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
A Year of Decluttering - February: Decluttering as Self-Care
Have you ever used the promise of a reward as an incentive to do something? Rewards can be tricky. If you tell yourself that your reward for cleaning out your closet is to go clothes shopping, then you’re defeating the purpose of cleaning your closet. But, after doing a big, involved task such as cleaning your closet, shouldn’t you get something for your efforts?
Sometimes, the reward for doing an activity is that now the activity is done. Consider that your reward for cleaning your closet is a cleaner closet where it’s easier to see the clothing options you have and where you’ll be able to spend less time trying to find or decide what to wear each day. The reward for cleaning your closet is that you now have a clean closet. The reward for cleaning your garage is that you can now park your car in the garage.
The Reward for the Action Is the Action
In her book on habits, Better than Before, Gretchen Rubin list three reasons for avoiding rewards (particularly if you are trying to reward yourself into developing a habit).
One, the need to reward yourself implies that you wouldn’t do the activity otherwise; so, you’re acting only for the sake of the reward. If the activity requires maintenance (you cleaned your desk but now you need to keep it clean), will you do that without a reward waiting for you?
Two, rewards require a decision. If you got a reward for cleaning off your desk, do you get one every time you clean off your desk? And how messy does your desk have to be to deserve a reward? You end up wasting time and energy making a decision that doesn’t need to be made.
And, three, while a reward might be a great incentive for a one-time goal with a finish line, that finish line marks a stopping point. However, if your activity doesn’t really have a stopping point (you should clean up your desk at the end of every day), then it doesn’t make sense to create an artificial finish line.
But You Can Give Yourself Treats ‘Just Because’
Rubin points out that while a reward must be “earned or justified,” a treat is a small indulgence “just because we want it.” No justification required. Giving yourself a treat is a form of self-care.
When you hear ‘treat’ and ‘self-care’ in the same sentence, you may think of things like getting a manicure or a massage or going to a movie, show, or museum exhibit. However, anything can be a treat if it gives us a boost of good feelings and energy.
A treat doesn’t have to be time consuming or pricey. (And, Rubin warns against treats connected to food, shopping, and screen time as they can leave us feeling worse in the long run.)
Treats can be scheduled or spontaneous – or, both.
Create a List of Treats
Remember, treats are intended “just because.” The goal of giving yourself (frequent) treats is to make you feel happier and more energetic. They aren’t intended as a bribe to force yourself into doing more. Giving yourself regular treats can keep you more positive about working through your day-to-day activities.
Life coach and author Martha Beck, in her book The Joy Diet, suggests creating a list of things that you consider treats so you don’t become used to giving yourself the same treat time and again (making it seem less special). To get you started, list
Keep your list of treats handy. Dole out your treats throughout the day instead of saving them for the end of the day. Acknowledge your treats. For example, “It will be so fun to turn the page of my planner and encounter one of those cute llama stickers I scattered through the pages.” “Listening to the sound of the rain pattering against the window is so relaxing.” “I’m glad I lit this blood orange candle; it smells wonderful.”
Treat yourself. Just because.
Books mentioned in this article:
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.
A Year of Decluttering
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I remember reading Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit and being amazed by his story of a woman who, at a low point in her life, decided that she wanted to trek through the deserts of Egypt to go see the pyramids. Although she didn’t know what this involved, she decided that she’d have to give up smoking. That eventually prompted her to start jogging which, led her to change her diet and sleep patterns, as well as the way she worked, saved money, planned her time, and so on. Amazing.
For her, quitting smoking was her keystone habit, the habit upon which she built other habits.
I’m not a psychologist, and so I’m very likely oversimplifying the idea of creating a keystone habit since I’m going to focus on how it can help you to declutter.
How a One Habit Becomes Many Habits
When I first read about keystone habits, I thought that they were something that would magically or accidentally show up in one’s life, recognized as a keystone habit only in retrospect. Nope. You can choose your keystone habit.
To create a keystone habit, you select a very specific action related to an area of your life that you want to improve. Let’s say that you decide to choose a habit related to being organized. You select one small, specific location to declutter and you put your focus on keeping that one location organized.
