7 ways to move through your clutter from the inside out

Woman in painWhen it comes to clutter, many people think it is just being messy. You can hear them while watching an episode of Hoarders: ” why can’t they just tidy up and throw things out?”

In many cases it is a lot more complicated than this and it has to do with the mental and emotional road blocks which the person in question is facing, resulting in the clutter being a by-product rather than the underlying problem.

A recent article on the website Houzz gave some great tips to move through some of these road blocks:

Our relationship with our home, and the things in it, is charged with emotion — it’s not so easy to let go of things when something as simple as a rusted tackle box or a worn photograph can bring memories flooding back.

Below, find eight ways to move through your own mental and emotional roadblocks to work through your clutter, from the inside out.

 1. Come to terms with whether you’re naturally organized or not. Glossy magazine spreads featuring perfectly organized spaces with nary a stray paper or lone shoe out of place may be fun to look at, but they are not right for everyone. The fact is, some folks are more inclined to be neat and orderly, while others feel more comfortable with a lot of stuff around. Instead of fighting against your nature, learn from it and work with it.

2. Face your fears. This is what stands between you and the refreshingly clean and neat home you wish you had: fear of making a bad choice, fear of tossing out something and regretting it later or fear that a family member will make you feel guilty for getting rid of something. We are all experts at coming up with excuses for keeping things we really don’t want anymore. Confront your fears, and you may find it easier to let go of possessions that have become a burden to you.

3. Tackle your top problem area. What’s the one thing in your home you find it hard to even consider decluttering? Think about starting there. For some it may be books; for others, china or clothes. Find the one thing that would make the biggest impact if you could streamline it, and start your work there. Use tip number three (face your fears) and dig in.

4. Get and stay motivated. Find your motivation by imagining what a clutter-free home would feel like. What would it allow you to do? Why do you want this? Keep your answers in mind as you start decluttering. Once you have gotten the ball rolling, stop yourself from backsliding by developing a few key habits: for every new item you purchase, get rid of a similar item, and when you see something that needs to be cleaned, put away or returned, just do it.

5. A special note for parents. Having kids in the house, as any parent will tell you, can ramp up the chaos in even the most (formerly) orderly homes. Luckily, as parents, we do have control over a great deal of the stuff that enters our homes, including toys. For starters, rethink how many toys and games your child needs — an overabundance of playthings is less appreciated, harder to clean up and more likely to get broken or wasted. To get a crazy-cluttered family home back in shape takes some work; there is no doubt about that. But the habits you form to manage the kid chaos will pay off in sanity at home, and you will be passing those good habits along to your children.

6. Get help if you need it. If you are still feeling overwhelmed or if the job seems too big to take on alone, you can get help! Call a really organized friend and bribe him or her with free food in exchange for decluttering advice or physical help. Or call in a pro. Professional organizers have seen it all, can help you sort out even the most cluttered space, and can teach you systems that will help prevent your overstuffing your home in the future.

7. Take it to the next level: Simplify your life. Once you have been working on paring down for some time and are feeling good about the progress you have made, consider taking things a step further. Downsize to a smaller, easier-to-maintain space, go paperless or challenge yourself to get rid of things you don’t use.

Read the entire article here.

Image courtesy of: scentsandmoods.wordpress.com

8 tips to break down those tough tasks

Yahoo, I finally finished!

Today I have had one of those days. A “To Do” list of various marketing projects that needed to get started and no motivation to do so. Now as a professional organiser who helps others with time management you would think I would have this down pat. But no, I too am only human and sometimes I can think of a 1,000 other things I could be doing such as popping a load in the washing machine, making a cup of tea, the dog needs walking…

Then magically into my inbox pops another gem from Zen Habits. It’s like he is reading my mind. It go me up and raring to go so I thought it may also help my loyal readers – so I thought I would share:

Before you can achieve something in life, you need to decide precisely what it is you want. It could be you intend to stop smoking; improve your fitness; give up gambling; get a new job, or whatever.

