Podcast 140: Speak clutter aloud

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This is podcast 140 and it’s called speak your clutter aloud. Whenever I start working with a client, the first thing we do is take a tour. This is partly for me to find out what’s going on, but it’s also for the client to become more aware of what’s going on.

The thing is, even if you have clutter that bothers you and you want to do something about it, your awareness of it waxes and wanes. It waxes when you stub your toe on some annoying object that should not be on the floor in that spot or in the house at all, for crying out loud, and now my toe is killing me! When one item of clutter reminds you of its existence, usually in a way that is not pleasant, then you suddenly notice all the clutter that you wish were not there.

Your attention to clutter wanes during the course of every day life when things for the most part stay put and out of your way, or you have accommodated them by not using parts of your home. You are busy doing other things and clutter simply isn’t on your mind.

When a client gives me a tour and I ask her to tell me what’s in all the cabinets and drawers and I ask questions about what I see on shelves and tabletops, clutter awareness comes roaring back. In the kitchen she points to three cabinet shelves devoted to coffee mugs and can’t help thinking to herself (or telling me), wow, that’s a lot of coffee mugs.

Or she hears herself say, about the miscellany of cups and plates on the very top shelf, those are the ones we don’t use. We own them, we let them take up space in our kitchen, yet we don’t use them. Not ever.

If you want to hire me to provide this reality check for you, either in person or remotely, send me an email at claire@cluttercoach.net. If that doesn’t work for you, here’s an idea; just pretend I’m there.

Seriously. Go to whatever room has clutter you’d like to eliminate and act like you’re conducting a tour for me. And you must do this out loud! That’s critical. You’ll be talking to yourself, but that’s fine. In fact, external self talk has been proven to improve memory retention and help people find things faster.

It helps because saying the name focuses your attention on that one thing you’re looking for, brings it up out of the constant stream of thoughts in your mind all the time. As I’ve said before, dealing with clutter is making yourself see the individual trees and not the entire forest. You can’t declutter a forest. You have to do it tree by tree.

Say we’re in your home office. While you would normally go straight to your desk, the tour needs to include everything, so we start with what’s to the left of the door when we walk in. There’s a tote bag, a briefcase, a cardboard box with some books stacked on it and a coiled up power strip before we get to the desk.

Some of those things have been there awhile. The tote bag has an item you need to return to the store. The briefcase contains your partner’s old laptop that you thought you might start using yourself one of these days. The books need to get back to their original owners. The box, well, you can’t remember exactly what’s in the box. Oh, it’s the tax documents you got back from the accountant five months ago. That’s right.

Normally, you don’t even see these things anymore, yet you have a sense that your office is too cluttered. It’s not until they jump back into your awareness, like making you trip on them, that you can see them. Or someone like me makes you see them.

Side note: this is why I discourage people from keeping things out so they are reminded of them. It works for, say 3-5 items, but beyond that your brain will simply tune them out.

Language is the way we give form to our worlds so that we can share them outside our selves. Language describes and identifies things so we can view them more objectively. You activate the language center of your brain which slows your thinking process down so that you can examine it.

Here’s what you can do right now. Choose that cluttered spot you want to tackle but haven’t been able to. Start your audio tour at one edge so you go all the way along the wall or across the surface without leaving anything out. Be specific. Don’t say, here are my clothes. Say, here’s a stack of tee shirts, a stack of sweaters and a stack of workout gear and behind that are three more stacks of tee shirts.

Note that I’m not making a judgment about how many tee shirts anyone should own but I regularly hear people express surprise when they enumerate the number of any single item they own. It’s just for your own information, so that you can make accurate decisions about what you want to declutter.

Storage Units: Good or Evil?

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My general rule about storage units is this: avoid them at all costs! People rent them and forget ’em and they often turn out to be filled with junk.

Let’s look at why you really might need a storage unit.

There’s a short list of reasons that are acceptable.

