Letting go without context

Some people struggle to declutter because they need context. Without it, they feel they can’t let go.

By context I mean that someone is decluttering their study and they find an egg-flip. The person doesn’t know if they have any other egg-flips, or how many they have, so they can’t make a decision to discard that egg-flip. They keep it, and then weeks later have the same dilemma when they find another egg-flip somewhere else. Was it the same one? Do I only have one? Or do I h…ave more, and can I safely donate this one? Usually the uncertainty is too high so they choose to keep it.

There is one obvious solution to this – declutter by category. Grab all your egg-flips, put them in one place and then declutter. Marie Kondo has borrowed this method for her book and it can be very helpful.

Unfortunately, it’s only helpful for people with low-to-medium levels of clutter or for relatively organised homes (ie, all your items are contained to one to three rooms per category, like clothes or toys). It’s completely useless for people with high or hoarding levels. I mean, how on earth do you find all of your batteries in the whole house when you can’t even open the cupboards or see the floor?

So my poor clients are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can’t discard because they fear discarding too many or the wrong ones, and they can’t find the rest to help facilitate the decision-making.

The solution I recommend (understanding how hard it is) is to just forget the context. Forget the others, forget the maybes, just declutter as much as you possibly can, knowing that if you make a mistake, you’ll still be okay and your main goal of being in control of your belongings is more important than trying to avoid having to buy a $3 egg-flip from KMart.

That’s the key – knowing you’ll still be okay no matter what choice you make. Because you will, I promise.

We all hoard stuff. Yes, even you.

We all hoard to a certain degree. That’s “hoard” with a lower-case h. I’m not talking about Hoarding Disorder (another post, another day!).

I have a friend who has a well-organised, substantial hoard of travel toiletries. I have more staples than I’ll use in the next 5 years. And I have amassed quite a collection of iPhone cables.

We do our hoarding either passively or actively. If we actively hoard, we are aware of the volume of stuff we have, and we continue to acquire them and choose to not discard any (shoes, notebooks, pets, furniture, craft supplies and books come to mind).

When we passively hoard, we accumulate relatively mindlessly (as part of everyday life) and don’t have the corresponding habit of discarding established. And so we gather a little collection without realising. My friend recently went through her junk drawers and found several boxes of staples and no stapler. I think they’d also accumulated several rolls of tape. She was surprised – she had no idea they had that many.

First Aid, anyone?

First Aid, anyone?

That’s passive hoarding and you’ll see it manifesting in things like pens, tape, broken things you intend to fix, cassette tapes and VHS tapes, cords and cables, placemats, old paperwork, coffee mugs, plasticware, water bottles, stubbie-holders, vases and platters.

You don’t realise until you go to declutter just how much you’ve accidentally kept!

If you’re passively hoarding stuff, it’s a good idea to establish the habit of regularly going through those areas and having a quick cull to keep the volume at bay. Another good habit is to have a quick review whenever you bring a new item into the house and see if anything needs to go to make room for it or to maintain the current volume.

What do you find that you passively hoard?

Keeping up with the @joneses

When you’re trying to get your life under control it’s very important not to compare yourself with others. Especially with others on social media.

There’s so much “perfection” out there. On Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook.

It’s easy to get sucked into the idea that your life would be better if you looked like them, or your house did. If you could afford new furnishings or a Professional Organiser, if you could take the kids to interesting places every weekend and everyone smiled and looked like the perfect family.

You can’t see the struggles behind that “perfection” but don’t assume they aren’t there. Don’t assume that the picture of the perfect living room wasn’t taken by a woman in tears whose teenage daughter had just ripped shreds off her, or by a person in severe debt that kept them awake all night worrying. You don’t see the tantrums, the fights, the tension. You don’t see the anxiety, the throwing things and the coldness. You don’t see the overdue bills, the migraines, the depression.

And that’s fine – no one likes to show off the ugly and unhappy sides of life that inevitably affect all of us, no matter who, no matter how. No one wants to see it all the time, either.

But what’s not okay is to let yourself be dissatisfied with your life because you want it to be perfect.

Perfect doesn’t exist.

You can have a perfectly organised pantry with all glass containers full of organic whatever and you will still just hide in it and sob as you eat chocolate while the toddler screams blue murder for cutting their toast in squares instead of triangles, despite asking for squares in the first place.

A perfect home does not equal a perfect life. You’ll still have life’s struggles, you’ll just be doing it all in white with pastel, hanging planters and elk horns, with a toddler in a hand-knitted outfit.

