Warning! We are about to enter the high stress zone – the holidays. And there is no detour – we just have to power on through.
What’s weird is this – it’s also supposed to be the most wonderful time of year – magical and all that jazz. There should be time to relax and enjoy some downtime. At least that’s the theory. But with all the expectations this time of the year brings, finding even an inkling of balance can become way more challenging than normal. As those demands for our time and energy increase, it’s quite easy to find ourselves saying yes one minute, and seriously regretting it the next.
It’s especially true for us women. We’re are hard wired to please (how lucky are we?). We hate to disappoint (again we are just so blessed – not!). But it isn’t wise, and it’s definitely not healthy, to say yes to every request. Too many yeses will send you to the land of resentment. And that’s not a pretty place to visit, as a matter of fact it’s downright ugly – the ‘avert your eyes, mama’s come unhinged, and their ain’t no cure in sight’ kind of ugly.
So, what can we do to to regain some balance?
It’s simple, just start saying no. You know, that two letter sentence – the one with the N and the O. Got it?
OK, I am being more than a tad flip.
As a matter of fact, I am probably writing this as much as a reminder for myself, as I’m writing it for others. And I know that simple is not the same as easy – learning how to say no takes practice, just as mastering any skill does. But this skill is absolutely worth honing – the return on investment is huge – you get your ticket to land of Freedom. If you’ve been there you know it’s glorious! If you haven’t, then get ready for something that will blow your mind – saying no to what you don’t want to do is positively sublime – it’s may not be better than you-know-what, but it’s about as close as you’re going to get while fully clothed ; )
Here are some tips to get you started:
Realize your time is valuable. It is just as valuable as anyone’s. Which means it’s as valuable as the person who’s making the request. If accepting that request means you have to give up something of your own, you owe it to yourself to say no. And you owe it that person. No one, at least anyone who cares about you, would want you to give up anything just so they could gain.
Evaluate the situation. Are you the only one who can take on the task? And by that I mean really, truly the only living soul – not just that you are good at it. Is it a blood pooling emergency? If either of these are true, you’ll probably be compelled to say yes, and rightfully so. But beyond these rare exceptions, you need to take a minute (or five) and give some thought to what saying yes will mean for you. When you think about committing do you feel good? If the answer is anything short of enthusiastic Hell Yeah! Bring It On, then a no would probably best for all involved. Remember, it’s far easier to go back and say yes, than to take back a yes.
Buffer your no. No is a complete sentence, you don’t have to embellish it, but it sounds nicer when the sharp edge is taken off – just don’t take too much edge off or you may find yourself being cajoled into a yes. To buffer, preface the no with a gracious statement. ‘Thank you for thinking of of me, but I will have to say no’ is perfect. As a matter of fact you should practice this statement until it feels like you own it, especially if you want it to roll off your tongue as easily as yes. Now if you are feeling compelled to offer more in the way of an explanation, a simple ‘My schedule is just too full’ works really well. Remember, buffering isn’t about legitimizing – don’t even go there – if you do you risk opening up loopholes that could trap you into a yes.
Offer alternatives. But only if you’re 100% excited to do so – don’t do it out of obligation. How do I mean? Well, let’s suppose the idea of helping someone is appealing, but not in the way they have requested. For example, maybe you’ve been asked to help your niece get a job at your company – you know, the old could you grease the wheel favor. Let’s imagine slitting your wrists sounds better than trying to make nice with the HR people. But let’s also imagine you truly like your niece and you really want to help her. So instead you might offer to be her mentor or help her craft a kick-ass resume. Now that’s a clear win all around – right?
Get comfortable with no – embrace it, make it yours. Using it will relieve stress, free your time, and make you happier. Try it – you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. As a matter of fact I can hear the freedom bell ringing for you!
Halloween hasn’t even arrived. But guess what? Christmas is closing in fast. At least that’s what retailers want us to think. They’ve already got chocolate Santas and marshmallow snowmen front and center.
Don’t they know some us are still mourning the end of Summer? I’m even trying to convince Mother Nature to give us a few more bare leg days. There’s plenty of time before the reindeer come swooping down, right?
