The Super Special Secret to Organizing Success (Ok, it’s not a secret)

starting-line-running-trackYou’re busy.   You’ve got a home and life, work or volunteering or family, or any combination of those.  I would guess that you’re not sitting around, doing nothing.  Our days are filled.

But we know we want to make a change.   We want to get more organized, get a better grip on our home or finances or work life or time.  We want to make a change.  We NEED to make a change.

But that feels scary.  We know we have to carve out time, space and energy to do something different, something extra, to make progress.  We have to get a little uncomfortable, push ourselves a bit.  But where?  How?  If I’m going to get uncomfortable and push myself, I want to KNOW it’s right, KNOW that I’m doing the exactly right thing.

And there, friend, is the rub.  We need to do SOMETHING, but we may never know that we are doing the exactly right thing.   But here are strategies to start your Whole-Life or Just-One-Little-Corner-Organizing Project. Multiple strategies, because different strategies work on different days or with different projects.

1.  Start with a clipboard.  Grab a clipboard, paper and pen, and walk around your house, noting all potential organizing projects, big or small, realistic or ridiculous.   I often start client sessions with this step; asking questions, opening every door, challenging my client to think about what their space will look like when it’s “organized”.  Don’t edit this list yet, and don’t get overwhelmed.  This is just the list.

2. Look at the complete list, and start to pare down and strategize how to get these projects done.  The list is a great place to start, as it will show some commonalities, like how “Shelves in linen closet”  and “container under the kitchen sink to hold cleaning supplies” can both be satisfied with a trip to Home Depot or Menards.

Now, getting down to business…

3. Start with the easiest project.  Some projects are pretty straightforward. Maybe your home office just needs better lighting and a good printer stand with paper storage.  Again, one quick trip to Office Max, or perhaps a walk around your home or office to see if you already own furniture or a lamp that would solve your problem.  Start with easy, if that gets you moving.  Or…

4. Start with the toughest project.  Paper?  That is a tough project.  Toy Room?  Yes, that could be scary, too. I know, decision making is difficult.  But delaying those tough decisions is what created clutter in the first place.  Get tough, maybe even a little angry, and get to it.  Or…

5.  Start with a small project.  The day after Christmas, I tidied a kitchen drawer while I waited for my tea pot to boil. I continued drawer by drawer by cabinet over the next few days,  in 5 or 10 minutes increments.  Every drawer and cabinet has been tidied and purged, in little pieces.  Small projects keep us motivated but not overwhelmed. Or…

6.  Start with a large project.   Bite off the BIG BITE, the BIG PROJECT that will reap really big rewards once it’s complete. For example:  Garage?  It’s estimated that over half of the garages in the US hold clutter instead of cars.  Garages are big projects, but spending a day or two of really big work and effort will pay off with parking your cars in the garage instead of clutter.  Yes, this is a big project, and sometimes we need BIG results.

Ok, friend, let me share a secret.  Each of these strategies started with “Start”.  Yes, just one simple word, “Start”.  There is not secret to organizing or getting things done.  Each of those words is an action word.  Progress requires Action, and Action requires a START! So, the determinant of your success is not which strategy you use, it’s just that you use one and START.

Yes, You Really Can Recycle That!

This week, we see America Recycles Day on November 15th.  Follow this link to my previous America Recycles Day post:

Plus, one of my favorite Recycling Lists from Real Simple:

Because of what I do and who I am, clients and readers ask me questions about recycling all the time!  Here are the 5 most recent queries:

  1. What about Christmas lights: Yes, these can be recycled!  Check with your local Home Depot. My local HD in Oak Lawn will collect old Christmas Lights for recycling at the service desk from now until January.   Check your strings this week, and properly dispose of the old ones!
  2. Paint: Yes, there are ways to recycle paint, or at least lessen used paint’s negative impact on the environment.  If your old paint is still usable, contact your local Ace Hardware or Habitat for Humanity to donate it. If it’s not usable: for water based or latex paint, place the cans outside and loosen the lid,  then once the paint hardens in the can, you can throw it away; for oil based paint, there is an additive (like Waste Away Paint Hardener) you can purchase at your local hardware store to mix with the paint and harden it, then you can throw away the can and paint.  We just don’t want liquid paint to end up in a landfill, as it will seep into the ground and groundwater.
  3. License plates: Some states will let you keep your old plates or recycle them with scrap metal, but not Illinois.  Turn old plates in at the DMV, that’s the safest place for them.
  4. Collectibles:  Re-selling is the ultimate in recycling!  A client had a box of Christmas collectibles that she was no longer attached to.  She sold it and made a couple hundred $$$ doing it – more space and more money, Win Win!!
  5. Batteries: don’t actually have to be recycled.  These days, household batteries are made with less harmful materials than they used to be, and can therefore be thrown away with regular garbage. Some communities will still accept batteries for recycling, but it varies widely from town to town.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve found to recycle?  Please share!

Spring Stirs My Soul! 9 Actions to Organize Your Spring This Week!

It has been a long and cold winter, friends, I know.  We’ve spent so much of the last few months inside, perhaps feeling closed in and cluttered.  And yet, I feel the stirrings of Spring in my Soul, regardless of what the thermometer says outside!

This week, I am energized to act!  To move forward, to lighten up, to re-fresh!  If you are feeling the same, here are 9 Things You Can Do This Week, to look back and wrap up winter while looking ahead and embracing this new season!

  1. Get outside.  Breathe deep and see the sun.
  2. Clean out your car.  Throw out the trash, drop off the bags of stuff destined for somewhere or someone else.  Then go to the car wash, and wash away the months of salt and dirt.
  3. Take down the outdoor Christmas decorations.  Come on, people.  It’s time.  If you need help, I can rent you a teenager.  But you can probably do it yourself.  Just do it.
  4. Put stuff AWAY! Christmas decorations, suitcases from travels, sports gear from last season, cardboard boxes from puchases – PUT THEM AWAY!!  If I had to choose an overall theme to most of my client hours last week, it would be “Just finish!”.  You’ll be so happy you did!
  5. Put away the really heavy sweaters and scarves – you know you’re tired of them!  I am, too.
  6. Open the windows.  Just for 30 minutes.   Exchange your old house air for some new fresh air!
  7. Spend the week Pantry shopping. Use up the food you have in the fridge, freezer and cabinets before you hit the grocery again.  Clear space and save money!
  8. Make your maintenance appointments now for April and May.  Need work done this Spring?  Get on the painter or plumber’s busy schedule now.  Carpet cleaners, yard guys, the air conditioner check?  I know there’s still snow on the ground, but you can schedule these now for the months to come.
  9. Clear the decks.  I just spent 9 minutes (yes, I set a timer) and cleaned out random things from my garage.  I now have two bags of donations to drop off, plus a bag of things for the E-Waste recycling drop off and a full recycling bin.  It looks and feels so much better in there now!

What are the breaths of fresh air stirring you to do this week?  Go Do It!

What Do “Fat” Pants and Empty File Cabinets Have in Common? 

What Do “Fat” Pants and Empty File Cabinets Have in Common? Well, let me tell you.

Recently, a client rejoiced about losing 50 pounds over a two year period.  Awesome!  However, she can’t seem to part with a few pair of pants from those past heavier days.  Her concern?  “What if I gain some weight back? I’ll need these (old, stretched, faded) pants.”

Another client recognizes that his work office is overcrowded.  He and I have worked for months, converting his papers to either digital documents or to shredding.  And even though he has lightened his paper load considerably, he is still hesitant to get rid of the old empty file cabinets. “What if I accumulate all that paper again?”

“What If?” or “…Just In Case…” is what “fat” pants and empty file cabinets have in common.  We rejoice with positive change, but don’t always trust our good fortune or good intentions to last.  So we keep clutter, instead of purging it.  And it piles up.

We all have some “What If? / Just In Case” items cluttering our space or brains.  I’m a planner and a Mom, so I spend a lot of time considering “What If? / Just In Case”.  For example, I packed for a 7 mile hike last week – “What if it rains? Or someone gets hurt?  Better pack the rain gear, first aid kit, and some extra water, just in case.”

