Why clutter feels heavy.
Hello 2019! Firstly, a big “thank you” to 2018 for always being there for me, day in and day out. Another year gone in what feels like the blink of an eye. And the New Year already a week old! So with this new year and all the possibilities and excitement ahead of me, why do I feel so weighed down? (And it’s not just the extra Christmas cookie weight…). Did you vow yet again to not overbuy and overconsume throughout the year and especially during the holidays? Me too. And yet more stuff has appeared and mushroomed seemingly overnight. Physically, all the STUFF we have in our space carries a physical weight to it. This is something we already knew. But what about the emotional and psychological cost of clutter in our lives? New research has shown that clutter actually weighs us down.
How do I lighten up my space and my life?
Check out this great article in the New York Times on “The Unbearable Heaviness of Clutter”. The article outlines the stress caused by clutter and the damage we are doing to ourselves financially, emotionally and psychologically. I am happy to report that there is good news as well. If decluttering and living more intentionally is a goal for you in the new year, new behaviors and choices can have a significant impact. Take small steps daily to reduce your clutter by identifying your biggest “pain point”. Is it the pile of mail or paperwork you’ve been avoiding? Is it your closet that is disorganized and overflowing with unneeded and unused items? Pick a starting point and attack that project. Taking action, even in the smallest steps, leads to creating effective habits. First process, then progress.
Forget resolutions and instead, focus on new intentions. We all have something we can work on and improve. If organizing and living more intentionally is an intention and goal for you, pick a spot and get started. We all have to start somewhere…so get started!
But it’s a good busy…
Do you ever run into a friend or acquaintance and when you ask “How are you? How are things going?”, the response is “busy”. Or “good busy”. So, what does this really mean? In our manic society that always seems time deprived, busy has become the new sign of success. If I’m busy, I must be productive. If I say I’m not busy, I’ll appear lazy and unmotivated. But is any of that really accurate? With many of my clients, and myself, we get lazy with our language and “busy” has become a catch-all phrase like “fine” or “good”. With our multiple responsibilities and often hectic lives, this phrase has become a shield and a barrier to deeper connection and an intentional life. As animals, we are hardwired for connection and we are most successful when we are engaged and involved with others – packs, tribes, clans, communities, etc. But the “busy” label keeps others at a distance and keeps us from that connection.
What the heck are we so busy doing?
There is no doubt that we are over-scheduled and our lives are very dissimilar to preceding generations. But it’s also true that we have more leisure time than ever before. In so many ways, our lives are so much easier than our ancestors and yet we act as if we are busy tilling the land, protecting the homestead and eking out a living – all not true. The question becomes: what am I busy doing? The answer is at the heart of intentional living – taking off “the badge of busy” and starting to rewrite the story of your life. Are you busy with classes, education, volunteering and vocational work? Great – that level of being busy should feel productive and satisfying. Are you “busy” with social media, Netflix and shopping that leaves you dissatisfied and unhappy? What can you do less of or differently?
If your default status is “busy” but you are unfulfilled, stressed and unhappy, it’s time for an internal audit. Revisit your priorities and start living intentionally.
What are you spending your time on now?
As an organizing coach, I help my clients rewrite the stories of their lives. We move from frazzled and overwhelmed to living a more calm, intentional life. To be organized and find more space, more time and more joy, time management is key. While there are lots of tools for time management like calendar systems, timers and “smart” electronics, first determine what is the real value of your time. Most of us don’t know the true value of our time so we waste it on unnecessary tasks that consume too much time, effort and resources. Break down a “typical” day into time chunks – morning, work/school, after school/work, evening, etc. Within those segments, pinpoint the tasks that you need to complete in each block. What tasks can you do best? Are you maximizing your time and effort or is there room for improvement? What tasks can be done better by someone else?
What can I outsource?
Most of us have a strong skill set that makes us effective and productive. And we all muddle through some tasks that we can outsource to make the balance of our time more productive and less stressed. Do you like to cook but hate to grocery shop? Transition the grocery shopping to another family member or use one of the many food delivery services available. Do you love Fido but getting in a long walk just doesn’t fit in your schedule most mornings? Give that task to a household member with more time and flexibility. Also, some folks spend their days walking dogs! Hire a professional dog walker or find a neighbor to hire or even better, barter services with.
There are a few tasks that we must do ourselves so figure out the best way to get it done. And know that there is someone, somewhere who will gladly take over the tasks that don’t fit in your schedule or skill set. Work to your strength and hire to your weakness. Welcome to the new service economy!
