Post-Declutter Stress Disorder

Okay, I made that title up. But it isn’t too far from reality!

Most people get a sense of euphoria after decluttering. Some, however, do not. In fact, they feel horrible. They are anxious and miserable, dwelling on decisions made and wondering if they made mistakes. If you’re one of those people, you may be wondering why you don’t get as excited by the results as others do.

Here’s a few reasons why you might feel that way after decluttering:

1) Attachment happens in your mind. Physically removing something does just that; it’s physically gone. If you are still attached in your mind, the fact that it’s gone is not a relief.

2) You haven’t trained your brain to stop panicking yet. Every time our brain gets a reinforcement, it is told to continue that behaviour. So when you try to throw something away, then panic, then keep the item to make the panic go away, you’re telling your brain that panic is the appropriate response when attempting to discard something.

3) The future is more unknown with less stuff. No longer can you safely predict what might happen (ie right now you can predict you will have 2 spare can-openers to grab should you lose your favourite one). Instead, if you only have one can opener, you can’t predict the outcome of losing or breaking it. Unknown stuff can be scary if we allow ourselves to think of the negative consequences.

4) You worry that you’ve made a mistake. Your brain predicts a total catastrophe should it become apparent you’ve thrown out something that later becomes needed. This fear of the catastrophe has you dwelling on what mistakes you may have made when culling.

5) You feel you are losing a part of your identity or your past. Your past and your stuff are related. We store patterns in our neo-cortex of things we see, hear, smell and feel. Our brain cross-references these patterns and therefore creates an association. If you part with one of those “pointers” and it’s outside of your control and exists only in your mind, perhaps you’ll end up with memories in your brain that can’t ever be retrieved again.

6) You’re grieving lost opportunities. There are now things you may never see again, do again, think about again.

7) You did it for someone else. When you declutter to keep someone else happy, you’re less likely to enjoy the results. It’s not unlikely, just a little less likely.

8) You’ve forgotten about your goals. You’re thinking about what you’ve “lost”, not what you’ve gained. You have either not focused on your goals, or you have forgotten about them.

9) You just love your stuff too much. Whether you have hoarding disorder, or another mental health condition that fosters a very strong bond with physical belongings, your brain simply won’t let you let go.

This is why there is so much more to decluttering than just getting rid of stuff. It actually requires changes in mindset that without them, you won’t be able to be completely happy with the result.

Declutter your fears first, then your stuff.

Children and chores – no rewards, no punishment

My husband and I have two children, aged 11 and 12. We have always, from a young age, encouraged independence in their day-to-day lives. We try to be firm and set boundaries, but without being dictators about it.  When it comes to chores, we have faced a similar issue to other parents - how do we encourage them to contribute to the household (picking up after themselves as well as extra stuff) without having to resort to bribes, rewards or punishments? Or worse, shouting, tears and slamming of doors?

We don’t want to bribe them because I want them to want to do it (yes, I know, I don’t want to do it so why should they? But at the least I want them to want to help us). We don’t want to reward them because I don’t get $2 or a chocolate for making my own bed, and we want them to be generous and grateful for what they have and not be always expecting some sort of payment for everything they do. And we don’t want to punish them because we don’t believe in a punishment-based discipline system.

So somewhere in all that muddle of trying reward charts (yes, went down that path, failed), checklists to be completed before pocket-money would be dished out (also failed), asking nicely 3759 times (for the most part that worked eventually but who has time for that?) and barking orders randomly (got stuff done but built resentment and we felt mean), we sort of fell into a system that is working well for us, so I thought I’d share it.

It’s based around expectations.

We expect that a certain minimum standard of contribution be met. That minimum is a tidy (not spotless) room, with a made bed and (almost) everything in its home (we are somewhat relaxed because they often like to carry games and activities on for a few days so that is happily left strewn all around until it’s finished), and nothing that belongs to them hanging around the living areas and not in its home.

That minimum needs to be done before we consider allowing privileges. Privileges are things like playing on screens and devices, watching TV, going to play with friends, heading to the park, going for a swim, having a friend over. Basically anything fun ;) . So the minimum standard becomes a pre-requisite for having those privileges.

In addition, there are sometimes jobs that also need to be complete before the privileges kick in. If the dishwasher needs emptying, if they have clean clothes to put away, if the table needs setting or clearing, if their bathroom is grotty, or even sometimes even if they need a shower (yeah, they’re still in that “But I showered YEESTERRRDAAAY” phase), then that also needs to be done before the privileges kick in.

