Posted by Sue on Mar 6, 2017
When you’ve lived in one house for most of your life, you accumulate an interesting and varied collection of stuff. But when it’s time to downsize, figuring out what to keep and what to let go can be brutal.
Beth and Jim, a couple in their early 70’s, called Breathing Space for help downsizing. After sorting through the contents of one corner of their basement, they had a pile of items they no longer needed. But because many of the items either had value or were potentially useful, Jim and Beth had difficulty letting them go.
Looking around for a way to motivate this next step, I remembered seeing pictures of a young child in their living room. When I asked if she was a grandchild, they smiled and nodded, saying Casey was, “as precious as any grandchild.” Beth and Jim met her through the Fresh Air Fund and she’d been part of their family every summer for almost a decade.
Their love of this “granddaughter” gave me an idea. I asked, “What inspired you to open your home and your lives to a stranger?” At first, they were puzzled. Then they reflected, “We are so grateful for our family and the beauty around us. They’ve taught us that when love is shared, it grows. Inviting Casey into our family was a no-brainer.”
I then asked them to reassess the basement pile in light of the values which brought Casey into their lives: gratitude, service, beauty and generosity. Seen through the light of these values, the pile took on a different meaning. Jim and Beth realized that the items in question could make a big difference in other peoples’ lives. In this light, letting go of the pile became a reflection of their values.
By reminding us what we hold most dear in our lives, our values help us identify what is important to keep and what we can let go of. We clarify and strengthen our values by reinforcing them in this way. And when we’re faced with tough decisions, using our values as a lens helps us stay aligned with our truest selves.
If you’re stuck trying to decide whether to keep or let go of an item, ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I use it?
2. Do I love it?
3. Is it a treasure
4. Does it reflect my values?
Curious what Jim and Beth did with their pile? Stay tuned: you’ll find out next week!
And if you’re interested in exploring your individual values, take the questionnaire VIA Survey of Character Strengths on the Authentic Happiness site. The results may surprise you! But a value identified is a value worth living!
Posted by Sue on Mar 21, 2014
Spring has sprung, the grass has riz;
I wonder where the birdies is?
Spring has sprung, the birdies fly;
I wonder why the snow’s so high?
Spring brings with it my yearly spiritual retreat: a time of refreshment, renewal and rest. Yet whenever I go away, on a retreat or business trip or family vacation, I spend far too much time figuring out what to pack, afraid I’ll forget something vital.
Clothing is a guessing game at this time of year. Up in the mountains the weather can swing from a blissful day of sunshine, to overnight ice, to a heavy blanket of snow – all within 24 hours. So, basically, I bring everything, minus the bikini.
However, the STUFF is more complicated.
All travel is a lesson in letting go and trusting. Yet when the Piles of Endless Possibilities stare you in the face, your mind races to the What-if’s? What if I feel like drawing? What if someone invites me to cross country ski and all I brought were snowshoes? What if Just-the-Right-Book remains at home on the shelf?
So how do you let go and trust that what you need will be there when you need it? Here’s a simple process that helped me let go of the worry without packing for every possible contingency.
Start by walking away from the packing frenzy and clearing your head: it’ll be easier to consider what you truly need. Sit someplace quiet with paper and pen in hand. When your heart is no longer racing, try these 3 steps:
1) Breathe deeply and bring to mind the intention of your journey. Write down 3 qualities that capture its purpose. In the case of my retreat, rest, nature and connection best captured my hopes.
2) List 5 categories of items that you’ll need. For my retreat, I’d need clothes, books, outer gear, writing supplies and snack food.
3) Now focus on one category at a time. Ask what items in this category will support each of the 3 qualities listed in Step 1. For example, what clothes will I need for resting? I’ll want clothes that are comfortable and loose fitting. What clothes will I need for time in nature? Snowshoes, sturdy boots and a day pack enable this quality. Should I pack my dress shoes? Only if connection means I’m going out to a fancy dinner.
When you follow these 3 steps, you set aside the What-ifs and focus on the I-wills; you support your travel intentions rather than encourage your packing overwhelm. And with a clear head, a lightened suitcase and your plans penned in the celestial travel notebook, your trip cannot help but be an adventure.
Don’t forget your toothbrush!
Posted by Sue on Feb 14, 2014
I thought I’d add my two (chocolate covered) cents to the Valentine’s Day hoopla by expressing why I love organizing. If you don’t love (or at least like) organizing, consider this Love Fest countdown:
14) You’ll impress your friends, family and neighbors.
I know, it’s a pretty lame place to start (that’s why it’s #14); but praise is so satisfying.
13) Knowing your V.I.P.s (Very Important Papers) are in order and accessible.
This one should probably be higher on my list of favorites; but it’s just not that sparkly, which is also why it’s a tough one to tackle. Just think of the relief knowing that if you need your passport, you can not only find it quickly, but it’s even up to date! You never know when someone is going to invite you on an all expenses paid trip to Paris. Best to be prepared.
12) Lose weight.
I don’t know of any studies that actually link weight loss with decluttering, but I’ve seen it happen time and again. Maybe it’s the hauling and lifting, or maybe it’s signaling your subconscious that it’s okay to let go.
