Podcast 121: The pop out effect

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This is the podcast 121 and it’s about the pop out effect. The pop out effect occurs when you look at a screen of green circles and can easily identify the one red circle. It’s the only one that’s not green so visually it pops out at you. You don’t have to think about it. It’s immediate.

The effect is also seen in criminal lineups. People who identify a suspect by saying that the face just popped out at them, or they just recognize the person and they don’t know why, are more often correct than people who say they somehow narrowed down the field or compared faces to make their decision.

And of course it’s used in marketing products. The more different packaging looks from the packaging of other similar products, the more likely a potential buyer will notice it. That’s certainly the first battle in marketing, getting consumers to notice what you’re selling.

In the visual perception field this effect is generally tested using items that are different colors, different shapes, different sizes and different orientations. Kind of simple and pretty easy to distinguish visually. Apparently, the effect is not as pronounced with, say, human faces.

Still, I assert that you can use the strategy to help you keep your space tidier. Here’s the concept. You arrange a space the way you like, uncluttered, serene, useful, and ideally, beautiful. You take some time to become used to how it looks, which means maintaining it for a period of time. I like to think of it as taking a mental snapshot of what the space looks like.

Let’s take the example of your kitchen table. You have a napkin dispenser, salt and pepper shakers, maybe a centerpiece. So once you establish that look, anything else that appears on the table should pop out in your visual field as something that does not belong. I’m talking about things like a stack of mail or some random magazines or some stuff you pulled out of your pocket or purse and just stuck there.

This can be an effective way to help you tidy up. If you can train your visual mind to recognize a handful of items that do not belong on the kitchen table but often appear there, you can zero in on them visually and scoop them up. That is a more streamlined method than looking around at everything and being overwhelmed by all the clutter.

You probably already experienced the opposite of pop out effect. That’s when items in your immediate environment are not even visible to you because they have all been there for so long they become part of the background. If you can’t see something you are not likely to tidy it up. This is also why it is hard to find things when you have a lot of clutter. Each item of clutter serves as a distractor preventing you from seeing the one thing you’re looking for. A visual field with fewer distractors is easier to find stuff in.

I want to talk about what I mean when I say clutter. What I don’t mean is a home that is full of, say, dolls, pillows, photos, souvenirs and tchotchkes. Some people love that style of decorating and others find it visually cluttered. But in that case we are just talking about décor. We are talking about items that only fall into a few categories and can easily be identified by that category.

A pillow is a pillow is a pillow no matter what it looks like. You don’t need to expend fresh visual energy identifying pillow number four once you’ve seen the first three. You can see 40 more and they all get quickly slotted into the pillow category, not worthy of your mental attention.

The kind of clutter I am talking about is the kind that is quite varied in looks, purpose and provenance. It’s like Noah’s ark, one of each kind of thing under the sun! I know I said earlier that the opposite of pop out effect is fade into the background effect, but that’s not completely true. Your poor little brain is actually taking in all that visual information and trying to sort it like a giant dryer load of socks.

In order to use this concept successfully, your clutter needs to be somewhat under control. It’s hard to get any one thing to pop out of a field if there are too many distractors. You can start small, as I often recommend. Tackle your kitchen table or counter, or your coffee table, some small area that tends to collect stuff that doesn’t belong there. Set it up the way you want and take that mental snapshot.

What you can do right now: do a visual sweep of each of your clutter spots and quickly identify what doesn’t belong there. Return those items to their assigned spots. Using the pop out technique, it’s easy and stress-free to identify those items.

Podcast 120: Rewarding yourself

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This is Podcast 120 and it’s about rewarding yourself. It seems logical that having a reward to look forward to would motivate you to complete a task. You tell yourself, once I finish writing my book, I’ll take a nice vacation. Once I complete the bike marathon this summer, I’ll buy those new shoes I’ve been wanting.

Tony Robbins believes your brain gets positively conditioned by rewards. That the draw of the reward is great enough to overcome an resistance to doing a task. This is basic psychological reinforcement. To do this conditioning, you have to be consistent in giving yourself rewards, or you become like one of those neurotic rats in a maze that sometimes gets a pellet of food and sometimes gets an electric shock.

