Last week, I talked about the central role purging your excess stuff plays in staying organized, reducing stress and frustration and saving you time and money. Getting rid of the stuff you no longer need that’s clogging up the closets, drawers, cabinets and surfaces in your home is the first step to taking back control of your domain! Technically speaking, you can organize your belongings without eliminating anything, but it will be more work and won’t stay orderly for very long. You’ll most likely end up like my mom with her muffin tins, constantly moving things from one spot to another as they continue to just get in your way. But, the more you divest, the easier organizing and maintaining your home becomes. There will be less stuff to find homes for and fewer items to put away every day. A leaner home is simply easier to navigate, relax in and keep up.
Almost everybody has items they need to evict from their homes. Any time someone finds out I’m a professional home organizing consultant, their immediate response is always, “Oh, I could really use you! I have way too much stuff!” And while I can (and do) help clients reduce their clutter and get organized, all they really need to succeed on their own is to clear the common hurdles that prevent them from getting started or from continuing to make progress once they do. But first, it’s important to understand that streamlining your stuff is an ongoing task, just like mowing the grass, cleaning the kitchen, or doing the laundry. It isn’t a “one and done” project...it requires a lifestyle change and embracing a different mindset about your belongings. Please don’t stop reading! The good news is that with the right system in place, maintaining a leaner household is easy peasy once you get through the initial purge. I’ll share more about maintenance in this blog later this month. For now, let’s focus on clearing the most common obstacles many people face when they try to part with their precious belongings.
The most common obstructions to streamlining your stuff fall into two main categories: 1) Process hurdles; 2) Item hurdles. Process hurdles prevent you from getting started or slow down your momentum. Item hurdles are roadblocks you encounter along the way that are related to a specific object or category of belongings. They trip up your progress, often causing you to stop the process entirely. Keep reading for a description and a solution for overcoming each one.
It feels overwhelming. Whether the amount of clutter is too great or you just aren’t sure where/how to begin, you keep putting it off until later, and later never comes. In fact, the longer you wait, the worse the problem gets as your piles of clutter continue to grow.
Solution: Start small. Where you start is not nearly as important as that you start. Tackle one drawer, one shelf, one box. There’s no right or wrong place to start...it all needs to get done eventually. However, many people find kitchens and bathrooms contain fewer item hurdles, so beginning there may enable you to build up some momentum to propel you forward.
It might hurt/take too long. It’s only natural to feel a little apprehensive at the prospect of parting with things that were once helpful, hold fond memories, or seem like they may still be of some use/value. It makes sense that you would see it as a cumbersome chore, and no one looks forward to that, especially if it’s a big job that seems like it might take a long time to complete.
Solution: Instead of focusing on the costs (time, energy, stuff you once loved), look forward to all the benefits you'll be gaining. Your life will be easier with more space and accessibility. You’ll feel more free and no longer suffocated by all your stuff. Once you've completed the initial purge, you'll enjoy spending your time on other things without your big pile of excess hogging up space in your home and your head. Best of all, you’ll be creating space to live in the present and create new memories for your future when you let go of things from your past that aren’t as useful as they once were. Write down your benefits list and post it somewhere you're likely to see it to keep you motivated. Even if you have a big pile to go through and it requires a significant investment of time, remember that you don’t have to do it all at once. You can break it into small, manageable pieces. One thing's for sure: the job won’t get any smaller by procrastinating any further.
There’s no clear plan for what to do with the stuff you decide to eliminate. This one actually falls into both categories. When you don’t know what you will do with things in general, it can keep you from getting started; when you don’t know what to do with a specific item, it can threaten your progress.
Solution: There are many ways to eliminate your castoffs and each method depends on the specific item, the amount of time/effort you want to invest in finding a new home for it, where you live, and your personal priorities. I’ll cover some of the options in greater detail in next week’s blog. In the meantime, selecting a charitable organization that accepts most household and clothing items is a good first step. You can google “where to donate household items” or “donation pickup” to identify some or ask friends and neighbors where they donate. Then, visit their website or call to see what they will and will not accept and whether or not you can schedule a donation pickup or where/when you can drop items off. Organizations like Greendrop and DonationTown operate all over the country and partner with multiple charities, so these are a great place to start. You can also join a group like Freecycle, NextDoor, or Buy Nothing to find people near you who need what you have to give away. You’ll find links to all of these organizations and many more at www.easypeasyliving.com/donatingrecycling.
You suffer from “Decision Deferral Syndrome." Frankly, this is the crux of the issue for most people, and it is also why you now have more stuff than you can conveniently accommodate. Making decisions with permanent consequences is often intimidating, so we tend to put it off and end up keeping merely by default. Understand that decision deferral is a decision...a poor one made without intention..
Solution: First, acknowledge that this is a problem and accept that you will likely find forcing yourself to make a real decision uncomfortable at first. However, the more you do it, the easier it will become. Remember that not making a clear decision is how you wound up in this situation in the first place. It’s time to try something new. Take assurance from the fact that, in my experience, long-term regret at getting rid of something is extremely rare. Even when it does happen, it is almost always just mild regret. You will learn to trust your ability to make wise decisions with practice. The sooner you get started, the sooner you'll begin to feel more confident.
There’s no room to work in. This is mostly an issue in homes with extreme clutter or when working in an especially small area.