In theory, that’s spot on true. In fact, we’ve got weeks and weeks to go before Thanksgiving, rolls around. It’s my personal favorite – gobble, gobble, nomm, nomm! But then I love any holiday that’s food centric (or maybe I just love food, hmmm).
Anyway, Thanksgiving is the granddaddy of food holidays – it’s the BIG kahuna! Unfortunately, that means it’s fraught with anxiety for many cooks. I doubt this year will be any different. The magazines are already gearing up and doing all they can to remind us what’s on the line (and undermine our confidence).
But never fear, because they’re also promising to help us get through this day without trauma if we just follow their advice (aren’t they sweet). I have seen it all, but I think the best was the headline that read: Four Weeks to a Perfect Thanksgiving. Four weeks to prepare…seriously? The subtext is obvious – you should be going all out. More subtext – if you aren’t, you should try harder (but they’re just trying to motivate us, right?). There is even a Turkey hotline so we can make sure we’re doing it right. Ugh.
What does this all mean? The answer is painfully obvious. Expectations are going to be sky high for the balance of the year. The pressure is mounting to make us feel like we ‘should’ swing into full holiday mode – right flippin’ now!
But that’s the whole idea, and marketers will continue to up the ante over the coming weeks. They want people (and by that I mean women) to feel like they have to do and be everything….to everyone. Cook the perfect meal, buy the perfect gifts, decorate the perfect home, and generally attempt to be the ideal holiday hostess.
Trying to escape the onslaught of holiday marketing is an exercise in futility. No matter where we turn, we’ll will be a faced with a sense of urgency, and the pressure to do it all will be intense. Flack jacket, anyone?
So the big question is this: What can we do to prevent caving under all that pressure and stay true to our own ideals?
It’s a question worth answering, because the bottom line is this: unless we are ready with a plan to deflect the pressure, it will be way too easy to get caught up in the frenzy.
So here are four steps to take now that will help you reduce holiday stress:
1. Assess Your Situation
Has your life changed since last holiday season? If so, you may need to make some major adjustments. Now is the time to start thinking about what you might need to alter. A new family member, a relocation, an economic development; these are all things that could significantly impact how you celebrate. Begin planning for those changes now.
2. Reflect on the Past
Have you been happy with the way your past holidays played out? Did you enjoy your commitments? Did you feel too much stress? Maybe you felt like you spent more than was prudent. Perhaps you need to retire some traditions so you can welcome new ones. In any event, now is the time to get clear on what you want your holidays to look and feel like.
3. Hold a Family Meeting
Gather everyone around for a frank discussion about resources. Make it clear now about what you can and cannot afford. It’s so easy for expenses to get out of hand, and especially so during this time of the year. Talking about this early on will go a long way toward making sure no one is taken by surprise when you have to bring out that two letter word – No.
4. Share Your Plans with Family and Friends
If things have changed in any way, make sure you speak up and share the news. Be as open as possible about your plans. Maybe exchanging gifts with every family member has become too much of a burden. Whatever it is, big or little, share now so there are no awkward moments later. And don’t hesitate in voicing your desires, you may find you have plenty of company. Holding in feelings just leads to resentment – and that isn’t a jolly emotion.
(If you want to really set yourself up for a more peaceful season, be sure to pop on over and grab The Less Stress, More Joy, Save Your Sanity Action Plan – it’s free!)
If I could give clients one thing to think about when it comes to creating a clutter free life, I would ask them to reflect on this:
“Every possession is a responsibility.”
This simple statement explains why you can easily feel overwhelmed when you look around your home. What you’re seeing isn’t just your stuff, and it’s not just clutter either – you are looking at responsibilities. Each possession – not matter how small – is a responsibility in and of itself.
There is irony here – we so often think that acquiring something new will make us feel good. We equate having things, especially certain things, with success. We think feeling successful will lead to fulfillment. What a slippery slope that is. But we don’t realize it until we have lost our balance and fallen into the cluttered depths. Suddenly we are drowning in responsibilities and that feeling of fulfillment is no where in sight.