  • You are temporarily living in a place that’s too small for your possessions
  • Your temporary living situation will be so short that it doesn’t make sense to move all your stuff in
  • You’ve inherited a large quantity of stuff that will take time to sort through
  • Your home needs repairs due to flood or fire

Notice that all these reasons are valid only because the storage is temporary. There’s no good reason to keep things permanently in storage.

Just as you shouldn’t live beyond your means financially, you shouldn’t live beyond your space means either.

I read this quotation from a storage industry executive: “People turn basements into home theaters or turn garages into family rooms and they need space for storage.” I call that living beyond your space means.

Of course, it’s much more common to fill up the garage with stuff so there’s no room for the car and to fill up the basement too so there’s no room for a workshop or pool table. People also fill up their spare rooms so they aren’t so spare anymore.

Okay, on to bad reasons to have a storage unit:

  • You moved in a hurry and just boxed stuff up and ditched it there
  • You’ve moved a number of times and keep adding to the mystery box collection
  • You inherited stuff 20 years ago and never got around to deciding whether you even like it
  • The stuff that’s in there is not worth a fraction of what it costs to rent the unit
  • You’re storing things for your children to have when they grow up and your kids are babies now
  • Keeping stuff you’re going to sell on eBay someday
  • Saving clothes you’ll fit into someday
  • Hanging on to an exercise machine you’ll use someday

All these reasons involve unmade decisions or hanging onto stuff for future situations that may never come to pass.

They also involve spending money; a lot of it if you keep paying rent year after year.

The year is still young! Make 2012 the year you make those decisions and start living in the present.

Getting Organized Ebook on Sale Now

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Woman reading Last week I had a great plan to publish my book one chapter at a time every week for a year. And at some point offer it for sale, after I made more edits, polished it up, changed around some stuff, added new ideas, etc. When I told a friend about this brilliant plan she looked me in the eye and said, why don't you just publish it NOW?

I took a deep breath and realized she was right. Not that I won't make any edits (it's virtually impossible for me not to), but giving myself permission to make edits constantly could mean that it will never be ready for sale. I don't want to be one of those people who writes a book and then sits on it forever. So, herewith, the book is ready! This page will tell you more.

Oh, I still will publish chapters every week, but you can have immediate gratification by purchasing it right now.

Woman reading from cliff1066™'s photostream.

Home office clutter management

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home office in the living roomIf you’re not lucky enough to have a separate room for your home office, you’ll make do on the dining table, or setting up a desk in a corner of the living room.

This poses a special challenge because any clutter you leave on your desk is also now in the common living area for all to see. If you live with others this can be, well, a problem.

A former client of mine had her desk in what would’ve been the kitchen dining nook. She needed lots of stuff out and around her when she worked, but her partner was less than thrilled to come home and make dinner in a cluttered office.

Like many creative types, my client balked at being orderly and cleaning up.

It went against her desire for inspiration and freedom and felt confining. Yet she wanted to keep harmony in the household so was open to looking at it a new way.

I came up with the idea of expanding and contracting. When she started her work day, she expanded. Stacks of paper came out and the extra leaf of her desk went up to allow her to spread out. Everything she might need was at hand for her to be productive.

At the end of her workday, she contracted the home office.

The leaf went down, making the desktop smaller. Piles went back into drawers and cabinets. The keyboard tray slid back under the desk. The taboret rolled under the desk. The home office disappeared.

The image of contraction was an effective metaphor. It didn’t have to do with tidying. It felt like an organic response to her shift in focus from work to personal time. The work area contracted so that the kitchen could expand and she and her partner could enjoy preparing food together.

If you avoid cleaning up, can you think of a metaphor that would inspire you?

In the photo above, the shelves are open and could look cluttered if anything was on them. A simple solution would be to install bamboo roll up shades. That was, all the shelves could be opened at once for easy home office productivity, instead of having a set of doors on each one. And the rolled down shade would create a streamlined look after hours.