Rewards don’t always work, though. As Gretchen Rubin points out, a reward can signal that it’s time for us to take a break, permanently. Rewards you give yourself at the end of a task are the ones to watch out for.

Once you complete a project, there’s a natural period of emptiness that follows. You’re no longer putting in a few hours a day training or spending every morning working on that book. Your schedule is disrupted. It has a big hole in it. That creates a vacuum which is reinforced by the reward that often further knocks you off the productive course you were on.

This is one reason I like to have several project to work on concurrently. That allows me to procrastinate on one as long as I’m making progress on another, or work on the one that feels most inspiring to me. It also means that I’m never completely at the end. When one project is finished, the others are still in progress. That helps me avoid the vacuum.

Do kids still suffer from senioritis? This strikes during the last semester of high school and ramps up considerably once you’ve been accepted to college and your biggest exams are over. You lose motivation, big time. If students were being monitored until the last day of school by their future colleges, senioritis could be avoided. But it’s human nature to stop doing something once it’s complete, unless you’ve already lined up your next project.

So that’s another way to use rewards. Enjoy them, but have a specific project lined up to start after that.

Pay attention to what rewards work for you. They don’t have to be elaborate. They just have to make you feel, well, rewarded. I will often work for an hour on a long project and then give myself permission to stop. That’s the whole reward. I can forget about this project for the rest of the day and go on to something else. For me, it’s important to be able to let something go for awhile, even if it’s not finished and even if it doesn’t seem to be going well. Tomorrow is another day.

Do you deserve a reward? You do if you’re honest about your accomplishments. You may not intentionally be lying to yourself, but people are susceptible to feeling a sense of achievement before it’s warranted. According to Kelly McGonigal, whose book, The Willpower Instinct, I’ve quoted before, when you take note of progress you’ve made, your brain says hey, I did it, I can stop now. And then it starts focusing on the other goal it wants to achieve, which is the reward.

When study subjects who’ve made progress on a goal are asked how much progress they’ve made, they’re much more likely to reward themselves in a way that actually negates some of that progress. On the other hand, when those subjects are asked how committed they are to their goal, they easily resisted.

This brings up how you feel about your goal and what you need to do to achieve it. If you really want to climb a mountain but view the daily practice to get in shape as drudgery, you may be inclined to reward yourself more often, which can reinforce the fact that you are not enjoying yourself. It’s a tricky thing, but finding a way to connect your desire to reach the goal with what you have to do to get there probably works better than rewarding yourself.

Back to the honesty point, the kind of thing I’m talking about is feeling so good that you’ve actually written a to do list that you no longer feel compelled to do any of the tasks on it! I write quite a bit about how to give yourself small, doable to do’s and pay attention to your own behavior so you can manage your attention and energy and calibrate your to do list accordingly. Meaning, make tasks as small as you need to to actually get them done without procrastinating.

I’m kind of on the fence about rewards. What about you? Here’s what you can do right now: experiment on yourself. Pick two tasks that you don’t particularly want to do. For the first one, give yourself a reward after you do it. For the second one, simply take a break, relax or shift your attention to something else, which is much more low key and has the added benefit of helping you be more productive later. See which one works best for you.

Podcast 119: Having stuff

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This is podcast 119 and it’s about having stuff. Many of my shows are about this topic, of course. A lot of the time, I encourage you to have less and to get rid of things that you don’t need or really want anymore. Especially things that are broken or out of date  or that you haven’t used in a million years. I advocate having the items you love and need, the ones that spark joy and the ones that keep your life running smoothly without extra effort.

Back in podcast 101 I said, stop acquiring. What I meant was stop acquiring mindlessly, or aspirationally. I’ve never suggested you refrain from shopping. Shopping is fun. Just do it in a mindful way. That means avoiding shopping as an activity in itself. If you’re into the joy of the hunt, make it an observational safari, not one where you feel compelled to drag home a trophy animal.