A home under control does help you and that should be what you’re aiming for.

Just make sure it’s YOUR version of “under control”, not Instagram’s.

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.

Tipping points

I’m going to preface this article by saying I don’t like to tell people how much stuff is the right amount of stuff; I think everyone should be able to have whatever volume of belongings they are happy and healthy with. This article isn’t to specify a “right” or “wrong” but it may perhaps give some people a guide to go by when decluttering or maintaining their home’s “stuff levels”.

My house isn’t overly minimalist. It’s not overly tidy all the time, either. But it does have one thing going for it – we have only as much stuff as we can comfortably store. That means that when I do want it tidy to my satisfaction, it doesn’t take long because all the stuff that’s laying about annoying me has a home to go to.

What that also means is that I can easily see where things are going awry. I have “trigger points” that show me I need to declutter (not tidy, as I have kids and pets and a life I pretty much need to tidy constantly, as I’m sure you do too!).

Here’s some of my “It’s time to declutter” trigger points:

1) There’s stuff staying an extended time on tables and benches because it won’t fit in the cupboard or doesn’t have a home. That’s a huge alarm bell for me. Right now I have a big pack of Rice Bubbles on the kitchen counter because it won’t fit in the pantry – it’s been there a week. Silly me bought when we already had a full pack in there. I need to do something about that. I think I need to remove a container. Or just eat a LOT of Rice Bubbles very quickly ;). It’s not bothering me too much because I know it will get eaten eventually, but if it’s not a consumable like that I quickly resolve it. If you leave it, the table just attracts more stuff and then it grows to an unmanageable level.

2) I have to rifle through a pile on my desk to find something. When I notice myself doing that, I make sure I put aside 5 minutes as soon as I can to go through it and file stuff. And get some stuff done, too, as lots of it will be important actions to take. Also, when my files are getting fat that’s a warning flag too – time to prune.

3) I have things on the floor. As far as I’m concerned, the floor in my house isn’t storage. It should store furniture and half-finished Lego constructions only. And maybe the odd train track development project ;). So if I’m seeing stuff persisting on the floor, I need to declutter a cupboard somewhere that that stuff should be going into. Or get rid of said stuff.

4) I can’t find stuff or get to things easily. If I’m having to rummage through a storage container/shelf/cupboard then I add a declutter to my to-do list for that week. I can’t stand not being able to find things!

5) I feel cramped. This one is a slow-burner but it’s responsible for a whole bookcase leaving our house recently. I just wanted more empty wall space so the room felt bigger. It worked well too 🙂

 

Here’s some other posts that might help you declutter:

Declutter first, organise second

The “No Brainers” declutter list

Will it stay or will it go? How to make declutter decisions

 

 

 

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 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.

Too many interests makes for all work and no fun

A common theme among my clients with high levels of clutter, particularly those who are “information collectors” or “crafters”, is a very high number of interests.

The more interests you are actively pursuing, the more stuff you accumulate.

The more stuff you accumulate, the more time it takes you away from your interests.

Take stock. How many interests do you have? And how much do you even get to enjoy them? Ironically, the more supplies people have, the less they actually do.

IMG_6339I know you need your hobbies and pursuits for your mental health, but do you need all of them at the same time? Our lives are long enough to pick a few favourites at a time.

Consider dropping some altogether, or putting a lot of them on hold.

As Oprah says –

“You CAN have it all, just not all at once”.

 

“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?

 

 

 

What I’m all about

I have been mulling over a passing comment someone said to me recently. It made me feel as though I (as a Professional Organiser) was generally regarded as judgmental and a promoter of perfection.

I want it clear that Clear Space is NOT about making everyone a perfectionist.

I don’t promote an unhealthy obsession with cleaning or minimalism. I don’t think that a clean house is a sign of a better parent. Nor do I think that a messy house is a sign of a dysfunctional family or poor parenting.

I don’t think that anyone “should” be anything – organised, not organised, messy, clean etc. They should be doing what makes them, and their families, happy.

I am here for people who are in a mess/muddle/overwhelm/block and they want to change. I will then help them change.

I NEVER judge someone by how much stuff they have, don’t have, or how clean it is. I certainly couldn’t live like some of my clients do, but they don’t want to live like that, either, so we roll up our sleeves and try to meet their needs.

I have friends who live in chaos, and friends who live in show homes (and clients in both categories, too!). I love them all the same! I’m somewhere in the middle myself, and I’m happy there.

I’m here to get you into a place that you’re happy in, too 🙂

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