by Susan Caplan McCarthy
As the end of the year comes into sight, the rush to do things you (or your employer) thought you’d accomplish this year can leave you running ragged. Throw in your expectations for the holidays and you may wonder why humans don’t have the option of hibernating until spring.
Living a less cluttered life isn’t just about getting rid of that bread maker you haven’t used in five years; it’s about finding what’s essential to the life you’re living and releasing the rest.
Holiday Self Care
Doing things that appear to benefit only you may be the first tasks that suffer when you get busy. However, these acts of care can give us the physical and mental energy to do more than collapse in front of the television when we do get a chance to sit down.
Being mindful of your own needs can replenish your willpower so you don’t become snappish or inhale a plate of holiday cookies.
Get Your Sleep
I know, you keep hearing this piece of advice over and over. You already know how you feel when sleep-deprived – it’s harder to make decisions and your willpower vaporizes, leading to poor choices and dealing with the repercussions of those choices.
Feign a headache or say you think you’re coming down with a cold if you don’t want to admit you want to go to bed before you’re dragging.
Keep those Regular Appointments
Whether you see a mental health professional, get regular massages, attend the same exercise classes each week, or make routine appointments to get your hair or nails done, make a point to keep those things on your schedule because if they help you feel great the rest of the year, they can help with the craziness of the holidays.
Even if you don’t have a regular exercise routine, at least make a point of standing up through the day and walking into another room. And, our attention can last only so long on a task; so, every 45-to-60-minutes get up from your desk and do a physical task for a few minutes.
Involve Your Senses
Take a moment to notice visual details, smells, sounds, and physical sensations (the texture of fabric, a breeze) during random moments of the day. A 30-second break can pull you from your spinning thoughts and bring you back into your body. And, you may enjoy the place where you are a little bit more.
Enjoy Things in Moderation
These things can be anything from controlling the holiday cookie consumption (my downfall), to limiting time shopping or attending holiday parties and events. Create a “rule” that works for you – stay at parties for 60-minutes; limit time in the mall or shopping online to ‘x’ minutes.
Give Up Expectations and Comparison
We don’t live in staged photographs. Don’t expect every day to look like a photograph that only captures a fraction of a second. What is the least you can do so that you can enjoy the holidays without aiming for perfection? If you know you sister always returns whatever you give her as a gift, why waste three hours trying to find her the perfect item?
Plan What to Attend
What events do you or members of your family have to attend? What if that question read, What events do you or members of your family choose to attend? Are the ‘have to’ and ‘choose to’ events the same?
If you have to attend something, can you think of why you’d choose to attend it? And how can you improve the experience for yourself? If you have to attend your boss’s holiday party, thinking that you choose to attend it because you like your boss and want to show her your appreciation (even though you hate crowds) can change your mindset and make you feel control in the situation.
When you fall into bed, instead of running through the list of things that didn’t get accomplished and will land on tomorrow’s to-do list, think of at least one thing you were grateful for. Say it out loud, write it down, or think it in sentence form.
It doesn’t have to be a grand event. You can think, “I’m grateful a new register was opened at the grocery store just as I got into line.”
Don’t Spend So Much Time Planning that You Miss What Is
Planning something isn’t the same as experiencing something. Planning your holiday dinner, party, or gift-giving, isn’t enjoying time around the table with family, catching up with friends while nibbling hors d'oeuvres, or watching your granddaughter unwrap her ticket to Disney On Ice.
Don’t get so caught up in planning menus or adding decorative embellishments to wrapped gifts that you can’t enjoy the actual experience.
Experience the Holidays
The above suggestions are no-cost gifts that you can offer yourself. Give yourself food that energizes you instead of making you feel sluggish, stay hydrated, get enough sleep, move, say “thank you” or “thank for thinking of me, but not this time” or “this is enough.”
Doing something for yourself isn’t about buying yourself a gift when you’re at the mall. Take a deep breath and consider what you need in this moment.
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
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 - Decluttering as Self-Care
If the edge of your bathtub or the counter around your bathroom sink is crammed with beauty and grooming products, it’s time to simplify. And, by “simplify,” I don’t mean that you need to get rid of everything but a bar of soap and a lip balm. However, by paying attention to how you use (or don’t use) these products, you can create a routine that saves time, money, and stress.
Yes, stress. It’s ironic that routines that are meant to help us unwind or take care of ourselves can leave us feeling overwhelmed. For example, do you have multiple body washes perched in a caddy hanging in the shower? One, you’re investing energy in decision-making every time you go to take a shower (What scent will it be today? Tropical? Romantic? Sporty?)
