by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Decluttering is a challenge. No matter whether you declutter for 15 minutes a day or once a month for eight hours, it is a task that’s more than physical – it’s also mental and emotional. Do I use this? Do I want this? Do I even like this? How often do I use this? Where should I store it?
All these decisions are draining.
But there is that moment when you walk into the house and you see the clear counters and tabletops. You feel a glow of accomplishment. More important, you feel that after all your hard work, life will be different from now on.
A few months later you have guests coming over and you “suddenly” see the clutter that has crept back. You’ve noticed a few things weren’t getting put away and you’ve bought some stuff that you thought would help with your personal goals. It didn’t seem like a big deal. Until now. You grab a trash bag and dash around your home, tossing in everything from the magazines that arrived in last week’s mail to your spouse’s shoes which were kicked under the coffee table. You shove the bag into a closet, to deal with “later.”
Throughout this frantic process of hiding your new clutter, you criticize yourself for thinking you could ever be anything but disorganized.
Is It Possible to Stay Organized?
Decluttering is a challenge. A bigger challenge is staying organized.
I struggle with this myself, personally and professionally. When I see that a space that I helped a client clear is once again cluttered I wonder, Did we keep things that could have been decluttered? Are they buying things without following the one in/one out rule? Did they not connect to the reason why they wanted to declutter and so aren’t really motivated to stay organized?
Why aren’t they maintaining their hard-won order?
I realize that I’ve been wrong about decluttering.
Changing How You See Yourself
I was reading James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits and encountered the line, “The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.” (the italics are mine)
I kept mulling over this idea in relation to organizing. What if it wasn’t about clearing the dining room table but about becoming the type of person who wouldn’t think of leaving stuff piled up on the dining table?
I realized that I had to stop thinking of goals - clearing that dining room table - and instead focus on helping create an organized mindset. And, with an organized mindset, it may be easier to make all those decision about your stuff while decluttering.
Focusing on becoming organized isn’t a “fake it ‘til you make it” or “act as if” technique. You can’t think, “I’m an organized person” while stepping over a pile of dirty laundry and believe the statement.
Organized isn’t a finish line to cross. You won’t hang up your jacket and think, “well, there it is, I’m organized” because the next time you wear your jacket, you’ll have to make the decision to hang it up (or not) and then actually hang it (or not). Acting they way an organized person would act helps make you an organized person.
Becoming Organized with A Less Cluttered Life
While I still feel that I can help by teaching you about decluttering and organizing, I realize that helping someone reach a goal that changes their life and home for a moment isn’t as satisfying an idea as helping people leave behind their identity of being scattered and struggling to creating a new identity as an organized person.
What does that look like for A Less Cluttered Life? Fewer articles about how to declutter and more about the habits that will make you an organized person (although most of July’s articles on decluttering small spaces are already written and scheduled, so not much change for them).
I’ll be tweaking the outline of the e-course I was getting ready to make videos for so there is an emphasis on becoming an organized person instead of doing decluttering. In my organizing work with clients, I’ll spend more time helping them figure out systems that will make it easier to become and stay organized.
Ironically, while I’m very good at organizing materials, time management and planning tasks are not among my organizing strengths. Becoming organized (as opposed to simply organizing) is a journey that I’ll be taking as well.
Do you know someone who is tired of yo-yo decluttering? Help them take a step toward becoming organized by forwarding this email to them.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I once used to show kids how to use a drop spindle, a very simple tool for spinning sheep’s wool into yarn. It is basically a dowel, a small hook, and a weighted base. Kids would watch me do it (and I have only the most basic skills) and then give it a try. Within fifteen seconds, multiple kids would start wailing that their spindle didn’t work.
I laughed, pointed out that the drop spindle was basically a stick and therefore did nothing. To experience using a drop spindle, they’d have to try using it, even if they weren’t getting the results that they thought they should.
Then, one day at home, I pulled from my closet some simple fitness equipment that I never used. I was thinking how frustrated I was that the equipment hadn’t worked for me when I froze in my thought. Of course, it hadn’t done anything for me, it was an inanimate object, a simple tool.
Like the kids who thought the drop spindle would spin wool into yarn, I expected that kettlebell to get me into shape. Now, yes, I realized that I had to use this weightlifting tool to see results; which made me also realize that part of my expectation was that owning a kettlebell would make me someone who used a kettlebell for strength training.