Now you might be thinking that I believe acquiring things is bad. I can understand how you could make that leap. To clarify, I think mindless acquisition is dangerous. I believe thinking that owning a certain item will lead to happiness is misguided. Things don’t create happiness – the feelings of happiness, success, and fulfillment come from within. This is why you have have to be mindful in acquiring new possessions. It’s so easy to try to fill voids with stuff.
The bottom line: Each item we allow into our lives requires some degree of time and energy. More stuff means more effort. That means you will have less available for the people and pursuits that are important to you. It’s that simple – you only have so much time and energy. If you spend it on maintaining possessions, you will have less to spend elsewhere.
The next time you consider allowing a new object into your life ask yourself whether you’re really willing to take responsibility for that item. If you don’t truly need it, or absolutely love it, why would you want to take responsibility for it?
Possessions should always reciprocate by providing value. Things that require more from you than they give back aren’t serving you well. Think of it like an investment – if you aren’t getting a good return then you need to let the item go.
In theory this should be easy, but in reality it can be a challenge to let go of perfectly good things. Here’s something to help ease the discomfort – whatever you let go of frees up space in your life for something even better. What will your something better be?
The paperless society has yet to become a reality, so managing the inflow of paper is something we all have in common. Dealing with paper is a stressful issue for most people. Each piece of paper necessitates a decision. If you feel at all unsure, you might choose to delay making decisions. It’s a common coping mechanism. Saying ‘I will get to it tomorrow’ might bring relief for the moment, but soon that tactic backfires. Before long you will find yourself inundated by piles of paper. The whole idea of paper organization may seem as far fetched as pigs flying.
Paper clutter creates a real unease. Have you missed something critical? Is a bill going unpaid? Have you offended someone because you didn’t RSVP? So many things could be lurking in your piles.
The truth is you are only a system away from organizing and managing all that paper with ease. Using the right system will make you the master of all the paper that enters your space. Ready to get started?
Step 1: Dedicate a place to corral all incoming paper. A single collection point means you won’t need to wander around looking for stray paper. All paper, no matter the source, should land here. Choose a location that is convenient and feels natural. Ideally you should be able to easily access it even if you hands are full. Work with any habit you already have in place. For example, if papers normally land on the kitchen counter, you may want choose to dedicate a section to paper. Once you’ve chosen a location, add a container. The container is important in that it will contain your papers so they remain in one place. I know that sounds ridiculously elementary, but containerizing stops paper from the unwelcome spreading and overtaking of surfaces.
Step 2: Get acquainted with the the four possible decisions. In the broadest sense, there are only four choices for any piece of paper that enters your space. You will:
- Release it:You don’t need it, so you recycle or shred. It doesn’t belong to you, so you pass it on.
- Act on it: It requires some action on your part. Falling into this category are things you need to pay (bills), read (HOA newsletter), use (coupons), respond to (invitations) or think on (summer camp brochure).
- Reference it: These papers don’t require action, but they have information you will want to refer to in the future. Types of things that fall into this category might be sports schedules, school handbooks, manuals, takeout menus, phone lists, and so on.
- Archive it: These are things that you will you will not need to reference regularly, if at all, but must be kept for legal, financial or historical reasons. Things that fall into this category might be tax returns, tax receipts, loan documents, home improvement records, property deeds, birth certificates, and so on.
Step 3: Decide how you will house the three categories of keepers. What is your paper personality? Do you like to see things on display? Do your prefer to have paperwork hidden behind doors? Or maybe something in between? Are you a natural piler (piles are not necessarily bad, it’s how they are managed, or more aptly mismanaged, that can cause problems) or more of a filer?
The is no ‘right’ way to house paper. It needs to work for YOU, so let go of any ‘shoulds’ and start thinking about what would feel comfortable. This really is a critical step. If you choose a method that feels counter intuitive it’s highly unlikely that you will use it for very long, if at all. Remember, while file folders are very useful, they are not the only the only way to store paper. Don’t feel that you have to take a traditional route. You are free to get creative.