A keystone habit shouldn’t be something that you’re already doing (or sort of doing). Look around your home for a specific location that you always struggle with. As you take things from that spot and put them where they belong, you gradually spread your organizing influence throughout your home. You’re still focused on maintaining organization in that one, original location, but to do so, you end up paying attention to other locations as well.
One – Select Your Keystone Habit
When I asked the question on Facebook about a location in people’s homes where they were always struggling with clutter, quite a few people mentioned their dining or kitchen table.
For my example in this article, we’ll pretend that you’ve decided that keeping your dining table clear will be your keystone habit. First, you want to define what a “clear dining table” looks like for you. Will the table be bare of everything or will you keep placemats and the salt and pepper shakers on the table?
I gave my husband a tray to corral his medications, checkbook, pens, mini screwdriver and other things he uses all the time at the dining table because this is one of two locations where he spends his days in the house. This isn’t a particularly attractive option but an improvement over a bunch of small items scattered over the table. I realized that my goal was to have an easy-to-clear table.
Two – List the Positive Reasons for Sticking with This Habit
If you have a family, and they contribute to the clutter in a spot, set up rules as to what needs to be removed and by when every day. If there will be an exception, define it up front. “Craft projects can stay on the table Saturday nights as long as the supplies get cleaned up by 4p on Sunday.” List the benefits of this new habit and invite your family to add in their own ideas.
Some benefits could be –
Three – Focus on this One Space
After clearing off the dining table, you may be tempted to think that you’ll tackle another location the next day. Not yet. Chances are that you’ll need to work at keeping the dining table clear. So, keep clearing the table and reminding others in your house to put away their stuff.
Remind them of the benefits. “Wasn’t it great that you and your friend had a clean space to work on homework together?” “It was so nice to have someone over for a meal without rushing around to clear off the table before they arrived.
Keeping this one space clear may prove to be an easy-to-maintain change – or not.
Four – Monitor the Process
You may need to do some problem solving if you notice the same things keep getting left in this space. Maybe your spouse drops the mail on the table every evening.
When you ask the question, “What’s the problem, here?” you realize that you don’t have a routine for dealing with the mail. The dining table is nowhere near the recycling bin and you don’t know what to do with mail that requires a future action. You decide that you need the habit of sorting the mail and tossing the junk mail before you set down the rest of it.
And where do you put the mail that you need to deal with later? You find a basket in your living room that’s been a catch-all for coins, paper clips, receipts, scissors and other small things. Now, when your spouse walks in the door, they toss the junk mail in a recycle bin and put the rest of the mail in this basket, with plans to go through it on Sunday nights.
Oh, and you also eliminated a catch-all basket without really noticing that your decluttering efforts were spreading to another location.
Five – Stay Consistent
By focusing on how you want one location in your home to look (as opposed to an entire room), you also engage another aspect of habit formation, consistency. Before, you may have worked at clearing off the table only when guests were joining you or you had a project that required a large, flat space. Now, it’s your expectation that you (and others in your home) return the table to its defined order every day.
Where Will You Start?
Maybe you’ll decide to keep your table clear (remember, you define what ‘clear’ looks like for you); or, your desk; or, the shoes that pile up in the foyer; or, that armchair in your bedroom where you pile your clean clothes. As you work on creating the order you want, you’ll be tossing some items, donating others, and moving some things to other rooms or locations around your home.
You might realize that you pile your clean laundry on a chair because your closet and drawers are so full that you can’t fit in anything new. Keeping your desk clean may be a matter of setting a timer to go off near the end of the day so you have time to file papers, bring your coffee mug to the kitchen, and tuck your planner into your tote bag.
Remember, you are focusing on keeping one very small area of your home consistently organized in the way you’ve defined. What will you be keeping organized? Leave a comment below.
Use a Habit Tracker
Change One Tiny Habit
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
Chances are that at some point in the not-too-distant past, you decluttered an area only to notice a month (or a week) later that clutter had crept in. You sighed in exasperation, cleaned the area again only to have the clutter reappear. At some point, life got busier than usual and by the time you lifted your head and looked around, the clutter had not only returned but spread. Ack!