You Can't Buy Motivation
I love this question from financial blogger Cait Flanders, “Who are you buying this for: the person you are, or the person you want to be?” While decluttering, I often realize that I bought a book or item because I envisioned myself as a person who kayaked, decorated cakes, followed the Whole30 diet, etc.
Now, setting goals is a good thing. Goals give us something to focus on and work toward beyond day-to-day tasks like laundry and running to the grocery store. However, setting a goal isn’t a reason to go shopping.
Imagine an individual who decides that they’ll run a 5K (so not me). They decide that they need a good pair of running shoes and, oh, a fitness tracker so they can post their progress on social media to, you know, keep them accountable. In their mind, they are working toward running a 5K – even though they spend their evenings on the couch while waiting for their new purchases to arrive.
In fact, this person doesn’t have a consistent workout routine. They figure that setting a goal (run a 5K) will motivate them. Instead of putting on their good-enough sneakers and getting in the habit taking a walk every day, they focus on the goal instead of the process. Instead of considering who they are (someone who spends their evenings on the couch), they buy stuff for the person they want to be – someone who has run a 5K.
Eventually, a lot of the items we buy for the person we want to be ends up in boxes – discovered only when we start to declutter.
So, what if you need specific items to do an activity, like skiing, snowshoeing, playing the ukulele, or getting into photography?
Rent the items. You may think that it will be cheaper to buy over renting, but consider renting, at least the first time. Shops that sell equipment may also rent, it’s just a matter of asking. Also, look at your local gym as a resource for “renting” exercise equipment while you use it at their location.
Borrow an item. My public library has a small collection of borrowable items, like an InstaPot and a ukulele. What does your library offer?
Consider asking, family, friends, and coworkers if someone has an item that you’d like to try. Maybe you’re interested in drinking fresh juice every morning. Your cousin might not be up to lending you his juicer, but you could ask if you could bring supplies over and give it a try at their house. If you’re borrowing an item, plan to return it in a week or two to keep your relationships smooth.
Think twice if someone tells you that you can have an item or buy it off them. Just because they didn’t use it doesn’t mean you won’t but consider this instance. Remember, part of your goal is to avoid collecting something that will become clutter in your home.
Skip the item. Be creative and work toward the goal without buying an item. Do you really need to buy a treadmill, or could you go for a walk outside? While a fitness tracker is a great way to capture how many steps you take during a day, couldn’t you up your level of activity by making a point to get up and move around throughout the day? Is your real goal to take 10,000 steps a day or to move around more?
Work on Your Goal without Buying Anything
Consider what the item is supposed to do for your goal. Now, imagine that you tried to purchase the item only to discover it will be on backorder for the next three months. However, you are so excited by your goal you still want to work toward it. But how? Come up with five ways you could work on your goal without buying that thing. Next, come up with another five ideas.
I know that it’s fun to buy new stuff, particularly when you think it will help you learn something new or help you reach a goal. You may consider your options and decide that, yes, you are committed to making the purchase; but, now, you are doing so more mindfully.
Releasing Aspirational Clutter
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
A Year of Decluttering: February - Self-Care
Your to do list can be a source of stress if you don't use it effectively. I don't think I'm alone in working through a series of simple tasks just so I can cross off a number of items on my list. And, yes, sometimes I'll do a task, add it to my to do list, and immediately cross it off.
Not very effective or productive and at the end of the day I wondered what I'd accomplished. It's also stressful to realize that priorities kept getting pushed to the side. Frustrated that nothing seemed to be getting done, I mishmashed together a bunch of different techniques to make my list more doable.
Create a Master to Do List
List all the stuff you want to do on a master list. You can use pen and paper, type the list into a word processing document, or list one item on each sheet of those 1 ½” x 2” Post-It Notes. You’ll be breaking some of these list items into smaller tasks, so if you use pen and paper, you may end up rewriting an item to give yourself the space to break it into steps.
(If you are attracted to color and visual details, you may want to color code your list by highlighting the task. If you best process information you hear, talk out loud as you make your list. And, if you like handling things and moving around, consider using Post-It Notes.)
