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?

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 ;)



Churning (or: Why You’re Getting Nowhere)

Sometimes you think you’re working really hard at trying to gain control of your clutter, but you find you make no progress.

deck-chairs-on-TitanicYou are constantly sorting and organising, tidying and moving things around in an effort to gain order and be able to find your stuff when you want it, and have clear surfaces, but you don’t get anywhere.

No sooner do you clear a spot than you turn around and it’s full again.

“Whhhyyyyy??!??!!?” I hear you wail….

Here’s why – you’re just churning, or as my best friend puts it, “moving deck chairs on the Titanic”

Churning is the act of sorting, categorising, grouping into piles or sections and then having to do it again when the piles all merge together after a few days or weeks.

You need to stop churning and face the reality that the only way you’re going to gain control is to reduce the volume of your possessions. That means letting go of things you don’t need, use or love – and even some things you do.

Unless things actually leave the house, it’s just churning and you’re going to get nowhere.

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 (, 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.


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.

What do Activity Based Workstations and Clear Space have in common?

One of the major trends in corporate workplace design is the move to an Activity Based Workplace environment (ABW).

It is a different type of work environment where workers are not assigned a permanent office, desk or workspace, nor are they assigned a particular type of space based on status or job type. Rather, workers predominantly use mobile devices and choose the appropriate workspace for the activity undertaken on a day-to-day basis or project they are working on at the time.  This is in stark contrast to the tradition of employees arriving at work and heading to a specific ‘owned’ workspace.

ABW strives towards a utopia where humans aren’t territorial or insecure and where the physical environment facilitates maturity and personal responsibility in all workplace situations.  ABW is the hot trend in workplace design because it can save millions of dollars in real estate costs and when done properly, improve productivity.  lt requires a largely paperless office which offers additional benefits, such as a reduced environmental footprint, reduced storage requirements and increased security.

Late in 2013, the Bendigo Bank will consolidate a number of sites in to their new Grenfell Street Head Office, which has been designed as an ABW environment.

Supporting employees with behavioural changes to embrace the ABW revolution is imperative to the successful implementation of the model – and the productivity and efficiency improvements that go with it.  To help with the transition, beginning in September, Clear Space will start delivering a number of workshops for the Bendigo Bank.  A customised program has been developed that will address specific challenges for their staff whilst complementing the other change management strategies the bank is assisting staff with.

Titled “Space, Time and Paper Management”, participants will learn simple yet effective, ready-to-use tips and techniques for instant results and application.  It will appeal to and deliver benefits for individuals working in various departments, and having differing needs and day-to-day objectives.

The elements and learning outcomes from the workshops include:

1)    Space Management

  • effective portability and mobility
  • locker storage and control / avoiding the need to store at home
  • choosing the most suitable ABW area
  • reducing belongings by learning how to let go

2)    Time Management

  • managing interruptions and distractions
  • single versus multi-tasking
  • batching tasks & using digital task lists
  • creating routines

3)    Paper Management

  • knowing what to keep, archive and cull
  • reducing paper use and dependence
  • finding what you need, when it’s needed
  • setting up a suitable system for actionable paperwork

We look forward to helping Bendigo Bank with this exciting transformation.

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!

Avoiding isn’t the answer

You’re cluttered. You feel out of control and overwhelmed. You want to escape the house. You aspire to a beautiful, organised home but despair that you’ll never get it. You’re anxious.

When you’re anxious, going shopping can make you feel better – every girl knows that ;) . But we also all know that it’s only a short-term hit, like a drug.

Sometimes you even buy organising products to try and get around that feeling in your gut that tells you to stop bringing more stuff into the house.

But more stuff, even if it is a useful container or set of shelves, will NOT fix your problem.

The only thing that will fix your problem is taking action on what you have got around you. The only way out is to stop avoiding your stuff and face it. To defeat it, you must take action.

When you next get the urge to run away from your home and seek solace in shopping, realise that the ONLY WAY to get the home you want is to stay in it and face your demons. Sort that pile, toss that stuff, create the life you want rather than buy it.

You CAN do it, I know you can xx

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.



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