Ack! Ack! Ack!
Unfortunately, no matter how much effort we put into decluttering, we’ll always have to engage in maintenance. While picking up things that clutter our spaces here and there during the week does help, you already know that a routine of daily maintenance is best. But, yeah, life, time, and all that stuff.
What Is Clutter?
Although we may think of clutter as something that can be thrown out, clutter can also be anything that’s left in the wrong place. A mug put away in the cabinet is in the right place. A mug sitting on the coffee table hours after someone finished with it has become clutter.
This is why organized folks will often recite the axiom, ‘A place for everything and everything in its place.’ Annoying but true. Look around your home, when something doesn’t belong where it’s been left, it sticks out.
The Ten-Minute Tidy-Up
A ten-minute tidy-up is a laser-focused, high-speed clean-up. Each person’s tidy-up time will look different. However, a tidy-up does not involve:
A tidy-up is not cleaning. Nor is it decluttering. You don’t:
A tidy-up does involve returning items to their home. This could mean:
How to Select Your Space to Clear
Now, if you are at the beginning of the decluttering process, you may be frustrated doing a tidy-up because you’ll see projects that need to be done and you might get drawn into decluttering. I know, it’s difficult. You want to be done with decluttering, but, realistically, that’s going to take a while.
How to Make these 10 Minutes a Habit
Some of the challenges I find doing a tidy-up revolve around making it a regular habit. Once or twice a week probably won’t be enough. If you do it every day, then it will become a part of your day. If you only do it every so often, it’s easier to brush off the task until “tomorrow.”
Create Calm in Your Home
Although ten-minutes won’t organize your home, it will create time to put away things that were moved out of place during the day. This can help create calm because as you move through your home you won’t be faced with looking at loose ends and things to do. As you continue to declutter your home at your pace, you’ll remove excess items that don’t really need to be in your home and you’ll also make decisions about where to store items.
This will make you feel more organized and calmer because you won’t have to decide where to put something, you’ll know. Don’t wait until you’ve finished decluttering to start a ten-minute tidy-up habit; maintaining the work you’ve done is just as important as starting to declutter a new area in your home.
Do you do something like a ten-minute tidy-up every day? What tasks do you tackle? How did you build the habit of this daily task? Leave a comment below.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I struggle developing habits. Part of my problem is that I set in my mind what a new habit should look like and go for this result right away. For example, I’m determined to do an hour of aerobics five times a week. However, if my schedule is tight and I realize that I’ll be able to fit in, say, 30 minutes of aerobics, I won’t do any exercise because I can’t hit my goal of 60-minutes. (Crazy, huh?)
I’ve got a not very productive mindset of all-or-nothing.
Go for Small Wins
Small wins a just what they sound like. You decide on the smallest, easiest goal that your mind offers absolutely no resistance to … and, you go for it.
So, when I think that I must exercise for 60 minutes but the resistant corner of my brain is shooting off excuses, I can knock down that goal. Forty-five minutes? Thirty minutes? Fifteen minutes? Hmm, I do have a workout video with 10-minute routines.
Ten-minutes of exercise doesn’t sound like a lot. And, it isn’t. However, once I get used to doing a 10-minute exercise routine, chances are that I’ll think, “Hey, I’ve got my sneakers on, so why don’t I do another ten minutes?”
In a month, I’ll likely be at, or near, my goal of 60-minutes of aerobics. And, if at some point during the month I realize that I don’t have time for a full workout, it will be easier to convince myself to exercise for 30-minutes because a week or so earlier, that was my goal.
I’ll get out of that all-or-nothing mindset because developing the habit was a more fluid process.
Build New Habits
What are some habits that you’d like to develop? I wouldn’t recommend developing all of them at once, however, if you have a morning habit that you’d like to develop and another habit as part of your evening routine, you could give it a try to work on both.
Maybe you’re tired of waking up tired and you realize that you should go to bed earlier than 11 p.m. If you decide to go to bed 30-minutes early, 10:30 p.m., chances are your body and mind will protest like a toddler and you may even find yourself staying up later as a backlash against this sudden and dramatic change.