Task: Make a list of the things you want to accomplish this year, quarter, or month. Start with the upcoming 4-to-6-weeks so you can work through this process without getting bogged down.
Is It a Project or a Task?
Next, you’ll be looking at your list and considering what steps you have to take before you can check that item off your list.
Do you have something written on your to do list that you’ve been thinking of doing for a while but when you look at the item on your list you think, “I don’t have time for that?” I forever found myself writing things on my to-do list that could take 20 or 30 hours to complete – and yet it’s a mere three words on my list!
Really, that list item is a project – if I look at it more closely, I’d realize that I can break it down into smaller steps, or tasks. I may be a little loose with my definition of a project, particularly when talking about something on your personal to do list.
If I see, “read & take notes on Book,” on my to-do list, I’ll probably put off doing it. Or, I’ll start but after an hour set it to the side. The next time I look at my to do list, I’ll brush past that item because I know that it will take a while to work through. However, if I was a bit more specific and wrote, “read & take notes on chapter 1 of Book,” (listing each chapter as a separate task), I’d have a better chance of completing this project.
Some tasks may take a mere five or ten minutes (say, make a phone call or send an email), but it’s doing that task that opens you to the next step toward the project (meeting with someone over coffee to talk about a job).
If something is going to take you more than an hour, consider how you could break it down into briefer tasks.
Task #1: List the steps you need to take so to get an item off your to do list. These steps are tasks. You’re adding bullet points to your master list or adding more Post-It Notes and creating little stacks of tasks.
Task #2: Next to each step, jot down the amount of time it will take to complete a task.
Note: Things that you do regularly aren’t the types of task items I’m talking about. Although taking a morning walk may help you burn calories and reach your goal of losing weight, this is part of a routine of actions. You don’t take one walk and check it off your master list. Routines can take up a lot of time and you never really complete a routine (you might for the day but then it’s at the top of your list the next day.)
Is It a Low- or High-Energy Task?
When I teach a group, work one-on-one, or even get together with a friend, it can take a lot of energy and I feel drained afterwards. For far too many years, I’d get home after teaching or having an in-depth conversation and try to jump into a task that required thinking and decision-making.
I’d push, feel frustrated that I wasn’t accomplishing what I thought I should be, and keep pushing. What I finally appreciated was that my interaction required high-energy and I needed to follow it with a low-energy activity.
If I’d been coaching someone through the decluttering process, I’d be better off following the interaction with reading a chapter in a book and typing up my notes than trying to write an article. For you, the idea of sitting quietly, reading and taking notes may require a lot of energy so you can focus on the task.
This step requires some self-knowledge into what types of things make you feel energized and which things drain you. Depending on the situation, after 3-or-4-hours, I need a quiet break. If I push myself beyond that, I can end up cranky. This self-knowledge may make you realize that you’d rather read that work-related document in a bustling coffee shop than in a quiet room at home.
Task #3: Go through the list of tasks you wrote and label each task as a high-or-low-energy task (for you). (You could also add a medium-energy or neutral category.) You don’t have to rewrite your list, just add an “L” or “H” next to the item or in the corner of the Post-It Note.
When Do You Need This Done?
If you are a logical sort of person, you may it useful to prioritize your list into A, B, and C-level priorities. You’d then further break down each list, so you’d know which task for which project to do next. However, not every project (or task) comes with a built-in deadline.
Although this freedom from a deadline seems like it should be a good thing, you may realize that these are the tasks that don’t get worked on because they can always be done later. Give yourself a time limit and a reason why you want the task done by that hour or date.
Task #4: Note a deadline for your projects. Use that date to figure out when each task needs to get done.
What Should I Do Today?
At night or first thing in the morning, look through your list and select the one task, that when done, will give you a sense of accomplishment. Unless you have a health issue that affects your energy level, this will likely be a task requiring high energy.
Next, select a second high-energy task and one low-energy task or two low-energy tasks. Your goal for the day is to definitely do the top task and then work your way to a second or third task if you have the time. If you can do more tasks, fantastic! Remember, this list doesn't include the day-to-day things that you need to do (laundry, errands, cooking).
The goal here isn't just to do more but to accomplish more. You'll likely experience less stress while being kinder to yourself as you notice that you're doing the things that are important to you.