Solution: The first step is to create a staging area. Even if it requires you to pile things up really high at first, or move some of your clutter outdoors during the initial session, make enough space for a donate bin/box, a trash bag, and a recycle bin. That's all you need to get started. It won’t take very long to clear enough room to make the process a lot easier. Be sure to remove any trash and recycling immediately at the end of each session. If possible, get rid of your donations right away too. Some suggestions: 1) store them in your car until you can pass them on; or 2) plan your purging sessions to coincide with a donation pickup/drop-off to ensure they get taken away immediately.
Gift Guilt/Obligation to keep. Someone gave it to you (or even worse, made it for you) or you inherited it. You don’t like it/can’t use it but feel obliged to keep it because it was a gift or family relic. This can paralyze your purging endeavor if you let it.
Solution: Remember that no one ever intended to give you a burden as a gift. If it is consuming room in your home, getting in your way, or causing you guilt, that is what it has become. The giver may have selected or made that item for you as a tangible expression of the true gift...their love, gratitude, friendship, or congratulations, but it is merely a representation, not the gift itself. It's important to understand that giving away an item that was given to you is neither a rejection of the sentiment behind it nor of the person who gave it to you. Find a way to preserve the memory of it if that makes it easier to say goodbye to it (a photo, journal entry, etc.). Consider honoring the person it came from by giving it to someone else who can use/appreciate it. Chances are, the giver will never even realize, remember or care that you no longer have it. If you still really just can’t part with it, choose another item you were planning to keep and eliminate that in its place.
Someday/Maybe items. If you think long enough and hard enough, everything in your clutter stash could fall into this category. These are things that might be useful at some point in the future but you have only a vague (or no) idea how.
Solution: Remind yourself that just because you might be able to use it again doesn’t mean you will. You don’t have room for “might”. If you did, you wouldn’t be feeling the need to purge. The fact is that you will use the space this item currently occupies, either for storing something else you need or for making the things you do use more accessible and easier to find. Sure, there’s a chance you might end up having to buy it again, but that is easier to do than living in cramped quarters all the time. Only keep someday/maybe items if you have both a specific plan and a timeline for using them in the near future.
Broken stuff. Everybody has broken stuff they are keeping because they plan to fix it...someday.
Solution: Fix it now. Decide who will fix it, when they will fix it, what else they require in order to fix it, and how much it will cost to fix it. Decide all of that now, or get rid of it now. If it is worth fixing, it is worth doing now. Don’t let it consume space in your drawer, cabinet, or closet for another minute without a solid plan. Add it to your to-do list with a deadline and get it done. If you miss the deadline, toss it. No excuses!
Things you “spent good money on”. You paid a lot for it but never really used it or no longer use it for whatever reason.
Solution: Decide why you don’t/haven’t used it. Is it because you forgot about it or couldn’t find it until now? If so, then store it somewhere visible so that you are more likely to start using it. If there's another reason, acknowledge that it was a poor buying decision and let it go. The money is already spent either way, and you aren’t going to get it back unless you try to sell it to recoup a portion of the loss. So either do that (if you can recoup enough to make it worth the time and effort of selling it), or give it away to someone who will use it. Keeping it will not correct your error in buying it to begin with. It’s okay to admit that! We all make bad purchases from time to time. Learn from it and move forward. Don’t continue paying the price by denying yourself the space, accessibility and freedom you deserve.
Invisible Memory Triggers. These are items whose sole purpose is to trigger a fond memory but that you rarely ever see because they have been shoved into a box or bin in the dark recesses of your closets, attic or basement. The problem is that they can’t serve their primary function of triggering memories if they are always out of sight.
Solution: The best way to handle these is to assign them a secondary purpose that places them out in the open where you can use and see them. An example would be using your grandmother’s old silver sugar bowl to hold paper clips in your home office. Every time you reach for a paper clip, you’ll think of Grandma. Then you can eliminate the boring paper clip holder you were using before instead. But sometimes this solution isn't possible. Instead of just keeping everything in your keepsake stash, whittle it down to a small, specific, representative collection of artifacts that best tells your story. Make it small enough that you can store it in a way that makes it easier to pull out and enjoy from time to time or share with others.
Playing curator of your personal museum requires a lot of thought. I recommend saving this category of items for last so that you can take time to enjoy sifting through it, reminiscing over the memories it evokes, and then properly saying goodbye to the items that don’t make the cut. Once you have already eliminated your other excess belongings, you’ll have more time and energy to relish this process in a relaxed and spacious atmosphere. It will be a more positive experience than feeling rushed to just get through it.
If you’ve encountered a hurdle I didn’t mention and need some suggestions for how to clear it, just Ask the Organizer! Chances are good that someone else may be struggling with the very same challenge.
Stay tuned next week for ideas on where to send your discarded belongings next and how to make the process as smooth and positive as possible. Until then, keep it easy peasy!
For more tips and advice on purging and organizing in general, follow @EasyPeasyLiving on Facebook. May is Purging Month, and I’ll be sharing strategies all month on how to rid your home of excess stuff and keep it that way. Plus, you’ll find out how to participate in the May 1-Day EasyPeasy Challenge. Hint: it will help you get your purge on!
