Embracing Limits! True Confession

Posted by Sue on Sep 23, 2010  

During our last Declutterers call I made both a suggestion and a confession. Those of you who have been getting tips for a long time may recognize both; but they are worth repeating.

Set a LIMIT– It helps!

A helpful strategy for dealing with your STUFF is to set a limit of HOW MUCH SPACE you are going to use for that type of item OR HOW MANY of that item you are going to keep.  Use the limit as a friendly preventive measure.

True Story: Once upon a time there was a client whose basement was taken over by empty boxes. Wonderful boxes of all sizes, shapes and colors. When a new box came along she added it to the collection. Hey! It was a great box and she might need it someday.

When she called me, she was working on a new project and desperately needed some more space – What to do? It seemed logical to me to get rid of some of her excess boxes in order to free up the space she needed. Reluctantly and courageously, she agreed to limit her box collection to whatever fit a storage space of about 4’ high8’ wide and 3’ deep. She vowed to keep only as many boxes as fit into that space. PERIOD! No ifs ands or buts.

What’s amazing is that this system has worked for her for YEARS. A great box comes in – Does it fit in the space?  No – Something has to go for that new to be added.  Nah—I like the ones I have. Or, that’s okay- I’ll get rid of green one and add this one! YAY – The space is maintained!

It’s clear—if there isn’t room for a box in the defined space, either it can’t be added or another one has to go. Voila!


When dealing with physical STUFF this limit concept is really clear and simple to me. But guess what? I GET how hard limits are for others when I’m dealing with my “STUFF” which is my COMMITMENTS! I’m sure the feelings are similar. The call goes out for help with X and I’m intrigued. Hmmmmm – wow – What a GREAT idea –I would LOVE to do that!  I can do that! Ooh boy—it would be great to help make THAT happen. I get those tantalizing warm fuzzies when considering what it would be like!

Right Joanna! And just WHEN will you do that?  – What are you going to remove from your schedule in order to add that in?  OUCH – I get sad. I don’t WANT to say no to that wonderful opportunity. Can’t I do just ONE more thing?

This is an ongoing challenge for me – just as a limit to physical STUFF may be for you.   I KNOW the consequences of not setting clear limits on my commitments all too well – The overwhelm; having to call back and say I can’t –Choosing between disappointing people and my own exhaustion. Darn! Double darn!

Solution- LIMITS!  What I already have on my plate needs to be clearly marked in my calendar (my storage space) and the CALENDAR will tell me whether I can take on something more.  I will have to admit that there isn’t room unless I remove something. Reality.

SO dear reader – let’s give it a go … One box for saving wonderful cards. Only 3 bookcases for ALL the books you are keeping…whatever it is – embrace the limit!

Wishing you a decluttered Fall 2010,

Joanna (and Sue)

p.s. If you’re ready for weekly encouragement on your decluttering efforts check out  Declutterers at www.breathing-space.com.


Judith Simpson:

I cannot resist sharing my belief in the way I limit my commitments. I consider how much time I need for rest, for mental clarity, for doing nothing, or for doing the things that are musts in my life. First I set aside THAT time, and then the commitments to others follow.

One thing that helps both psychologically and in simple terms: A person who is harried or living with more clutter than she/he can function with is a person who is not so much help at all. He/she may be simply late or not complete…and less observable…has negative energy…and may even may make things worse.

I teach Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and I use your ideas…so if necessary, you can use mine, either for yourself or for your clients. The concept of embracing the limits…or whatever is there….is true for me too. I give a lot of rides to radiation treatment or to chemotherapy treatment because I have the car, and I usually have the time.

Thanks for the newsletters.
Judith Simpson

September 28th, 2010 | 3:04 pm

What an excellent tip! I used to have a “problem” with glass jars in my kitchen…. until a friend of mine forced me to throw most of them out (recycling of course) !….. I didn’t like it but she was right…… all they did was take up space….. I love the idea of allowing with limits…… just what i need….. for a lot of things! Hope you can include the link to my new website http://www.blossomingpossibilities.com

September 28th, 2010 | 6:56 pm

Joanna, this is a great idea!

Really struck a chord with me, and came at the perfect time, as my son and husband are – once again – sorting the garage. I shared the capacity idea with my son, and later heard him relate it to my husband! Another part of the jigsaw has been to actually go out and buy racking, so much more practical than the last effort which had everything piled up neatly up the walls of the garage, but made anything at the bottom inaccessible. Sandy is out there now putting the racking together, and we’ve agreed to carefully check what goes on the shelves, and what goes out. Now I’m looking at a tray storage unit to accommodate all those small tools. Thank you so much for your tip – I can now see an organised and useable garage in sight!

There was another lesson for me – to obtain suitable storage accommodation – fairly obvious – duh! At first I was reluctant to pay out for garage racking, but as I start to see the results, I ask myself why we didn’t do so years ago!

And I plan to use the capacity idea for our books – the capacity for the whole house is the big floor to ceiling bookcase you may remember in my office, and one smaller bookcase. I’m going to set the ball rolling by pruning my books!


October 21st, 2010 | 6:41 am
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