Quick Decluttering Tip

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Decluttering, also known as getting rid of stuff you don’t want or need, is something you should do every day. Tossing out the junk mail counts; I’m not talking about clearing out your closet. It’s a good idea to do it everyday because then you get in the habit and don’t have to think about it so much. You also become attuned to looking for clutter to get rid of.

Important point: each time you declutter an area, look at it long and hard. Memorize the way it looks. Make a mental snapshot of what is there. This will help you see at a glance what doesn’t belong so you can get rid of it.

Very often, clients call me when the clutter level has gotten so high they’re lucky they found the telephone. They’re not lazy or messy, but they don’t have the habit of dealing with clutter when it’s new. It’s such a small amount every day, they reason, it seems perfectly okay to handle it some other time. Then, before that day comes around, they realize that those small bits of clutter have congealed into a solid, sticky mass. Uh oh.

You probably already know where your clutter gathering spots are. Typical ones are the kitchen counter (the gorgeous recycled glass counter shown above is from Vetrazzo), the dining table, the foyer table and your desk. Try this: go to your favorite clutter cache and pick up three things. Now, do the right thing with each one, whether that’s recycling it, putting it away (if you’re keeping it, it needs a real place to live), giving it back to its owner or tossing it out.

Another way to do this is to get in the habit of handling one thing each time you pass a clutter nook. Still another way is to go around to all the cluttered areas with a big box and loading everything into it. Then, sit down somewhere where you have sorting room and go through everything. Then walk around putting everything away.

Choose a method that appeals to you, or try them all. They all have the same end result: decluttering.

Natural Organizing

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You aren’t a cookie cut from a generic mold (even though you’re sweet). You deserve more than a cookie cutter approach to organizing. Methods you’ve read about in books may partially work, or not work at all. Or they’ll work for awhile but then something happens to make them stop working.

That’s why it’s so important to have your own personalized system.

Your system doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. It doesn’t even have to look like a system to anyone else. What matters is that it works and its flexible (to accommodate your expanding, changing life). It has to be simple enough that if you drop it for awhile you can pick it up again without much grief.

Mainly, your organizing system has to suit who you are and what your life is like, today.

That’s why I emphasize awareness and intentionality. You know things about yourself, like, you’d rather have things on a shelf than in a drawer. Here’s an example, featuring multiple calendars. Here’s another one, from me.

I’ve tried on several occasions to use online or computer task lists and I never stick to it. I revert to small pads of paper that I keep next to my computer. That works fine for me. Although I’m on the computer all day, having the task list on there just never felt natural to me. My hand was always reaching for a pen.

My system is not terribly tidy or photogenic.

It’s a cycle of writing down notes and to-do’s and then putting the notes somewhere for safekeeping (in Evernote, usually. So, yes, I do type them) and rewriting my to do lists by hand as things get done or just dumped off the list.

There’s rarely a time when you’d look at my desk and say, “my, how organized!” That’s because I just got off a call and have a page of notes, or I haven’t crossed off enough items to decide it’s time to rewrite my list.

It’s always in progress. Always.

Why does this work for me?

  • I like a to do list I can see all the time. I don’t want to navigate to a new window to view it. That bugs me.
  • I can easily experiment with new formats and schemes, such as making categorized lists, drawing different bullet shapes, or drawing boxes around tasks to highlight them. All these things can be done instantly with paper and pen.
  • I can stuff a list in my pocket and go out and do errands without synchronizing anything.
  • I can spread out multiple pages on my desk and compare them and reorder them effortlessly.

This is just one example of how I discovered a hybrid system that works for me, based on my reading, client experience and, mostly, self awareness. There’s no reason to use a system just because a book says so, or you paid money for it.

Want help discovering how to organize your time and your stuff in ways that feel natural and are easy and satisfying to use? I’m thinking up a way to offer you a free sample of this, so stay tuned! Or, ahem, go to the Hire Me page.

What If You Don't Want to Get Rid of Stuff?

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Organizing doesn’t always mean getting rid of things. It means finding places for them so that you aren’t tripping on them, distracted by them, maneuvering around them or always looking for them.

It means creating a living space that is pleasing and supportive.

You do need space to put things if you’re keeping them, however. I wrote a post back in June about curating your environment. Another aspect of that is cycling your possessions in and out of storage.

To continue the museum metaphor, it’s like treating your home like the Smithsonian Institution (the world’s largest museum collection). With the Smithsonian method, you have a moderate number of things on display at one time, for example. The rest, the majority, is in storage.