Some “What If? / Just In Case” is necessary.  But saving too much for “someday” gets us into trouble, by subconsciously giving us permission to fall back into past negative behaviors.  Or we crowd our closets and offices with STUFF saved for “What If? / Just In Case”, for some possible future far down the road.  And all that STUFF gets in the way of today’s reality.

I helped a client de-furnish her space last week.  We moved a large table out of her living / dining area, and moved a desk, chair, box fan and mirror out to the curb.  Some stranger will come along, pick up the items and be happy.  She let go of the “What If? / Just In Case” items, and has more room to breathe and move, plus less visual clutter.

How?  She knows she has all the stuff she needs, and now she needs clear space and peace of mind.  She has changed her habits over time, and knows that regardless of what life brings, the uncomfortable chair and outdated desk won’t be needed.  Empty boxes or furniture is great, but sometimes attracts more clutter.

Over the weekend, another client was seeking motivation to go through some clothes, papers and religious items.  I suggested she start looking at her stuff with the belief “I know I have everything I need”.  Then she supplied the important rest of the question:  “Since I have everything I need, Could someone else use this, more than me?”  The coat we save for “What If” could keep someone warm today.  The old dishes or household goods could help a woman getting back on her feet after homelessness.

So when “What If?” or “… Just In Case…” has got you stuck, change your internal sound track and make some changes.  Tell yourself:

  • Letting go of STUFF will provide me with Peace of mind, clear and uncluttered space, perhaps a little extra $$ in my pocket or a charitable donation tax write-off.  Those are real and immediate benefits, to counteract the vague and uncertain “What If? / Just In Case”
  • I have everything I need.  And more.
  • Since I have everything I need, I can let some things go.
  • If I let something go and then someday need it again, I can borrow it / rent it / be creative and make do.
  • Having the fat pants / empty file cabinets will tempt me into sliding back into old and bad habits.

Conquer “What if?”  or “… Just In Case…”, make some permanent positive change, and purge that clutter!  Gone, gone, gone is Good!!

Time Clutter Has Got To Go!

Week Six in the Lenten Organizing Challenge.  This week we look at the Spirituality of Time Clutter.  Remember, Clutter Is anything we don’t need, use or love.  And that means time clutter, too.  How we use our time can be a very spiritual choice.  Our time is the only thing we truly own, and it is important that we use it well and wisely. 

I read a book a few years ago called “There Must Be More Than This” by Judith Wright.  In this book, Wright talks about how small, minor habits that we have every day can actually cause us a lot of harm.  She defines these habits as “Soft Addictions”, “habitual activities or moods that numb our feelings, sap our life force, and lock us into a limbo of muted experience”.  These addictions keep us from feeling deeply and experiencing fulfillment.  We “guide our lives by old, unconscious, unexamined, limiting beliefs”.  These addictions are broken down into 4 sub-headings: 

  1. Activities –  media – TV and movies, email / social media, buying / shopping , personal maintenance, physical mannerisms, sexual, risk taking, social diversions
  2. Moods / Ways of Being:  being sarcastic, being cranky or irritable, always on, jokester, perfectionist, fanaticism, moping, acting cool, blaming others
  3. Avoidances:  procrastinating, playing dumb, playing the victim, acting helpless, being too busy, over-sleeping or napping, being late
  4. Things – edible and consumable, overeating or excessive drinking, having too much or too many of any thing

There are more specific lists of these 4 types in her book and on her website, http://judithwright.com/ .  I would recommend reading this book, check it out at your local library, or you can borrow my copy!

Whenever I review this book, I challenge myself to look at how I spend my time.  I have good habits most days, but like many of us, my good habits and intentions slip, so I need reminders and re-commitment regularly.  To improve my life, there are things I can pare down, eliminate or replace with good habits:  watching TV, obsessively checking my email or Facebbok, late night snacking and thinking crabby thoughts are the first things that come to mind, and that was in 10 seconds, I’m sure I could think of more!

