gear or that bin is where the kids can store their play food is home enough.
Where Decluttering and Organizing Overlap
You have only so much space in your home. If you cram things into every available storage space, your eye will never have a place to rest and you’ll end up feeling overwhelmed. You don’t need great swathes of empty space; however, you want to give your stuff some “breathing room.”
For example, when you put books on a shelf, you can only fit so many books. Yes, you can try to squeeze more in and perch them horizontally on top of the upright books, but when you go to take out a book, all the others will shift. And, it won’t be easy to return a book to its space, which means you might not put it away.
The same thing happens if you have one more mug than will fit on the shelf dedicated to mugs. Where does the extra mug go? On another shelf? Now, it’s no longer clear where mugs belong. Although that may seem extreme, one exception leads to another which leads to another. Soon, you aren’t organized.
When you decide where an item or group of similar items will go, you are also establishing boundaries for how many of that item you can keep. If you can fold and fit fifteen tee shirts in a drawer, then you are limited to fifteen tee shirts and you need to declutter the excess. The same with everything else in your home.
So, how to work through the process of decluttering and organizing? Declutter first and then organize, decluttering more items if necessary. Avoid the temptation of first figuring out how many items will fit in a space. Decluttering items should leave you with the items that will help you do the things that you want to do in your life, extra stuff that you don’t need sends conflicting messages about where you want to focus your time and energy.
By Susan Caplan McCarthy
You stand in a room with your clutter pressing against you (literally or figuratively). You don’t know where to start. You chastise yourself for letting things get so out of control. You feel tension in your neck and realize that your shoulders have inched their way up toward your ears. Your hand, clutching a trash bag, is sweaty. You are overwhelmed.
And, you aren’t alone.
When people talk about their clutter, they talk about how overwhelmed they feel. Why? Clutter is a visible, tangible to-do list waiting for us to act.
When you pick up an item, do you think,
By decluttering, you are telling your stuff, “I’m not going to do that.” Each time you make that decision, you eliminate a bit of that feeling of being overwhelmed. When you clear your clutter, you scratch those undone tasks off your to-do list.
Next week, I'm releasing the program, Create Space for Your Life. It's a self-directed workbook that helps you sort through the thoughts and emotions that give your stuff permission to stay in your home.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.