11) Strengthen your life purpose.
This one’s a little out there, but I ask you, how can you figure out what your life’s about when you spend all your free mental and physical energy trying to stay on top of the chaos?
10) Uncover hidden talents.
There’s real truth in theory that we knew who we were and what we wanted to be when we were 10. And then life happened and we lost our “I am” amidst the “You should.” When you organize your life you uncover puzzle pieces of your whole self – pieces that will remind you of who you wanted to be when you grew up. It’s never too late.
9) Find long-lost treasures.
Ever wonder what happened to that beautiful vase you bought years ago, or the photo album of your honeymoon you labored over? Chances are it’s in the house … somewhere. Wouldn’t it be nice to invite your treasures back where you can truly appreciate them?
8) Focus on what you really want to do.
Clutter has a loud voice that drowns out all other voices, especially that small voice inside you that would really like to express what it wants and needs.
7) Save money.
Buying duplicates (“I know it’s there someplace”), paying late fees, losing – rather than using dollars-off coupons, eating out rather than cooking in add up to dollars and cents quickly.
6) Save time.
If you could have back all of the time you’ve spent this past year looking for your shoes, your wallet or your keys, how would you spend that precious time?
5) Free up more energy for the things and people you love.
Once you’re freed from the tyranny of chaos, you have so much more energy to devote to doing the things you love with the people you love.
4) Open your home to company (without cringing).
Oh, how well I know the fear of the knock on the door. Organizing doesn’t guarantee that you’ll never experience the cringe-factor. But if guest happen to arrive on a bad-entryway-day, just show them your junk drawer. That’ll impress ‘em!
3) Be less stressed.
Need I say more?
2) Love where you live.
What would it be like to walk into your house after a long day at work and sigh a deep sigh of contented bliss? Your home is your sanctuary, not your compost heap.
And finally … drum roll, please …
1) Make more of yourself available.
When you’re overwhelmed by too much stuff, the stuff begins to define who you are, what you do and why you do it. And let’s face it, you’re a unique and pretty special human being, and the world needs more of you. So, get organized and strut your stuff!
Here’s to your loving, lovely Valentine’s Day!
Posted by Sue on Jan 31, 2014
Get Ready, Get Set, Go!
The bottom line is, if it’s too hard to put something away, you simply won’t do it – not because you’re lazy, but because you have more important things to do with your time. ~ Julie Morgenstern
I recently received an email bemoaning the futility of organizing: “I spend all this time cleaning out the junk drawer, but 2 weeks later, it’s back where it started – a hellacious mess! How do I stop this vicious cycle?”
The email was well timed, because this week we’re finishing up the series, Get Ready, Get Set, Go! which lays out the steps to any organizing adventure.
If you’ve been following along these past few weeks, you’ve had drilled into you that, without Planning & Preparing (Step #1), your chances of successfully completing any project is significantly reduced. Once you’ve completed Step #1, you moved on to Step #2, Clearing & Cleaning, followed by Step #3, Sort & Purge. Each is explained in previous posts. If you missed them, scroll down.
Step #4, Create involves designing the space you’ve just cleared and cleaned to best accommodate the items that, in Step #3, you determined belong there. The organizing principle, Containerize and Label comes in handy here. The more you can break down larger spaces, like shelves or drawers, into smaller spaces, the easier they will be to maintain. Containerize (I know, it’s not a real word) like items in appropriate sized boxes, such as shoe or check boxes, or purchased units designed for this purpose. Once you’ve created the space, label the containers. This may seem like overkill (and you will get teased), but trust me, labeling spaces increases the chances that the right thing finds its way home to the right space.
You’re finally ready for the last Step, #5, Practice. Why practice? Because we all need time to get used to any new system, and until it’s been tested, we won’t know if it works. If it needs tweaking, so be it; but give it a 3-week trial run before making any drastic changes.
So, there you have it, the, Get Ready, Get Set, Go! of organizing in 5 simple steps. You can download a PDF map of these steps by clicking here.
If you have comments or questions you’d like to share, please do so below.
Next week: Sue’s 10 Best Reasons to Get Organized.
Posted by Sue on Jan 23, 2014
If you’ve been reading the last two weeks’ posts then you know that “Go!” is preceded by a couple of, “Stop: Do not pass Go” warnings. Jumping in feet first may be good for some activities like the Polar Plunge, but it’s not very effective when you’re tackling a project.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, your chances of successfully completing any project will increase exponentially if you take the time to plan and prepare before taking the plunge (If you missed the plan and prepare posts, scroll down to read them). And because planning, preparing and taking action each requires a different mode of thinking, you’ll maximize your energy and efficiency if you separate them into three separate sessions.
Once you’ve planned your project and prepared your space and yourself, you are (finally) ready to take that plunge.
Organizing any space can be broken down into 5 steps.
- Plan & Prepare
- Clear & Clean
- Sort & Purge
This week we’ll look at the second and third steps.