Christine Arylo on self love, success and clutter

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Creating an organized space makes it easier for you to lay your hands on the things you need and helps you be more effective because you now have time for the important stuff. It's also an essential part of taking care of the most valuable person in your life, yourself. Christine Arylo, coach and author of the new book, Choosing ME Before WE, graciously took some time from her book promotion schedule (you can hear her speak on June 2nd at 7pm in Oakland at Great Good Place for Books) to do an interview for my blog.

Christine is also an inspirational catalyst who uses the power of self-love to help people liberate themselves into the life they really want… or as she likes to say “Dare to Live and Love YOU!” 

Clutter Coach:
Sometimes clutter results from not deciding where to put things, or just not spending the time to put them away. It's a common problem. But what if you're using clutter as an excuse not to move forward in your life, or to insulate you from discomfort?

Christine_Chair_Cropped Christine:
The clutter we surround ourselves with is the symptom, it’s not the disease itself. The clutter is the outcome of something deeper going on within ourselves, and often times it’s protecting us from something we don’t want to be with… or it’s slowing us down from actually getting what we really want in life. If you have a clutter filled life, you have to stop and ask yourself, “What is behind this clutter? What is it a symptom of? What inside of me am I not willing to be with or look at?” And then attack that problem. The clutter will clear itself up from there. If you only attack the clutter without addressing the underlying issue, the clutter will just keep coming back.

Clutter Coach:
It can be scary to commit to a goal like getting organized if it's a big shift from where you are now. Who will you be once you're organized? Will you lose your creativity? How do you deal with the identity issues that come up with any major change, no matter how positive?

One simple fact: structure actually creates more freedom not less. When you have form and structure in your life – such as getting organized – you create more space and that creates more freedom, not less. And within freedom, you are inherently more yourself, not less.  This lifetime is about letting go of all the ‘stuff’ that isn’t really who we are – fears, society expectations, bad training, ego, obligations, etc. – so that we can be free to be who we really are. If you can keep that perspective, that your life is a series of steps that brings you closer to your truest essence, it’s a lot easier to take each change one step at a time, stopping to integrate what you’ve learned about yourself along the way.

Clutter Coach:
Habits can be ruts we get into that prevent us from seeing what's really going on, or they can be welcome time-savers that allow us to focus on the important stuff. How can we become aware of our habits so we can evaluate them clearly and choose the positive ones?

Notice what continually works well and what doesn't. Then look for the patterns that cause those results. That is where you will find your habits. Obviously, if your habits are producing good results, keep doing them. For the habits that create unpleasant or unwanted results, it’s time to create a new habit, so you need to cut a new internal rut. Literally, you have to retrain your brain to act differently, to follow a different pathway. It takes time but if you treat it like building a new muscle, it can be a lot of fun. The following four step process is one that I use with all my clients and with myself:

  1. Awareness:  You see the truth of your behavior and the outcome it produces. You take responsibility and commit to change.
  2. Reflection:  You still do the habit, but afterwards, you look back and say, “Oh, I did that again. Here is what happened. Next time, I would like to do …”
  3. Change in the Moment:  You notice the habit while you are doing it and you interrupt it, choosing instead to do something new.
  4. Integration: The old habit has been replaced with a new habit, and you no longer have to think about it.

Clutter Coach:
How can becoming accepting and loving of ourselves help us battle that sneaky little demon, perfectionism?

Success begets success, so when you feel good about yourself you will naturally create more things that result in you feeling good about yourself.  Perfectionism never leads to success, only distress, so it’s a habit you want to give up for sure! You can do that by doing two things. 1. Set realistic expectations for yourself that you can meet. 2. When you meet them, celebrate! The more you acknowledge your small wins the more they will add up to big wins. Before I go to bed each night I actually say out loud at least 5 successes I had that day. It sounds so simple, and it really does make a difference.

Clutter Coach:
What's your personal favorite organizing trick?

