Imagine standing in the bottom of a deep pit, looking up and wondering how you will ever get out! Actually, most of us don’t have to imagine that...we experience it every time we look at our long To-Do lists and bulging calendars (assuming you even have those...not having them is more like realizing you’re at the bottom of a deep well but being unable to even see the sky). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the only way out of a deep, dark pit of any kind is to climb out. You need a ladder, a rope, a staircase, or a lot of well-placed toe- and hand-holds. Then it’s just a matter of climbing one carefully-planned step at a time. Well, today I’m gonna teach you how to build yourself a staircase leading out of that pit of endless tasks, chores, projects and appointments that make up “adulting”.
As with building any sturdy, reliable staircase, the first step is always to set aside planning and building time. Constructing it in a slap-dash-as-you-go fashion will leave you with nothing but a rickety pile of lumber that could give way at any time, sending you back down to the bottom of the pit with potential injuries. So, if you don’t already have a calendar, get one. It can be an app you use on your phone/tablet or a good old-fashioned paper day planner...whatever works for you. Add to it a weekly appointment with yourself, preferably at a consistent time and in a quiet location with limited interruptions so that you can focus. Do not blow off this appointment...EVER! I know, I know...you’re busy...things come up...the kids never give you any peace and quiet. Just remember: you are stuck in a pit! Nothing can be accomplished--for anyone--until you manage to pull yourself out of it. So finding a way out should be your #1 priority!
During your first appointment, create a blueprint for your staircase by considering your hierarchy of life priorities. What’s at the top? Health and fitness? Time with family? Your career? Knowing exactly which side of the pit you want to emerge on will determine how you build your staircase, so it’s worth recording your hierarchy and referring back to it whenever you’re not sure how to prioritize. For more guidance on how to determine this, go back and read the Achieving Simplicity post from August 3, 2020.
Next, you'll need to gather all your building materials. This involves brainstorming about everything you think you might need to do this week. Include errands, chores, phone calls/emails, research, work and home improvement projects, appointments, volunteer work, meals, and all other commitments and responsibilities. This step will become easier in time as you gain a sense of which materials (to-do items) you really don’t need for your staircase and build up a stockpile of the ones you use each and every week. Keep a running task list that you continually add to as you think of new things.
Once you have a comprehensive list, identify the components you really don’t need and get them out of your way. In other words, delegate as many tasks as you reasonably can and eliminate or defer the optional things that don't align with your top priorities. (Here’s where that blueprint really comes in handy!) Where might you be able to relax your standards or expectations to make this climb a bit easier? What optional tasks can wait? By the way, relaxation time is not optional. While you may need to tweak how much of it you get from one week to the next, trying to make do without it is like building a staircase without any hardware. Eventually it will collapse under the pressure.
Now you just need to order your steps. Fill out your calendar and daily tasks lists while answering these questions:
Once you’ve completed your staircase, you’re ready to start climbing. But first, don’t forget a daily safety check. Each morning, consult your plan, just as you would double-check the reliability of each step before placing all your weight on it. If you discover a weak or missing tread up ahead, don’t panic...just replace it. It’s a whole lot easier to tweak your staircase as you go through your week, than it is to try to climb out of that pit without one.
Download our FREE Week-Ahead Planner to help you get started.
The best news is that the more staircases you build, the better and quicker your construction becomes. With a well-drawn blueprint and the right tools, building a staircase to any solution can be easy peasy.
Space truly is the final frontier! Everyone seems to be on an endless quest for it...for space in their homes...on their desks...in their busy lives! Yet it eludes most of us. Just as soon as we find some....poof! It’s gone and the search begins anew. But what if instead of spending all of our space, we kept some of it….empty?!! Today, I’m making a case for space!
First, how is empty space even useful?
Preserving your empty space boils down to choosing space over stuff. You may be asking...if empty space is so valuable, then why do people tend to choose stuff over space? Good question! Clients usually call me when their lack of space begins causing a problem in their lives. They are aware that they need more space, yet still seem compelled to fill it back up again when given the opportunity. Why? Here are some of the most common reasons, along with my counterpoint for each one: Do any of these sound familiar?
Fear of being without something you may need (clothes, paper towels, shoes, serving dishes).
Counterpoint: If you run out of something, you can go shopping, do laundry, borrow from a neighbor, order online. If none of these are possible, you will likely find a way to make do in an emergency. Such emergencies will be very rare and far outweighed by the everyday benefits of having more space. Think up a back-up plan in advance if that makes you feel less afraid to part with something. (Personal aside: At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis when toilet paper was difficult to find, I came up with multiple contingency plans for if/when we ran out. I never had to use any of them, but now that I have them, I don’t feel a need to use up my valuable space hoarding toilet paper.)
Avoiding a deep-seated (and usually misplaced) perception of poverty and/or a misperception of “wealth”.