Two, you’re making it so much more difficult to clean, which might mean you skip the task until the layer of soap scum has you cringing.
Also, if you’re in the habit of starting a new product before you finish the one you were using, it becomes easier to lose track of how old a product is. Perfectly good products might end up hidden behind new purchases.
I’m not going to list must-have bath and beauty supplies because a must-have product for one person is a never-need-it product for someone else. So, how to simplify? Be your own guide by examining what you use and don’t use.
Gather Your Bath and Beauty Supplies
Gather in one place all the bath and beauty supplies that you have, both open and brand-new. This should also make you aware of where you store products. Do some products end up under the bathroom sink, while other items are tucked onto a shelf in your bedroom or linen closet? Do you buy products and keep them in their shopping bag until you need them (or remember them)?
Sort Your Supplies by Type
You’ll probably need more space to sort through your supplies than you have in your bathroom, so bring everything to a table or countertop in another room. This way, you can match similar types of products – so, put all your shower gels together, all the nail polishes in another group, hair styling products in a group (or subgroups if you have a variety).
Check the Condition of Products
Check all the products’ smell, color, and texture to make certain the product isn’t breaking down.
Ditch What You Disliked
If you remember disliking a product, why are you holding onto it? Are you really going to use again? You aren’t going to get your money’s worth by letting it sit on the bottom shelf of your linen closet for the next two years, so let it go.
Hint: Create a plan for what to do with current, and future, products you realize you won’t use, let alone finish. Will you ask a close friend or family member if they’d like to try it? Will you make yourself use it until it’s gone? Can you donate opened products to a local shelter? If you make the rule now, then you won’t have to decide what to do each time you find yourself with a product you aren’t happy with.
The rule I give myself – I can’t buy a new product until I’ve used up an old one that has a similar use. So, I’ll buy that new shampoo only after I’ve finished the one that I’ve been using.
If you have multiples of similar products, line them up from least to most full and determine to work your way through each product. (When you put these items away, make sure you keep them in this order, so you use up those partial bottles of body wash, shampoo, etc.)
Store Everything Together
Determine a space where you’ll store the products you have and plan to bring new purchases to this location. Unless you’re going to put something into immediate use, keep new and not-in-use products in one place so you don’t forget that you already have three new sticks of antiperspirant at home when that sales display catches your eye.
Eliminate Future Impulse Purchases
If you notice products that you don’t (and won’t) use, remind yourself that it’s unlikely you’ll use similar products in the future. Yes, it can be difficult to throw away a nearly full product (even if it’s been shoved to the back of a shelf in your home for the past seven months) but holding onto it won’t recoup the money spent on it.
Consider that you spent the money learning that you won’t paint your toenails blue or green or that you can’t stand the feel of styling gel in your hair. To get your money’s worth, pay attention to what you learned. Yes, you love the look of bright, fun color polishes on other women’s toes, but you’ve learned that they aren’t for you, so stop looking at that display of the new spring colors.
Remove Rarely Used Items
Next, consider if it is worth holding onto rarely used products. Do you really need the mascara or lipstick you only wear on special occasions? Why are you saving that perfume? Products degrade over time. If you only wear mascara twice a year, why bother?
The same goes for masks, hair treatments, and other spa-like products that you rarely use. Treat yourself in a way more meaningful to you than a cuticle cream you’ll never think to use.
Simplify Your Routines
Simplifying your bath and beauty routine ultimately comes down to noticing what products and routines you enjoy and which ones you never make the time for. This isn’t saying that you can’t try new products; however, if you know that you purchase but rarely use face masks, then use that knowledge when you find yourself gazing at the display of new face masks on the market. Or, buy a one-use mask to try that night.
Could You Handle a Shopping Ban on Beauty and Grooming Supplies?
Why Self-Care Is Important When Tackling Clutter
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
A Year of Decluttering - February: Decluttering as Self-Care
Marie Kondo’s books and Netflix show has a lot of people convinced that the only way they can declutter their clothing is to gather every stitch of their clothing and sort through it all at once. This isn’t a new technique. Pretty much ever article or video you’ll find on decluttering your closet suggests that you need to go through the process at one time. And, yes, it’s easier to see what you have and compare items when you bring everything together.
However, depending on how much clothing you own, it’s a downright intimidating prospect to face every stitch of clothing sitting in a big pile in the middle of your room. I’ll discuss how to sort through your wardrobe in a day as well as how to sort through your clothing category-by-category over multiple days.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods.