Every season, or twice a year, you put those things back in storage and select a new group to bring out and enjoy. There are two nice benefits here: you get to keep your beautiful things and you get to appreciate and get pleasure from them all over again. Even wonderful artwork starts to go unnoticed when it’s always there.

This way, your living space will be more like an art gallery, less like a warehouse.

Imagine visiting the Smithsonian’s basement and looking at objects set three deep on shelves that go up to the ceiling. Compare that with visiting the museum proper, where objects are placed so that you can really see and contemplate them.

Perfectionism or Death

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What’s the biggest problem with perfectionists? It’s that they don’t know they have a problem!

Perfectionism is a habit that people are proud of, even when it causes them anxiety and trouble. This New York Times article describes how being a perfectionist can lead to mental health problems and even suicide, not to mention garden variety unhappiness and stress.

In the areas of time management and organizing, I see people abandoning or not taking on projects at all because they don’t believe they can do them perfectly. Or spending disproportionate amounts of time on tasks that are very low priority, but capable of being "perfected," while avoiding more important, unperfectable tasks.

The article mentions several aphorisms that perfectionists live by, such as, "Never accept second best." Another one I hear a lot that I disagree with is, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." Baloney! Plenty of things are worth doing just adequately so you can get on with the really important stuff.

The hidden side of getting organized

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How does it feel to be disorganized? Not so good, right? I’ve heard people say embarrassed, overwhelmed, exhausted, anxious and desperate.

Here’s the thing. It can be really hard to make a change when you’re in the grip of such negative emotions.

If you act from those emotions, every decision will be agony and you’ll feel so tired and disheartened that you won’t get very far anyway.

This is one reason why I start my clients off with clarifying their vision of what they want. The vision focuses on the good stuff; the calm, serenity and ease they want to feel. That’s where the power comes from.

Making that emotional journey can be a challenge.


Organizing itself is not so hard. Having a vision and staying motivated to bring it to reality is the hard part.

That’s why many people find it hard or impossible to get organized on their own. It’s not the spice rack alphabetizing that stops them, it’s the habit development, commitment and willingness to keep getting back on the horse.

It’s okay to get help. Organizers know about containers and filing systems, and they also know about how to keep their clients inspired and on track.

The first bits of information you can get from a book. For the others, you need someone who’s on your side, troubleshooting and encouraging you. So, reach out. What’s stopping you?



Visualize Your Home Office into Reality

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Last week I made a presentation to a group that included a visualization at the beginning. I wanted to talk to this group of nascent entrepreneurs about their home offices.

For me, one of the best things about having my own business is my home office. It’s not fancy, but it’s mine! This visualization is about on how your office should feel, rather than how it should look. The thing to focus on is visualizing whatever makes you feel joyful and centered.

Start by imagining it’s tomorrow morning. You’ve awakened naturally after a good night’s sleep. There’s no need for an alarm clock because you’re in charge of when you get to your office. You feel alert and relaxed. You look out the window, starting to feel what kind of day you’ll create for yourself. Maybe it’s raining, maybe it’s sunny. Whatever the weather, it’s a brand new day for you to create wonderful things with your business.

You arrive at your office feeling eager to work. Your office may be a separate room, or a desk in the living room or a laptop computer on the kitchen table. Wherever it is, you arrive there knowing that you are in your office.

You have arranged it to suit yourself. You have a comfy chair, a cup of your favorite morning beverage, a window to look out of, whatever makes your office a pleasant place to be. You might have a cat in your lap, or your dog lying next to your chair.

Perhaps there are other people there whose presence supports you in your work. You may be wearing your favorite sweater and some nice, warm socks. You may have some music playing that inspires and motivates you. You have all the materials and supplies you need close at hand.

Take a few moments now to see your office in your mind. If you don’t have one yet, imagine one that you can create when you get home. If you do have one, imagine yourself there now and see if there’s anything else you want to add to make it an even nicer place to spend time. If you have a home office space that you don’t really like, this is the time to improve it. Don’t think about what you dislike about it. Stop reading for a minute or so and close your eyes to do this.

You’ve set your own office hours. Maybe it’s afternoon or evening instead of morning, if that suits your schedule better. Whenever it is, now it’s time for you to focus on your business. You’ve arranged to be free of distractions during your office time so that you can use all your energies toward creating your business. There will be plenty of time later to handle non-business tasks. You set aside this time because your business is important to you.