Counterpoint: Having more stuff doesn’t make you rich. It actually costs you more in the long run. Would you rather be “rich” in stuff that gets in your way, or rich in time and energy that can be spent on having new and meaningful experiences, learning more about the world, and forging/maintaining important relationships? Which will matter more at the end of your life? Remember, that old adage “You can’t take it with you” refers to your material wealth, aka your "stuff".
Unwillingness to make choices (aka decision deferral).
Counterpoint: Making decisions gets easier and quicker with practice and takes less time when you do it on a daily basis. Developing a habit of making decisions in the moment takes effort but will pay huge dividends in the long run.
Need to fill up the other aspects of life that feel empty (relationships, self-esteem, productivity, sense of control).
Counterpoint: Space gives us freedom. We need space to live in, move in, fill up with the people and activities that bring us joy. When we do that, we will not feel emptiness; we will feel fulfilled.
So how do we create and maintain empty space?
Simple: Choose space over stuff. Now that you understand the value of empty space and why you may have chosen stuff instead in the past, it will be easier to make more intentional decisions in the future. There are three key components to this:
With a little conscious decision-making and a few good habits, even holding onto empty space can be easy peasy!
Even if your house doesn't look like this, you may still have too much stuff. Every object you own comes with overhead costs. Too much stuff = steep overhead costs that lower your quality of life over time. Your stuff may be costing you more than you realize, and far more than you wish to spend!
How to identify it
Do any of these statements describe you in your home?
If any of these describe your living situation, you have too much stuff! Ideally, you should be able to easily find and access objects you use regularly and be able to verbalize why you are keeping any object in your home without hesitation or sputtering. There should always be a little bit of additional “room to grow” in your cabinets, closets, shelves and drawers so that new purchases or gifts can be put away as soon as you get them home. Most importantly, your home should feel like the calm, comfortable sanctuary you deserve.
How to fix it
Just like diet and exercise, decluttering and purging is an ongoing, lifelong necessity. I know, I know...that’s not a declaration most people want to hear. However, creating and maintaining adequate space in your home doesn’t have to involve endless hours of drudgery. The key is getting into the habit of streamlining as you go. As soon as you begin to see any of the signs that you have too much stuff, it’s time to take action. That action can be as simple as pulling out just a few unwanted items from your closet or cabinet and dropping a bagful of them off for donation or scheduling a pickup. You’d be surprised at what a noticeable difference eliminating just a handful of items can make. Think of it as a maintenance diet for your home.
Perhaps you have many “pounds” to lose first, though? Rest assured that even if your entire house is stuffed to the gills, you can still start small. The important thing is just to start! Pick a cabinet, closet, shelf or drawer that is really bothering you and spend 15-30 minutes identifying stuff you no longer need. Chances are good that there are a lot of deferred decisions and objects you’ve kept by default in there.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect, keep the process as simple as possible by breaking down the job into three easy steps I like to call The Three D's (Decide, Divide, Dispose):
Step 1: Decide - Pull everything out of the space (drawer, shelf, bin). Then pick up each object and choose between two options: 1) Yes, I need it and will use it; or 2) No, I can live without this. Don’t bend yourself into a pretzel trying to justify keeping it. Don’t think right now about whether or not this is the proper place in your home to store it. Don’t worry that you could maybe someday find an alternative use for it. Don’t puzzle over who else might want it during this step or agonize over how much money you spent on it or whether so-and-so would be hurt that you got rid of his gift. Just answer Yes or No to needing/wanting it. Put the Yes-es back in the cabinet or drawer. You can better organize them later or designate a new home for them another time. Step 1 is just about deciding between keeping and not keeping.
Step 2: Divide - Place your Nos into three categories: 1) trash/recycling; 2) donate; 3) sell. First, a word of caution: Do not even think about selling unless you are 100% sure you are going to invest the time and effort that involves and are willing to set a deadline for seeing through that goal. Selling requires you to have a game plan for when, where, who and how much. Sometimes it just isn’t worth the effort. Too often, you end up procrastinating and holding onto items with the best of intentions for far too long. My advice is to limit your sell category to only those items likely to yield enough money to make it worth your time. Place the sell items into a box or bag and write your deadline on it. If you don’t meet the deadline, these items should be donated as soon as possible after the deadline has passed.
Step 3: Dispose - Place trash and recycling in their proper receptacles. Drop off donations at a local charity as soon as possible or schedule a pick-up. Find an out-of-the-way place in your home to temporarily stash your “for sale” items after entering the appropriate action reminders on your calendar so you don’t forget about your deadline.
How to prevent it
Over-accumulation usually results from a combination of two things: Impulsiveness and Deferment. We buy things (or say yes to others giving us things) without first asking ourselves the right questions. Do I really need that? How/when (specifically) will I use it? Where will I store it so that it won’t be in my way? Do I really have room for it? What is my Plan B for it if Plan A doesn’t work out? Our default setting when it comes to acquisition is Yes when it should be No. That's the Impulsiveness.