Once you have a clearly defined idea of the what, why and how long of your end result, you can break down the entire process. Here are a few tips to do this:

1. Pinpoint the steps involved. Let’s say, for example, that your end result is to get a job as a teacher in 5 years time. Ask yourself what individual steps are needed to get there. Are specific qualifications and experience required? How can you gain these skills? What can you do to study or re-train? Come up with all the steps you can think of. The purpose of this exercise is to flesh out what is still a large aim into smaller, detailed steps. Each one represents a stepping stone towards achieving your end result.

2. Create a pint-sized action plan. Think of the steps as actions. Once you understand what actions are needed to achieve your end result, you can pull these together into a plan.

3. Set mini targets and daily/ weekly tasks. When you create your action plan, work out a series of targets you believe it’s possible to reach on the way to your end result. Decide what you need to have done in six, three and one months’ time to achieve your end result. Then break it down into monthly and weekly chunks, and from here you can set yourself simple daily and weekly tasks that are easily reached.

4. Keep on track. If the mini target for a given week isn’t achieved, don’t despair. The small-scale approach is so flexible that it allows you to make instant changes. On a weekly basis, ask yourself what happened and whether you could do anything differently? Carry over the shortfall to the following week and tweak your daily and weekly tasks accordingly. Keep on completing these small-scale tasks and meeting the mini targets, and the end result will be well within your grasp.

5. Forget the long-term. Get into the habit of ignoring the end date, and try to stop dwelling on what’s to come in the future. Don’t worry – you already considered the overall task and how long it would take when you set the mini targets and the daily/ weekly tasks. Now you can put the long-term view to one side, and really pay attention to achieving these smaller, shorter-term targets and tasks.

6. Adjust your steps. Along the way, you might find that what you’re trying isn’t as effective as you hoped. Or, other factors – such as job and family commitments – could affect your focus. Be ready to tweak your targets and tasks, when necessary. It’s perfectly ok to revisit and revise them to ease the load. Better to pace yourself than be stressed out.

7. Celebrate the little wins. One success leads to another, so use all your wins to spur you on. As each milestone is passed triumphantly, it’ll boost your motivation and you’ll gain a renewed confidence in your abilities. Reward yourself with something which makes you feel amazing – a new pair of jeans, a trip to the park with your kids, a relaxing homemade spa day. Treat yourself to anything which reinforces your resolve to reach the end. It needn’t cost a penny.

8. Resist the urge to supersize. It’s human nature to want results fast. At times, you might be tempted to rush at things and bite off more than you can chew, ending up back at square one. If you’re tempted to give up, refer to your ‘motivation bank’ of reasons why you want the end result. Be determined and concentrate on only the current stage of your journey, and not on what’s next. Reflect on how far you’ve come and what a waste it would be to throw in the towel.

Read more of the article here: http://zenhabits.net/small-scale/

4 tips to surviving summer at your desk

 

Oh I do love to be beside the sea-side

It is the middle of summer here in Australia; hard to believe when you see New York City under 12 inches of snow.

But with the heat and humidity of summer comes the lethargic feelings and thoughts of lazing on the beach or out enjoying an el fresco lunch with friends – rather than putting in a productive day at work.

So…what to do?

To survive these beautiful days cooped up inside, try to do the following things every day:

  • As the shine comes up earlier, get to your desk earlier.  Try to get as much work done as possible before other people start working.  Most people have more energy earlier in the day than later, so while the phone isn’t ringing and no one is sending you emails you can get more done. And it will keep you from feeling guilty when you zone out around 3:00 in the afternoon.
  • Do a lot of positive self-talking. Get your stuff done so you can go out and do something outside. The longer you procrastinate about your work the less time you’ll have for whatever else it is you want to do.
  • Have a plan for what needs to be done that day and schedule hard to do, thought-intensive items for early in the day and more mindless stuff for the afternoon.
  • Avoid heavy lunches; if the meal is hard to digest, it can put you to sleep in the afternoon but lighter lunches don’t seem to have such a drastic effect (apart from the 2pm energy lull!)

