5 Clutter-Enablers to Keep Your Eye On

I was with a  client recently and I was holding a catalogue that she asked me to toss in the recycling. I looked down as I tossed it in the bin and I saw a product on the back and my first thought was “Oh! That looks handy!” and started to think about where I’d put it and who’d use it in the house and where.  My next thought, thankfully,  was “For goodness sake, Rebecca, you don’t need a jigsaw-puzzle mat”.

But still, I was sucked into creating a need in my mind based on seeing a picture of something. I didn’t need nor want a jigsaw mat until I saw it. Sucked in, Mezzino!

So it got me thinking about ways we accidentally allow need to be created in our minds where it didn’t exist before. Here’s some of them that might be familiar:

1) Home shopping networks and catalogues – the culprit that got me.  There’s one here in Australia that is particularly enticing because it has clever gadgets that spark your imagination. The issue is that they are very specific products, made for narrow purposes, which means you have a lot of products doing just one thing each. There are common things like avocado slicers (which slice nothing but an avocado) or garlic crushers (again, just for garlic) or more unusual items like an egg cuber (makes a square egg, of course). They create need where there is no real need (got a knife? There’s your avo slicer and garlic crusher in one!).

2) Sales. Marketers know very well that when we shop we buy stuff based on emotion and we justify the purchase with logic (after the fact most shoe saleof the time). And when we shop in sales, the weight of emotion is stronger. We get a kick out of getting something for nothing. For getting something for less than what someone else may have paid. Then after the purchase, there’s more logic to back up the decision – “But I got $200 shoes for only $100!”. Nope. Discounts are not a real thing. They are something that masks the fact that you spent $100 on something you probably didn’t need. Something you won’t really use and will eventually have to discard (which can hurt for some). So you didn’t save $100, you wasted $100. Of course, you can buy stuff on sale, and you can save money, but only if you intended to buy that item before you saw it, and you were prepared to pay full price. That’s the only time you actually save money on a sale.

3) Charity auctions. You can accidentally spend money on things you don’t need because you can justify it by the thought that the money is going somewhere good, or that you were going to buy something like that anyway. Be careful; if you have clutter issues, it’s best you just make a donation.

4) “Clubs”, party plan and purchasing schemes. I had a client that was part of a scrap-booking group. There were three tiers to membership, each involving a compulsory purchase of materials each month. She felt like she’d be letting down the organiser if she dropped down a tier or two, but didn’t want the stuff and it was literally filling up her house. Any time you’re required to make a purchase in order to fulfil a commitment, run away!

5) Shopping as entertainment. When you shop for the fun of it, you are more likely to impulse-purchase. You are more likely to buy things just because they’re on sale or cheap, or they’re pretty. Shopping is a helpful activity when it’s done mindfully – when you know what you want and you don’t buy anything that’s not on your list (mental or otherwise – I always have a mental list of things I need, and sometimes write a specific one for that particular shopping excursion).  If you deviate from the list, you’re probably collecting clutter.

Do you know of any other sneaky clutter-enablers?

 

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.

Five habits of clutter-free people

Here are five things that clutter-free people make a habit of:

1. They acquire mindfully; only buying something if they know they need it and have identified a specific use for it. They happily pay full price because they know it’s of value to them (unless they find it’s conveniently on sale when they go to buy it) and avoid sales and being enticed by discounts. They only acquire something if they know where they’re going to put it, and that it fits there easily.

2. They have hobbies that either don’t require a lot of stuff, they set boundaries around how much of the hobby stuff they can have, or they limit their hobbies to a small number (like one or two). Or all of the above! They are satisfied without trying to do everything all at once.

3. They are okay with letting things go. They put themselves first and don’t keep things out of guilt or obligation. They don’t take everyone else’s problems on as their own. They have their emotional needs met by a small selection of sentimental possessions only, rather than keeping them all.

4. They don’t have a fear of missing out. They know that they’re always missing out on something, so why fight it? They are comfortable in the knowledge that they can’t have and do everything, and that if they tried, it wouldn’t result in happiness.