My major weaknesses are in Moods / Ways of Being.  I need to break free of perfectionism some days, and my inner voice needs to be less cranky and judgmental.  Spending more time being positive and loving would certainly help me live better (and those around me!!).  The Moods / Ways of Being category is tough, though, since negative moods can slide into our behaviors without notice.  So this week, I am noticing!!   

I also need to cut back on my TV consumption.  I have quite a backlog of recorded shows on my DVR from our week on vacation, and looking at the list, I realized there were shows I really don’t need to watch at all.  I have a very busy week this week, and I am choosing to not spend my hours sitting on my couch watching TV.  The shows don’t seem worth the hour I would need to spend to watch them.  So I deleted them, and will choose more meaningful endeavors like time with my family, reading, or prayer and ministry for Holy Week. 

My challenge to you is to take a long look at how you spend your time.  If you kept a diary for a week, what would it look like?  Ask yourself what behaviors or habits that you have that hold you back from leading a better life.  What are some soft addictions you could pare down or part with, now and forever?  Purge Time Clutter this week and live better. 

Four Reasons to Conquer Closet Clutter

Fifth in the Lenten Clutter Challenge.  This time of March brings us Clutter Awareness Week and Clean Out Your Closet Week, so today we look at the spirituality of clothing clutter in our closets. 

     I was packing  for vacation last week.  Packing for travel is a great opportunity to realize which items are my favorites, and conversely, which items I can probably let go of.    

     Why are there things in our closet that we will never wear? Clutter is anything you Don’t Need, Use or Love.   Here are some reasons Why We Keep clutter, and What To Do About It.

We keep our clothing clutter because of a skewed sense of frugality:  “I spent money on that item!”  or “That item is worth money!”

  1. Yes, that item is worth money, perhaps a lot!  But is it worth enough to keep it around even when it is no longer useful, becomes a nuisance, wastes our mental energy, or causes negative feelings or disruption?
  2. The biggest waste of your money is the storage, upkeep and maintenance of Clutter.
  3. Do not move clutter around your closet perpetually, just because you spent money on it once.
  4. Sometimes clothes are Just Wrong.  Wrong fit, feel, smell or color.  These characteristic will not change, Let the clutter GO!
  5. What is Peace of Mind worth?  Put a value, a dollar amount on being organized.  Eliminate clutter and stress, increase the appeal and enjoyment of your home.   

We keep clutter because we are Sentimental, or would feel guilty getting rid of something. 

  1. Perhaps our stuff represents a loved one or a certain time in our life.  But what if our closet is full of such items?
  2. What if we get frustrated because there are too many sentimental items, and our attachment to them decreases because of sheer numbers?
  3. I have things that I treasure, but I have lots of people in my life that I treasure even more.  We can let go of an item that has become Clutter without letting the loved one or their memories go.  Honest.  It’s okay.
  4. Treat your treasure as treasure.  If you are keeping clothing items from your old life, with no intention of wearing them again, they are now keepsakes, not clothing.  And they do not belong in your closet.  Box up a few to keep, or frame them on the wall, then let the rest go and get on with living your life. 

We Should-a, We Could-a, We Would-a….  Our clutter represents opportunities, taken or missed.  So we don’t want to let go of the opportunity, the possibility the item represents. 

  1. Someday:  My hubby bought a t-shirt on vacation.  It reads “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.  See?  There is no SomeDay”.
  2. Wouldn’t you rather live better today, this day, than save things for SomeDay that ruin today and get in the way?
  3. Did you stumble over things that you keep for SomeDay as you tried to get ready for work/class today?  Let the clutter GO!

We keep things for Just In Case, but there are Opportunity Costs from Just in case.  Any time we choose to buy or keep something, it eliminates the opportunity for something else.

