On day 22 of my 90 posts in 90 days blog, it’s time to tackle clutter, the physical pile up of delayed decisions.
As an organizer, I’ve entered many a new home, to see what appears to be pretty similar piles of stuff. And even though, I usually apply pretty much the same strategies to decluttering a client’s space, what I also know, is that “how” the clutter got there in the first place never looks quite the same for any two clients. Each client’s relationship to their belongings, physical space, and more importantly to themselves and their decision-making processes, is entirely unique. It’s in the conversation and relationship with each client, that the real “uncovering” and “uncluttering” occurs.
Because here’s the thing, our clutter is never really solely about our “stuff”. If we find ourselves in a position where our clutter has mastered us, and we are no longer the master of our stuff, then something else is in the way. It may be we’re over-committed, for example, and don’t have time to deal with our space. That’s layer one – underneath over-committed, may be “I’m in a temporary crunch – like a health crisis for me or someone in my family, which pulls me from routine and demands my full attention for a period of time.” It may be I’m over-committed because I derive my value from others’ approval – therefore it’s hard to say no to any request and I say yes to unreasonable amounts of commitment that pulls me away from handling my space. Or over-committed could mean a myriad of other things. It’s often not until we dig through the layers of clutter’s personal meaning, and are willing to ask ourselves these questions, that we find a solution that will address change going forward.
If you’re at the place where you’re willing to ask the questions, and make the small habitual changes going forward to prevent clutter, then you will likely need to address what’s been piling up. Andrew Mellen, at an evening I attended at the Open Center in NYC, stressed the importance of distinguishing between historic clutter and future clutter. Historic being any clutter that has accumulated up til right now. A line gets drawn here. One must have a plan for dealing with all historic clutter that will look different from a plan to deal with potential new clutter.
Lasting change is often best created in small, baby steps, that bypass the amygdala, the fighter flight response center in the brain that gets alerted and restricts creative thinking every time we attempt a change. When we decide to take the weekend off and throw ourselves headlong into decluttering, to be done with it for good, we often get a surprise, when confronted with the emotional pull, indecision, and lack of clarity that resurfaces, when we try to force decisions on all the stuff we put aside because we couldn’t decide, in the first place. We may wind up “stirring the pot” and shifting papers and items around, perhaps creating even more of a mess, because we’re not ready to do it all at once.
Mellen also mentioned that if you go into battle with your clutter, your clutter will likely win, because it doesn’t get physically tired, or need to eat or take bathroom breaks – but you do!
Sandra Felton, founder of Messies Anonymous, and author of several books- talks about the Mount Vesuvius Method vs Mount Vernon Method of decluttering. The Mount Vesuvius (named after the more violent, eruption peak), is about throwing yourself into decluttering in a big burst. The Mount Vernon way is about making those small habitual changes.
For the sake of this post – let’s look at some small habitual changes you can make dealing with changing your surrounding and dealing with “future” clutter. We will look more at strategies for “historic” clutter later.
Here are some baby step starters to beginning to live clutter free:
1. Pick just one surface that you’ll dedicate to keeping clear no matter what going forward. It could be your bed; kitchen counter; small nightstand; desk — just pick one. It’s amazing what a sens of well-being and clarity you can feel with one consistant clear space. Maintaining one space will serve as a “safe haven” in your home, and will give you the confidence to expand from there.
2. Pick one item to find a consistent home for. For example your keys. Choose a home, like a hook by the front door, and commit to taking the keys and replacing the keys to that same spot daily. It’s said it takes anywhere from 14-90 days to build a new habit. Practice this habit of placement and retrieval with one object for as long as it takes to then feel “uncomfortable” or “odd” to NOT place them here, and then you’re ready to move onto a new habit to practice.
3. Practice, in how you speak with yourself, on focusing on what works instead of what doesn’t. Transformative coaching is successful, because science has shown, it’s easier to build new neurological circuitry than it is to rewire old. When we focus on the “problem” we reinforce the problem, “i.e.: this place is such a mess, I’m a slob; I’ll never get out from under.” When we focus on what works, or even get curious about what could work, i.e.; “I’m a person of integrity,” or “I wonder what choice I could make around my piles of mail that would serve me better?”, we prepare our brain for powerful “aha”, “eureka” moments, when a creative spark gives our brain a new connection. If we take action quickly on our new ideas, then reinforce the new action, we create new, forwarding habits.
4. Examine your commitments and for any one new commitment you take on, look for one commitment that must be completed or released before you do. Recognize your limits and create boundaries around your time.
5. Share your commitment for change with others. With sincerity, declare your intention out loud. “I’m in committed action to create a peaceful environment that serves my needs and goals.” Reinforcing your commitment in words creates powerful support.