Make a Better to Do List
If you’re busy all day, crossing things off your to do list, but feel as if you’re accomplishing nothing, then follow this plan to create a list of doable, specific tasks with attached deadlines. And, don’t forget to label tasks as high- or low-energy so you do the best tasks at the best time of day for you.
How Self-Discovery Can Help You Become More Productive
What's Your Why for Clearing the Clutter
A Year of Decluttering
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Whether you resolved to get organized two weeks ago or two years ago, at some point you’ll start to feel frustrated. You’ll wonder why the process is taking so long, why so much thought goes into making some of your decisions, and why you end up decluttering several spaces a second time. Then, one day, you’re done even though you aren’t done. You’re in a slump.
A decluttering slump can happen days, weeks, or months into your efforts. I’d consider it a slump when you’ve been decluttering or minimizing your belongings with some consistent effort and then, suddenly, you feel that your efforts to date haven’t made the difference you thought they would. This demoralizing thought has you questioning what you are doing and why you are bothering.
Understanding why you are doing what you’re doing is important to staying motivated. Unless your motivation is coming from a move or some other event, the only thing that will keep you motivated is the decisions and reasons you’ve set. But, also, a reality check is useful to know that your feelings aren’t unusual.
Decluttering Challenge Burn-Out
You know that you won’t be able to declutter your entire house in 30-days, but you’re convinced that a 30-day decluttering challenge will get you motivated in a big way – like going on a crash diet only for your stuff.
On day 3, you couldn’t finish the task, but you figured you’d catch-up on the weekend. But then life happened and now you aren’t certain what today’s task even is. You try to unwind and flip through Facebook, but you see one picture after the other of people showing off the bags of stuff that they’re taking to the donation center.
Reality Check: Although a ‘challenge’ can be a great incentive to get started, it’s important to avoid treating it as The One Way to Organization and Clear Spaces. Allow the information and techniques to work for you – you aren’t working for them. If the day’s task to sort through your files takes you five weeks to complete, then so be it. Remember, your goal is to control your clutter; there’s no reason you have to do it in a month.
You Need a Second (or Third) Round of Decluttering
Chances are that you were a bit nervous when you started to declutter. You were afraid that you were going to get rid of something useful or that your great-aunt would be hurt if she found out that you got rid of the mug that she bought you.
Reality Check: When nothing horrible happened after you dropped off that first carload of stuff at the local donation center, you started to feel more confident in making decisions. A few months into the process, you were probably clearing out items that you would have once held onto.
That second or third round of decluttering is simply the result of you becoming clearer on your reason for why you wanted to declutter in the first place.
You Want to Keep Most of What You’re Sorting Through
A lot of people will say that they are ready to declutter, but they immediately jump to defending their sentimental items, memorabilia, or things with an emotional attachment.
Imagine two people who both used to ski and still have a lot of equipment. The person who realizes that skiing is no longer important to them will have an easier time donating or selling those items than the person who still identifies themselves as someone who could spend the weekend skiing, even though they haven’t done so for three years.
Reality Check: Sort through your cleaning supplies, medicine cabinet, sock drawer, or some other space where the stuff stored there is just stuff. If you are resistant to decluttering a group of items, like books, hold off trying to sort those items or you’ll end up frustrated, disheartened, or even angry that you feel you’re being asked to get rid of stuff that’s important to you.
You’ve Worked Hard to Organize Your Stuff, So Why Is Everything a Mess?
The January sales on organizing bins, shelves, and closet systems got your blood pumping. You knew that you’d feel better once you weren’t looking at piles of stuff and the bins and plastic drawers and cubbies did seem to make your home look neater. Only, new piles are forming.
Reality Check: Organizing stuff is really about giving items a home so that you can find them when you need to use them. Storing items that you don’t use or like only helps the companies that manufacture and sell the organizing tools that you bought.
Part of the decluttering process is learning what is important to you now and noticing how past purchases didn’t necessarily resolve a desire or situation. If you organize items without questioning why you have them, you don’t learn to question future purchases and you’ll end up with more stuff.
You’re Frustrated that Your Family Won’t Help
You’ve pointed out to your partner or kids how their stuff is cluttering the house. They don’t see a problem because this is how things “have always been.”
