by Susan McCarthy
You want to declutter your home…but the tasks just aren’t getting done? Learning to create an effective intention about what you want to get done will increase your chances for success. And when things don’t work out as planned, you’ll have better information about what you can improve upon next time.
Simply put, an intention is something that you want to do. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to set a vague intention. What’s a vague intention? It’s probably focused on the result you want with no or little thought to how you’ll get there.
So, when it comes to decluttering your home, “Declutter my closet,” “Organize the kitchen cabinets,” and “Clear off my desk,” may be the types of intentions you’ve set in the past. But if you don’t “organize the kitchen cabinets,” what went wrong?
Did you forget that this was your task for the day when your sister texted you in the morning to see if you wanted to attend a craft fair with her? Did you empty all the cabinets and end up overwhelmed? Were you not clear about what you meant by ‘organized cabinets’ and so you aren’t pleased with the results?
Since you haven’t thought through the process, if you don’t achieve the result you wanted, then you won’t know what went wrong.
Why You Should Bother Setting Intentions
If things aren’t getting done, be it the laundry or cleaning out the garage, you may feel at a loss for what’s going wrong. You may end up deciding that this is a sign that you are hopelessly disorganized. Or you may react by placing the blame on others who draw your attention.
Setting an intention isn’t just about what you want to do…nor is it a technique meant to force you to do the work. When you set an intention that you don’t meet, it’s an opportunity to learn what derails you. By setting and tracking one intention a day for a week or two you can look for patterns…what isn’t working?
This is important because before you can identify a solution, you need to figure out what roadblocks are getting in your way.
How to Address Feelings of Shame when Things Don’t Get Done
While setting an intention is a guide for what you want to do, it becomes a learning tool when you review how or if you met your intention. If you don’t take the time to review your intention for a day, week, month, and so on, you may be saving yourself the discomfort of looking at when you failed to do what you wanted to.
Facing those failures can bring about feelings of shame. But if you start to feel ashamed for feeling shame, then you tangle yourself in negative thoughts and limiting beliefs. In the end, you might give up on the idea of decluttering your home deciding that you aren’t the type of person who can have an organized home.
When you set a clear intention…and review if you met it, you have a choice. You can give into the negative thoughts (and maybe give up on your goal) or you can accept the discomfort and decide to let that thought go. You make the choice to do what needs to be done.
And what you need to do is learn from that experience, notice patterns, and try again.
Identify What Isn’t Working
Noticing what isn’t working isn’t about guilting you into doing better. You want to look for patterns of behavior, what’s throwing you off, so you can figure out how to tweak that behavior and get back on track.
This is how you learn from experience –
Create Intentions that You Can Implement
So, why so much focus on intentions not working out before I even explain how to set an intention? It’s not to be pessimistic, but realistic. I’m guessing that if you’re reading this article, it’s because you’re struggling to declutter your home, you may have set intentions for decluttering projects that didn’t work out.
Maybe you set an achievable decluttering goal, but you’re struggling to implement it. Making certain that the steps you’ll take toward your goal are achievable actions by writing them as an intention.
And I know I’ve already mentioned this, but whether you do or don’t do what you intend to do isn’t as important as what you learn from it.
So, think of this as in exercise in productive failure. Patterns of struggle will show you how to create intentions that you can implement.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed, in the beginning set one intention for one task a day. The task can be something that you want to work on for one-to-three hours. (You’ll be specific about the length of time you plan to do the work.)
If a project has multiple steps, set your intention as the next step you’ll be taking. The larger the project, the more actions you’ll be taking, and the more difficult it will be to identify the roadblock that you want to resolve.
One. Write Down Your Intention
Thinking about your intention isn’t enough. Researchers who like to figure out these types of things have learned that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve a goal if you write it down. I think that’s because you can’t allow for any vague points when you write things down…you’ll notice that you haven’t addressed a point in your plan.
With paper and pen in hand, think through all the elements that are necessary to set a realistic (doable) action.
What do you want to do? What are you decluttering? Are you gathering and sorting through the mystery books on your bookshelves? Or are you starting with emptying the books on the top shelf?
How will you declutter this space? What’s your plan? Are you emptying the contents of your closet or are you using the Minimal Mess Method ™ to sort item-by-item?
Where will you do it? Most decluttering projects are connected to the room where the items are stored. But you might want to move some types of items into another room.
When will you act? Set a start and end time.
What do you need to have to do this task? For example, if you are decluttering, you’ll want to have a trash bag, a box for collecting items you’ll donate, and a bin or basket for items you encounter that belong in other rooms. If you jump into decluttering without having these things available, then you’ll waste time and welcome in distractions when you must hunt down these things.
When will you take those pre-steps? If you need trash bags and boxes, when will you collect them so they will be ready when you intend to declutter.