  1. Space dedicated to clutter can not be dedicated to something else. 
  2. Someone else is not benefiting from the stuff that is weighing us down.
  3. Be honest.  Often a client will cling to old or grungy clothing items by calling them workout clothes or cleaning clothes, saving them for just-in-case.  When there are 20 grungy t-shirts in a drawer for “working out”, you are deluding your self.  Keep 5, toss the rest.  Then use your now cleaned-out drawer for something else that you use every day. 
  4. Don’t let Just In Case get in the way of Today.

So, as you read these 4 reasons, which one strikes a chord in you?  Which description do you read with a wince, because you know there are things in your closet that fall into that category, and that you just need to let go of?  Here is the permission you’ve waited for, I give you permission to get rid of that closet clutter.  Feel Better?  Great!  Now go clean that closet!!

Here are some other blogs I have written about Closet Organizing:

It Really Is Easy Being Green

This article first ran in the Lenten Organizing Challenge and The Spirituality of Clutter.

The idea is to elevate little eco-friendly changes you can make in your day – to – day life, to make a big and positive impact on our world.

Let me start with the Bottom Line On Top:  Make good choices, even if you just take little steps.  Many little steps in the right direction will still get you where you need to go.

So here is the rest of the article….

We are a (pretty) Green family.  We reduce, we reuse, we recycle, we re-purpose.  We have been Green for a long time, so that the kids know what to do to be Green, and why it is important.

I have four trash receptacles in my kitchen.  Under the sink, we have a garbage can on one side, and glass and plastic recycling on the other.  Under the desk there is a paper bag for paper recycling.  Then there is the Magic Little Basket on the top of my refrigerator.

Ok, so the basket doesn’t actually have magical properties.  It’s rather boring, 10 inches square, lined with a jaunty fabric and it matches the one next to it that holds reusable lunch bags.  But it does make Being Green really easy.

The Magic Little Basket holds 2 recycled plastic canisters, and some freezer bags.  One canister holds used household batteries, and the other holds used prescription medication bottles. One bag holds burnt-out light bulbs, another has small, used (and broken or obsolete) electronics like old cell phones and static-y earphones.   The third baggy has old eyeglasses in it. What do all of these items have in common, other than living together in a basket in my kitchen?   A couple of things, actually.

These are sort of things my clients and I come across in kitchen junk drawers, bathroom medicine cabinets, desk cubbies and workrooms.  One client calls them Detritus.  I call them dregs, or minutiae.  None of these words are very positive.  They all mean approximately “the unwanted particulates that settle to the bottom”.

Why do these things accumulate?  First, they are small and inconsequential.  Second, they had value once, so it is difficult to just toss them away.  Finally, my clients realize they probably shouldn’t just toss them into the trash.  Maybe they have heard that the CFL light bulbs contain mercury, or about the new law making it illegal to through electronic waste in the regular garbage.

The other thing they have in common?  They are all recyclable.

So, make your own Magic Basket (or bag or box or whatever), and make a regular habit of taking care of recycling.

For example, I dropped off the household batteries at the Walgreen’s camera counter.  There is also a drop box at our local library.  The medications go to my local police department, many now have permanent collection sites, to keep prescription pain medication off the streets.  The light bulbs go to Home Depot, or other home goods stores.  The broken electronics can go to my kid’s school, we make money from regular recycling drives.  What can’t go to the school drive can go to our local E-Waste recycling site.  Many towns now have these E-Waste sites available to their residents.   The eyeglasses go to my dad, who works with his local Lion’s Club, and if you don’t happen to know my Dad, the Lion’s Club is a national organization with drop boxes in public places like libraries and pharmacies.

The important thing to realize is that all of these errand stops are right in your neighborhood, and dropping things off regularly won’t take a lot of time. But these little stops can make a really big difference.  These little changes keep mercury, acids and other toxins out of the ground and water table.  Recycling gives money to schools, and sight to people who need glasses. It is the right thing to do, which is what makes my Little Basket so Magic, and it really is Easy Being Green.

Make good choices, even if you just take little steps.  Many little steps in the right direction will still get you where you need to go.

End the Email Clutter

     Our recurring theme is the Spirituality of Clutter.  Clutter is anything we don’t need, use or love.  It gets in the way, and clogs up our life.  Even information like email can become clutter and has a spiritual side, as well.  Why?