I read James Clear’s newsletter this morning, about the Diderot Effect. The story is that French philosopher Diderot suddenly acquired a lot of money and upgraded some possessions. Then he saw that his old things looked pretty shabby in comparison and that sent him on an upward spiral to upgrade everything, whether he actually needed to or not. The effect can also occur if you buy something that has lots of go-withs, lots of accessories.

If you can afford all these things and truly want them, I don’t see a problem with this. Clear, who I admire a lot, advises avoiding temptation to buy more stuff, imposing limits on yourself and resisting buying new things. Those ideas make sense.

He has one more suggestion that I disagree with though, and that’s to let go of wanting things. To me, that’s shutting off life. Life is about discovery and expansion and the delight of the new. Sure, it’s about appreciating what is here right now as well and wanting what you already have.

But to keep yourself stagnant, stationery, in terms of having new things in your life feels stingy to me. And really not fun!

To his credit, he does also mention getting rid of things to maintain balance. “Always be curating your life to include only the things that bring you joy and happiness,” he writes. Totally agree. I put that idea at the top of the list.

Many times I’ve also talked about the joy of new stuff. The fresh energy of a new puppy, a new dress, a new car or a new plant in your garden. New things can brighten our day and open up new possibilities. Newness is sparkly and uplifting.

Don’t disparage retail therapy. It’s a real thing. It has proven psychological benefits. Buying things allows us to feel some control over our lives. Buying something beautiful makes us feel beautiful as well. Getting a new thing can mark a transition in your life too. I have a friend who gets a tattoo to mark each big life occasion, like adopting her daughter. 

Think of your possessions as a flow, as a collection in flux. The more freedom you have to acquire new things, the less stress you feel about discarding the things that no longer serve you. Because acquiring isn’t a good idea if you are never discarding.

Here’s where the tricky part comes in. If you can think of all your possessions as temporary, it’s easier to let them flow in and out of your life. Strive to be lighter about things in general. When people are asked what they’d take when fleeing their burning house, they say things like photos and pets. That’s it. They don’t say the designer end table or the coat they just bought. They don’t say the exercise bike or the Instant Pot.

It’s a delicate balance, being able to appreciate and love what you have, yet not be attached to it. Zen, baby! That’s what we’re talking about here. It’s not contradictory to love shopping and also love letting go of the old and unnecessary. In fact, this is freedom.

My aim as an organizer has always been to help my clients declutter and get organized to make their lives simpler and more fun. Simpler doesn’t mean barren or sparse, it means that your life doesn’t require so much management that you run out of time for fun.

What you can do right now: next time you buy something, especially something minor like a new toothbrush, let yourself enjoy the shiny newness of it. Get a fun color or shape. Give yourself that simple thrill of novelty. And then happily ditch the old toothbrush.

Podcast 118: What to do when you’re overwhelmed

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This is podcast 118 and it’s about what to do when you’re overwhelmed. Sometimes, “just do it,” the subject of my previous podcast, isn’t going to work. There are days when stressful situations pile up to the point where you really can’t function, or you can see that you’re operating way below normal and really not getting anything done.

Overwhelm can come from work, your personal life, the world, anywhere. Usually it’s a combination of those things. If you have several big things going on at work, you can get relief at home, where things are orderly and calm. If a relationship issue is stressing you out, diving into work can be a blessing.

Then there are those times when a challenging situation with a colleague is compounded with a cold that won’t go away, depressing headlines in the newspaper and the dog next door that prevented you from sleeping later past 5 am.

Here’s a little sidebar. I just listened to a TED talk by Kelly McGonigal about how stress can be good for you. She wrote a book about this too, called The Upside of Stress. In the talk she mentions a study that showed that the connection between higher risk of death and stress was actually a connection between higher risk of death and the belief that stress is harmful! That’s pretty trippy.

That knowledge alone can help reduce your stress. Your body responds to stress in ways that actually help you get through it rather than harming you. Here are some more ideas to deal with this kind of overwhelm.