For more on the topic, go to: http://unclutterer.com/2010/07/15/fighting-the-summer-productivity-blahs/

 

How to achieve a balanced life

 

Which way should you turn?

Being that today is 1/1/11 and I was contemplating today’s blog at 11:11, I thought it should be about creating a balanced life – something this is at the top of everyone’s New Year’s resolutions.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that I love Zen Habits http://zenhabits.net/. Everything that Leo Babauta writes about always seems to strike a cord with me.

In this article, Leo explains how to find your balance, and do what you love. So…what can you give up this year that can be replaced by something you would love to do, if only you had the time?

How to achieve a balanced life

The first thing to point out is that work isn’t separate from life — it’s a part of it. For some people, it’s not a fun part of life, but for others, it’s a passion. Either way, it’s a part of our lives, good or bad.

Of course, when people talk about a work-life balance, they mean that we should find a balance between work and our personal lives, which is definitely true. But it’s important to realize that if work is really something you love, you don’t need to cut it short in order to spend more time at home in front of the television.

So the key is to remember that what we’re looking for is a balance between the things we love — not just work and the rest of life, but work and family and hobbies and chores and everything else.

What Do You Love? What are the things you love to do?

That’s the question to start with. My friend Norm loves photography, but I think he also really enjoys jiu-jitsu and spending time with close friends, among other things. For myself, my favorite things in the world include spending time with my family, writing, reading and running. What’s on your short list?

One of the things on your list might be your work — or the work you want to do (as opposed to the work you’re doing right now). But others could include your favorite hobbies or other passions, ways to relax and have fun, exercise or other outdoor activities, reading and learning, shopping or eating or entertainment, volunteering, or spending time with people who are important to you. There are as many other possibilities as there are people in the world, of course.

Create your short list now, and then continue to the next section.

Creating Space in Your Life

It’s time to take a Big Picture look at your life — how are you spending your time right now? How long do you work (and how much of that time is spent on doing what you really love about your work)? What do you do before and after work? What do you do on your days off?

Now think about all the things you do, and how many of them are on your short list. For the things not on your short list, what can you eliminate? Some things might be big commitments that are hard to get out of — but over time, you can get out of them.

Learn to say no, and learn how to tell people that you can no longer commit to doing something. It’s not always easy, but remember that this is your life, and you should do what you really want to do, not what others want you to do.

Really think hard about how you can eliminate the non-essential things in your life (the non-short list stuff). Work on this over time, and create the space in your life that you need for the things you love. Be sure to allot that time you’ve created to the things on your short list — don’t just use it up with television or other space fillers.

Finding That Balance

Once you’ve created space in your life for the things you love, it’s just a matter of finding the right balance between them. You could have a life filled with all the things you love doing, but it could still be almost all work. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that if you love your work and it doesn’t have negative consequences (on your health or family relationships, for example), for many people it’s better to have other things balancing out their lives.

Why is a balance between several things that you love better than just one thing that you love? Well, there are a number of reasons that would depend on your situation. For one thing, if you have an office job you might not be getting outdoors enough, or getting enough exercise, and your health might suffer. Another reason is that you might have family and/or friends and if you work all the time you’re neglecting them — and those relationships will suffer. You might also get lonely if you work all the time. Another major problem is burnout — working all the time (or doing any activity all the time) can lead to stress and fatigue, and could make that activity less enjoyable.

Variety is a good thing — it keeps life interesting. So mix things up a bit. For some ideas on how to do this continue reading here:

http://zenhabits.net/how-to-find-that-elusive-balance-between-work-and-life/

How to make and KEEP your New Year’s resolutions…

By Sue Shellenbarger at The Wall Street Journal

Ready, set, GO!