My mother was an amazing woman loved by all who knew her. She was spontaneous, fun, compassionate to a fault, caring (a nurse!), gentle, kind, and able to laugh at herself...which was a good thing because she was also pretty klutzy and quite often found herself in some pretty - er - “unique” situations. (Someday I’ll share with you the Mom-in-a-manhole story.) She’s been gone for over 20 years now and I still miss her every single day. Although I didn’t embark on my organizing career until after she died, she continues to be the inspiration for a lot of the tips and advice I share with my clients and followers to this day. That’s because “organized” is not a word often associated with her. Let's just say, I didn't learn most of these tips and tricks from her, but I would have loved to have shared them with her. Many times, my blogs are written with her in mind as my audience.
Now don’t get me wrong...she maintained a pretty clean and tidy home and insisted my sisters and I do our part, including keeping our rooms picked up and our beds made. But I'd be lying if I told you that I was an organized kid or that everything was in its place in our home. Far from it! There is a big difference between a house that’s tidy and one that’s organized, as I will explain.
A tidy home, like the one I grew up in, is where everything looks neat at first glance. There is minimal surface clutter, laundry (both clean and dirty) is kept out of sight, coats and purses are hung up, and common areas look respectable enough to host guests on the spur of the moment. You are unlikely to find dirty towels littering the bathroom floor or toys strewn everywhere in a tidy house. However, many tidy homes harbor a secret stash of clutter and disorganization behind those closet doors. Growing up, my bedroom was tidy enough to pass Mom’s inspection...as long as she didn’t look under the bed, where all manner of chaos reigned. Or in the jumbled up drawers. Or risk the hazard of opening the closet doors. And you know what? She almost never did! I think she knew she wouldn't like what she'd find, so surface tidy was good enough. It isn’t really a mystery why I and other members of my family frequently misplaced items, as is often the case in many a tidy home.
Even in tidy homes, it can be difficult to find specific items quickly. That's because, just like untidy homes, they often contain way too much stuff for its occupants to navigate smoothly on a daily basis, leading to frustration. Too much stuff means it takes more work to put things away where they belong. That, in turn, leads to putting them away somewhere they don’t belong simply because it’s easier to access and thus quicker in our rush to get them out of sight, out of our way, and to keep things looking tidier. But this makes it harder to find later...which, my friends, is a main symptom of disorganization. If left untreated, disorganization will ultimately turn your tidy home into an untidy home when the time and effort to tidy up just becomes too great. Perhaps some of you have already discovered this.
My mother owned no less than twelve (12) muffin tins. Let me say that again. She had a dozen pans that made a dozen muffins all at once. A dozen dozens. (And no, she was not a commercial baker.) When asked why she needed to keep that many muffin tins in the teensy kitchen of her tiny mobile home, she responded that she liked to have some ready to go in the oven, some in the oven already baking, and some cooling on her (overly-crowded) counter...all at once. Because they took up a substantial percentage of her limited cabinet space, she was constantly having to move things around to make space for other kitchen items. This frustrated and annoyed her, yet it never seemed to dawn on her that the little bit of time all those muffin tins saved her on those rare occasions that she needed to make 144 muffins at once (which was probably never) was squandered many times over on her daily quest for more room in her cabinets for the things she used each and every day. If you find yourself regularly having to “reorganize” a shelf, drawer, or cabinet just to create enough room to put things away, you - like my mother - have TOO. MUCH. STUFF!
Fortunately, the remedy for too much stuff is simple...purge it! Purging is always the first step in getting organized and probably the one most people dread until they do it. That’s because they focus on what they lose by the process instead of on what they gain by it. Here’s what’s in it for you to purge your excess stuff:
In next week’s blog post, I’ll tackle why many people find it so difficult to get started letting go of their belongings and how to get over the most common hurdles people face along the way. The week after that I’ll give you suggestions for what to do with all the items you decide to eliminate from your home. But for now, let’s just focus on how to get started without feeling overwhelmed by the prospect.
First of all, there’s great news: Purging does not require you to set aside a huge chunk of time. You can accomplish a great deal in as little as 15-20 minutes per day. The key is consistency. If you don’t have a stretch of two hours to devote to purging this week (who does?), do 20 minutes each day and take a day off on Sunday. Or just decide to tackle one drawer or one shelf or one cabinet each day if that’s all the time you have. Either way, put it on your to-do list until it becomes a habit.
Here’s what you do:
Now I have even better news: Even if you don’t have any time to devote to the process described above, you can still begin purging right away! All you have to do is set up a box or bag in a designated spot in your home. Every time you encounter an object that:
And that's it! Like I said, I'll be sharing strategies for what comes next right here in this blog over the rest of this month. Be sure to sign up to get each new blog post emailed directly to you if you aren't already a subscriber so that you don't miss out.
So what makes a home organized? Having a designated spot for each item you own that’s easy to access and with a bit of extra breathing room. As I said, you can have a tidy home that’s disorganized, but can you have an organized home that’s untidy? Yes, you can. The difference between an untidy, organized home and a tidy, organized home is about 15 minutes!
For more tips and advice on purging and on organizing in general, follow @EasyPeasyLiving on Facebook. May is Purging Month, and I’ll be sharing strategies all month on how to rid your home of excess stuff and keep it that way. Plus, you’ll find out how to participate in the May 1-Day EasyPeasy Challenge. Hint: it will help you get your purge on!
Until next week, keep it easy peasy!