Online Workshop Alert: If you are ready to end paper clutter and get your papers organized for good, the Paper Organization Online Workshop is for you – it takes you through the entire process of organizing and managing paper efficiently and effectively. Imagine no more paper clutter, no more paper related stress. Imagine always being able to find what you need when you need it. How great would that be?! The Paper Organization Online Workshop will make it a reality. Guaranteed. The workshop offers a no risk sign up, so you have nothing to lose (except stress) and everything to gain.
In Part 2, I will let you in on why you don’t need to keep nearly as much as you think you do. Get ready to be empowered to discard with confidence!
In the meantime start corralling your paper. If are you wondering about storage options or anything else surrounding the issue of paper management, leave your question in the comment section, or drop me a line here. I will respond to all inquiries. If you have a system that works well, please share your tips!
Clutter, silently it creeps into our lives little by little overtaking every horizontal surface. Soon we are completely inundated by it. It takes some conscious effort to control clutter.
Feeling overwhelmed by clutter is natural. We want it gone and we want it gone now! Clutter keeps us from performing our work duties with ease, stops us from truly enjoying our leisure time and costs us financially every single day.
Clutter doesn’t happen overnight and it won’t go away overnight. However, with a plan of action, we can get it under control and keep it that way for good. No more clutter means no more frenzied searches for those very necessary but always elusive items, no more duplicate purchases, no more missed opportunities. Freedom from clutter is possible and it feels fantastic!
Follow these simple steps and you will be on your way to controlling clutter it for good.
1. Gather nine good sized boxes, bags or bins, and label them:
- Current Use,
- Memorabilia (to be properly archived)
- Return/Borrowed (to be given back to rightful owner, or moved to a more appropriate location)
- Seasonal (to be stored elsewhere)
- Six Month Test
2. Decide how long you will work. A few hours is ideal, longer than fours hours and you risk losing focus and energy. But don’t let lack of time be your excuse for letting clutter pile up. You can accomplish a lot in blocks of fifteen minutes. Set a timer; knowing that you will stop at a preset point will alleviate the angst of getting started. Most CD’s play for about an hour, so they are a good choice when you can dedicate that much time. Listening to something enjoyable can take the edge off the “ugh factor” that is often associated with decluttering. Consider treating yourself to something you really enjoy listening to and reserve it just for your work sessions.
3. Choose a focus area. Ask yourself where you spend the most time looking for misplaced items, or which area causes you the most stress. Maybe it’s the clutter in your kitchen or perhaps your bedroom is the place where your de-cluttering efforts would have the greatest impact. Choosing an area such as this to start in will give you an immediate and appreciable return on your efforts. Pick a specific starting spot, such as a drawer, shelf or cupboard, in your focus area.
4. Now it’s time to start sorting. Remember to completely finish one area before moving on to the next. As you take out each item ask yourself:
a. Have I used it in the last six months?
b. Do I plan to use it in the next six months? (“I might need it” doesn’t count, it must be a real plan)
c. Do I really love it? (Would you buy it again?)
d. Does it have serious sentimental value? (Serious means you would be genuinely upset at its loss)
If you can’t answer a resounding yes to at least one of these questions, then the item needs to leave your space. Donate, toss or recycle it. If you are really in doubt, place it in the six month test box. This box will be stashed away for six months. If at the end of the six months you haven’t needed the items or can’t remember what’s in the box you need to let it go. All other items should go into the appropriate category (see Step1), and be dealt with accordingly. The only exception to this process are the items that you must keep for legal purposes.
5. As you fill each box, take action with it. For example, if the donate box is full take it to your car and schedule time to drop it off (intentions that aren’t scheduled rarely get done). It takes effort to keep on track, but it’s well worth it.
6. As you put away your Current Use items, make sure you are placing them in the appropriate area. It’s counter productive to put something away in a spot that doesn’t make sense. Just because it came off a shelf or out of a particular drawer doesn’t mean it should go back there. Ask yourself where and how you use the item. Make it accessible for those scenarios. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you. If you always write letters in the living room, put your writing supplies in the living room. If you clip coupons in bed, put scissors in your night stand. Whatever you do, make it intuitive to you. If your child likes big bubbles in the bath every night and you’ve resorted to using the egg beater to make that happen, put the egg beater in the bathroom. Buy a second one for the kitchen if it’s something you regularly use, if not, don’t feel obligated to replace it. Things you have and don’t use are clutter.