You know how much it matters to work in a pleasing and comfortable environment. The happiness you feel being in a place that supports you translates into more creativity, more joyful interaction with your clients or customers and greater ease in producing your work.

Now imagine doing whatever tasks your business needs doing. If you make a phone call, imagine that the person you are calling is happy to hear from you and that the conversation is productive for both of you. If you’re doing billing, feel proud and satisfied with the work you’ve done for that money. If you’re paying bills, reflect on how successful your business is and how much each vendor helps it be successful. If you’re starting a task that makes you feel unsure of yourself and your abilities, turn your thoughts to the great service or product you’re providing and know that your efforts are aligned with the highest good for all. Stop reading for a minute or so and close your eyes to do this.

Next you get to take a break! Reward yourself for the good work you’ve done. Choose something that feels like a treat to you. Maybe you want to call a friend on the phone. Maybe you want to take a walk. Maybe you want to plan something fun for the weekend.

Take a moment to remember the good feelings you have about the office you visualized. Remember the positive attitude you felt while doing your work. Any time in the future you can recall those feelings and give yourself a lift. Stop reading for a few moments and close your eyes to do this.

Now we’ll come back to the chair you’re sitting in, today. Bring yourself gently back to the present. When you’re ready, open your eyes. Stretch a bit if you want.

How did that go for you? Did you hook into a good feeling that you can bring back whenever you want? Remember to jot down any great ideas you got about arranging your home office!

Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

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Two years ago, Jenny’s life turned upside down. “The Universe,” she says, “picked me up and spun me around.” She landed in Detroit with her computer and a few bags of clothes.

Nothing else.

At first, she missed her books and her photo albums, but none of the other stuff. Not a thing. That came as a big surprise.

Not only didn’t she miss her houseful of possessions, she actually felt good that it was gone. Relieved. Liberated. So she decided not to get bogged down in crap in the future. Now, she can pack a bag and go somewhere, tomorrow. Possessions will never weigh down her life again.

Having less stuff means having freedom.

We get attached to stuff. Jenny’s previous life was relatively prosperous. She had crafts supplies and baking equipment and lots of other things she rarely used. The intention of someday using them kept her tied to them.

“Purging gets easier the more you do it,” Jenny says. “As you give stuff away, you’ll start to feel freer and want to do it more. And your place will look better! When I did my purge, in every cubby, in every closet, there was just shit. Shit I hadn’t seen in years.

“The aha! is how much psychic space things take up.

“I don’t judge my self worth based on the stuff I have, so I didn’t expect to react strongly to getting rid of those things. I certainly didn’t expect the feeling of liberation.”

Me: Now that you have all this physical and psychic room, what has come into your life?

“What hasn’t? It’s opened up so much. When I look back, it seems like I was helpless with all the things that happened, but on the other hand I took charge of my life in a way I hadn’t before. I freed up space for new possibilities and the new possibilities just keep coming.

“Once you realize you can do something like this, you realize that not only are you okay, but you feel a lot better. It opens your mind to a lot of possibilities. Maybe other assumptions you have are wrong too. It was a very strengthening kind of experience.”

Me: How do you resist the lure of the new and shiny?

“There’s nothing to resist. The realization that I felt better having less stuff was so strong for me that it wouldn’t make any sense to start acquiring stuff again.

“In fact, there’s tension and hesitation when I think about bringing something new into my life. I don’t think that collecting junk is anyone’s goal. There’s an unconscious grabbing, buying and keeping.

“Having things is a false comfort. It’s a lie.”

Me: How can people get this kind of freedom without jettisoning all their belongings and moving 500 miles away?

“I encourage people to push their comfort zones and get rid of a lot more than they think they can. You think you’re going to miss it but actually you feel very free and light. It’s counter intuitive.

“I don’t think I would have discovered this if I hadn’t been put into a situation as I did. You don’t have to get rid of everything, but purge just a little more than you thought you could.

“Have the intention of freeing up space for yourself.”


The lovely and talented Jenny B Bones runs an empire dedicated to changing the world through words. Because she pared down and simplified her life, she’s got a laser focus on doing what she loves and what she can help others with. Read her spicy, witty blog here.

In case you were wondering, I help people with purges large and small. Too much stuff in your home, on your desk, or in your head? Click here to find out how much better it can be.

A To-Do List by Any Other Name

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A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. ‘Tis true. If it were called bog shrub we would love it just the same.

