by Susan Caplan McCarthy
May - Get Ready for Summer
The lazy days of summer? I find my days a little fuller in the summer because my garden (which I can ignore for months during New England winters) needs cleaning, weeding, planting, and watering. I even devote more time to feeding the birds in the spring and summer than in the winter.
My focus, for a few months, turns to the outdoors – the porch and patio needs sweeping and dusting, so they are ready for guests invited to a dinner from the grill.
Go with the Flow
At any time of the year you may find your days busier. Holidays. Visitors. Guests. Minor illnesses. Seasonal changes. Work schedule. Family obligations. Home repairs. And on.
I’m not talking about long-term changes – a new child, marriage or divorce, a move, a serious illness – but changes that will occupy a few days or weeks. In some cases, these temporary disruptions to your days can feel more annoying because you feel like you should be able to squeeze in everything that you’re used to doing plus the additional commitments.
You don’t have to.
Take a deep breath and accept that you can’t do everything right now. Creating balance in your life isn’t about squeezing everything into every day.
Instead, it’s about acknowledging that at different times different things and activities will be more important than at other times. You do this all the time, maybe without thinking about it. You know a project at work will take up most of your attention for the next three months and so other projects get put on hold or get less attention. Decluttering and renovating your basement into a family room means that you say “no” to some casual get-togethers because you want to project done.
Create Balance by Tweaking Your Schedule
Tweaking your schedule involves making small changes to your days. Maybe for a week you’ll host out-of-town guests. Maybe you come down with the flu and you need to set aside your regular workouts. During the holidays, you rearrange some furniture or décor so you can accommodate holiday displays.
You lean your attention in one direction for a while and then later tilt in another direction to focus on something else.
All this comes down to reducing your need for perfectionism and accepting good enough. Neat enough. Clean enough. Busy enough. Decide what is most important to focus on right now and realize that in another week, you can tweak your focus to what will be most important to you then.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
March - Spring Cleaning
One of the challenges with decluttering is just getting started. Or, starting again. Starting means that you’re committing to making a lot of decisions about what you’ll do with your stuff.
This quick-start guide streamlines your decision-making process by focusing you on a different task each day. It takes a lot less time to walk through a room and grab items you’ve identified as ‘trash’ than to stand in the middle of a room wondering where to start and what to do with everything.
This method is intended for clearing some of the stuff piled on countertops, tables, furniture, and the floor. This isn’t the time to delve into drawers, cabinets, closets, or storage boxes.
Prepare to Declutter
Walk through your home and take some ‘before’ picture. Really. In a week, you may be so focused on the work you still have to do that you’ll downplay what you’ve already accomplished.
Depending on the size of your home, and your schedule, plan at least 15-minutes a day for each activity but no more than 60-minutes. You want to do something every day. Avoid going into storage spaces (garage, “guest bedroom”) and instead stick with the rooms you use every day.
Seven-Day Quick Start Decluttering Guide
Day One – Walk around your home with a bin and toss anything that can be recycled. If you want to save things like glass bottles, shoeboxes, or other items for upcycled crafts, gather these items to a single location so you can better assess how many of these items you’ve been keeping and how many you’ll really use. (Keep cardboard boxes large enough for packing items to be donated.)
Day Two – Walk through your home with a trash bag and toss anything to be thrown away.
Day Three – Grab a laundry basket or a bin and gather items that belong in other rooms. As you move to another room, put away what belongs in that space. Don’t get caught up trying to find the perfect spot for each item. Go for good enough. Remember, this process helps you to get started.
Day Four – Collect items that you’d like to give to specific people. If the item is too bulky for a box, make a note of the item. Next, call, text, or email the individuals whom you’d like to give these items. Point out that they don’t have to take items they aren’t interested in. Schedule how and when you’ll get items to their new owners.
Day Five – With a box in hand, collect items that you want to sell. How will you do this? Consignment shop, online auction, auction house, yard sale? Hop online and research some options for these items.
Day Six – Move through each room, grabbing items for donation and packing them into boxes or bags. Can’t decide? Move on. You’ll come back to this room in the future. Deliver items to a donation center or schedule a pick up at your home.
Day Seven – Consider if you’ll benefit from repeating this process next week or if you want to go deeper by focusing on a single room.