  1. Email represents opportunities or information we want in the future; or nagging lists of To-Do’s, should do’s or buy’s, etc. 
  2. In the hectic pace of our lives, we don’t make or take time for maintenance.
  3. We don’t have or don’t trust our system for sorting or storing information.  We keep emails for reference, but we don’t know what to do past that.

 Delete old emails, and receive fewer new ones:

  • Asked three clients, and they reported in-boxes with 1090, 9386 and approx 250,000 (yes, 250,000) emails.
  • This should go without saying, but sort your in-box in reverse chronological order, listing most recent emails first.
  • Turf emails older than 3 months to a folder called “Opened Email, 2011 and before” or something like that.  If you don’t have any folders right now, that is a great first folder.
  • Spend 5-10 minutes a day tossing emails older than 3 years, then 2 years, then 1 year, then 6 months, etc.  Make it a habit, at least until you’ve whittled down your number.  I can’t give you a target number, but when opening your email becomes less of a stressful chore, you are getting close! 
  • Don’t worry about losing public information, you can always look up directions or a phone number again.
  • If you belong to listservs, set up to receive daily Digest emails, instead of all individually. 
  • Writing this article has inspired me to unsubscribe from unnecessary mailing lists. 

 Take care of new email better:

  1. Signing up for catalogs, newsletters and blogs online cuts my paper waste, but fills up my email!  One client mentioned feeling “harassed” by emails, and I concur!
  2. Delete easy stuff immediately, like retailer emails unless you are actively shopping there.  More will always come.  Or go to the main website and bookmark it to keep the information, then delete or unsubscribe. 
  3. Set up filters or folders for important stuff.  If you have a paper filing system you like, name your email folders similarly.  Or, name folders based on projects, topics, actions to take, etc. 
  4. A friend mentioned that Gmail can filter emails of a particular type into a folder, to collect for future review.  Awesome!
  5. Turn emails into actions:
    • The emails in my in-box need my attention.  Once I complete an action on an email, I file it in a folder or delete it.
    • Today, I actually listed the actions required on my to-do list, and attached them to times this week to act on them.  This is something new to me, but I know it will help!  And once the action is complete, the email goes to its folder.  Gmail has a to-do list function, too, for turning your emails into action.

 Be a better sender.

  1. Review an email you received, and your response before you send it.  Answer the questions asked, or the email will continue.
  2. Consider others and their time.  Take yourself and others off Copy, if you can, and don’t click Reply To All unless you need to. 
  3. Never list more than a dozen emails in the To: line.  Use BCC, blind copy, to eliminate that irritating 6 inches of addresses before the actual message.  This respects privacy, too, by not sharing addresses. 
  4. Create groups or mailing lists in your address book to save time. 
  5. If you have to forward something, including jokes, DELETE everything but the content before sending.
  6. Just heard these items on a class I took recently with Callahan Solutions, Inc.:
    1. Start with your conclusion, Bottom Line On Top (BLOT statement), so your reader knows immediately if they need to continue reading.
    2. List your Action items at the top of email, too, so make them easy to see
    3. Make long emails easier on your reader’s eyes, adding white space, bullet points and outlines.
  7. Use NRR (No Response Required) in your subject line if you are sending it purely for information.  And if you receive an email that doesn’t need a response, fight the urge to send a “great” or “ok”. Let it end with you.
  8. Use an “if- then” qualifier (who gave me this idea? RY?).  For example, “If we can expect your regular Tuesday delivery, then there is no need to respond”.
  9. The more we send out the more we receive.  And sometimes a phone call is just quicker.

Email is a great form of communication.  Put a little time and effort into your email system, and it will get even better!  Now, email me a response to let me know what you think….

Do You Control Clutter, or Does It Control You?

“That which you cannot give away, you do not possess. It possesses you.” (Ivern Ball)

Clutter is:

  • “Anything you do not need, use or love, and doesn’t love you back” (fellow organizers, tell me who said this and I would be happy to give credit!) 
  • “Unmade decisions” (Barbara Hemphill).