It’s not true for your to-do list, however.

A to-do list should have a handful of concrete tasks on it that are related to your projects. Problems start growing when it’s used as a catch-all for everything you have to do.

This is a common problem for creative, expansive thinkers. They have no difficulties filling up to-do lists. When I did a brain dump recently with Nancy, she told me her head was churning out ideas like a popcorn popper.

As we talked about her list, it became clear that some things needed to be done right away so that other things could happen. Some things she really wanted to do now. Then there were other things that could wait a bit.

It was confusing to have all of these on her to-do list. I suggested that, for starters, she put the things that could wait onto a new list and call it the “deep freeze.”

Simply dividing and renaming the list let Nancy mentally set aside those ideas so she could concentrate on today’s work. The ideas don’t get lost or forgotten. They’re safely stored for the future. She can review that list anytime to see what should be moved onto it or off of it.

How can you divide up your too-long to-do list?

Some people use names like “projects,” “work,” or “personal.” Those are fine, but it might motivate and focus you to use more descriptive phrases such as “deep freeze,” “back burner,” “holding pen,” “bucket list,” “next in line,” “crystal ball,” “wait ‘n’ see” or “parking lot” for the things you’re not going to do now.

For the tasks you want to do try “cool stuff,” “dream bag,” “love it,” “empire building,” or “world domination.”

For current stuff, try “right now,” “today,” “just do it,” “on fire,” “yes!” “in progress,” “daily specials,” or “full speed ahead.”

Those phrases all have different feels to them, don’t they? It’s important to choose names that inspire you. If you’re motivated by urgency, for example, go for something like “on fire.” If you like metaphors and themes like Havi does, call it something like “the pony corral.”

Be totally silly and call your list “Debbie.”

There are two points here. First, divide your list into things you will do today and those you’ll do in the future (the latter can be several lists). Second, pick names for your lists that are evocative and meaningful to you.

List names are significant. They help us clarify and categorize our thoughts. Names have attitudes and moods associated with them that we can use to motivate us. Plus, they can be fun, and, ahem, we all need that.

The Seven Deadly Organizing Sins: Wrath

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Mad as hell This is Sin #5 on the list, which also includes lust, gluttony, greed and sloth. Wrath, or anger, is sinful because it’s destructive. It can harm others and it can harm you as well.

Here’s a scenario: Overwhelmed Olivia decides to beat clutter once and for all. She buys an organizing book and sets aside a weekend. By Sunday night, she’s only on the third cabinet and she feels frustrated. Then she gets mad; mad at the book, which she throws behind the bed, and mad at herself for not being able to get this project done.

Her anger really comes from trying to achieve a goal with an impossible timeline. Even if you’ve got a team of people dragging all your stuff into the driveway for you to make rapid fire decisions on, you’re still not going to finish in a weekend.

Olivia’s goal also may not be realistic because of other time and energy commitments. She’s bound to feel angry if she never has a spare hour to go through that back closet.

To avoid sin: Be kind to yourself. Know that you are doing your best and that perfectionism is your enemy. Do no compare yourself to others, especially people on TV shows! You have your own unique talents, energy levels, working styles and preferences.

Declutter the Digital

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Rule of thumb: it’s easier to organize things when there are fewer of them.

How often do you look through a folder or collection of digital photographs and find only a handful that you want to show to anyone? The rest are too dark, out of focus, more versions of the same thing, make you look fat, or you have no idea why you even took them. If you get rid of them now, it’ll be easier to find the ones you like and share them.

Next time you download your camera, really look at each photo and decide whether you want to keep it. This is also the ideal time to tag your photos so you can find them again by keyword. If you’re making the effort to tag them, the pictures should be worth keeping.

Tags can be very straightforward, such as names of people in the picture, where it was taken, what the occasion was, etc. Also, think about what else is good about the picture, or why else you might want to look at it or share it with others. Is there a fantastic sunset in the background? Is it similar to other pictures you’ve taken in the past (and might want to compare it with)? Is the mood calm or energetic? Do you want to remember what camera and settings you used?

Pitch those Pix
I know, you’ve got plenty of space on your hard drive. But think of decluttering your photo collection as a good-habit building exercise. Review all your possessions regularly and get rid of the ones that don’t fit, are beyond repair, have been replaced by something better, are ugly or you don’t like anymore. If you can make this a habit, you will automatically declutter your life. Automatic is good!