If it doesn't have a place to go, find it a home. I notice that
whether it’s my email box or my desk, what causes clutter more than
anything are those things that are homeless. So I immediately create a
place for them to go – whether it’s a new email folder on my computer
or in my filing cabinet.

If you find yourself living among clutter, working harder not smarter, or running around like an energizer bunny gone mad, your life is running you, instead of you living it. Don't feel bad, you’re not alone – we’ve been conditioned to live that way. But do be smart and realize that you need to learn some new habits, skills and super powers to deal with the realities of the 21st century. Also be smart enough to find people and resources that can guide you – none of us can do it alone!

About Christine Arylo
A new kind of self-love expert, Christine Arylo, inspirational catalyst, traded in twelve years of creating powerful images for brands like Visa and Gap, to inspire people to bust through their limiting self-images and self-expectations. As an author, speaker, and coach, Arylo is an expert at helping people to get the success and happiness they want by living and loving their most real and wise selves first. She is the author of Choosing ME Before WE, Every Woman’s Guide to Life and Love, and the founder of the international Madly in Love with ME™ movement. She has appeared on national television and syndicated radio shows across the country, and her opinions have been featured in places like the San Francisco Chronicle, Glam.com and Daily Om.

Hoarding vs. Cluttering

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Hoarding is not the same thing as having too much clutter. I just watched an interesting
video profiling four hoarders called Possessed by Martin Hampton. The cases
are presented in escalating order of severity and the last one is a little hard
to watch because of the extreme level of dust and dirt.

One of the
more confounding things about hoarding is that hoarders don’t know why they keep
stuff when they know it’s useless trash. Even if they are willing to get rid of
things, in most cases, the problem comes right back. The woman in the film described her own thinking as “warped” (the other three subjects are men).

Four qualities that
all the hoarders in the film shared are:

  • On some level, they like
  • They have strong emotional
    ties to inanimate objects
  • They have an overpowering need to
    own things
  • They are adamant that no one else can touch their things

People who just have too much clutter don’t have these same issues. A comfortable and cozy cluttered room means one with lots of knickknacks and pictures, furniture with throws on it, etc. It doesn’t mean a room with full shopping bags and used food containers on the floor. For most people, ties to inanimate objects refers to souvenirs, old teddy bears and heirlooms. It doesn’t refer to chipped coffee mugs or empty toilet paper tubes.

You may have a shopping problem, but a hoarder will buy 300 mobile phones in a year (that’s an example from the movie). You also may not want others pawing your stuff, but it doesn’t mean you’ll have an anxiety attack if they do, or rummage through the garbage to rescue anything someone else throws away that’s yours.

In case you’re worried that you or someone you know is a hoarder, ask these questions:*

  • Are any exits to the home blocked?
  • Is the bedroom or bathroom not fully usable due to clutter, i.e., items stored in shower stall?
  • Is there large-item clutter outdoors, such as sofas and TV sets?
  • Are there poorly maintained pet areas, i.e., pet waste not cleaned up?
  • Have hallways been narrowed due to boxes and clutter?

I don’t accept clients with this issue because I don’t have the skills to handle them. (Update 7/2014: I do work with people into Level 3 on the scale. Generally, when people reach out to me and are motivated to get help, I can help them.) To find professionals who do, contact the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (hoarding is an activity associated with chronic disorganization). This site also provides an eye-opening *Clutter Hoarding Scale with specific examples of what the home of a hoarder looks like.

Idea > Decision > Action

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For many people, it’s easier and more fun to think up new ideas than to take action on the ones they already thought of. Buckling down and focusing on one idea and making it happen can make them antsy.

Sometimes the project you take on is very large and there are so many things to address that you’re tempted to start them all at once. When it comes to organizing, this can get you into trouble.

The process is this: have an idea, make a decision, take the action.

For example, the idea could be “organize the bottom shelf,” the decision is “only have notebooks, pads and file folders there,” and the action is getting those items into the spot and finding other homes for anything that doesn’t fit those categories.

Here’s what happens when you leave off the action part.