7. Put everything back in its home after you use it. If you have made your items easily retrievable, you have also made them easily returnable by default. There is joy to be had in using something, and putting it away properly. Knowing that you are on the path to long term organization will bring a great deal of satisfaction to your life.
Soon you will be able to relax and enjoy the calm that freedom from clutter and disorganization brings!
Need some help decluttering? Be sure to check out Clutter Control 101. It’s an online workshop that will take you through the entire process of controlling clutter.
The easiest way to jump start the clutter clearing process is by harvesting the low hanging fruit first. We all have low hanging fruit, it’s the stuff that’s obviously past its useful life – the stuff that’s broken, old, outdated or no longer used.
Start your harvest by taking a walk through your house and toss/recycle whatever is obviously rubbish. You might think I am being presumptuous in assuming you have some garbage and/or junk lying around. But based on my experience almost everyone does (including yours truly – a couple of empty boxes have been hanging in my office for days, last months New Yorkers still linger in the magazine basket, I could go on, but you get it, we all have some low hanging fruit and I must go on a harvest as soon as I’m done posting this!).
Low hanging fruit is even more likely to exist when you have excess clutter, because junk easily blends into the cluttered landscape. Now let me be clear here, I am not suggesting anyone would purposely toss garbage around their home. I mean things like the broken beyond repair umbrella that’s been sitting in the hall closet forever, the remote that powers nothing since you upgraded to the universal gadget, last week’s newspapers, the sneakers your dog chewed just enough so that are no longer wearable. You should be able to dispose of these things with ease since it’s highly unlikely they will hold any real emotional attachment. So, what are you waiting for? Go on a harvest right now!
Have you ever been so overwhelmed by something that you can hardly see the forest for the trees? That burdened feeling makes you think you will never get through whatever you are dealing with. It may be a huge project at work, the kind that will make or break your career. It may be getting through a family crisis, the type where you can’t check out, not even for a moment . Or it might just be getting through an afternoon with sick kids – did I just hear someone scream mommmyyyy?
When you get to that place – the seriously overwrought, OMG I have so much to do I can hardly stand it, help me now place – remember this, you don’t have to figure it all out right this minute. You only have to identify the next action you need to take. That’s it. Don’t think about the end game. Don’t think about how much more you have to do. Just think about the very next step that you need to take related to whatever you’re working on or dealing with at that moment. Identify that single action and take it. Then repeat as needed. How simple is that? Incredibly.
Now to be clear, I am not saying this is necessarily easy, you actually have to take the action and continue taking action. But that’s exactly the reason this technique works. When you are involved in taking action, you are focusing on the action. This does two things – it interrupts the overwhelming thoughts (science shows us we really can’t be thinking about two things at once, so if you are focused on a task you have to stop, at least momentarily, thinking about your predicament) and it produces tangible results (you have something to show for your actions).
This is the complete opposite of big picture thinking. Here you are narrowing your focus so you can avoid the distraction that comes from a to-do list a mile long and all the siren calls for attention. You aren’t avoiding life though. You are just helping yourself move forward in a deliberate way. Sometimes blinders are necessary. When overwhelm sets in they can come on very handy. Why do you think horses wear them? So they don’t get distracted and scared. If that were to happen they would immediately go off course, losing their way and wind up in deep trouble.
I see this technique as a tricky little way to keep making progress even when I am feeling that I will never get it all done. By narrowing my focus to the present, I can avoid the crazy making that comes from being overwhelmed. Try it yourself the next time you feel paralyzed by all the things on your plate. I can practically guarantee you will feel better and see progress.
Clutter Quick Tip
We all have some clutter in our lives – it may be in our physical space, our head or our heart. What’s one thing can you let go of right now? Imagine what would happen if you just let go of one thing a day – that would be 365 things in a year!
I challenge you to say goodbye, right now, this minute, to just one thing. What’s not serving you well? What’s an irritation? What have you tripped over a hundred times and still not picked up? What’s hanging out that simply reminds you it was a less than stellar purchase? Let it go!