This is a rough outline. If you don’t want to fuss with selling things, then skip that activity and move on to the next. Stay focused on living spaces over storage spaces. Remember, this process is meant to get you started decluttering by moving through overwhelm and procrastination.
Please share this article with someone who's been talking about decluttering. You can offer one another support and accountability.
How to Declutter Your House in Three Steps
Declutter Your Home in 15 Minutes a Day
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:
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
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
A Year of Decluttering - January: Everyday Actions
When I started telling people that I could help them declutter, I was met with a lot of enthusiasm as they described the excess stuff that they felt was preventing them from going back to school, giving their teenagers a space to hang out with their friends, or downsizing to a smaller home that would be easier to take care of.
So, I was surprised when these people who told me they wanted to declutter would argue with me when I suggested that they get rid of, say, a six-month-old receipts from the grocery store.
“Oh, no,” they’d say, “I have to record them in a spreadsheet before I can toss them.” When were they going to do that task? “When I find the time. Let’s move on to something else.”
When I’d suggest that they devote 15-minutes a day to a decluttering-related project, I’d get a look and be told “I really have to find an entire day to declutter so I can see big results.” But, then, they’d never schedule a day to work on what they’d said was important to them.
I was baffled by this tug-of-war that they were playing with themselves.
I was rereading Marth Beck’s book, Finding Your Own North Star, when I came to a section where she talked about the words we use when describing situations that we find ourselves in. She wasn’t talking about decluttering, so I’m taking some liberties here to impose her examples onto this scenario. I’m curious if changing our language can clarify how we feel about our stuff.
Do You Really Have to Declutter?
Unless the situation at home is hazardous to you or another family member, do you really have to declutter? Ignore the comments and jokes from your spouse, sister, and 8-year-old grandson, do you, you, want to declutter?
When you think that you have to declutter, you’re saying you don’t have control over the situation and that you’re bending to the will of others. Is it any wonder that you’d cling to items when you feel as if you have no control over what you can keep?
Take a moment to try this quick exercise, you don’t even have to say the words out loud, you can think them. Stand in a room or near a location that you feel you have to declutter and say, “I have to get organized,” and watch your body react. Do your shoulders sag? Next, clear the thought with a deep breath and exhale. Then, say, “I’ve decided to get organized.”
Consider, have you made the decision to declutter and get organized? If decluttering isn’t your choice, how will you decide what to do with the things you own?
Why Can’t You Get Rid of that?
If you say, “Oh, I can’t get rid of that lamp because my mother gave it to me,” are you saying that you like the lamp or that you don’t want to anger or disappoint your mother? I’m thinking that you don’t like the lamp or the obligation you have to it.
If, instead, you said, “I don’t want to keep this lamp,” or “I choose not to keep this lamp,” or even, “I choose to keep this lamp,” then there’s a lamp and your decision. It doesn’t need any explanation.
Do You Really Not Have the Time?
I’m not suggesting that you aren’t busy or that you could be busier than you are; however, if an opportunity comes up to do something you really want to do, you make it work.
Are you being accurate when you say, “I don’t have time to declutter the garage,” or, do you really mean, “I’m going to do something else?”
The change in language admits that decluttering isn’t a priority this day, week, month, or year. Instead of brushing away the task you identify your true priorities.
Clarify What You Want to Do
If you feel that decluttering isn’t your choice, but something you have to do to appease someone else or because it’s January or because you think you should want clear counters and fewer things in your closet, then chances are you will fight yourself throughout the process of decluttering.
Try changing the language of what you are saying and consider which statement is truer for you. “I can’t get rid of my mother’s wedding china,” isn’t the same as saying, “I won’t get rid of my mother’s wedding china.”
Remember, you choose to declutter.
Decluttering is a Journey; It's Not Your Destination
Two Things You'll Gain When You Declutter
Have you asked to join the closed Facebook group, A Year of Decluttering? Click below and feel free to start a conversation with others in this small but growing group.
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.
By Susan Caplan McCarthy
I’m recovering from surgery I had last week to remove part of my thyroid which had nodules too large to biopsy (just had the follow-up appointment and there were no signs of cancer). This was my second surgery this year (in March I had a hysterectomy). Before this year, the only surgery I’d ever had was to remove my wisdom teeth in 1982.