Reality Check: You’ve probably heard it before, focus on your stuff first. After you’ve decluttered your stuff, work on areas that you’re in charge of, like the kitchen or gardening shed. Clarify why you want to declutter your home and discuss this with your family. Also, is your immediate concern the family room? Then, don’t bring your kids’ bedrooms and your spouse’s home office into the conversation, at least right now.
Try to focus on small common areas – the stretch of kitchen counter that has become the dumping ground for paper or the dining table that’s being used as crafting central. Remember, if you are establishing a new rule, you need to replace the old behavior with a new habit. Don’t want mail, receipts, and other paper to end up on the kitchen counter? Would it help to have a central bin that gets sorted weekly? Or, in-boxes for each member of the family and a central calendar?
Be Easy on Yourself during a Decluttering Slump
No matter what else you feel you need to do, give yourself the opportunity to appreciate your efforts to date. Do you need to devote some time to tidying spaces you’ve already decluttered? Putting things away will quickly show off the hard work you’ve done.
If you’re faced with a difficult group of items, set out some of them so you can see them throughout the week. After looking at the items on multiple occasions, mull over your connection to the items and what you really want from them.
And, as always, consider why you wanted to declutter your home. Reminding yourself of your personal goals can return you to the mental attitude that will break you through your decluttering slump.
What decluttering challenges do you face? I’m collecting questions that I’ll answer in an upcoming video. Add your question to the comments section below.
A Year of Decluttering
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
While teaching a class about decluttering, an older gentleman commented that his major organizing challenge was all the paper he had to go through, particularly in his home office. Since there was so much, he wasn’t certain where the best place to start would be. I suggested that he start by scheduling 15-to-20-minutes a day for sorting through his papers.
He laughed. He had much, much more than 15-to-20-minutes of work ahead of him.
I understood. I also understood that an hour or two or sorting paperwork, is mentally exhausting. And discouraging (so much paper in such a small space!). So mentally exhausting and discouraging, in fact, that it becomes more difficult to convince yourself to do more decluttering, even though you know you need to in order to reach your goals.
You may feel that more time equals being more productive and so you’ve decided that you need to hold off on decluttering until the next long weekend or when you have an entire day (or at least 4-to-6-hours) to put in some “real” work.
It can be difficult to find that perfect convergence of available time, help from family (if that’s part of your plan), and the desire to spend that time decluttering as opposed to something more, well, enjoyable. When that entire weekend with nothing to do but declutter doesn’t manifest, it’s easy to convince yourself that this is a ‘Big Important Project’ that needs to get delayed.
It doesn’t. Remember my suggestion to declutter 15-to-20-minutes a day? It shows results a whole lot faster than doing nothing while waiting for that block of six-hours that hasn’t yet showed up.
How to Declutter in 15-Minutes a Day
Fifteen minutes is often enough time to declutter one shelf, drawer, or cabinet. If you think that there is more than fifteen minutes of work in that space (say, beneath the kitchen sink), instead of emptying the space, shift items around and remove the stuff that you obviously can toss or that belongs someplace else.
Return to that location the next day and pull everything out for some more focused effort.
Why Mini Decluttering Sessions Work
Now, you might be thinking, “Cleaning one shelf or drawer a day is going to take forever.” And, I’m not saying that, if you found yourself with 30-minutes or an hour, that you shouldn’t do more decluttering, given the opportunity and interest.
Trust me, I totally get it if right now you’re thinking, “I’d rather just do it all at once.” (And, this applies to more tasks or goals than just decluttering.)
However, if you fit in 15-minutes, five days a week, by the end of the month, you’ll have done at least five hours of decluttering. And here’s the best part – you won’t feel as if you spent five hours slogging through your stuff.
You won’t feel drained by all the decision-making. You’ll be mentally and emotionally ready to keep going which is important because five hours isn’t going to transform your entire house. There’ll be next month and the month after that. And, developing a habit of sorting through your stuff 15-minutes a day is going to send you a constant stream of small wins – “This week, I finished that shelf, and that one, oh, and that drawer, and today I went through the stuff I had piled in that corner!”
This way, when you do find four hours to start tackling your garage, you’ll be able to think about working box-by-box instead of expecting that you’ll be able to clear seventeen years of stuff in a few hours.