*If you’re on a purging roll and don’t want to wait until my future posts to get stuff out of your way, the quickest, easiest way to get rid of it is to schedule a donation pickup or drop your items off at a local charity that accepts what you are eliminating. Visit www.easypeasyliving.com/donatingrecycling for more information and some suggested recipients for your castoffs.
Whether you believe climate change is manmade or not, one truth is irrefutable: it is in our own best interest as a species to be good stewards of the earth and its resources.
Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, I can remember a time when our family of six generated so much garbage that two large trash cans were not enough to accommodate it all in between our twice-weekly collection days. (I know this because I was one of the ones who was charged with carrying it all down to the end of our long driveway on trash days...and which a failure to do often resulted in me losing television privileges for a week or more!) When recycling was first introduced, it seemed onerous. Even just remembering not to throw cans and glass jars in the trash can was a hurdle we all had to overcome. Today it has become second nature, and I’m pleased to report that our family of four almost never fills up our one large garbage bin often enough to warrant putting it out for the second trash collection each week. (Much to my teenage son’s chagrin, though, there’s still plenty of recycling to put out...in which a failure to do often results in him losing his gaming privileges. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.)
The point is that according to the EPA, landfilling of municipal solid waste (MSW) in the United States has decreased from 94% in 1960 to 50% in 2018 and composting and recycling rates have increased from 6% in 1960 to 32.1% in 2018...all due to society collectively adopting one new habit to make a difference over time. Just think what a big difference we could make over the next 58 years by becoming just a bit more intentional about how we consume.
Sometimes purchasing something new is necessary, and doing so helps to create jobs and has a positive impact on our economy. But embracing a philosophy of “less is more” can not only save you money and space (both highly-sought-after commodities in most American homes) but can also make you a more responsible consumer and steward of our natural resources. Next time you find yourself reaching for your phone or logging onto your computer to order something online, or drawn to an item on a store shelf, ask yourself these six questions first:
Every time you buy something new, you generate waste. When you order online, your purchase will arrive in boxes or bubble mailers, often with additional packaging materials enclosed, delivered in planes and trucks that consume fuel and pollute the air. Even if you purchase something from a brick and mortar store, you are consuming gasoline to get there and your item/s still arrived at the store in boxes with packaging on gas-powered, pollution-generating vehicles. You may even get a receipt generated on thermal paper (which cannot be recycled) and carry your items home in a plastic or paper bag. This is before we even get to what happens to the item you bought or the container it came in once you are done using it. Needless to say, cutting back even just a little bit on new purchases and learning how to responsibly minimize, dispose of, or reuse the waste they generate will make a huge difference over the remaining decades of your life. If each person makes even a small change in how they consume, this could add up to a major shift in our society’s impact upon our environment. And don't forget, there's the added bonus of having less stuff to manage in your home. Everything you buy has an overhead cost attached to it.
I know, I know, this can sound a bit overwhelming and like a lot of work to someone who is used to simply ordering whatever you need, whenever you need it as long as there's the money to do it. Just as with any change, it requires adopting new habits, and that can feel intimidating at the start...just like recycling was for many of us back in the early days. It helps to develop three crucial tools you already have at your fingertips: your network, your imagination, and your knowledge. Some of these may be stronger than others, but with minimal effort and a bit of forethought, you can become an expert at wielding all three to help you achieve your goal of buying less.
Friends, family, co-workers, members of your faith community, neighbors (both those you already know in person and those you can connect with online) and professional service providers all constitute a vast network of available resources, but how often do you really utilize them in acquiring the goods you consume? Here are a few ways to tap into your network instead of filling up your Amazon shopping cart.
Using your creativity to identify possible alternative solutions to buying something new is a skill you can develop. Pinterest is my go-to place to start when I need to jumpstart my creative juices on just about anything. The more you peruse DIY magazines and sites, the easier it will be for you to recall ideas you’ve seen before. Again, ask your network to step in if you are stumped before you pull out your wallet and buy something new. Think of it as a challenge...a sort of game to make something out of nothing. Did you follow my 25 Days of Christmas Ornaments posts on Facebook back in December? All of the ornaments I made used materials from around my house. That was my rule for myself. Here are just a few ways to use your imagination to avoid making new purchases that will become second nature once you're in the habit of using them:
Obviously knowing how to make what you need yourself out of items you already have is one way your knowledge can help minimize your purchasing of new goods, as does knowing how to grow your own vegetables and bake your own bread. But knowing how/where to recycle, what is safe to reuse or re-purpose, and when to replace something is equally important. Fortunately, most of these answers can be found on the internet just as easily as finding a new product to buy. Your knowledge will accumulate over time with enough curiosity. Here are some ways more knowledge can result in fewer swipes of your credit card:
With a smidgeon of knowledge and creativity, along with a little help from your friends, even becoming a more intentional consumer can be easy peasy.
Have you ever tried to have a conversation amidst a lot of background noise? Read the paper with the TV blaring? Focus on work with your kids arguing around you? Or even worse, having someone yelling at you while you’re trying to concentrate on, well...anything? These situations leave most of us feeling stressed out and downright grumpy, not to mention unproductive.
But sound isn’t the only thing that makes noise. Stuff...clutter...mess create visual noise that can distract and stress us out just as easily. If you are surrounded by disorder and frequently feel yourself tensing up for seemingly no reason, it may be time to quiet your environment. It’s not as hard or time-consuming as you may think.