So, instead, go to bed five minutes earlier – 10:55 p.m. This won’t seem like a significant difference … and, that’s the point. After a few days, this will become your normal bedtime. Tweak it another five minutes. If you’re thinking, “Wait, go to bed ten minutes early?” Then, stick with going to bed five minutes early until going to bed five minutes earlier than that is “just” five minutes earlier than your normal bedtime.
Chances are that you’re thinking that these tiny tweaks are ridiculous and that you should just exercise for 60 minutes or go to bed 30 minutes early. How’s that working for you? Yeah, me either.
Maybe it takes a month or two to tweak a habit until you’re at you goal. During that time, you’ve been benefiting from the partial goal and in a month or two, you’ll be going to be bed earlier and exercising at your goals.
On the other hand, if you keep thinking all-or-nothing, chances are, you’ll hit your goal a few times but, in a month or two, the habit will be nonexistent.
Small Wins that Can Become Habits
Turn Small Wins into Habits
So, why do incremental changes seem worthless? Because, we don’t want to think about the process … we just want the result.
Remember, once a small habit becomes a natural part of your day, stretch it a bit more until over time you have the habit you want.
If all at once works for you, fantastic! Every so often, you may discover that you can make a spontaneous change to your habits. Don’t dissect your behavior, shout “woo-hoo” and go on with your day. Otherwise, go for the small wins.
Working on habits connect with being organized? I've written a brief book, Why Can't You Stay Organized? that focuses on the habits and mindsets that will help you stay organized while you declutter. Available for $0.99 on Kindle.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
As you walk around your home today, perhaps while doing your daily task for A Year of Decluttering, notice one thing, a minor annoyance, that you want to change.
No, I don’t mean that you want to keep your kitchen counter clear of clutter or that you want to organize your closet by type of garment and color. Observe something small, so small in fact, that it seems silly to notice it; but, you do.
For me, it’s the fact that when I take off my coat, I throw it on the back of my chair in the dining room instead of hanging it up. Now, I live in a bungalow, and there is no hall closet for hanging coats. My husband has taken over the coat rack in the corner of the dining room (sigh) with several of his sweatshirts and a backpack for portable medical equipment. To hang up my coat, I need to put it in my bedroom closet. No “problem” since the bedroom is a few steps from both the front and side door.
But, I don’t do it. In the scope of decluttering, organizing, and building habits, this is so minor a detail that it is easy to ignore. But, my coat sits on the back of my chair day after day. I pull the coat off the chair when I wear it … and, when I return home, it goes back in the same place.
I do this so automatically, I almost don’t notice the habit. However, I do notice the jacket. As I said, in the grander picture of my home, this is an insignificant detail. But, what does this mindless habit tell my brain, “It’s just for right now,” “This is easier,” “I have bigger projects to tackle,” “I’m busy,” “I’m tired,” “This doesn’t matter.”
So, for the next week, it’s my goal to hang up my jacket in my bedroom closet each time I’m finished wearing it. (Unless, of course, it’s wet; then, I’ll wait for it to dry.) I know I won’t form a habit in a week (I’ve read that it can take up to 66 days to establish a habit); but, I will try to be more conscious of what I’m doing … and what I’m allowing to slip.
Will hanging up my jacket make my home more organized? No. However, it may wake me up to other mindless habits and, once noticed, they can’t go unnoticed. Also, noticing that I’ve succeeded in creating a habit is a win, a small win, but something that will bolster me when it comes to tackling another task.
Maybe, you don’t like how you drop your in-coming mail in a pile by the front door instead of immediately tossing the junk mail and putting bills and invitations into an inbox on your desk. Maybe you are annoyed that you leave used mugs and water glasses throughout your home instead of bringing them into the kitchen. Maybe you never think of hanging your keys on the hook by the door.
Join me and work on that one, small, insignificant task until it becomes a habit that no longer requires thought or energy … you just do it. Let’s see if a small win helps create larger wins in our lives.
In the comments below, list the tiny habit you’ll be working on!
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.