Why is it hard to let go of clutter?  Especially when we know we Don’t Need / Use or Love it?  Because sometimes…

  • Stuff signifies Unfulfilled Expectations, Unfinished Business, or Some Day. 
  • We feel guilty parting with an item someone gave us or that represents something. 
  • Stuff evokes strong emotions, even negative ones. 
  • We forget the Law of Diminishing Returns.  We need some stuff to live, but there comes a tipping point when more stuff is too much, won’t help you and will actually make life more difficult. 
  • Empty space makes us nervous.
  • We lack faith in the generosity of God, our family, our communities or loved ones, and we cling to things for “Just In Case”.
  • We forget the opportunity costs of clutter.  Choosing to fill a drawer or room with clutter means we cannot use that space for anything else.  Spending an hour fussing with our clutter – AGAIN – instead of clearing it once and for all keeps us from spending that hour some other way.

Why should we Let Go Of Clutter?

  • Clutter gets in the way of living our life and being happy.  Clutter builds real or emotional walls and keep us from creating and sustaining healthy relationships.
  • Clutter causes mental and emotional problems by contributing to unhappiness, feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc.
  • Clutter causes actual harm in extreme and not-so-extreme cases, by harboring allergens, carcinogens, dust, mold and germs, and creating safety and mobility hazards. 
  • Happiness comes from within, from choosing to be happy, from our relationships. Really happy people are satisfied and grateful for their lives and their relationships, regardless of the stuff they have and where they live.  Happiness does not come from stuff.
  • The February, 2012 issue of Family Circle mentioned a recent study, reporting “Couples who say material possessions are unimportant to them are more satisfied with their relationships, according to a new study.  They find happiness in each other, not their belongings”. Click for info on the study author, Jason Carroll, PhD.)

So, now that we know what we know, what do we do about it? 

  • Look at your Big Picture, appreciate the people your life and realize how blessed you really are.  Next time you feel like acquiring more stuff or getting lazy maintaining a clutter-free room or office, look at stuff more objectively and people more lovingly.
  • Change really does come from within.  Act differently this moment, even if it just having more positive thoughts. 
  • Build your Clutter Clearing Muscle.  Perhaps today you recognize why you have kept something that is clutter, and you let go of that piece of clutter instead of piling it up.  Letting go of clutter gets easier with practice.
  • Exercise your memory muscles, too.  Use your memory intentionally and purposefully. 
    • Respect the memory of a person by celebrating and honoring the life, not clinging to stuff.  Letting go of clutter does not mean you are letting go of loved ones.
    • Keep a memory journal and photos, of course.  With just a few words or small tokens, you can remember what you want to remember, instead of keeping piles of clutter.
    • A recent Faithful Organizer devotion read “Jesus left his people with little more than memories.  Yet Jesus did give his people something tangible to remember him by: the Last Supper. This was a ritual of communion based on his words “Every time you eat this bread and drink this wine, remember me.” (Luke 22:19) He gave them a beautiful parting memory that they could touch and taste and feel.”  Remember this the next time you struggle with keeping stuff because you’re afraid of “losing the memory.”
    • Attach good memories to rituals and actions.  For example, I have tangible keepsakes from my grandparents, but actions hold stronger memories for me.  Every time I play euchre, make deviled eggs, smell Palmolive dish soap or eat paczkis on Paczki Day (Fat Tuesday), I remember fondly those who have gone before me.

Remember that life is not about the stuff, it’s about the People in your life. Take control of your clutter, and live a better life!

Procrastination: Why? and How to Stop?

       This is the first in a series I am writing for the Lenten Season, exploring the Spiritual Side of Getting Organized.  If you don’t observe Lent, consider it a 6 week Spring Training challenge! 

     Procrastination: “To indefinitely postpone or avoid performing a task out of anxiety, rather than time constraints or logic.  Unfocused wandering, killing time.”(Julie Morgenstern, Never Check Your Email in the Morning).  You know procrastinators, maybe you are one, I know I am sometimes.