Obviously, the best way to maintain a visually quiet atmosphere is to purge your excess belongings, designate homes for everything you own, and then put things away as soon as you’re done using them, but getting that set up doesn't happen overnight. And if you have a spouse, roommate or kids, you know they excel at foiling those plans or at least at slowing your progress in reaching that noble goal. But regardless of your situation, there are still a few things you can do right now in just minutes to muffle the visual noise in your home until you have a chance to stifle it permanently. All it takes is regular (1-3 times daily) sweeps of the common areas where you spend the most time to do the following tasks:
Except in extreme circumstances, these tasks will only take 1-2 minutes each at most and the more frequently you sweep, the quicker it will be each time. After a while, it will become second nature and you won’t even have to think about doing it. I like to begin and end my day with a sweep of the main level and also do one before leaving the house. It rarely takes me more than 5 minutes. Doing everything on the list during your sweeps is ideal, but even just doing a few will make a big difference.
It won’t come as a surprise to those of you with little ones that kids are negatively impacted by too much visual noise, too. They often act out or have difficulty focusing in a cluttered environment. Get them to participate in the solution while they are still young enough to enjoy helping. This establishes in them the habit of regular and frequent tidying, underscores that home maintenance is everybody’s responsibility, and creates a baseline level of tidiness they will strive to maintain moving forward. If they are used to living in clutter, they will become desensitized to it (until it reaches an overwhelming or crippling level). If they are used to a more orderly environment, they will be more likely to maintain it.
Even very young children can share in the room-sweeping task before you leave to go play at the park. Assigning them a different “occupation” each day makes it sound more fun. Here are a few ideas:
If you’re not used to regular tidying, it can feel like a big chore to start. You may even try to convince yourself that it’s just a waste of time to put things away that you’ll be using again later. But remember that the purpose of keeping a tidy home is not to just have a tidy home...it’s to avoid feeling frustrated, stressed and anxious. When things are tidy, you will focus more easily, feel better about yourself, and relax knowing that you can find what you need. You’ll actually enjoy your surroundings more without your mess constantly yelling at you to clean it up!
With a quieter environment, life will become a whole lot easy peasier!
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I don’t know about you, but I had high hopes that 2021 would be an improvement over 2020. To say that the first ten days of the year have been disappointing would be a gross understatement. When the world is in turmoil, it is more important than ever to establish some order and control within the confines of your own home as a sanctuary from the madness. So let’s forge ahead, undeterred, with our restorative, calm-inducing challenge, shall we?
Last week, I introduced Habit #1: Unpack Upon Arrival. So how did everyone do? If you missed it or stumbled on this one, no worries. It’s never too late to start or reboot. Read last week’s post if you need to catch up. (Just a reminder for those of you who joined the official Good Habits Challenge: it’s never too late to request free accountability check-ins.) However, if you’re still on track with last week’s habit, you’ve got a jump-start on the next one.
Habit #2: Hang Stuff Up. Hopefully you’re now hanging up your coat, your purse/backpack, your keys, etc. upon arrival. Now add to that your towel, your bathrobe, your comfy hangout sweater...whatever items you tend to leave lying around that could be hung up in seconds as soon as you stop using them.
Why? A better question might be why not? This is such a quick and easy way to reduce surface clutter, restore visual peace to your environment, and ensure your belongings will be right where you expect them to be later on. These items will also stay in better condition when regularly hung up properly than if left crumpled on the floor or piled up on a chair somewhere. Towels will dry faster, clothes will be less wrinkled, and the dog won’t shed as much all over your throw blanket or bathrobe. More importantly, this is what I would call a “gateway habit”...a habit that leads into another, even more important habit. Once you are in the habit of hanging stuff up and experiencing the payoff of such a minimal investment, you’ll be more likely to put other things away as soon as you finish using them too. The simple act of putting things away right away is the master key that opens all the doors to organization. So why wouldn’t you attempt to make a habit of it?
How? As I said in last week’s post, hooks make hanging stuff up easier. If hanging up your bath towel is a chore, replace the towel bar with hooks. Where else might you be able to add a few hooks in strategic locations to make this habit easier to adopt? Don’t overlook the backs of cabinets and doors. For best results, install them as close as possible to where you use each item. Identify other deterrents to hanging stuff up. Are you short on hangers? Are they too slippery? Do you have to cross the room in order to hang up your sweater? No obstacle is too minor to consider if removing it will help you become successful.
If you’ve already mastered Habit #2, well done! How are you about putting away your clean laundry in a timely manner? If you routinely let it sit for a day or more once it’s washed and dried, focus your efforts this week on putting it away within 24 hours.
Tip of the Week
In last week’s post, I provided a few tips for establishing new habits. Today I want to zero in on one of them. Tying your new habit to an existing one not only helps you remember to do it, it establishes a routine. Routines are merely a string of habits performed in the same order at regular intervals. They are like little programs your brain executes without much input from your conscious mind, freeing you to focus your attention elsewhere. In other words, they allow you to go on autopilot to accomplish a great number of small tasks. Aside from helping you remember what you need to do, established routines also remove much of the conscious decision-making of whether or not to perform the task. You just do it without giving it much thought. Once a new habit is part of your routine, it can actually require more thought and effort not to do it. This is the goal when adopting new good habits. (It’s also a big part of the challenge in kicking bad habits, but that’s a post for another time.)