Find a way to distract yourself. When you’re at that point where you are no longer contributing, then switch gears. Do something completely different. At the very least, get into motion.

I don’t know about you, but I used to think it was cheating to seek out distractions. Shouldn’t I just keep sitting here and powering through? Gritting my teeth and sticking with it until the thing was done? Stopping felt like giving up, failing even.

Physical activity of any kind is a great distraction from mental or emotional overwhelm. It directs some or all of your attention to your physical body, attention that is now diverted away from the stressful situation. Even a few minutes of mindful breathing, just paying attention to your breath, not breathing in any particular way, will help. That derailment is what we’re looking for.

However, the more demanding the physical activity, the better, because it will occupy more of your attention. A book or movie or TV show that really absorbs you will work too. Ones that take you completely into their world so that your completely forget about the stressful situation.

Here are some specific ideas:

  • Experience nature. Either a walk in the park or a plant or cut flowers to gaze at.
  • Meditate. Close your eyes and do a one minute body scan.
  • Reach out. Call or text someone. Ask how they are, or if they know any good jokes, rather than spending the time talking about your stress. Remember, derailment.
  • Write it out. I’m a huge fan of journaling. Putting thoughts into words and recording them forces me to make my thoughts somewhat coherent and that’s less stressful than the chaotic jumble they feel like in my mind.
  • Shift to a different task. Even if you’ve run out of steam, you may be able to knock out a less important task, and get a boost from checking something off your list.

I suggest keeping a list of overwhelm busters handy; a list on your phone or in Evernote. Or even on a Post It where you’ll see it often. It’s great to have a collection of go-to ideas to relieve stress, but it’s just as important to train yourself to recognize when you’re getting overwhelmed.

In fact, take that a step further and use all these ideas regularly, no matter how you feel. They’re all great ways to maintain your emotional and mental health, not just get it back when overwhelm overtakes you. What you can do right now: start making that list. Tailor it to yourself and your lifestyle. If you have a backyard, that can be your nature option. If you have an upbeat person in your life who’s always happy to hear from you, that person can be your reach out option.

Podcast 117: Just do it!

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This is podcast 117 and it’s called Just do it! I guess I have to mention Nike so they don’t sue me for co-opting their slogan. Here’s some weird trivia for you. That slogan was inspired by murderer Gary Gilmore’s last words before he was executed: “Let’s do it.” Maybe “inspired” isn’t quite the right word there. Anyway, strange, huh?

What I mean by that statement is similar to what I talked about in my podcast “Make decisions, then take action” in January 2017 (if you want to look it up). It’s not enough just to make a decision. If you don’t act on it, you’re still stuck. In The Two Minute Rule episode from September 2016, I talked about getting those little tasks off your list fast instead of procrastinating.

Yesterday I worked with a client on a giant pile of mail she’d put off even opening, much less sorting and processing. She was eager to get to it because the cabinet it was in was now full and a new pile was starting on top of her printer. About a third of the mail went straight to the recycle bin without needing to be opened. By the end we had a small stack to file and a smaller stack of action items. More than 80% was done away with.

I’m making an example of her because of a rebate offer we encountered in the pile. It was for $3 off a bottle of wine. She had the receipt clipped to it but hadn’t filled out the little form. She sighed and said, “I have to do this form, and then I have to get an envelope and then get a stamp.” This was why she’d put it off; it seemed like it would take a bunch of time and energy. Time and energy she predicted she’d have in the future when she saw the form again. Yes, we tend to do this! Unfortunately, we’re usually wrong!

I encouraged her to just fill out the form, stick it in the envelope and put a stamp on it. It would take about two minutes. She wrote out her address. Then she saw she needed the UPC code so she searched around her kitchen for several minutes looking for the bottle. Found it. Added the code. Examined the receipt for the purchase date; not always easy to find, and she’d forgotten by now. Then she dug up an envelope and a stamp; her last one!

I congratulated her for getting that task done, even though with the cost of the stamp she’d really only get about $2.50 back. She looked at the form and smiled but then suddenly frowned and said ‘oh, no!” Turns out the offer expired two weeks ago. So we actually just wasted about ten minutes on it.