6 Ways to Make the Most of Your Decluttering Time
Do you have a decluttering question for me? When I get a few, I’ll answer them in a YouTube video and then post it to Facebook. (I’ve never done this. Bit nervous. I figure if I have some questions in front of me, I’ll have something to talk about.) Leave your question in the comments below or email me at Susan@ALessClutteredLife.com.
Decluttering isn’t about your stuff. If decluttering was just about the objects in your home, you’d probably have no trouble making decisions about what to keep and what to release. But, as you’ve probably noticed, it’s not that simple.
Our stuff is connected to our thoughts and feelings. Should you keep this? What if you get rid of it and you need it again? What if you hurt the feelings of the gift giver? You feel ridiculous for spending money on something you never used. You feel ashamed that you hold onto things that you know aren’t important but that you can’t get rid of. You feel overwhelmed by all your stuff and the decisions you know you need to make about each item in your home.
I’ve selected the following quotes to be a sort of tale of decluttering. First, you start to realize that you have more stuff than you need, and you begin to wonder if you can change this situation that you’ve been living with for years. You consider why you want to declutter – why is now the right time?
You realize that before you can declutter, you need to look within for your motivation and goals so when you start feeling overwhelmed, you’ll know why you are clearing these things from your life. With a vision for the life you want firmly set in your mind, you make decision after decision, questioning how each possession will help you reach your goals.
Sometimes, you wonder if you should hold onto things ‘just in case;’ however, you realize that knowing what you want to do in your life, means that you know what you need. Each decision you make to declutter what you don't need changes you into a person working toward your goals.
You can read through each quote (or watch the slideshow) and then return to the beginning and allow yourself to reread each quote, this time closing your eyes after each one and considering how it applies to your life.
I believe that clearing clutter brings clarity to our goals; but also, we want to begin the decluttering process knowing why this task is important to us. What is your vision for your life and your home? What goals would you pursue if your clutter wasn’t blocking your way?
If you think your goal is to get organized, I want you to imagine what your life would be like when your home is organized. That's where you should focus.
I think this clarity is such an important first step to decluttering, that I’ve created a program, Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life that helps you identify your goals for your life and your vision for your home as well as create a plan for your decluttering activities, so you stay motivated throughout the process. To learn more about Create Space for Your Life, please click here.
Please share your favorite quotes with friends and family on social media.
By Susan Caplan McCarthy
Maybe you’ve been ignoring your clutter thinking that someday you’ll have the time to sort through all your stuff but, right now, you have too much to do. But, all that stuff is starting to become a problem. You feel uptight and overwhelmed in your own home. You waste time looking for things that you know you have but can’t find. When you go through your stuff, you not only find what you’re looking for, but you discover that you have three!
Even finding something to wear that fits and that you want to put on seems to drain your energy. Over coffee the other day, (at a coffee shop, certainly not at your house) a friend was telling you about the experiences of emptying her parents’ home and how she wishes her parents had been more selective in the things they kept. You imagine your family trying to make sense of all the things you have in your house.
You determine to get organized and you purchase a book on organizing. In the author’s opening pages, they encourage you to consider why you want to declutter. You don’t even pause to think. Of course, you want to declutter so that you’ll be more organized and feel calmer when you’re at home.
You’re excited with the idea of having an organized home. You block off a weekend to declutter, announcing your plans to several people so you stay accountable. You start your Weekend of Decluttering by emptying your closet and dressers. Quickly, you bag some tee shirts with fraying binding around the neck. What about the tee shirts you’ve bought while on vacation? Hmm, you could wear them to the gym or while gardening.
You fold them and pack them into a drawer. You try on a few blouses that you completely forgot that you owned. Several of them ‘fit’ if you ignore the way the fabric gaps between the buttons. When you’re done with all this decluttering, you’ll start on a diet Monday; so, you may as well keep these blouses for when you lose a few pounds. You slide these tops onto hangers and put them in your closet.
You find more clothes that still have price tags attached. Well, you should wear this stuff; it’s brand new. You return the items to the closet. You fill three bags with the clothing you’re giving up. You remember that you have jackets and coats hanging in the hall closet, but, well, you never know what the weather is going to be, so chances are you’ll wear them some day or another.