Then when we are faced with tough decisions on what to do with something when its usefulness comes into question, we attempt to delay making any decision at all by keeping the status quo. That's the Deferment. What we fail to recognize is that merely keeping the status quo is a decision...it is a Yes when it often should have been a No. All these Yes-es eventually add up to clutter, disorganization, frustration, claustrophobia, discomfort, embarrassment, and stress and end up costing us time, money, and opportunity.
Make more purposeful decisions about what to keep and what to acquire, and you will soon find yourself with more space for living! With a little forethought and discernment on how to best “spend” your space, even clutter-free living can be easy peasy!
Did you say "Back to School"? Why yes. Yes, I did.
Now, before you start throwing rotten apples at me, just hear me out. I know, I know...the whole family is in celebration mode now that school is out for the summer. No doubt you have swim meets, ice cream socials and long, lazy mornings on the brain. The very last thing you want to focus on is that dirty, dingy backpack that was thrown into the corner on the last day of school, overflowing with crumpled papers, half-used journals, crumbling erasers and stubby, unsharpened pencils. But believe it or not, this is perfect time to get a jump on preparations for the Fall.
First, though, I want to put you out of your misery by saying "NO!" No, you do NOT need to keep all the math homework from this past year. No, you are not a bad parent if you toss out all the old reading logs, homework assignments, and agenda books without even looking at them. (Hopefully you've paid enough attention during the year to know where your child needs some extra help.) And most of all...No, you most definitely SHOULD NOT feel guilty for tossing out the majority of masterpieces created by your budding Van Gogh or Shakespeare.
The older your kids get, the easier it will become to part with all but the most labored-over or heartwarming pieces of work they produce. More is NOT better. In fact in this instance, more is actually less...less meaningful, that is. If it helps, set aside a half-hour to sit with your child and go through the papers and artwork together. Have them tell you about their experiences working on them. Ask questions about their thought process. Allow them to pick one or two favorites to keep. Then you pick one or two of your own. Then toss the rest. Yes, TOSS THEM!!! If necessary, do the tossing when your child isn't around. But please trust me on this. You will never regret it, and neither will they, mostly because neither of you will remember what you tossed a year from now. And the stuff you selected to keep just gained in value due to its rarity. Best of all, neither of you will be saddled with the burden that a HUGE bin of old papers will become if you don't make some meaningful decisions now.
Next, designate a place to store your selected keepsakes and put them away. Assign another spot for storing reusable school supplies for next year, and toss out all the worn out, broken, dirty crumbly stuff you know you won't use. Wash the backpacks and lunch boxes and put them away too. Finally, put that school supply list for next year in a safe spot or hang it on the fridge, but first cross off all the things you already have ready and waiting in your stash of supplies so you don't buy them again.
Now that you're done, go enjoy a well-deserved dip in the pool, knowing you've already got a start on another successful school year! Your friends may poo-poo your efforts, but you'll be the one laughing all the way to the pool on the last day of summer while they're fighting through the crowds at Staples trying to grab the very last yellow folder.
If you really stop and think about it, the decision to get organized is a hopeful one. We hope that by decluttering our homes, sticking to a new routine, managing our time more efficiently or writing a To-Do list, we will finally, FINALLY gain control over the uncontrollable and attain peace of mind in our chaotic world. I may be a professional organizer, but as the mother of two (three if you count the big kid I'm married to), I am the first to admit that "being organized" is a matter of relativity. There's no such thing as a "totally organized" life, and even if there were, I seriously doubt you'd want to live it.
One of the most common issues I uncover when I go to a new client's house is that they have at least one large, unwanted, unneeded object sitting right in the middle of the most important area needing organization...their minds. The object is a negative thought that they keep tripping over. It takes up space that could be put to much better use. It obstructs easy access to other things sharing the space. It inserts itself into every task, and creates unwanted "noise". It detracts from the peacefulness of the space and, let's face it, it can be downright unappealing.
Obviously, the first step is to remove this negative thought from your mind. Do any of these sound familiar?
"Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him." -Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
It sneaks in, disguised as an innocent "good reason", and assures you it's harmless. Then it bludgeons your dreams and possibilities and steals all your hope. It kidnaps your creativity and leaves it to starve. And when you finally realize what's happened, it blames you...saying it's all your own fault for having invited it in the first place.
Procrastination is a known thief and murderer, stealing time and killing plans for a better, easier, more pleasant existence. So why do we keep on opening the door to it and how do we overcome its charming allure?
Recognize it - Ask yourself why you are putting something off. Identifying the real reason will help you to recognize procrastination for what it is, but you have to be honest with yourself.
Plan your counter-attack - Guard against procrastination by establishing a plan for completing the task as soon as you think of it. Having a plan of attack will eliminate unexpected obstacles to getting it done and will make the idea of completing it less daunting.
Call for back up - Get help in holding yourself accountable.
Be a hero - Once you've completed your task, bask in the glow of accomplishment and savor the sense of relief that comes from getting that monkey off your back. You did it! Remember how good this feels the next time you are faced with a task you dread.
Overcoming your tendency to procrastinate will empower you to dream big and hope more because you'll have the confidence you need to tackle anything that intrudes on your ability to accomplish your goals.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.