- There are surprising ways of defining what clutter is.
Clutter is not necessarily disorganization. Things can be organized but cluttered. Clutter is about what’s stagnant and stuck. That’s a big a-ha for people. Everybody who reads my book SHED says, “I never even thought about it this way.” They found clutter in their lives they had never expected.
- Clutter can be wasted time.
There’s such a a thing as time-clutter. Things on your schedule that are no longer relevant but you’re still doing them. Shed this time clutter.My old book [about not using email early in the day] was all about counter-intuitive ways to become more productive by rearranging the way you do things. Just not checking email for the first hour of the day made a big difference. It was not about organizing – it’s about releasing an attachment to something else.
- Clutter can be unproductive habits. Habit-clutter is another realm, taking up space with very low value – de-energizing activities, a habit that used to serve you but no longer does.Habit-clutter costs you 5 hours a day. If you lose a daily habit that is obsolete, that no longer works for you – perfectionism, procrastination, obsessive email checking or television watching – every client I ever talked to has told me that 30% of their day was stolen by this habit. It’s what you spend the time on and then beating yourself up, and then not energized to do anything else. If you shed that habit, you can regain 5 hours a day of quality, productive, meaningful time to pursue your next adventure. You need the time and the energy to take on change. Where is it going to come from? There are a lot of habits that were useful in your 20s 30s and 40s – you don’t need them anymore.
- Your clutter really holds clues to who you are and what you love and where to go from here. There are treasures and info there. Don’t just think of it as junk. You will learn a lot about yourself as you go through that process.
- Go through your house and find 5 very stagnant areas. With each one, ask yourself, “If all this were gone what would I miss?” Instantly you will recognize the treasures. Heave everything that’s not on the list. The answers are in your stuff. One client had a utility closet outside her kitchen. In that closet she found all kinds of things, but 80% of it was not used. I asked what would she miss. A sewing machine that her grandmother had given her. Why? First, it came from her grandmother – but it was much more than that, it was the symbol of the creativity that she used to thrive on – the happiness she found in making clothes and creating things. That emerged. Everywhere we went, the treasures were the things that represented her creativity and her joy. She was able to reactivate. She’s lost 50 pounds, has started her own business. We didn’t know what she was going to do with that information. But she cleared out the clutter and it allowed her to pursue that creativity.
- Measure as you go.
It’s always fun to measure your progress since you’re really trying to create real space. I worked with one client who had 2 file drawers with 50 inches of files, and for years and years she could not go near those drawers. Every time she came near them she got down and took a nap. There were unfinished products, to-dos, information about her past. She couldn’t face it. We went folder by folder and asked, What is this? She wrote down “If all this were going, what would I miss?” She put a Post-It on each folder. Once we did that, then she went through with the list and in a matter of under 4 hours she went from 50 inches of files to 5. It’s remarkably easy to shed.
- Don’t go one item at a time.
People are afraid that they don’t know how to choose what’s important and not without a process. Before you dive in, ask the question “What would I miss?” and write it down before you start shedding. My clients are amazed at how incredibly easy it is then to get rid of things.
- In my book there’s a neat exercise called “Look in the Mirror.”
After you de-clutter there’s this big open space and the wall of panic sets in. You can look in your own space for clues as to who you are, but you can also look out to your circle of friends. I recommend looking out to a pretty diverse group of people who know you to email you 7 adjectives about what they see in you. It’s remarkable what patterns emerge- the patterns that other see in you that you yourself can’t see.
- Know where you want to go.
I can’t design your system if you don’t know where you’re going. That’s organizing from the outside in – which just doesn’t work. I’ve always worked from the inside out. Then there were people who couldn’t sustain it – not because there was a flaw in the system but because they had an attachment to their old ways of doing things.
- Shedding never really stops.
There’s always going to be something. Even when you’re in your new life, you’ll find new things. You never get to the complete bottom of the container where there’s not anything in your life that isn’t a little obsolete. Life keeps changing. If you get to at least one plateau, it energizes you.