Pam Hild has been trying for years to get her holiday preparations organized. Her usual habit was to leave decorating and party arrangements until the last minute, and she sometimes forgot about gifts she had bought and stashed in closets. “I was always a raving maniac over the holidays,” says Ms. Hild of Grand Rapids, Mich.

Several weeks ago, she resolved to try a new approach. With help from a professional organizer, she started planning weeks in advance, posted a calendar of tasks with deadlines on her refrigerator and figured out how she would get back on track when she slipped up. For the first time, she is completely ready, days in advance. Getting there required going beyond just making a resolution. “You have to change your thinking and be able to maintain it.”

In one study of how emotion and cognition interact in decision-making, Dr. Shiv asked some subjects to complete a challenging mental task, memorizing a seven-digit number, while others were asked to remember only two digits. When the same subjects were later given a choice between eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake or a healthy fruit salad, Dr. Shiv says, those who had memorized seven digits were more likely to choose the cake, suggesting that the mental exertion affected their ability to repress the desire for instant gratification and make a healthy choice.

Dr. Shiv recommends a carrot-and-stick approach to a resolution: Focus most of the time on the emotional rewards you will reap for changing your behavior. If you want to lose weight, visualize yourself feeling the benefits, thinking, “If I work hard, I will look so good, and feel so good,” he says. As a stick to help you get started on your new habits, evoke the emotional consequences of failing to change. “Visualize yourself feeling fat, and think, ‘If I don’t work out, I will look like a heavy thing,’ ” and be less satisfied with yourself and your social life. Over time, your resolution “is going to get tagged with those emotions,” which will kick in automatically even when the cognitive parts of your brain are worn out, he says.

Linking your new habits to other pleasant changes can help. Kate S. Brown, a professional organizer in Sarasota, Fla., says some of her clients who struggle with disorganization do better when she has them buy new files that are aesthetically appealing. “If you like color and you create a colorful file system, it creates happy feelings when you use it,” she says.

Mary Dykstra, a Grand Rapids, Mich., professional organizer, coaches people to set specific, realistic goals, then to break each goal into small, measurable steps, with a timetable. This will help avoid the common pitfall of attempting too much, such as losing 40 pounds in two months, and setting yourself up for failure, she says. Also, line up in advance the supplies and resources you need for each new step. If you plan to organize your office, get the shredder or files you need. If you are quitting smoking, get nicotine patches and other cessation aids.

Read the complete article from the Wall Street Journal here:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703581204576033824100634278.html

The Top 6 Excuses for Clutter…with solutions!

By Elizabeth Fenner at Real Simple Magazine

a cluttered shelf real simple magazine

No room on your shelves?

Excuse #1: “If I get rid of this wedding vase, I’ll feel guilty.”

Solution: People feel a responsibility to be good stewards of things, says Randy Frost, a professor of psychology at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts, and a coauthor of Buried in Treasures ($17,amazon.com). Especially items they’ve been given by or inherited from a loved one. Getting rid of a present feels like disrespecting the giver. But remember the true meaning of gifts.

“When you receive a present,” says Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, an interior designer in New York City and the founder ofApartmentTherapy.com, “your duty is to receive it and thank the giver―not to keep the gift forever.” That goes for items you inherit. “Ask yourself, ‘How many things do I really need to honor this person’s memory?’” says Frost. Select a few objects with strong associations to your late grandmother, say, and keep them in places where you’ll see them. Let the rest go to people who want them more than you do. Likewise, don’t be shy about admitting a mistake you made and moving on. The $120 pair of heels you bought last spring that pinch? Cut yourself some slack and give them away.

Excuse #2: “I think this brooch/chair/ugly knickknack might be valuable again.”