I spent the first three months of 2018 going to multiple doctor appointments; having multiple ultrasounds, much bloodwork, and an MRI before having surgery that confirmed I did not have ovarian cancer.
Throw in five or six colds and this has been a draining year. I wasn’t surprised in October when I was told that I should have part of the thyroid removed … I’d had multiple doctors during the year look at my neck and say, “Huh, I can see that standing over here. What’s your doctor doing about that?” And now, it’s out.
So, did I meet all my personal or professional goals for the year? No way. I’m disappointed by some of the failures, most of which involved distractions that I inadvertently turned into priorities.
My Resolution for 2019
I’ve been intrigued by bullet journaling for a while but each time I dip into learning how to keep this to-do list/planner/journal system, I’ve ended up overwhelmed by the terminology and the variety. I’m spending some time between now and the end of the year figuring out how to get started for 2019.
Some of the things I find appealing about bullet journaling are the daily reflection on goals, the habit trackers, and the open-ended quality of the system. There’s no need to fit my life into someone else’s idea of a planner and I can create what will work for me. (I find the open-endedness both appealing and intimidating; weird, huh?)
I realize that creating and using a bullet journal will encompass other goals and keep them on track, so to keep myself focused on what I want to accomplish, I’m thinking that my goal for 2019 will be to keep a bullet journal.
Do you keep a bullet journal? I’d love to hear your tips or learn about your favorite blogs or vlogs.
A Year of Decluttering
I hope that you’ve enjoy the free program, A Year of Decluttering. Although you’ll continue to receive the daily emails with the task of the day until the end of the year, you can now download the entire year as a pdf book. I’ve included a couple of checklists to help you track your way through the program, if you want to do it again or if you joined late in the year.
You can track yourself day-by-day or by themed groups of items. And, of course, now that you can see the entire year, you can go at the pace that works for you.
I’ve had a few questions about what I’ll be doing in 2019. I’ll start a new Year of Decluttering, just not as a daily program which took MUCH more work than I envisioned. Each month will have a theme (self-care, paper, digital, small spaces) that will be the focus of weekly articles and may include a checklist to help you stay focused on the tasks during the week.
Other weekly articles will focus on goal-setting, habits, motivation, creativity, and productivity – skills that help you understand why you want to declutter and keep you motivated because you can see life beyond the stuff in your closet.
Create Space for Your Life
I’ve been a teacher for over twenty-five years, mostly in non-conventional settings. Teaching works with one of my strengths, a love of learning, which usually looks like this – read tons of books and articles, take copious notes, winnow it down into a class, and teach that class.
The first course I’ve created for A Less Cluttered Life is a self-directed program called Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life. I’m pleased with this program because it doesn’t just talk about eliminating stuff around your home but focuses on helping you to clarify your goals.
While talking to people throughout this year, I found that individuals express overwhelm, embarrassment, and confusion when they talk about the clutter in their home. I realized that telling people to box up the stuff they haven’t used in six months, regardless of what it was, was going to add to their stress.
So, this program is about you. Your goals for your life. Your vision for your home. Your schedule and priorities. Your stuff and the things that you use every day. Your family and the others who live with you creating solutions that keep the clutter at bay.
Will you end up with a home that’s empty but for a few pieces of furniture? Only if that’s your vision for your home (and everyone else in the house is up for living in a minimalist space). My hope for you is that this program helps you clarify what’s most important to keep and allows to release the things you know won’t benefit your life.
To learn more, about Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life, click here. Curious if you’re clear on your reasons for decluttering? Download this free 12-page workbook.
I have a few more programs in the works that focus on goal-setting and keeping as well as being productive as opposed to merely busy. I’ll be releasing them throughout the winter.
When I was trying to think of a name for my business and website, I adopted A Less Cluttered Life because I saw that it could come to encompass not just stuff but schedules as well. I think that living a simpler, less cluttered life doesn’t involve eliminating goals and dreams along with physical stuff but decluttering the things, thoughts, habits, and activities that don’t help us do the things that make our life personally meaningful.
I think that when we create space in our life for what has purpose and meaning, instead of what merely keeps us busy, we can better help others, as I hope to continue to help you on your journey to declutter what isn’t essential.
Don’t forget to download your two free item – the pdf book of A Year of Decluttering and the 12-page workbook on clarifying your reasons for decluttering. Happy New Year!
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.
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.
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.