Step #2 is Clear and Clean – no mystery here! It means to clear out everything from the space you’ve chosen. If you have limited time or energy, you may want to break a larger space into sections. For example, work on one shelf in the closet or one drawer in a dresser. Emptying the contents of the space can be messy work. If you lay out an old sheet on the floor, table or bed, you’ll avoid dead bugs on the rug.
Once you’ve cleared, time to clean; and if you’re a shelf-paper type person, it’s time to cut and paste. Now your space is clutter-free and shining. Time for …
Step #3: Sort & Purge. This is often the most difficult step for folks. So, take a deep breath and let’s get started. You’ll need 5 boxes, labeled:
- Keep – things which belong in the designated space
- Goes Elsewhere – things which need to be put away someplace else in the house (don’t put them away until you’re done with your organizing session – it’s too easy to get distracted)
- Give Away or Belongs to Someone Else
- Recycle or Sell
- Don’t Know – for anything you’re not sure you’re going to keep or just don’t know what to do with
And, of course, a Big Black Garbage Bag!
Now (drum roll, please) pick up the item on the very tippy-top of the pile, ask yourself what it is and where it belongs, and put it in the corresponding box. In order to avoid being left with only the tough-to-process items, I recommend that you work from the top down.
Once you finish the pile, pat yourself on the back and distribute each box’s contents appropriately. Don’t put back the items that belong in the space you are organizing until you complete step 4, which involves creating a space to suit the stuff. We’ll discuss this and finish off the organizing cycle with step 5 next week. If you can’t wait until then, check out Joanna’s wonderful little book, Decluttering 101.
So congratulations! You’ve just completed the first 3 steps in your organizing adventure. You deserve a break. A hot cup of cocoa would taste great about now. Do you like marshmallows?
Posted by Sue on Jan 16, 2014
Get Set: Preparing to Succeed
One sunny Saturday morning last summer I jumped out of bed eager to tackle the clutter in the second floor of my barn. If you’ve been reading these posts for a while, you know that my barn is my space-nemesis: the one place on my property that I’m convinced has a vindictive spirit that will one day defeat me.
By 8 a.m. I was moving boxes and filling bags with old clothes, papers and books with the intention to make a couple trips to recycling before it closed at 1. By 10 a.m. I was flat on my back, covered in dust and cobwebs, in the midst of piles of half-filled bags and boxes ~ totally defeated; In my eagerness to plunge in, I’d forgotten to eat breakfast, wouldn’t stop for water, and had tried to deal with the entire 30 by 40 foot space that day.
Once again, the barn had defeated me. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Sue on Jan 10, 2014
Get ready. Get set. Go!
Happy New Year!
Are you ready to make 2014 your best year ever? I certainly am. So let’s get started!
A couple days ago I received this email from a client:
Sue, I finally decided to tackle that closet we’ve been discussing. I read in Decluttering 101 about clearing the space before cleaning and organizing it. I even remembered to lay out an old sheet to put all the stuff on! The only thing that I forgot was the open house we were supposed to attend at 4:00. Just about the time I’d pulled everything off the shelves and was ready to scrub everything down, Steve came through asking if I was ready to go. Ready? The only thing I was ready for was tripping over all the stuff I’d pulled out of the closet. Here I am, 3 days later, and I can’t seem to get myself motivated to finish the job. Help!
What happened? Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Sue on Dec 13, 2013
Greetings from icy, sleety, snowy Vermont!
This week, I want to respond to a question I received about holiday giving. “What can I do when I know that the people I am trying to find gifts for already have way too much stuff?”
What a great question! Thank you for the chance to expand on last week’s post. Remember the ads that declared, “For the man who has everything...” and then tried to sell you some expensive gadget as a measure of the love you have for him? If he has everything then does he really need more stuff? Isn’t there a better way to express your love and appreciation? Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Sue on Oct 23, 2013
“Winners never quit and quitters never win.” ~ Vince Lombardi
Eleanor has lived on Maple Street for 27 years. Of those 27 years, 24 of them have seen sincere attempts to clean out her attic. Back in ’88 she moved the entire contents of her old attic plus the inherited furniture, trunks of old photos and boxes of linen tablecloths from her mother and grandmother into the attic on Maple Street.
Each spring she sets out to “finally organize this junk!” She puts a date on the calendar, makes sure she’s got enough boxes and garbage bags on hand and then digs in with hope and gusto. After several hours of combing through dusty boxes and crumbling paper, she decides to take a break and get back to it, “a little later in the summer,” which, predictably, doesn’t happen.
Where did the hope and gusto go? Why, after 24 sincere attempts, is Eleanor’s attic still a disaster zone? Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Sue on Jun 21, 2013
“Double your pleasure, double your fun!” ~ Gum jingle
Apparently, it’s Opposites Week (a much neglected celebration of the absurd). In my last post I stated, “Less is (almost always) more.” This week, I’m forced by circumstance and integrity to also affirm the opposite: Less isn’t always more. Sometimes it’s just less. And sometimes less is really inconvenient.
Last week I began work with a young woman I’ll call Diane. Diane lives vertically in a 4-floored half-a-house. With an office on the top floor, bathroom on the second, entryway and kitchen on the first and backyard access from the basement, Diane is up and down her stairs dozens of times each day.