It’s still not too late to join the official Good Habits Challenge! I’ll be introducing Habits #3 and #4 in the remaining blog posts in January, but only those who join the challenge will learn the other six. Plus, those who join get some free tools to help establish any new habit (not just these ten) and are eligible for free accountability check-ins and a chance to win a prize at the end.
Share your success stories, tips and struggles at valerie@easypeasyliving, and stay tuned next Monday to learn the details on Habit #3.
You’ve got this!
What’s in it for me?
C’mon, admit it. Most of the everyday responsible actions you take...from getting out of your warm, cozy bed on a cold morning to going to the dentist or getting a flu shot are because there’s something in it for you. You get to keep your job, keep your teeth, and keep from getting sick, to name a few. I mean, how many people do you think would actually pay their taxes just because it’s the right thing to do if they didn’t also see keeping their freedom as a pretty major benefit? It’s human nature to want something in return for your inconvenience and sacrifice. Even kids understand this concept from a young age, as evidenced by my son who once offered to pull out all of his teeth for the tooth fairy if she’d just bring him enough money to buy a Lego death star. (Little did he know that, with a little patience, she’d end up with all of them eventually anyway.)
We parents teach our kids this notion of hardship eventually leading to a payoff when we incentivize them to behave, to do their chores and their homework, and to sacrifice for others. Be it sticker charts, extra privileges, or even just heaping on the praise, we are reinforcing this idea that doing the right thing, even when it’s hard, yields positive dividends. Even when we want to improve our own behavior, we promise ourselves little rewards for rising to the challenge. And there’s nothing wrong with that, just as long as we select a prize that won’t end up sabotaging our efforts. (A new outfit for your slimmed-down body is probably a better reward for sticking to your diet than a celebratory cake...just sayin’.)
But incentives only work when we consciously identify what they are and specify the actions required to earn them. Case in point: I figured out a long time ago that a tidy, uncluttered environment keeps me calm and reduces my stress level more than just about anything else. I have two teenagers, so it’s a given that I’m going to feel stress in my life. But I know that the visual peace of a neat home and knowing exactly where to find everything will allow me to better manage all the anxiety that naturally accompanies the thought of paying for college, not to mention my babies driving and dating. That’s a reward that is well worth spending an extra minute here and there to put things away...even things that were left out by others. It’s the thing that motivates me to regularly clean out my closets and get rid of all the excess stuff I don’t really need. Just knowing that I will have sufficient room to house and conveniently access my well-thought-out purchases is all the enticement I need to avoid making impulse buys I might struggle to put away when I get it home. That effort is a gift I give myself because I’ve already determined that the payoff is huge. I don’t keep my home organized for the benefit of guests or my family. It’s for me. Which is good, because these days I rarely entertain, and my family couldn’t care less how tidy and organized everything is as long as they can find their remotes and locate the router when the wifi needs resetting.
So what’s in it for you to have less stuff? What do you get out of purging your excess...passing up a great sale...forgoing freebies and hand-me-downs...giving away some of those sentimental objects you have stored away but will likely never use?
Might some of these benefits of streamlining help you pare down?
Take some time to think about your top ten motivators for cutting back your belongings and write them down. Then dangle that carrot where you can see it clearly. Review it regularly to remind yourself what’s in it for you to tidy up before bed, to find a home for everything you own, to stop acquiring, or to donate or recycle all the stuff you can do without.
With a little awareness and the right incentive, even discovering the more of less will be easy peasy.
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Several years ago, a neighbor friend of mine who knew that my husband and I wanted to get in shape offered us--FREE--a treadmill that had been sitting idle for some time in her basement. We were ecstatic! That treadmill was just what we needed to transform ourselves from couch potatoes to svelte beach bodies by the time bathing suit season rolled around (well okay...give or take 50 pounds). Best of all, the price fit right into our meager (read: nonexistent) budget. We’d have to be crazy to say no to that...right?
While impulse purchases are a real thing, most of us actually do weigh the cost vs. benefit before we acquire something new. Thus, something free + something we want = YES! So why are our closets and garages so crammed full of stuff we never use? Clearly, we are miscalculating something. Perhaps we're leaving something out of the equation. I propose the correct formula should be:
Financial cost + Space cost + Convenience cost + Opportunity cost = True Cost
Most of us don’t see past the money and never even think about the last three components of this equation, probably because they are difficult to quantify. But omitting them from the equation altogether is how we wind up feeling disorganized, frustrated and suffocated by all our stuff. Let’s take a closer look:
This is usually the primary and often the only cost we consider when deciding whether or not to acquire something new. If you want proof, look no further than the ridiculously long checkout lines at your local Dollar Tree. How many times have you bought something just because it was “such a great deal”? And note that I keep using the word "acquire". That's because considering the cost of something applies even to--especially to--items for which we paid no money at all. Interestingly, the more money we pay for something, the less willing we are to part with it once we realize it was a poor purchase. And the longer we keep it in some vain attempt to “get our money’s worth” out of it, the more it ends up costing us...in space, in convenience, and in opportunity. As my husband and I would eventually discover, that $0 treadmill was most certainly not free, after all.