Before You Start
Don’t buy any organizing tools or closet systems before you declutter. You don’t know what you’ll have after sorting through what you really wear. You want to keep the clothing that you enjoy wearing as opposed to keeping items just because they fit in your closet.
When to Sort Off-Season Clothing
If you pack away off-season clothing, you don’t have to don’t have to sort through those items now, unless you want. Use the change of season as your opportunity to sort through these items.
Before you pack away these items, consider if you wore everything and if the items are still in good condition. Then, when you pull out the items to integrate into your closet and drawers for the appropriate season, check through the items again to confirm that you are looking forward to wearing the items in the upcoming months.
Option 1: Sort Your Clothing All at Once
If you have a day (or at lease a good chunk of a day) to devote to your closet and drawers, fill your water bottle, grab some snacks, put on some upbeat music, and turn on all the lights in the room and open the drapes to let in the sun. Then, take a deep breath and dive in. Every half hour or so, take a drink of water, go to the bathroom, walk out of the room for five minutes. Have something to eat every couple of hours.
What’s up with all the breaks and snacks? You’ll be making a lot of decisions and there are some theories that suggest lowered glucose (blood sugar) levels can make it harder to make decisions … and making numerous decisions lowers your willpower (fueled by glucose). Think about it. Even if you touch two items a minute, in an hour you’ve handled and made decisions on 120 items!
Chances are, just pulling everything out of your closet and drawers … and checking to make sure you didn’t have stuff stored in another closet or room, made you feel a bit overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff you own. Unless you regularly declutter your closet, you’ll have a lot of stuff.
Sorting your entire wardrobe in a day allows you to make comparisons, notice duplicates, and see what your style is. A weird perk is identifying all the places in your home where you store clothing. Except for off-season clothing, you want everything in a single place. If you keep clothing in numerous rooms, maybe using a part of your spouse’s or kid’s closet, then you’ve been trying to hide from yourself how much clothing you really own.
Option 2: Sort through Your Clothing Category-by-Category
If you dread the idea of pulling out every stitch of clothing and spending the day sorting it all, you can also work category-by-category. This may take a little more time, but the advantage is that you can squeeze in 10-to-20-minutes every evening for a week or two and be done with the process without feeling quite as overwhelmed.
Also, if you have health issues that affect your energy level, this way is kinder to you.
The key to sorting and decluttering your clothing in this way is you still want to remove items from your closet or drawers. No rearranging items hanging in your closet. So, on tank top day, gather all your tank tops on your bed and sort through what you have. Work your way through tee shirts, blouses, cardigans, jackets, skirts, dresses, pants, jeans, shorts, undergarments, socks, footwear, group-by-group.
Don’t worry if you overlook an item and don’t discover it until you’re working on another category of items. Check the condition of the item and put it in your donation bag or store it with its group.
Piles of clothing are heavy, so don't toss your donations in the largest bags that you can buy. If you want to sell some items or give a few pieces to people you know, don't put those garments back in your closet.
Attach a note to the items, specifying what you want to do with them and by when. Give yourself that deadline so you don't hold onto the items for another six months!
However, if you aren’t actively losing weight, consider if you really need multiple sizes of items that don’t fit. A little tight or a little loose may work on different days. Keeping items two or more sizes tighter or looser only makes it more difficult to get dressed, not to mention demoralizing when you pull on something that doesn’t fit.
Ultimately you want a wardrobe filled with clothing that you enjoy wearing and that suits your activities.
Organizing Your Closet
Remember, you need to sort through all the items in your closet before trying to organize them … which is the topic for the next article.
By Susan Caplan McCarthy
A Year of Decluttering - February: Decluttering as Self-Care
The February theme for A Year of Decluttering is decluttering as an act of self-care. A lot of people feel stressed when at home, faced with cleaning and organizing belongings, tackling the seeming endless reams of paper that end up in piles in too many rooms, losing and misplacing items (occasionally followed by repurchasing items), staring at a closet filled with too many garments that never get worn, and wondering what to do with the purchases that were supposed to inspire them or make life easier.
Decluttering simplifies your lives by eliminating things that aren’t important to you. To eliminate those things, you need to envision what you want your life to look like. I’m not talking about a fantasy of sitting on the beach, drinking a mai tai, and reading a romance novel – that might be fun for an afternoon but hardly worthy of a lifetime.
Simplifying makes space for questions such as: How can I work in a way that challenges me intellectually and creatively? What do I give and get from my close relationships? How do I stretch myself mentally and physically?
This month focuses on ways to simplify the things you use all the time, thereby streamlining routines and eliminating decision overload.