I was explaining this to my clients recently, with their 12 year-old present. Of course, she wasn’t overly excited. She didn’t like the idea of tidying her room daily (although she craved order and wanted to be helpful). Her dad explained it well. He said “You know how you can’t go to school until you change out of your PJs? Well, what we’re going to all do is the same - it’s just a pre-requisite, not a punishment”. Another analogy you can use with your kids is “going up a level”. It’s like a game – you can’t get to the next level until you complete the first.

Since doing things this way, I have noticed quite a few positive outcomes.

Firstly, my kids are complaining less and less as time goes by. This is because they expect it. They don’t always want to do it (hey, who wants to clean a bathroom?!), but they know they have to if they want to move to the next (fun) activity so it’s no surprise. I have a real pet hate about complaining – to me it just is evidence of ingratitude and that frustrates me because I want my kids to know just how privileged they are. I recently told my son we are amongst the 4% of the wealthiest people in the world and he was shocked (because we’re not at all wealthy by our neighbourhood standards!) and said “Wow, there are a LOT of poor people”. Yep – that’s why I want you to be grateful. Anyway, I digress…

Secondly, I have less work to do around the house. Most of the detritus that clutters up our living area is kids’ stuff (what’s with all the SHOES?), and when they clear it, Mick and I have little tidying of our own to do.

Thirdly, they have less work to do each time. The more frequently they tidy their rooms (it’s at least daily), the quicker it takes. This is teaching them a valuable life lesson – small steps make for large benefits.

Bathrooms don't clean themselves!

Bathrooms don’t clean themselves!

Finally, I have to think about it less. I have to remind them less about their room and their ”stuff” hanging around. It’s less mental work for Mick and I because it’s not in our heads. There are no charts to remember to fill out, no adding up, no negotiating. It just happens.

My hope is that they will develop a habit of getting the minimum stuff done every day so they don’t have to remind themselves, they don’t have to think about it, and they don’t have to worry about it building up. I once told my daughter (when asked “Why?” during a complaint session) that it’s my job to raise kind, generous, and balanced adults. And this is part of it. I also hope to improve our son’s short-term memory. He would forget his head if it wasn’t attached to him (a genetic gift from yours truly) - hopefully by putting basic tasks into his reptilian brain (where our habits are) he’ll be more focused on “the now” and a little less forgetful.

Before you ask, we still haven’t worked out pocket money so they don’t really get any unless they do some bigger jobs like a load of washing on their own, or some admin, or mow the lawns. We’re thinking that soon enough, they’ll be consistent at this habit and we’ll just automatically transfer some money in for them each week as a thank-you for not making us shout at them ;)



How (and why) your thoughts sabotage you

one way

When you want to make a change, you need to take action. You know that you need to do something, and you want to do something. There’s a problem though; sometimes our brains are just not on our side. It’s usually our subconscious that’s the culprit.

Our subconscious is there to keep us safe and working – it keeps us breathing, helps us to do up our shoelaces when we’re not looking, tells us the way to drive home when we’re off with the fairies, and enables us to respond quickly to danger.

Any time your subconscious perceives a threat, it propels us into an action of some kind (like the “fight or flight” reflex around danger you may have heard of). When you’re decluttering and find something that you consciously want to part with, and therefore make a change, your subconscious kicks in and immediately tells you to keep it. It perceives the possibility of future stress and sets off the panic alarm. That panic alarm floods your conscious brain with thoughts around that item and all the reasons why you need to keep it.

But they’re not real. Those reasons are invented as an automatic response to an automatic reaction.

Every time you reinforce those thoughts (“Danger! Danger!”) with the behaviour that they’re prompting (you keep the thing even though your logic tells you you shouldn’t), you’re telling your subconscious that it’s on the right track, and that it needs to react in the same way next time. And so it gets stronger and stronger.

To help to short-circuit this wiring, you need to listen to the thoughts, acknowledge them, feel the anxiety, but DO NOT act the way it wants you to. Eventually, you’ll find that little voice screaming “Keep it!” goes away because your subconscious gets evidence that you are safe without that action, and it stops trying to make you do it. Anxiety goes away eventually – your body is not designed to stay at heightened levels for long periods. Your brain will eventually kick in and essentially give up on trying to get you to act because it receives no reinforcements.