Ah space…the final frontier! Most people completely underestimate the value of empty space. We see it as something to be consumed instead of recognizing the important role it plays in keeping us organized and sane. Every single item you own--from vegetable peeler to king-sized bed--costs you valuable space. Like money (and cake), you cannot keep (have) it and spend (eat) it too. Overspending your space--or cramming as many objects into your empty spaces as you can--leads to clutter, visual noise, stress, and sometimes even guilt. The more spacious your environment, the easier it is to maintain and control. Purging items you no longer need/use makes it infinitely easier to see, access and keep organized the things you do. That “free” treadmill ended up costing us significant space in our small basement.
Life gets really inconvenient when you lack space. If you’ve ever watched one of those hoarder shows, you’ll be struck by how much more effort it takes them just to accomplish everyday tasks like cooking a meal or taking a shower. When your access to the items you need is restricted, it takes more time, energy and effort just to get them out and use them...much less to put them away again when you're done. Pretty soon, you stop bothering to put things away at all. This leads to clutter, chaos, frustration and a sense of defeat as you either lose items or they continually get in your way.
Also, the more stuff you accumulate, the less visible everything becomes. If you can’t see what you have, you’ll either buy it again or you won’t use it at all. So why are you keeping it? And owning too many belongings makes you less nimble...the sheer inconvenience of moving all that excess stuff out of the way in order to make home improvements or repairs can lead to procrastination, sometimes causing or worsening damage and costing even more money in the long run. Before you know it, you’ve increased the financial cost of ownership well beyond your initial investment.
Remember our treadmill? Well, we had to sacrifice some of the space we had been using for sorting and folding laundry just to make room for it. This made doing the laundry an even bigger chore than usual. Laundry baskets often ended up stacked up on the treadmill because there was no place else to put them. Talk about a motivation killer! If you think I’m going to do laundry first just so that I can exercise, think again! In my book, Exercise + Laundry = Forget it! The convenience cost of that treadmill in doing laundry was huge, not to mention that actually being able to use the treadmill itself was so inconvenient, it ended up just sitting there collecting dust for months. So why keep it? Good question!
What are you missing out on because you’ve acquired too much stuff? If you had just said NO to some of those “great deals” would you have had the money to go on a weekend getaway with your sweetie? If you could've just made do with fewer kitchen gadgets, might you have more space to share your love of cooking with your grandchildren? If you cleared all the “some day maybe” stuff you paid good money for out of the guest room closet, would you be more likely to entertain overnight guests?
It was summer when we said yes to that treadmill, so we forgot that the only spot we had available to put it in is where we normally put our Christmas tree...right across from the fireplace, next to the big recliner where my husband reads ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to the kids every Christmas Eve before bed. There was no room for our tree in the basement that year. No enjoying the beautiful lights by the warm glow of the fire. That treadmill ended up costing us a valued family tradition that Christmas, and it was truly a bummer.
The good news is that you can mitigate the costs of the things you own if you just ask yourself a few simple questions before you acquire anything new:
We’ve all made mistakes in saying yes when we should have said no, but that doesn't mean you have to keep paying the price for your error. That treadmill? We gave it back to our neighbor and joined the gym instead. You see, we concluded that the financial cost of a gym membership was worth what we would save in space, convenience and opportunity. Don’t let what you paid (or didn’t pay) for something interfere with righting what's wrong.
With a little honest contemplation about the true costs of ownership, even saying no to a blowout sale can be easy peasy!
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Everyone has excess stuff. (I know I do!) And the first step in effectively organizing any space is to eliminate as much of the excess as possible. Unfortunately, just like doing the laundry, cleaning, eating right and exercising, this need to purge your excess is ongoing. You have to keep doing it if you want to stay in good, orderly shape.
One of the biggest deterrents to ridding ourselves of the fat in our home is all the guilt that wraps itself around each unwanted, broken, useless, ill-fitting piece of surplus in our closets. Some people have storage units stuffed to the brim with that guilt. It comes in the form of gifts received but never used, deceased loved ones' belongings that we don't know what to do with, clothes long out of fashion that used to fit, broken furniture or toys we always meant to repair but never did...all good intentions and fond old memories that are now saturated in guilt. If this sounds like you, it's time to bring that guilt into the light, recognize it for what it is and purge it once and for all.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you confront your guilt:
Memories cannot be donated. We often keep items because they trigger a fond memory for us. But unless you encounter that object, the memory isn't getting trig gered. My readers know that I'm big on re-purposing, not only because it saves money and reduces waste, but because it often enables you to place a memory trig ger in the midst of everyday life. There it can do its job much better than if stuffed into a bin in the garage. But if you can't find a use for it, consider documenting the memory in some other way. Take a photo of the item or write about it in your journal before donating it to a good home.
True gifts are emotions, not tangible items. No one ever intended to give you a burden as a gift. The physical object they gave you only represents the true gift of their love, appreciation, friendship...and those are things you cannot get rid of simply by donating them. Often, the giver will not even remember the specific object that represented their real gift, much less realize that you parted with it.
A purchase is not a lifelong commitment. Yes, you may have spent "good money" on it. True, you may have loved it once upon a time. If you are not using it and no longer need it, then getting rid of it now does not change those facts. Hopefully it served its purpose at the time you acquired it, but even if it didn't, depriving yourself of the space it occupies now will not make it so or increase its value.