Declutter Your Stuff First
When you decide to declutter your home, you can really start anywhere you want. Some people go for a few easy wins (refrigerator, bathroom, junk drawer) to feel a sense of accomplishment. Others grab the family and get everyone involved (willing or not) in a space that effects everyone, such as the family room.
Unless you have an immediate priority (you need to clear out a room and make it ready for a family member who’ll be visiting or moving in), I’m going to suggest that you consider starting with your stuff. This isn’t a new idea, but I’m going to ask that you consider this as an act of self-care.
You Learn What’s Important to You
When you simplify your life by decluttering, one of the things that you’ll notice is that with less stuff you make fewer decisions. When you’ve pared down your wardrobe, you’ll find it easier to get dressed by streamlining this willpower-destroying decision-making process.
Decluttering helps you learn what is important to you. As you weed through books, you discover the topics that most interest you. When you narrow your wardrobe, you learn what styles you best like to wear. As you sort through hobby supplies, you discover what you best like to create and why you enjoy the pastime.
Also, when you declutter your stuff, you don’t have to worry about anyone else’s opinions, feelings, or participation.
Sometimes, you can clarify what is important to you and use that as your motivation to declutter. Or, for you, it may be easier to start decluttering and learn what is important to you as you make decisions about your stuff.
You’ll notice how you spend your money. Do you buy a lot of inexpensive items on a whim and never use them? Do you lean toward buying aspirational items for things you hope to do or for the person you hope to become?
You can address items with an emotional pull at your own pace without facing someone who pulls an item off a shelf and asks why you want to keep it. As you learn to be kind to yourself and decide which possessions best tell the story of your life, you develop a skill that you can use with other members of your family.
You Become an Example of the Benefits of Decluttering
Remember, it’s unfair to ask others to do what you haven’t done (even if you’re convinced the problem is them). By decluttering your stuff, you lead by example. When you talk about what you are doing, you may encourage others to declutter without requesting that they join you in the task.
You’ll learn to schedule time to declutter your stuff and come up with a plan for donating the items. You’ll learn to make confident decisions and how to deal with the disappointment of wondering if you should have kept something. You’ll learn to curate the best, most loved, pieces of your collections. Basically, you learn to declutter by decluttering. When you move on to common areas and, perhaps, help other family members declutter, you’ll feel more comfortable and confident with the process.
Also, by focusing on your personal items, you may also choose to donate to smaller charities that perhaps only take business clothing for women or evening dresses for girls who want to go to prom. Instead of facing boxes and bags of items belonging to different ages and genders and various rooms in the house, if you want, you can focus on finding a good home for the items you are releasing as opposed to donating to the charity that will take everything you’ve decluttered.
By focusing on decluttering and organizing personal items, you give yourself the space and energy to move onto other projects (and I don’t just mean more decluttering).
Why Self-Care Is Important When You're Tackling Clutter
How to Never Misplace Your Car Keys
Do you have a decluttering topic you'd like me to discuss? Leave your suggestion in the comments below.
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
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When you declutter, it’s natural to focus on the stuff. You think about the clear countertops and coffee table, you imagine not wrestling with hangers as you try to pull clothing from your closet, and you envision the time you’d save not looking for the paperwork you thought you’d filed.
Instead, thoughts run through your mind convincing you that it would be a mistake to get rid of those items that you haven’t used for years (but, you might need someday). Or that your Aunt Sally might be bothered if you don’t keep the lamp that she cleared out of her home by giving to you.
Throw on a mix of emotions – guilt, annoyance, fear, embarrassment – and slogging through your clutter feels like moving through a muddy pond.
However, there are benefits to releasing clutter, and I don’t just mean organized cabinets and clear spaces.
You’ll Have More Time
When you eliminate clutter, you’ll save time cleaning because you won’t have to shift things out of the way. You’ll also save time organizing your stuff; by which I mean, you’ll stop shuffling items from one place to another in a quest to make it all fit. And, when you shed stuff, if you do it with your goals for your life in mind, you won’t buy more stuff to replace what you’ve eliminated.
You’ll have more time for relationships with your spouse, partner, friends, kids, grandkids, and any other significant people. You won’t shop for fun because you know that’s what led to your cluttered situation. Instead, you’ll pursue hobbies and interests that are meaningful to you. Yes, those hobbies and interests will require stuff, but you’ll use the stuff. You won’t be laden down with things that you thought you’d use but don’t.
Maybe you’ll use your time to volunteer or to develop your spirituality or to travel and explore both locally and at a distance.