And this, my friends, is why you should just do it.

Here are the takeaways. If she’d done it the same day she bought the wine

  • she would have had the bottle handy to get the code from
  • she wouldn’t have had to scrutinize the receipt for the date
  • it never would have gotten into her to do pile
  • she wouldn’t have wasted time over the past three months seeing that form multiple times, pondering filling it out and deciding to pass it over once again. Every time you look at a task and put it off, you create a little anxiety seed that becomes a field of anxiety weeds.
  • Finally, by doing it right away it would only have taken two minutes, or less, without all the searching and agonizing that made it take much, much longer

When you commit to doing tasks the moment they come up, you circumvent resistance. Resistance, according to author Stephen Pressfield, is the strongest force on earth. Resistance comes up when we are confronted with a task that seems hard, or time consuming, or challenging. Every moment we put it off, those negative feelings grow. You may not be entirely conscious of it, but a pile of undone to do’s gnaws at you and erodes your sense of being a productive and competent person.

Conversely, seizing on a task immediately doesn’t give you time to activate resistance. It can also forestall procrastination, the cousin of resistance. According to the Procrastination Research Group (you can look that up online), we suffer from “cognitive distortions” that make us procrastinate, meaning that we routinely misjudge tasks. We think they’ll take longer than they actually will, we believe that we’ll more motivated to do them tomorrow and we’re convinced we have to be in the mood to do them.

What you can do right now: look at your to do list, or an old one that has tasks you’ve been putting off for awhile. Pick the first one that you are capable of doing right now and just plunge in and get through it. Focus on the action of just doing it.

Podcast 116: The perils of storage space

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This is podcast 116 and it’s about the perils of storage space. Are you scared? You should be!

I came across a post on the website Becoming Minimalist, which has some great tips on downsizing for families. This post cited statistics about how much stuff people own and how much room it takes up. Here are some of them.

The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years. That’s from a story on NPR‘s All Things Considered. The story is from 2006 though. From what I’ve seen where I live here in northern California, I think home sizes may have increased even more than triple.

Most of my clients, indeed, most people I know don’t park in their garages because they’re full of stuff. I’ve had people tell me that their perfectly good, medium-sized house is so small that they need the whole garage for storage.

Despite these McMansions, 1 out of every 10 Americans rents offsite storage—this is the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. That’s from the New York Times Magazine. This statistic is now old, ten years old, and once again, I’ll bet the percentage of storage renters could be higher. Here’s why I think that:

On the Spare Foot website, which is a news site about the storage industry, I discovered a US Census Bureau graphic of how much is spent on construction of self storage. In 2015 it was about $1 billion, where it’s been hovering since 2006, and three years later it was $5.5 billion and headed straight upward. Crazy!

The United States has upward of 50,000 storage facilities, more than five times the number of Starbucks. Of those who rent off-site storage, 65 percent have a garage, 47 percent have an attic, and 33 percent a basement. That info is from the Self Storage Association.

No wonder people are overwhelmed!

Do you remember that show from several years ago, Storage Wars? In the show, the contents of storage units that people had stopped paying rent on got auctioned off, sight unseen. In a lot of those cases, this means people paid good money to store things they weren’t even using and then …. they just let them go. All that money they spent, and now they have nothing.

So, I have one thing to say about renting outside storage space: don’t do it! Please! Okay, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I will say that sometimes it’s allowable. Here are a few examples. If your home really is tiny, like a studio apartment, and you need storage for seldom used items such as camping and sports equipment, off season clothes, holiday décor and memorabilia. If you are living somewhere temporarily (maybe you had to move without much notice for a job, or got divorced) but you have concrete plans to move somewhere big enough for your stuff.

I thought I could think of another reason but I can’t. unfortunately, a lot of those temporary situations turn out to drag on and on. The hard decisions that need to be made about what’s in storage get put off and meanwhile, you’re racking up bills.