If you're gonna fix it, fix it NOW! Stop procrastinating. If it is important or valuable enough to warrant keeping, make it useful again. Otherwise it is just broken stuff getting in your way. If you haven't fixed it by now and aren't willing or able to do it today, you probably never will. Give yourself a firm deadline for getting it done and pitch it if you don't meet it.
Sharing is honorable. Perhaps there's an item that reminds you of someone special. If you don't need it or can't use it or display it, why not honor that person by sharing it with someone who can? Preserve the memory with a picture or journal entry and pass it along...perhaps to someone else with a connection to that same special person.
New memories await creation. Don't allow your desire to hold onto old memories squeeze out the opportunity to create new ones. You need space to live and grow and collect tomorrow's keepsakes. Give away that guilt to make room for something better.
I'm not suggesting that you can't keep anything just for its pure sentimental value. But you owe it to yourself and to the simplicity you need in your life to keep it manageable and meaningful. Decide in advance how much space you are willing to devote to that category and once it is full, it's time to purge something or stop collecting.
With a little courage and pragmatism, even purging your guilt can be easy peasy.
What do weight problems, financial troubles, and clutter management struggles all have in common? They each stem from an imbalance between intake and outflow.
Sure, banishing clutter from your home requires getting rid of your excess stuff, but just as with weight and financial challenges, it doesn’t end there. Real long-term success also depends on how carefully you monitor and regulate what’s coming in, as well as what’s going out.
If you’ve ever experienced a toilet overflow, you know that the crucial first step is to immediately turn off the water supply before you even reach for the plunger. Failing to prevent more water from accumulating while you work on unclogging the backup can lead to an even bigger mess that takes longer to clean up. But what happens if you don’t even know where the shutoff valve is?
Thanks to reality TV shows that highlight the issue of hoarding, most of us already know that compulsive shopping can lead to big problems with clutter. But what about impulsive shopping? While it may not lead you into bankruptcy or land you on an episode of Hoarders: Buried Alive, making purchases without thinking them through beforehand could be unraveling all of your grand plans to wrest control of your home away from your jumble of belongings. These decisions are the leaks that need to be plugged in order to better regulate the flow of items into your home. But where do these poor choices originate? Well, let’s see. Do any of these sound familiar?
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with keeping some extra toilet paper on hand (as I think we all learned earlier this year), but knowing when to stop buying it is vital. It’s okay to take advantage of a great deal...on something you were planning to buy anyway. But there’s a big difference between seizing an opportunity to save money on something you need and simply accumulating more stuff you don’t need because it was on sale. And that difference is forethought.
Before you make a purchase, ask yourself:
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I call it “To Read” mail. You could also label it “Subscription Mail”, “Browsing Mail”, or “Fun Mail”. Whatever you want to call it, this refers to newspapers, magazines, catalogs, political propaganda, and paper newsletters...mail that requires no action other than to peruse it if and when you feel like it. Because reading it is purely optional, we tend to set it aside to enjoy with a cup of coffee or when there’s just more time. However, “when there’s more time” is a nothing but a mirage. So it sits...and sits...and sits...collecting dust in a pile somewhere...accumulating until the cluttered buildup forces us to finally take some action.
The good news is that we can let ourselves off the hook for reading it anytime we want by simply plopping it into the recycle bin. Yet the bad news is that very few of us can do that without experiencing some level of guilt. Why is that?
I suspect a combination of having committed yourself to reading it and FOMO (fear of missing out) is at play here. When you set aside each issue as it arrived, you were making a statement: I’m going to read this. You obliged yourself to take this action in the future. And you recommitted to that action every time you caught a glimpse of it and chose not to throw it out then and there. Even if you began reading it, the unspoken promise to finish it later has dwelled deep within your semi-conscious brain, even as you continued piling newer issues on top of it. Abandoning that goal weeks, months or even years later feels like failure. Besides, what if there’s something important or compelling lurking within those pages that you’ll miss if you never complete your mission? You could be allowing the perfect double chocolate mousse parfait recipe to slip right through your fingers! You could end up with the only home on your block with a yard lacking the latest trend in garden gnomes, all because you missed the big sale in last summer’s Gnomes R Us catalog. This, my friends, is how we convince ourselves that we can't just take the easy way out.
Thus, you are left with a choice: continue suffering from subscription buildup, or practice routine prevention. Here’s my three-part prescription for shrinking that mass of unread periodicals and restoring a healthy balance in your browsing mail:
1. Taper the dosage - First, reduce the amount of catalogs you receive by putting yourself on the Direct Mail Association’s National Do Not Mail list, or contact the companies directly to request removal from their mailing lists. Next, cancel all subscriptions you struggle to keep up with, or switch to an electronic subscription. Finally, establish some rules to help you manage the volume of reading materials you save for later. Some suggestions:
2. Use as directed - Create a plan for when and where you will actually read these items. Work it into your daily/weekly routine. If necessary, put it on your schedule and create a reminder to do it until it becomes a habit. Whether it’s reading the paper on your train ride into work, setting aside 30 minutes to browse through catalogs in bed each night, or reserving an hour each Sunday afternoon to curl up with your favorite magazine and a cup of tea, having your strategy planned out in advance will increase its effectiveness.
3. Discard when expired - Once you’ve read it or let it expire, get rid of it! The easiest solution is to simply recycle your old reading material, but here are some other alternatives:
With unlimited refills of this prescription, even fighting subscription buildup will be easy peasy.
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Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.