Solution: When you hear the appraisers onAntiques Roadshow say that someone’s grandmother’s old Bakelite bracelets would now fetch $500, it’s easy to wonder whether your vintage piece might be worth a bundle. Stop guessing and find out what the item in question is truly worth. Take a 10-minute spin on eBay, searching for an item similar to yours. (Click on “Advanced Search,” then “Completed Listings Only.”) If the sale prices look promising―or if you can’t find equivalent items―consider having the item appraised by an expert. Many local auction houses will do this for free in the hopes that you will sell the item through them later. (Google “auctions” and your city to find an auction house near you.) For the greatest certainty, hire an independent appraiser through the American Society of Appraisers (appraisers.org) or the Appraisers Association of America (appraisersassoc.org). Be sure to ask for an estimate first.
Remember―for something to be considered valuable, it must be in tip-top shape. “People think their old baseball cards or National Geographics are worth money,” says professional organizer Caitlin Shear. “But that’s true only if they’re packaged in a Mylar sleeve and in pristine condition.”

Excuse #3: “But I might need seven sleeping bags one day.”

Solution: Everyone fears tossing something out only to realize―six months, a year, or five years down the road―that she shouldn’t have. Keeping things around “just in case” makes people feel safe. If your main problem is an overflowing closet, try the “packing for a trip” trick. It goes like this: You’re packing for a month’s vacation―you’ll need both dressy and casual clothes, for warm and cool weather, and you can fill two big suitcases. Then take all the other things and place them on a rack in your basement or attic. If you want to wear any of those exiled clothes in the coming days, grab them. But as the months go by, you’ll be shocked at how few of those clothes you need or even think about. From there, it’s a baby step to a Goodwill bag.
Still have separation anxiety? Box up the stuff you’re not quite able to part with and write on the outside, “Open in August 2011″―or whatever date it will be one year from now. Then tuck it away in your basement, attic, or storage facility. If a year from now you find that you didn’t miss the items, it will be much easier to part with them.

Excuse #4: “I want this chartreuse muumuu to go to a good home.”

Solution: People often want to find just the right place for their belongings. The problem is, trying to find just the right place can be paralyzing, says interior designer Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan. And while you wait, say, for your niece to move into a starter apartment, your old love seat and dinette set gather dust.
To satisfy your desire for perfect placement, look for a charity with which you feel a strong connection―perhaps a shelter for women. Contact the three- or four-star charities that interest you and ask if they accept donations. If that sounds like too much trouble, call your nearest house of worship and inquire whether it has a clothing drive coming up. Ask if the donation is tax-deductible, and get a receipt.

Excuse #5: “If I put the bills away, I’ll never pay them on time.”

Solution: Many clutterers have gotten into the habit of organizing their world visually and spatially, says Randy Frost. They’re afraid that if they put stuff away, they won’t remember it, because they won’t see it. “But it’s a perception of order,” he says, “not real order.” You may initially recall that the electric bill is next to the potted plant on the kitchen counter, but it will soon be buried by other items you need to have in plain sight, too, like invitations and permission slips.
Even hard-core clutterers can train themselves to complete tasks without obvious visual cues, says Frost. For starters, if you’re used to leaving things in piles, designate a logical home for every object. Set up automatic e-mail reminders to help you remember to pay bills. In addition, if you feel as if out of sight is out of mind, make transparency your friend. Take items destined for closets, the garage, or the basement and store them in clear plastic bins so you can always see what’s there.

Excuse #6“I want to declutter, but I can’t get motivated.”

Solution: This may be due to a phenomenon known as delayed discounting, says Daniel Hommer, M.D., chief of brain imaging at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in Bethesda, Maryland, and an expert on motivation. It works like this: If it takes a long time to reach a goal, you value that goal less than if you could reach it quickly―making it harder to get started. Make projects small and rewards immediate, says Hommer. After you organize a distinct area, dress it up―add decorative paper to the bottom of a now spartan toiletry drawer, for instance. Keep at it and your home will become not only more orderly but also more beautiful.