It is late afternoon of day one of decluttering. You thought you’d have more done by this time. You go into the kitchen and open each cabinet door. You scan the shelves, pull out a few things here and there and box them for donation. You gather papers (that seem to be everywhere) and pile them around your desk – you’ll do them tomorrow.
You try to clear your kitchen counters, but there really isn’t enough space to put all this stuff into cabinets. It’s getting late and you push yourself to keep moving around your house, tucking some things into boxes that you’ll sort through some other day. You start to bring a stack of magazines to the recycling bin, but you know you haven’t read all of them. You decide that you should sit down and scan the pages and pull out any articles that look interesting; this will be a quiet activity to work on before bed.
You wake the next morning feeling dehydrated and achy. You have a text message from a friend asking if you want to get together for a late breakfast that morning. A little break would be nice. You’ll be home in a couple of hours. You go to your closet to get dressed. You kept more clothing than you thought you did. You pull out a top, still bearing its tag and think that you could wear it, but, no, it’s a bit dressy for breakfast at the local diner so you return it to your closet.
When you return home after breakfast, you walk from room to room with a growing sense of dissatisfaction. You got rid of stuff, but it hasn’t made much of a difference. You see the piles of paper around your desk and you realize that there’s a day’s worth of work right here (if you’re lucky you’ll get it done today).
Maybe if you pick up some storage bins on your way home from work tomorrow, you can organize your stuff, so it will look neater and you’ll know where it is….
Is this your experience with decluttering? The word I hear almost every time someone talks about the stuff in their home is “overwhelming.” Clutter makes you feel overwhelmed. However, if before you started decluttering you took some time to imagine your life after you’ve decluttered and to identify some of the things you’d do with your days if you were already decluttered, you’d know your motivation.
Stop thinking that your reason for decluttering is to get organized. Decluttering helps clear the path to all the things you want to do with your life. Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life is a self-directed program that helps you focus on what you want from your life and your home and helps you plan your time, so you can work on your decluttering goals and your life goals.
I've been creating this program over the past several months after talking to many DIYers who want to declutter their home but don't want to hire a professional organizer. I realized that many people were jumping into decluttering without considering why they wanted to declutter and what they hoped to accomplish. I wanted to help people see that getting organized is a byproduct of decluttering instead of their goal. There's so much more to life than gathering stuff. Clearing away what you don't need, shows you the possibilities available to your life.
If you’re frustrated with decluttering the same space in your home time and again …
If you’re overwhelmed by deciding where to start decluttering …
If you think you can’t even start decluttering until you can clear a huge chunk of time …
If you’re tired of putting plans and personal goals on hold until you get organized …
If you wish you knew whether you’d need these things again …
If you want to Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life, learn how, here.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Remember your excitement for the start of the school year and your hope for getting better grades, making new friends, claiming a spot on the team, or starting a new extracurricular activity? Even if you’ve been out of school for more years than you attended, you can use the energy of the change of season, routines, and schedules, to work toward a goal.
If you set resolutions or goals in January and they’ve fallen to the wayside, maybe the randomness of starting in the fall will kickstart some new habits. Or, you can think of starting in September as getting a jump start on all those January 1st resolution-setters. Make September your new January.
Setting Goals for the Fall
Start off making a list of the things you said you wanted to get done this year (along with all the other goals you’ve thought of during the past several months).
Pick one thing to devote your time, energy, and attention to. This can be a goal that you can complete in the next four months or it can be a significant start to a goal that will take longer to complete.
I know. You want to work toward more than one goal. But, first, list all the tasks involved in reaching your most important goal and estimate the time it will take for each of those tasks. Add up the total time and then add thirty percent to account for low estimations. Do you really have the time to work on two or more goals right now? Get started with one goal and once you get into a routine, then decide if you can add on another goal.
Click on the image below to get your free pdf download of this goal tracking chart. This will allow you to create a habit chain for the specific tasks that you need to do to reach your goal. Use the chart to track tasks for a month, print out additional copies for each month.
So, while your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, or the neighborhood kids, are starting the school year, use some of that ‘starting something new’ energy and work toward accomplishing one of your goals.
Want to share your goal in the comment section? Making a goal public is great for accountability!