Here are things you should not be storing; inherited furniture that you don’t like well enough to have it in your own home, clothing that doesn’t fit (unless a child will grow into it soon) and that treadmill you never used. I once had a client who had many pieces of inherited furniture in her garage.

I asked her what her plans were for it and she had none. I suggested that she get rid of her current living room furniture and put these items inside the house. She looked at me with horror. Oh, no, I’d never want this stuff in my house! She said. She didn’t even like it.

Clothes that don’t fit don’t fit in your life anymore. A few boxes of clothes in storage far away probably aren’t going to inspire you to lose weight. If you do lose weight, why not treat yourself to some wonderful brand new clothes? And that treadmill? If the reason you put it in storage is that it was mostly being used to hang clothes on, it’s not faring any better in a storage unit.

The funny, and sad, part of this mania for storage is that people don’t want to be wasteful by getting rid of perfectly good stuff, yet they waste tons of money storing and not using it.

The author of the Becoming Minimalist post I mentioned at the beginning says he was initially motivated to pare down when he was cleaning out his garage on a lovely afternoon and his neighbor commented that maybe he didn’t need to have all that stuff, stuff that was taking his attention away from playing with his kid and enjoying the day.

This is the crux of it. If maintaining your stuff takes time that you’d otherwise use to have fun or do something meaningful, it’s time to reconsider.

What you can do right now: If you have a storage unit, evaluate its contents ruthlessly. Make a list of pros and cons of spending money to stash all that stuff. Consider decluttering your home to make room for what you really want to keep. Treat space as finite, meaning its contents are also finite.

Podcast 115: Interview with Gretchen Rubin

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This is podcast 115 and it’s my interview with Gretchen Rubin, author of the brand new book Outer Order, Inner Calm. The subtitle is “declutter and organize to make more room for happiness.”

I’m excited because this is the first time I’ve done an interview for the podcast and it turned out great. Gretchen was delightful to talk to. She could definitely have a second career as a professional organizer! You can find her book in my Amazon store. And here’s the interview.

Podcast 114: Organizing systems for growth

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This is Podcast 114 and it’s about organizing systems to cope with growth and change. I’m about to start an office organizing project. This small company is growing fast and they’ve increased their office space by a little more than half. And suddenly chaos is busting out all over.

In fact, they’ll probably have to move out of their current space entirely in a few more months because they’ll outgrow it. I don’t know what the new space will be like, so I’ll focus on creating strategies they can use anywhere.

Where did this chaos come from? Part of it is a common problem that most businesses face when they grow past a certain point. This is the problem of formalizing and codifying.

When a company is small, especially if it’s just one person, procedures and methods happen organically and are easily learned by everyone. Mistakes or gaps in information are caught and corrected quickly. Filing systems can be fairly eccentric when only a few people need to use them.

At a certain point in a company’s growth, that simplicity becomes a complication. New people don’t understand the filing system and there are no written guidelines to help them. Work starts piling up because new people need to be trained to do things that previously everyone just seemed to know how to do. That training takes time that hasn’t been budgeted for and during the growth phase, people aren’t likely to have spare time.

In this particular office, many of the cabinets are empty, yet things are piled on desks and tables. No one knows where to put them or who to ask about it. The office manager is now managing a space and population more than twice the size of the previous one so her capacity is maxed out.

It seems like a simple thing, right? Just figure out a spot to put the copier paper and tell everyone. But there are a lot of variables here. Is there any logical space near the copier? If so, is there room in there? If there’s not, can something be moved to make room?

If it’s a cabinet, with doors, how do new people know where the paper is when they can’t easily see it? Is it easy to access? That last question is really important. If something is difficult to put away, people are inclined not to do it.

There’s also the company culture question of whether it’s okay to have things out and visible or they should be put away. This is another issue that gets worse when populations grow. A handful of people creating a few stacks here and there may not bother anyone, but the more people and things and procedures there are, well, the clutter can grow exponentially.

That means decisions and policies have to be set up for how a space is organized and maintained. Ideally, there’s buy in from all those involved. Again, making it as easy to maintain as possible while still achieving the desired uncluttered look is what you aim for.