Whose help might you need? Maybe you’re doing this project on your own. You might realize that you need someone’s help to cart the boxes to the car. Or that you need to schedule a pickup with a charity that will take these items. Maybe you want to let others in your home know what you’ll be doing and when.
You don’t want to empty your bookshelves only to have your spouse announce that they have someone coming over to the house in an hour. And if your daughter and her friend are planning on baking cookies for a school fundraiser, you don’t want to learn this as you empty the kitchen cabinets onto the counter.
What other things might you need to help you succeed? Maybe you want a timer handy so that you don’t become distracted and drift. Or you want to pick out an energizing playlist or choose a podcast to listen to as you declutter.
Do you really need to figure out all these details? Yes, particularly if you are frustrated by not doing the things you want to do. By writing out a full description of your intention, if it doesn’t work out, you’ll see exactly where things when wrong.
Ineffective strategy – “I’ll declutter my closet on Saturday.” You don’t start until after dinner, then you realize that you only have one trash bag. You pile clothes that you want to sort through on your bed. But when midnight rolls around, you push everything you haven’t sorted through onto the floor. The next morning, you face the mess but realize you don’t know when you’ll be able to finish this project.
Effective strategy – “I’ll declutter my closet from 10a to noon on Saturday. Thursday I’ll make sure that I have trash bags and I’ll schedule the VVA to pick the bags of clothes in a couple of weeks (so I’ll feel motivated to return to this project until it’s done!).
I’ll start by pulling out all of my dresses so I can see what I wear and what I don’t and compare what I have. I’ll return these to my closet, grouping casual dresses, office dresses, and dressy dresses together so it will be easier for me to make decisions when I want to wear a dress.”
The first few times you write a clear plan may take you ten-ish minutes. As you practice, you’ll plan more quickly.
Two. Review Your Intention.
At the end of the day, review the intention you set and reflect on what you observed. This review doesn’t have to take long, five minutes will do. It’s an important step. If you only look at your intentions as successes or failures, you aren’t learning what did or didn’t work.
Did you do what you wanted to? How and why did it work out?
Did you do part of what you intended? How and why did some parts of your plan fall through?
Did things not work out the way you thought? Where did your plan fall apart?
Chances are that if you struggle to meet decluttering goals, that you also struggle with personal and professional goals as well. You may focus on an obvious problem, “I’m always running late” without seeing that it’s a symptom of a deeper problem. You try to leave earlier, so what’s causing you fall behind your schedule?
Identifying the root cause of the problem will help you apply a more effective solution. So, how do you figure out what the problem really is?
Use the 5 Whys technique.
With this technique, you state the problem and then ask, “why did this happen?: To that response, you ask “why” again. (If you want to rephrase the question, perhaps asking, “what caused that to happen?” you could.)
The idea is that by the time you get to the fifth why, you have pushed past the surface symptoms to discover the root cause. If you find yourself saying, “Oh!” you’ve probably hit on your root cause. This is what you want to change if you want to meet your intentions.
This may still require some creative problem-solving or asking insightful friends for solutions that could work. Don’t worry about trying to hit the perfect solution on your first try. Work it into a few intentions and see how it helps.
And just because the 5 Whys sends you into a deep dive, don’t expect that it will dig up psychological reasons for not getting things done…the technique usually directs you to practical actions that you can take.
Three. Repeat the Process of Setting and Reviewing One Intention a Day.
Because you’re looking for patterns, you’ll want to set one intention a day. Repeat for a week or two. Each night, use the 5 Whys technique to identify what’s causing the roadblocks. It isn’t necessary to focus solely on decluttering tasks. You could set an intention for running errands, doing something specific at work, or a personal project.
Do you fall into the same roadblocks in different situations? (For example, are you consistently underestimating how long it takes to do common tasks?)
Download this chart and keep it someplace handy (perhaps beside your best) so you remember to set your intention and then review the results each day for a week or so.
When you do what you intended, or you figure out a roadblock and tweak a future plan, give yourself a mental high five or tell yourself an encouraging phrase like, “good job!” This tiny celebration sends a signal to your mind that you are doing something positive.
You’ll feel good and you’ll repeat setting effective intentions and looking for solutions that help you organize your home and accomplish other goals you are working toward.
Tips for How to Set Intentions for Decluttering Your Home
Remember, your goal for setting and reviewing the success of your intentions is to see where things don’t work out as you thought they would. You’re not trying to get yourself to do more so much as you’re trying to identify how you can be more effective…getting things done, perhaps with less effort.
More Resources to Help You Declutter with Intention
Hi, I'm Susan
I'm a former teacher who became a professional organizer (and not because I'm a natural-born neatnik). I live with my husband and fluffy cat on a river in Massachusetts. I crochet, make handmade cards, and love reading young adult novels. Learn more about my decluttering journey here.