5. They base their self-worth around things other than their belongings. They know that even without all their stuff, they’ll still be okay.  Their happiness does not depend on having things. They trust that if culling something means one day forgetting something, that they’ll still be okay. They trust that even if they one day regret culling something, they’ll still be okay.

Perhaps you can see ways you might be able to create some clutter-free habits, too?

How many “tabs” do you have open in your life?

You know when you’re working on your PC and you have a browser open, and you keep jumping from one thing to another without finishing? You end up with lots of browser tabs open, don’t you?

It gets cluttered, confusing, you miss where you were up to on things and you don’t actually finish anything properly.

Well your life is very much like an internet browser. When we juggle too many things we also miss stuff, feel lost and overwhelmed and don’t finish anything.

How many “tabs” do you have open in your life? What can you close?

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 😉

 

 

What if you just have a disorganised personality?

I often talk in my presentations about personalities that are more prone to clutter than others.

Those personalities are ones that are creative, intelligent, and love information. They are often easily distracted and don’t finish things well. They’re great at ideas, but kind of go off on a tangent and don’t always follow through. I’m one of those myself.

Someone once stood up and asked “So if I have that personality, how do I keep my house under control? I don’t think I can completely change who I am”.

She was right, we can’t completely change the way we are. She will always be like that. I will always be me. I can put in place systems or organisation, but I’ll still default to those behaviours a lot of the time. I’ll still be a bit messy and forgetful and lack focus.

But being like that is not a bad thing, because those personalities are also pretty bloody awesome. We’re warm, empathetic, intelligent, creative and fun.

So my answer is this:

Have less stuff, and do less things. The simpler your life is, the less impact your unhelpful habits can have.

 

It’s all about how it makes you feel

It’s not how your space looks that matters, it’s how it makes you feel.

If you stand in front of a space or in a doorway and think “I’ve got this. I can handle this” then you don’t really need to change much.

If you stand in front of a space or in a doorway and your heart rate goes up, you feel stressed, you feel the urge to escape or you don’t know where to start; then change is needed.

It doesn’t have to look good. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be under control.

Don’t worry about how it should look, or how you think others think it should look. Don’t worry about what your neighbour’s looks like, or your sister’s, or the other school parents. Don’t compare your home to the ones you see on TV or in magazines.

As long as you feel like you’ve got control of it, it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. It’s how you feel in your home that matters.

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.

OCD is not a badge of honour

I personally and professionally object to the use of the term “OCD” to describe “highly organised”, “obsessively clean” or “perfectionist”.

Anyone who suffers from OCD could tell you that it is a debilitating mental illness and that they wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And it is NOT about being obsessively orderly or clean.

In particular I believe that any professionals in my industry that use the term, especially in their marketing or branding (or worse, in their actual business name), should absolutely re-think that strategy. And anyone wishing to hire someone should avoid any business using “OCD” in their branding because they clearly do not have any concept of the psychological issues involved with clutter and organising.

I’m an easy-going person and I’m not quick to take offense but I AM defensive of my precious clients and others with mental illness so I would really like people to stop making light of (or profiting from) serious mental illnesses.

What a PO can really give you

If you’ve ever wondered why Professional Organisers charge a lot more than cleaners do, let me tell you why…

1. We coach and teach WITH you, not do it for you

2. We understand that decluttering and organising is an individual thing

3. We know how to design systems that suit you; not us and not anyone else

4. We aim to set you up for future independence

5. We help you understand the relationship you have with your stuff and how to make it a productive and comfortable relationship

6. We understand the psychological issues involved

7. If we are in over our head re #6, we know it and we know when you’re better off with another service provider.

Rebecca and client

We work with you, not for you.

If you get someone who is saying that they can organise or declutter for you at cleaning rates or less, please be aware you get what you pay for. By all means try them if you want, but keep my warning in mind to avoid getting at worst, psychologically damaged and at best, one or two hundred dollars out of pocket for nothing. Or thousands, in the case of one of my clients before she found me.

Also make sure the PO you’re thinking about using is a member of an industry association (www.aapo.org.au, www.napo.comwww.organizersincanada.comwww.apdo-uk.co.uk or google your country and “professional organizer”) because that’s proof that they take their job seriously and are invested in making sure you get the best service possible.

We don’t cost more, we give you more.

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