Responsibility also needs to be assigned for maintaining this look. If you ask everyone to do something, no one will. They’ll all assume someone else will do it. It will probably fall to the office manager to do the maintenance, or to direct specific other people to do it.

In this case, the facilities manager is emphasizing that employees only keep what they truly need and love to have around, but strive to minimize. This office, like many these days, is open plan. That means that everyone sees everyone else’s stuff, all the time. If you have a cubicle you can get away with more clutter since you’re the main one who sees it, but not when you’re sitting in the open.

Whether people realize it or not, visual clutter is distracting and stressful. Almost every time I do a decluttering session with a client, she looks around in wonder and breathes a sigh of relief. She feels calmer. All the stuff we decluttered had become background noise. she saw it but didn’t really see it, so it was hard for her to grasp how much pleasanter the space would be without it.

Ideally, we’ll be able to come up with a clutter level policy that everyone is happy with, so they’re more likely to comply. Just like organizing in a family or a couple, there will be negotiating to do on either side.

The parallel situation for people at home is any big change: new baby, kids going to college, new career, new house, etc. Such changes often throw your organizing systems into chaos. Maybe it’s time for some formalizing or codifying in your home. A simple example is the family chore chart, which lists chores and assigns them to specific people at specific times.

What you can do right now: think about comparing your home to a company that’s growing. Are there places where it would be helpful to have a system to do things, so they stay more in control and create less work for you?

Review of Gretchen Rubin’s new book

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I’m excited to announce that I got to interview Gretchen Rubin for my podcast! I’ll be publishing that episode on March 14. Gretchen’s new book is called Outer Order, Inner Calm and it came out last Friday. The subtitle is “declutter and organize to make more room for happiness.” Right up my alley!

In fact, a lot of the ideas in this book are ones I use with my clients and ones I put in my own book, 52 Simple Ways to Get Organized. Great minds think alike, right? My book is available in paperback here. The Kindle version is here.

Some of her ideas are nice reframes of organizing concepts, such as the “broken windows” concept. This comes from criminology and states that criminal activity is more likely to occur when there’s ample evidence that it’s occurred before and isn’t being addressed.

For example, if a window gets broken and no one repairs it, more windows will get broken and remain unrepaired, which sends a signal that no one cares if someone breaks a window.

If everyone at home piles their shoes on the hallway floor, there’s no motivation to use the shoe caddy on the door. If everyone at work leaves their junk mail behind on the mailroom counter, there’s no motivation to use the recycling bin.

Conversely, a cleared counter with a recycle bin below it would probably make you feel like a slob if you alone left your mail on the counter.

Another striking story is about a college friend who waited until her lease was up to completely clean up her apartment so she could get her deposit back. After she did, she realized she’d been missing out living in a really nice place all those years.

That reminds me of a home stager who told me about some clients who almost decided not to sell their house after all because it looked so great once the stager was done with it. By the way, a lot of what stagers do is take things away to present the home better.

Stay tuned for the podcast interview next week. Among other things, I asked Gretchen what the most intriguing things she learned about decluttering and organizing were. You can find it on iTunes and subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes. Here’s the link.

Podcast 113: Konmari method pros and cons

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This is Podcast 113 and it’s about the Konmari method, Marie Kondo’s magic way of tidying up. There are pros and cons to the method. I’ll talk about why it might not work for you and why that’s okay, and how you can tweak it to suit you.

What’s good about the Konmari method? She wants you to take everything you own out and examine it. Hold it in your hands. Experience it. From her perspective, you are investigating to see whether it sparks joy.

In my view, you need to do this in order to consider each possession thoughtfully before making a decision to keep it or not. I believe that everything you own has an effect on you, however small it might be. Each item has a bit of a pull on you, a draw on your energy, because it’s taking up space in your home and in the back of your mind. You are responsible for maintaining, cleaning, repairing and storing all these things, not to mention remembering where they are when you want them.