Tell your subconscious that you’re okay, that it’s all okay. That you know what you’re doing and in this circumstance, you don’t need it to keep you safe.

What kids really need. And it’s not toys…

I’m going to come straight out and say it – our (western) kids have far too many toys.

Even families that I meet with financial struggles have too many toys in their homes.

Too many toys causes significant stresses to families and can have negative effects on children (or at least take away some opportunities for positive growth).

A lot of parents feel like they are robbing their kids of a fun and fulfilled childhood if they minimise their toys. They feel that giving toys shows they love them. This could not be further from the truth.

Minimising toys teaches kids how to improvise, to use their imagination, to be grateful for what they have, to spend their money wisely and intentionally, to not be so uncomfortable when unstimulated (or “bored”) and to be resourceful and content.

Some parents justify it by saying “But they play with them all”. This is a fair statement. I don’t argue with that as the parents always know their kids best and it’s likely to be true. Because after all, kids do play with toys.

But even if your kids lived in Toys’R'Us, eventually they’d play with all the toys – simply because they are there!


That doesn’t mean they NEED ALL the toys in order to be happy and healthy.

Your kids’ favourite plaything is you. And you are free and don’t take up much space. Next time you think about buying your kid something, instead give them a hug, tell them you love them and ask them what they’d like you to do with them for a bit of fun.


“No-Brainers” declutter list

When I’m with clients, I’m always on the lookout for what I call “No-Brainers”. The things that should be culled (recycled, donated, sold or trashed) without thinking about it.

Without negotiating with yourself, and without worrying about it, they can go.

Here’s my top 10:

  1. Clothes you wouldn’t wear in public
  2. Things you didn’t know you had and don’t know how you got them
  3. Things you have to google to figure out what it is
  4. Cords and cables from long-gone devices and appliances
  5. Odd (that have been odd for aaages) socks
  6. Broken, damaged, soiled things
  7. Things you’ve kept to “upcycle” or “do up” when you “have time”
  8. Expired food, toiletries, chemical, medicines, sunscreen, vouchers, coupons, tickets etc
  9. Things that belong to other people. You’re not a storage facility!
  10. Old magazines and newspapers. They recycle the stories anyway – you’re not missing anything.

Do you have any No-Brainers you’d like to add to the list?





I read a recent article about certain spaces you shouldn’t bother trying to keep organised in your home. They included the junk drawer, kids’ toyrooms, laundry cupboards, your utensil drawer and photos.

It had an impact in my industry, with lots of Professional Organisers saying “WHAT??? WHY?? NOO!!!!” to the ideas expressed in the article.

But I agreed with the article (most of it, anyway, I DO think the laundry should be fairly well organised because having an efficient clothes-washing system and routine has a flow-on effect to the rest of the house). I agree because I think we place too much pressure on ourselves to have our spaces organised to the “nth degree”. To have all our drawers neatly divided and our books colour-coordinated. To have all the kids’ Lego sorted by colour. To have a house that looks like the ones on Pinterest.

I think life’s too short for that.

To show you how it’s possible to let go on some of these high standards, I’m going to show you my stationery drawers. They are sorted into broad groups (writing, drawing {my art}, attaching, labeling, personal and technical) and labeled all neatly on the outside. Now, that’s pretty organised; I always know what’s in those drawers (or what should be in them if I’ve been good and put stuff away!).

When you open the drawers, however, it looks like a bit of a shemozzle; it’s all just chucked in. And I think that’s fine. It still takes me no time at all to put my hands on what I want, and isn’t that what organised really means? I can see there are a few things that shouldn’t live in a couple of those drawers, but they aren’t bothering me right now so I don’t really care. I can find what I want when I want it.

Organised chaos. That's my thang.

Organised chaos. That’s my thang.

The same goes for my son’s Lego, which is in one big long, shallow tub. Not sorted. Not at all. He doesn’t care one iota. And neither do I.

And my utensil drawer – everyone just throws the stuff in anyway, so why bother trying to keep it tidy? I keep it decluttered so that it only holds what’s necessary, but… tidy? Not worth the effort!

So chill out. You don’t have to have everything lined up with the labels all pointing outwards to have an organised home. You just need to be able to find things when you want them, and have only what you can fit easily in their space.