     Procrastination is widespread and can really complicate your life.  Here are reasons why we procrastinate, and how to stop!

Perfectionism:

  1. Perfectionism and Procrastination often go together.  Perfectionism is “Refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.”  Just seeing it stated makes me realize how ludicrous it is.   
  2. Many of my clients are organized but also challenged with perfectionism. They resist starting organizing projects until the situation is perfect.  Since the perfect situation never occurs, neither does organizing. 
  3. “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.” (Michael J. Fox)
  4. Abandon perfectionism.  I challenge you to live better, and try harder.
  5. Ignorance isn’t really bliss.  Perhaps we believe that if we don’t try, we won’t fail, so we can go on believing in perfect.  “To prolong doubt is to prolong hope.”  (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte)  Reality, though, friends, is always better than guessing. 
  6. We are often afraid of doing the wrong thing, so we do nothing.  My dad often said “Do something, even if it is wrong.”  Any action at all is better than complete in-action.  To progress, we have to move, but we also we need to do the right things. Or else we’re guilty of  ….

Confusing busy work for real work:

  1. Recently read “Don’t confuse busy work with real work”  By Harold Taylor.  Here is an excerpt: “Mark Forster, in his book Do it tomorrow, points out that real work advances your business or job while busywork it is what you do to avoid real work.” Taylor suggests we look at results, not just movement.  “Real work includes things such as planning, goal setting, creative thinking, problem solving and decision-making. There is little visible activity with this type of work – consequently busywork looks more like real work that real work does. … We should judge others by their actual results, not by their physical activity.”

Un-Realistic Time Estimates:

  1. It’s surprising how we distort the actual time tasks take to accomplish.  We over-inflate the time for undesirable tasks, and under-inflate the estimates for things we like to do.  I don’t like balancing my checkbook, so it always feels like a big deal, though it takes 10 minutes once I sit down and do it.  I like to rehearse choir music, so I can spend an hour or 2 singing and playing, if I don’t watch the clock.
  2. Open-ended tasks make me nervous.  Something like “Re-do my website and blog” intimidates me because it could take weeks.  And because I can’t see the end, I don’t begin.
  3. How to beat the habit:
  • Keep a log of your time for two weeks to determine true time estimates. 
  • Set a timer or your alarm clock and do all you can within your time boundaries.
  • Recognize that all projects are made up of a series of steps, and do as many as you can in a certain amount of time.  Using the blog / website idea, I will 1.  start with finding complimentary themes, 2. edit my current content, 3.  decide what is outdated and what I need to add, change one page at a time until it’s done.  Whew!  I feel better with a plan!

Seeing only the Little Picture.

  1. I am typically very sympathetic, but not when a person’s choice of procrastination over action causes drama.
  2. Procrastinators get mired in, or are oblivious to all but their own Little Picture instead of seeing the Big Picture.  They forget we all co-exist.  A college friend waited until the last minute to complete projects, to create a challenge and some excitement.  He did not see how his drama affected the others in his life.
  3. Procrastinators forget that emergencies happen, and that sometimes the answer is “No”.
  4. What to do about it?  
  • Tough love here, but Grow up and see the big picture.  Learn to be more considerate of other people’s time as well as your own.
  • Find some other healthy outlet for your adrenaline rush, and ditch the drama.
  • Recognize that procrastination is a form of narcissism, and rise above. 
  • Let experience win out over optimism.  If you often leave things undone until the last minute and occasionally get burned, start sooner next time!

Perhaps you just don’t know where to begin.  I understand.  Here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Pick a spot and begin.  Move left-to-right, or right-to-left around your project area, just choose a path. 
  2. Also, spend your time in one area today.   Whether you have 20 minutes or 4 hours, focusing on just one project area will bring you better results.
  3. If you have more than one project to tackle, and need to choose which one comes first, begin with the one that will bring you the most relief or with the one that is causing the most pain right now. 

Start living better today.  If any of these reasons for procrastination feels really familiar, making positive choices this week to work better is a great place to start!