Now, I know that sounds kind of woo woo, but here’s how I know it’s true. Whenever I finish decluttering a space with a client, the client invariably feels lighter and freer. Really, every time. They may not have been consciously aware of the burden of their clutter, but once it’s gone, boy, they can feel it. They sigh, as if a load’s been lifted off them. So that’s my reasoning behind sorting through absolutely everything.

Clients sometimes tell me, oh, we can skip over that drawer. I know what’s in there. I’m going to keep all that stuff. When they say that, it can mean one of several things. It can mean that the drawer contains items they feel they can’t give me a good reason for keeping and they’re worried I’ll challenge them.

Or the things in there spark emotions other than joy that they don’t want to experience right now. Or they’re not prepared to make decisions about these particular items. Or they actually believe they have vetted everything in the drawer, which most of the time turns out not to be true.

All those reasons are versions of the burdening effect of clutter. Kondo writes about thanking your socks at the end of the day for their service and some readers have been put off by treating their socks as if they’re alive. But I find that people do have strong feelings about their possessions, good and bad.

There are the ones that spark joy and the ones that spark dread or anxiety. Joyful possessions are easy to identify. The others, not so much. That’s because we don’t usually want to dwell on those negative feelings. We learn to navigate around the feelings and the stuff to live our daily lives.

It’s usually the aggregation of stuff that causes those bad feelings, not individual items, so that makes it confusing. You don’t generally pick up one book or one coaster and realize, yes, this is the thing that’s causing clutter in my house! That item needs to be considered in the context of all the other items so the total quantity of items can be reduced to only the items that spark joy.

The other main thing I think is good about the Konmari method is the focus on joy. Of course, the problem with that is our lives are filled with things we simply need to have around, joyful or not. Things like toothbrushes, paperclips, TV remotes and sponges. The spark joy test needs to be accompanied by the usefulness test. My question to clients is twofold: do you need it? Do you love it? Everything you keep should fall into one of those categories. Let’s call that the Konmari Plus method.

What I don’t like about the method is its impracticality. Most people aren’t in a position to go through everything they own in one fell swoop. I think her folding techniques are verging on OCD. Having to empty my purse everyday would mean spending an unrealistic amount of time and effort to put back together each morning. It’s unlikely that your home will stay decluttered forever after doing the Kondo technique once.

However, each of these points does have some reason behind it and you can tweak them to make them work for you. Here’s how.

It’s perfectly okay to do your decluttering over time. Of course, the results will be more dramatic if you spend many consecutive days on it, but if you can’t, you’ll still be fine. If you have a plan to follow and a commitment to execute it, you’ll be successful.

I do fold garments in drawers so that they stand upright. I like this method because nothing gets forgotten by being invisible at the bottom of the drawer. I can see all my athletic tops at once, for example, so I can easily pick the one I want. My folding method is merely adequate, though. I don’t spend any more time folding a t shirt than I would if I laid it flat in the drawer. It looks tidy-ish and that’s fine with me.

I believe in regular purse decluttering. For me, the trigger to declutter is when I have trouble finding something in there because a mass of receipts, tissues, gum wrappers, business cards and whatnot has built up. That inspires me to dump it out and get rid of the junk.

This is an example of organic decluttering. Instead of decluttering on a schedule or doing it all at once, you recognize when an area needs purging because it’s become inconvenient or hard to use. I find this method more motivating because I can start right away solving the problem I just identified.

Finally, your home will probably not stay uncluttered. Lives change, needs change, lifestyles change. That’s okay. If you have embraced decluttering, your attitude toward things has probably changed though. You’ll be more appreciative of the organized space you’ve created. You’ll be more discerning about what you allow into your home. You’ll be more mindful of your patterns of acquiring. Those mindshifts will help a lot in maintaining an uncluttered home.

What you can do now: set aside an amount of time that works in your life, that doesn’t require you to bump other activities or stress you out. Try the Konmari Plus method. Ask if each item inspires joy. If it doesn’t, then ask if you truly need to have it for practical or legal reasons, not just because it might come in handy someday. Limit needed things to what you need now.