Do you know what it’s like to have just what you love, need and use? It’s balance, it’s simplicity, it’s elegance. Strive for that and you won’t regret it!
Clutter – ugh! It tends to accumulate with the greatest of ease. Getting rid of though is an entirely different story. Eradicating clutter can seem like a monumental task. What gives? We’ll let bunches of stuff into our spaces without giving anything much thought, so one would think we could let go of stuff without over-thinking the decision to say goodbye, right? On the face of it yes, letting go should be easy. And it would be if emotion didn’t play a role. Those damned emotions, they get us every time! Damned or not, it’s the truth, emotions really do complicate the clutter clearing process.
Guilt is the emotion that tops the list. I feel guilty getting rid of it – as a clutter coach that’s the reason I hear most often for hanging on to the things that no longer serve a purpose. The cause of the guilt runs the gamut. Everything from ‘I paid good money for it’ to ‘Aunt Emma would never forgive me if I donated that’. Never mind that the item ‘good money’ was paid for is never, ever used. Never mind that Aunt Emma hasn’t been around for the last twenty years. In the end it’s emotion, not rational thought that rules the decision making process.
The big question then is this – how do you overcome the power of emotion when it comes to decluttering? I say let’s not try to overcome it, instead let’s use it to our advantage. It’s not difficult to do, we just need to gently redirect our focus. Think about a gem, it has many facets, so too does any problem. If the way you are thinking about an issue isn’t helping you find a solution, adjust the way you are viewing it. Look at it from a different angle.
Let’s suppose you do have clutter, and let’s also suppose, for whatever reason, you are feeling guilty about letting go of the objects you no longer use. How can you refocus the guilt so it serves you well? I’m not crazy talking, you can actually take a bad feeling and turn it into a good feeling.
Contemplate this: What if someone had something you needed. They could easily give it or sell it to you, but they choose not to. They never use it themselves, they don’t need it and they don’t love it. They just hold it, never giving anyone else an opportunity to enjoy it. What would you think of a person like this? Personally, I would think they were very poor stewards of their possessions. I would also say they are self serving and selfish.
Cold, hard truth – if we hold onto something that we don’t need, don’t use or don’t love, we are withholding that object from someone who does need it, could use it, and/or would love it. And that’s not nice. Conversely, when we release the things we no longer have use for, we are doing good, we are improving lives – our life and the lives of those who will benefit from our giving. Can you see how refocusing can turn guilt in a motivator to do good? Wouldn’t you rather be seen as generous and kind than cleaving and self-interested?
If you are unsure this can work for you, try it, there’s nothing to lose – except loads of clutter!
If you are ready to jump start the clutter clearing process you’ll want to explore Clutter Control 101 – it’s online workshop that comes with one-on-one tele-coaching – and it’s guaranteed to help you declutter your life. If you are ready to be clutter free this is the workshop for you!
You can also get free decluttering and organizing tips here.
Have you decided it’s time to declutter?
Are you overwhelmed by the process? Maybe you’re on the brink, thinking you should get started but wondering if it’s possible. Well, it is possible. More than that, if you are motivated to create change it is highly probable that as you clear the clutter you will find life becomes better and better. Read on for a real life decluttering project progress report that is sure to motivate. And if you’re stuck in the clutter muck be sure to check out the Clutter Control 101 Workshop.
Decluttering Progress Report From Jane E. Brody
In a column last fall, I announced my intention to rid my home and myself of a half-century of accumulated “stuff” — everything from papers, books, clothing and shoes to packaging material and shopping bags. I’m happy to report significant progress.
Scores of old files, letters and mementos have been recycled. Bags of books, clothes, coats, shoes and linens have been donated to charities. New and hardly used kitchen equipment has been given to those who need it more than I do.
A decision to re-carpet three of the most cluttered rooms in my house forced me to move — and remove — hundreds of long-unused items. I replaced oversized and impractical furniture and containers with smaller, more useful items less likely to become reservoirs of dust and clutter.
Continue reading here: Progress Report on a Decluttering Project – NYTimes.com.