You’ll Have More Money
Maybe you’ll sell some of your belongings. (Or, maybe you’ll realize you’d rather have the time and so you donate the items instead.) You’ll spend less time browsing in stores (because you’re busy with the people important to you and doing the things meaningful to you), which means fewer impulse purchases.
When you do purchase something, you do so purposefully, knowing how it fits in with your current interests and needs as well as the space in your home.
You’ll Have More Love
Because you’ll have the time for others, your meaningful relationships will deepen. You may now have the time to meet others who share in your interests by taking classes or attending events.
You won’t feel stressed while spending time with someone because you’re busy thinking about the tasks you need to do at home.
You’ll Have More Health
Too many things too close together makes it hard to clean, which creates a build-up of dust and perhaps mold. Also, you won’t feel anxious in your home because clutter is demanding your attention.
And, remember how you’ll have more time? Perhaps now you can start that walking routine (bonus – with a friend or family member) or you’ll have the time to go to the gym or to take a dance or yoga class.
Maybe your clear counters mean it’s easier to prepare meals instead of grabbing to-go meals because you won’t have to clear space and wash the dishes in the sink before you even start on the meal.
Obviously, clearing your clutter won’t eliminate every struggle in your life. However, the process of decluttering helps you clarify what is most important to you.
Curious if you’re clear on your reasons for decluttering? Download this free 12-page workbook.
I’ve created a program about decluttering that focuses on helping you develop your vision and goals for your life. Clear Your Clutter and Create Space for Your Life uses journaling to help you determine what things and actions are most meaningful to you. You’ll also learn how to assess each room and storage space in your home to identify what you want to get from those spaces, so they support your vision for the life you want to live.
Add in instruction on how to plan your decluttering efforts so you don’t end up overwhelmed, as well as how to make time in your schedule so to get things done and you’ll clear your clutter and create space to do and have the things most important to you.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I have a friend who has been working at decluttering her home for a while. A few times, she looked around the room we were in and said that looking at everything felt overwhelming. She hoped that getting more organized would help her feel calmer. She put a lot of energy into thinking about and questioning every item’s past and future use.
The other day, she emailed to say that she had a dumpster in her driveway. My reaction was: ?!!!
Her response was far more verbal. “I wish I could say it feels good to be parting with so much, but it is trickier than that.”
I get it.
It’s easy to talk about decluttering in a non-emotional way, keep what you use; keep what you love; clear out the rest. But, decluttering an item is always wrapped up in some emotion even if you ignore the feeling.
Sometimes, I’ll look at an item for a while, thinking that it is time to donate it, but it continues to sit on its shelf. Maybe I’ll move it to a new location. It’s time, I think. The item sits there. I’ve had it for thirty years! Most of the meaning is tied up with the length of time I’ve had the item.
In one case, it’s a stuffed toy, a dog, a German Shepard that I had bought years after my German Shepard/Husky mix had died. As I write this, I realize that there are no memories directly attached to this toy, it was a reminder of a memory. Last week I tucked it into my to-be-donated box. I wish I could tuck the thoughts and emotions about the items into the box as well.
Recycling the files from my years of teaching, seemed to suck the energy from my muscles and leave my head full of dead leaves. Rescuing binder clips, pulling off rusted paperclips, remembering the hours of unpaid work I put into creating classes, seeing names of former students, trekking from my basement to the recycling bin at the end of my driveway, and then back down the stairs to sort through more papers. Just remembering this process makes me want to lie down.
Releasing things that you've held onto for a while kind of feels like you've created a little hole in your self. There's this gap of - hey, that was part of how I identified myself for years, but not for a while, come to think of it, but, still, weird-empty-feeling.
Even if decluttering isn't physically challenging, it is mentally and emotionally draining. Think of it like sweeping a floor - you stir a lot of dust into the air, no matter how slowly or carefully you go. You need to blow your nose, clear out the dust; get a drink of water.
If you’ve had these feelings and think, “Clearing clutter should feel great! I should feel free! Empowered! It should be a cathartic experience!” Well, yes, and no.
Along with stirring up the dust, decluttering stirs up a lot of emotions. About who you were. Who you thought you would be.
However, eventually, you’ll have a difficult time recalling what you released. Objects. Thoughts. Emotions.
The emotions tied to the object you’re releasing today, will replace the memories of last week’s feelings and donated things. As next week will ease away this week’s emotions.
One day, you’ll notice that there’s space around your favorite objects sitting on a shelf and you’ll realize that there’s some extra space in your heart, your lungs, your mind. You can breathe. You’re ready to explore and discover what will come next.
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.