My client, Annie,* is a big picture kind of gal. She’s very good with coming up with ideas and making decisions. The action part, not so much. She’d rather move on to the top shelf, or the counter above the shelves, or the table on the other side of the room.

She had numerous shopping bags with things sorted into them. Some of them were marked, some not. There were also piles and collections of items on which decisions had been made. This is definitely progress, but it’s not enough.

We needed to spend some time moving the physical stuff around.

For Annie, this was the tedious, low priority part. But not doing it was impeding our progress. It was like having puzzle pieces all over the floor and knowing exactly where each one went, but not assembling them into a completed picture.

Is this a sticking point for you? Look around and see if you’ve collected some piles of decisions that need a nudge to get to the next step. If taking the action seems dreary and monotonous, approach it like washing the dishes. It’s a chore that needs doing and you don’t really need to like it.

The good news is that you’ll stir up some good energy by moving things along. You’ll also see some inspiring progress when you see the results of all that decision making!

* Not her real name. In fact, whenever I write about my clients, I’m usually combining events and compositing people.

Need reasons to clear out the clutter?

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Josh Waldrum from SpareFoot Storage sent me this delightful infographic full of impressive and sometimes scary statistics. Clearing out clutter can literally pay you back; every organizer I know has found uncashed checks, gift cards and money in their clients’ homes.

Having more stuff than fits in your house is NOT a good reason to rent a storage unit. But there are plenty of good reasons. One of my clients downsized recently and uses his unit to keep artwork. There is only enough room for about a quarter of his collection in the new place and he plans to swap out pieces a few times a year.

Clutter Infographic
Produced by SpareFoot. Copyright 2013.


Clutter is Tiring

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It’s exhausting, actually.

It’s hard on the eyes.

It hems you in.

Sometimes it feels like it’s just in the background, just there in case you need it. But then you remember how relieved and calm you felt last time you cleared out that clutter, as if a weight had been lifted.

Clutter niggles at you, subtly draining your energy.

Old magazines whisper “read me!” Piles of clothes coax “come sort me!” Your crafts bag says “come play with me!” This creates a low level of background chatter in your brain that’s more distracting than you realize.

One of my clients has a lot of clothing. More than will fit in her closets. The last time I saw her, the ironing board in the bedroom and the chair next to it were piled high with clothes. We’ve made progress, but it’s a big project.

It seemed to me that she was feeling worn down by constantly seeing the piles and waking up to them every morning. So, we moved them to her office. Now, that’s not a solution, it’s just an interim step in this long project.

Her mood lightened up right away.

She took a big breath and stretched her arms out. The room suddenly felt bigger and more restful to the eyes. I predict she’s sleeping better at night too.

If you have a lot of sorting to do, try to keep it contained or covered in between sessions. You’re not hiding the truth, you’re letting yourself focus on other parts of your life instead of being nagged all the time by this undone project.

Here are a couple of sorting techniques to try: triage and quick declutter.

Check Out the Clutter Diet

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Getting organized can be challenging and time consuming. My aim with the blog is to help people with that task as much as I can without actually being there in person. Of course, I'd be happy if you wanted to hire me, but if you have a large project, hiring a professional can be pricey, to be honest.

So, I'm thrilled to recommend my colleague Lorie Marrero's Clutter Diet service. For less than you would pay me to work with you once, you can get a whole year of this service, which provides unlimited virtual access to their team of organizers, plus a lot of other great stuff. The Clutter Diet gives you the education, motivation and support you need to keep going with that organizing project until it's done. 

Am I worried about sending potential clients to this lower priced service? No, because I know that there are plenty of folks who really want to work with me in person and who will get the best results with me right there in their home or office.

And there are plenty of other folks who just want to read my blog and get their ideas and inspiration from that. We organizers realize that all our clients are unique, so we strive to provide as many ways to help them get organized as we can think of. I think Lorie's come up with a winner!

Diet lunch courtesy of Malia's photostream.