So, if you want to throw stuff willy-nilly in your top bathroom vanity drawer, go for it. If you want to just throw your undies in with your socks all messy and unfolded, feel free. If you want to have your hairbands in the same box as your clips and bobby-bins, go your hardest. If you can’t be bothered putting your books in order of genre or author, that’s completely okay. You are free to have a jumble if you so wish.

You’re welcome.

Can you declutter your complexities?

A common theme amongst my clients is complexity.

They have a lot, they do a lot, they want to do a lot, they help others do a lot, they accumulate a lot in order to do what they want.

They have rules about how they do things (or not do them), which complicates life. They can’t say no to others, which complicates life.

Do you insist that certain conditions be met before you take any action? Why? What do you gain? What do you lose? Are your rules helpful to you or unhelpful?

For example, do you insist on reading all the junk mail before you throw it in the recycling? Do you buy the latest issue of your favourite magazine despite not having read the last two yet? Do you insist on using a new towel each shower? Do you buy a new outfit whenever you have a special occasion to attend? Do you buy designer clothes for your 2yo tomboy? Do you entertain several nights a week? Do you volunteer for several committees? Do you only buy bread from a bakery 30 minutes’ drive away?

These are all examples of complexities that you impose upon yourself. They may or may not be helpful: that’s up to you to decide.

The more simple your life, the happier you’ll be. Trust me.

What complexities can you step away from today?

Celebrate your achievements

All ready for the RSPCA

When I went to see my client yesterday, we started off as we usually do, chatting about what he’d achieved in the fortnight since I’d last been.

He was disappointed in himself, and complained that he hadn’t achieved anything. He had been too busy working (he works shift work).

Then through more probing on my part I discovered that he had cleared out a great deal of his bedroom and there was a big expanse of carpet on display (yay! I did a little dance in it to show him how big it was). He had also delivered a load of old towels and sheets to the RSPCA, and decluttered and cleaned his bathroom.

Now, for someone who is a hoarder and is crippled by procrastination, that is a LOT achieved!

I told him so, and he agreed. So the lesson here is don’t be too hard on yourself. Any progress is a step forward.

Don’t forget to celebrate your achievements, or at least NOTICE them!

Storing kids’ artwork 101


Our kids’ artwork can be very special to us (copyright Ethan Mezzino!)

This is such a common question I get that I can’t believe I haven’t written a blog post on it!

A Facebook fan asks “Do you have any ideas for storing kids artwork? I have already accumulated a pile of “treasures” and my daughter is only 3. I obviously can’t keep everything, but how do I decide? And I’ll have the double the problem when my youngest starts getting creative. Please help!”

There are several ways to deal with kids’ artwork, so I’ll give you a run-down of a method that works for me and I recommend to the majority of my clients. It might work for you, too.





Firstly, have a place to put all the artwork when it comes in. You can put it on the wall, or in an artist’s folio sleeve, or both (the wall for a month, then the folio or a combination). The folios are designed for one or two pieces of artwork but I’ve shoved 6 month’s worth in there fairly easily! Slide it behind a piece of furniture for safe-keeping. Ours goes behind our buffet.

artist folio

A2 Artists’ folio – this one from Officeworks

Create a routine in which you regularly (when they are little do it every season, when they are older you can do it twice a year or so), go through the folio and photograph or scan every picture. Have the children pick out a few originals to keep, then recycle the rest (or use it as wrapping paper, or give to family – whatever you like).

The originals that my kids keep go in an A3 display book with plastic sleeves that they can look in any time they like, and is stored in their bedrooms (slid behind a bookcase).  The really special ones get framed.

If they are attached to their artwork this can take some coaxing, and you may get tears, but they do get used to it and if you can create a little slide show of all their artwork on the computer, you’ll win them over – they love it. You could even get a photobook printed of all their creations every couple of years.

It’s important for children to learn that there is a finite amount of space that we live in, and we can’t keep everything. The alternative of having the photographs means you save space and you still keep the memories.



The “To Donate” spot

It’s a great clutter-controller to have one spot to put things you want to donate.

Find a box that is a fair size (too small and you have to head to the charity place too frequently!) and create a home for it that’s fairly accessible, but not in your high-usage areas. I’d suggest the bottom of a laundry shelf, bottom of the linen closet or in the garage.

Label it “To Be Donated” and teach the family to put anything in there that they no longer need, use or love in there so it can be loved by someone in need.Whenever it gets full, take a quick trip to the nearest charity and drop it off, replacing the box in its spot again to continue the cycle (don’t leave it in the car for 3 months!).

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