Finding good hiding spots…
Do you think finding good hiding spots is all about playing “hide and seek” or having a great Easter egg hunt? In organizing, good hiding spots mean effective space management. Maximizing your existing storage comes in many forms. Closet organizing, purging unneeded and unused items and choosing effective storage are important. But there is another great organizing solution clients often overlook – the “hiding” spot. Good hiding spots are under the bed, behind a door or even behind a floor length curtain. These are ideal because they are not high traffic areas but are easily accessible. Also, there are storage solutions designed for these hidden spots. Under the bed storage bins and bags and hanging shoe holders are low cost but highly effective. So, what should I be “hiding”?
Hey, what’s in that hiding spot?
Hiding spots are ideal for items that we don’t want or need out in the open. Under bed storage is perfect for out of season clothing or bedding – close at hand when needed but not taking up valuable closet and drawer space. Do you have young children with lots of legos or dolls? Use that under-bed space for plastic bins for small toy and doll storage. Bins on wheels are easy for them to pull out and use and equally easy to clean up and store out of sight. I also recommend creating an “electronics” bin for manuals, boxes, and warranties. These are often needed for repairs and upgrades but don’t need to be in your everyday files. Fill a plastic box with all the electronics paraphernalia and slide it under the bed – organized, easy to access and out of sight. Install a clear plastic shoe hanger on the back of your door and fill it up! Behind full-length curtains in my office, I store a paper recycling bin and my shredder – you are really limited only by your imagination.
Shoes are an obvious choice for a hanging shoe holder but there is a multitude of options. Fill the clear shoe pockets with small toys, hair accessories and products, health and beauty items, dog care items, scarves – the possibilities are endless….
What is your biggest distraction? Is it the phone, email, social media, constant interruptions from others? Managing and minimizing distractions are key elements of time management and staying organized. Whether you are trying to focus on a project at work or complete a task at home, constant distractions slow us down significantly. Are you familiar with the term “activation energy”? Activation energy is the minimum amount of energy that must be available for a chemical reaction to occur. The principal is the same for the energy needed to get a project completed. To start a project, we need a certain amount of “energy” but once we get started, it is much easier to continue to completion. It’s the stopping and restarting continuously that slows our progress and expands our timeline. So how do I minimize distractions to keep my activation energy going?
“Do not disturb”
To keep focused on a project or task, you need to minimize your distractions by employing a “do not disturb” mentality. Set the timer on your phone for a reasonable length of time – 60 or 90 minutes. Then one by one, shut off or down those distractions. Turn the ringer off on your phone or set to “do not disturb” – don’t worry, the timer alarm will still go off. Minimize the taskbar which shows that a new email has come in. Place your phone upside down so you won’t see texts or notifications coming in. Are you concerned you might miss an “urgent” message? Set your phone to alarm after 20 or 30 minutes for a quick peek to be sure there is nothing that warrants your immediate attention. Are you in open office space and can’t close your door for a short period of time to work? Move into a conference room or put on earbuds to block out distractions.
You will be more productive and less stressed when you manage your time and distractions. Figure out what solutions work best for you to filter out your distractions and keep your activation energy going.
How did it get this way?
Quick, name the one space in your home that is REALLY disorganized and in need of some serious decluttering. Many clients say basement, playroom or closets and yes, these are often trouble spots in the home. But one of the most important spaces that often gets overlooked is the bathroom medicine cabinet. For many of us, it’s a space we use multiple times a day but we rarely give it a thought unless we need something specific. On a daily basis, we rummage around for the item we need and then shove it back in and close the door. In theory, we know that there’s a lot of “stuff” lurking in there but we don’t take the time to sort it out. While a medicine cabinet may seem like a low organizing priority, it really needs to be prioritized both for ease of use and most importantly, for safety.
How the heck old IS this, anyway?
The first thing to address in a medicine cabinet are expiration dates. Dates are there for a reason so always err on the side of caution. Pharmaceuticals should NOT be stored in a bathroom medicine cabinet – heat and moisture break down the components faster. All narcotics should be kept in a locked space – not in the easy access of a medicine cabinet. Throw out any OTC medications that are expired and take any narcotics to your local police department for proper destruction – DO NOT flush these down the toilet. These chemicals seep into the ground and drinking water and cause real harm. Once you’ve eliminated the unneeded, unused and expired medications, determine what else should be put back in. Containerize like items in Ziploc bags or small acrylic containers. First aid items like bandages and ointments fit perfectly in a small bag. Group items together – shaving, hair products, dental items – inside the cabinet for easy access.
Do you have duplicates of the same item? Store the unopened item in another spot to leave the “prime real estate” of the medicine cabinet free. Purge, containerize and give your items a home – your everyday routine will thank you….