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Making a change to your home, even for the better, is very emotional. To declutter, you must admit that you have clutter. Admitting you have clutter, forces you to acknowledge that you’ve been holding onto the past, clinging to things you wanted to do but never got around to.
While it may be sad or frustrating to admit that some things haven’t worked out (using the treadmill, knitting a baby layette for your first child – who will be heading off to college in the fall, baking fresh bread every morning), by clearing out these items, you make space for your current life.
Why Am I Decluttering?
Complete the following sentences. Although these prompts are open-ended so that they could be used for any problem you are facing in your life, focus on how you feel about the condition of your home. Why ask these questions?
One, you’ve got a big task ahead of you. If your choice for the evening is binge-watching a show on Netflix or spending two or three hours decluttering, connecting to your emotional reason for wanting to declutter will help you get started and keep you going.
Two, at some point, someone may want to know why you are getting rid of stuff. Maybe you’ve decided that the tchotchke your aunt brought back from Hawaii twenty-seven years ago isn’t important to you; your mother is appalled that you would treat a gift from her sister is such a way. Or, your spouse sees you decluttering your stuff and is worried about what this means.
Answering these questions will help you verbalize the unsettled feeling you have when looking at the clutter in your home.
I wish …
I hope …
I’m angry that …
I’m afraid that …
I’m sad about …
I’m happy about …
You might journal these questions for you whole home or for each room.
Asking the Five Whys
Interested in gaining a bit more insight? Which of these feelings was the strongest? Maybe you wrote more in response to one of the prompts. Maybe your heart raced, or your hand shook as you completed one of the sentences. Explore that feeling by asking, ‘why?’.
Then, look at your answer, and ask why. Look at that response and ask why again. This is called the Five Whys Technique because, in theory, questioning a problem this way allows you to examine cause and effect and get to the root cause of a problem. For example,
I want to declutter the house.
Why? I hate having all this useless stuff around.
Why do I find this stuff useless? It’s a bunch of knickknacks that don’t do anything but collect dust.
Why does everything have to have a function? Okay, it doesn’t. I just think about clearing out my parents’ house and tossing this type of stuff into trash bags.
Why did that bother me? Because while clearing my parents’ house I was seething that they’d been so inconsiderate to leave all this stuff for their kids to deal with. If they didn’t know what to do with the stuff, how was I supposed to know? I don’t want to leave my family with that sort of burden.
Transforming Your Why into What You Want to See in Your Life
Clearing the clutter is not just about releasing what is no longer important to you but also about imagining your life after decluttering. Sometimes, it is easier to know what you don’t want than what you do want from your life. Try the exercise in Envision a Clutter-Free Life to get a sense of what you are working toward.
When you take the time to gain clarity, it can help you focus and give you energy for the task ahead.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
A few weeks ago, an acquaintance complained about starting her day on the wrong foot when she couldn’t find her keys. I made the suggestion (that she’s probably heard dozens of times), “You could put your keys in the same place all the time.”
She sighed, “I put up hooks for the keys, but I never remember to use them,” She shrugged as she wandered off, suggesting this was a situation beyond her control.
I could have asked her why she didn’t hang her keys on their hook. This probably would have put her on the defensive and she would have told me about everything she carries into the house and how she starts making dinner before she even has the chance to take off her coat.
Or, I could have asked her why it was important to find her keys in the morning. Now, (I imagine) she’d start talking about saving time and feeling calmer and more organized instead of frantic. If I’d asked why this was important she would have found her real goal. Her goal wasn’t to hang her keys on that hook … her goal was to know where her keys were.
Sometimes we treat a task, “do this,” as our goal. However, a goal is really the outcome we want. Doing a task is taking a step that will help get you to your goal. The following four steps will help you set a more meaningful goal (and, yes, you can follow the steps for any goal, not just finding your keys).
How to Set Your Goal
Now, when you find yourself walking into your home, with your arms full of grocery bags and the mail and a kid (or spouse) asking what’s for dinner, your goal, not just the task of hanging up your keys, will float through your mind. Instead of thinking, “I’ll hang up my keys later,” you’ll think, “Wait, tomorrow I’ll want to leave the house feeling calm,” and that goal may be the incentive you need.
What’s your goal? Feel free to share it in the comments below.
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.