Our Feelings & Our Organizing

I recently talked about how our minds are the most important tool for our organizing efforts in Our Minds & Our Organizing – how when we use it clearly we can figure out the solutions for our unique situation.  And of course our mind handles more than the logical data in our lives – it’s processing our emotions.  Our thoughts and feelings interact and intermingle influencing our actions and behaviors and when we improve our awareness then our choices will support our life and goals.

The feelings we have can inspire us to make changes – “this space feels cluttered,” “I’m so frustrated at how I’m managing my time,” and “I get so anxious when I have to deal with paperwork.”  As we recognize the feelings we’re having, we can then start the process of finding a way to change things and feel better – at least ideally.

Those same feelings can prompt avoidance and discouragement – where we cannot conceive that there is hope for things to be any different – hopeless, another feeling.  It can be challenging to withstand the influence of our feelings – shirking tasks we feel we’re not good at or can’t succeed with, procrastinating things since “what’s the point?” and giving ourselves all sorts of messages that support reasons that we cannot change things.  Yet if you examined those things logically, without the negative beliefs, would the evidence show your “complete incompetence” or just that you are not perfect and might need support, skills building, or practice?

These feelings can also trigger action to resolve the annoyance quickly – more of a reaction to your feelings.  Just like when interacting with people and someone blindsides you – it can be hard not to just react (whatever that looks like for you: snapping, yelling, apologizing, withdrawing) and realize later how things could have been handled better.  Similarly with our organizing, it can be easy to react to our organizing and tasks annoyances with our emotions.  Therefore, do we jump in and do anything to relieve the discomfort?  Or do we take some time to consider how to move things forward and make sure we’re not making more work or more complications for ourselves down the road?  If we’re busy reacting to our feelings of unhappiness, without evaluating our approach with the logic our mind can offer – it could be counter-productive.

We can draw an analogy to a typical junk drawer – it can be easy to just drop in all the random things we don’t or can’t deal with right now and it becomes the jumble where it’s hard to find anything.  The thing about a junk drawer is that it’s small and so what goes in and how much it can hold limits the degree of chaos you’ll have to deal with eventually.  Yet when we’re plagued with the need to fix that thing that’s bugging us, it’s often not as small and limited as a junk drawer.  That’s when the temptation to throw everything into the closet or a bin/bag/box, or rent a storage locker can lure us into thinking this is the best option.  And it might be the best option – the key is to consider your motivation, the logic of doing it, and then approach the stuff in a way that will minimize frustration and maximize getting your goals accomplished.

You can see that our emotions can have a tremendous effect on our efforts – whatever those efforts might be – both in a positive as well as a detrimental way.  These feelings can drive us – hurrying us to get through them – after all, when emotions are uncomfortable, why would anyone want to hang out with those unpleasant feelings?  It can be tricky to distinguish between our thoughts and feelings since there is such interplay between them.  Yet when we examine things from a logical point of view – looking for the evidence that supports and rejects our ideas – we can make the most of our emotions for inspiring change.  Ideally we’re using both our minds and feelings to develop the systems that will help us simplify and accomplish what we want.

What Do You Identify With?

How do you see yourself?  We all have this idea of who we are – what our strengths are and the things that define us.  And then there’s what other people think of us – how they see us.  Often these are based on the plethora of labels available for defining things – a way to characterize all the things in this world.  Yet, do these things end up encompassing who we are – who any one is?

It is easy to look at things with the idea that it’s an either-or option – especially when we look at others.  This person is depressed or they’re not.  This person is a hoarder or they’re not.  This person is an introvert whereas that person is an extravert.  This person has ADHD or they don’t.  This person is punctual and that person is always late.

All this is not to say that we don’t or can’t fall into these characteristics in one direction, rather that it’s a limited way to view people.  I was sharing with a client that there are things I hoard – where I struggle to let go of certain things.  Her reply was that couldn’t be true, I was a professional organizer after all.  Yet, even as a professional organizer, my home has plenty of unnecessary things – I can be organized as well as cluttered.  People are rarely (if ever) so easily captured with labels – our personality and character are more complex than can be described simply.

While on the other hand, these labels can also help us.  When someone shares that they’re depressed, ADHD, introverted, or whatever, it gives other people some idea about them.  They’ll likely be more understanding when behaviors come up – ah, that apathy/distraction/withdrawal/etc. could be from that.

I’ve had a number of client that have described themselves as hoarders, or been told by others that they are hoarders.  None of the people I’ve worked with would truly qualify for the diagnostic criteria of hoarding, though they might struggle with parts within the hoarding definition.  And I talk to them about it – they are identifying with a label that doesn’t truly apply to them.  One of them shared that it helped her to use the term; she felt that it finally offered a frame of reference for her challenges – a starting point to understanding what they are struggling with.

Most of the “hoarders” I work with recognized that using that label limited them – the negativity confining and draining them.  This is where the application of these defining terms can be damaging and hurtful and can apply to any description.  The way we use the labels, whether self-applied or given from others, – and what they mean to us personally – can have a significant impact on how we approach things.

Do the labels help you – give you a frame of reference for understanding, find it empowering to find a way through, or permission to set better boundaries and get more realistic?  Or do they end up hurting you – confining you by their definition, discouraging you – taking away hope, or do you seize the idea and limit yourself – “since I’m “x”, I can’t…”

Even our more defining characteristics shift and change – vary in the short term.  People who tend to be adamantly punctual will run late and vice versa.  In working with people about their stuff – some of them tend toward ruthlessly purging stuff and just want to get all of it out and then we’ll run into times where making a decision has become excruciating.  Then in the opposite – people who struggle to make decisions will have times when it’s easy.  And this isn’t necessarily a random day – rather a series of them or “regularly” at some other (often unknown) interval.  Just another reason it’s hard to capture a person with labels.

People are complex – aren’t you more complex than can be captured with descriptive words?  We’re made up of many experiences and characteristics and really we tend to defy being categorized.  There are so many factors that influence us – from those life experiences to the degree of recent self-care (ever notice the impact the amount of sleep can have on your behavior?).  Consider the labels – each one independently of the others – that you apply to yourself – do they support or limit you?  How can you challenge them – are they truly accurate or accurate at certain times? Reducing and eliminating the labels that confine you can open up a world of possibilities – we all need hope to move forward with our goals and dreams.

Our Minds & Our Organizing

I think we are all doing more – we have more to track and stay on top of – than in past generations.  I don’t claim to know whether we’re saying ‘yes’ to more things or if there’s more to do.  Whatever the reason, it can mean that it’s easier to get overwhelmed and for things to simply not get done.  I could probably write a whole post about saying ‘no’ to things – even those that we put on ourselves – yet this isn’t what this entry is about.  When we have what feels like endless things we need to track and accomplish, organizing can be one of those pieces that feels less important.  Although if we know where things are and where they go, we can be more successful with all the other things we’re trying to handle.

When you decide organizing is important and will benefit you – it doesn’t happen magically.  (If only it was that simple! :))  The way we think and process interacts with our organizing efforts – in all ways, the decisions we make in choosing what, where, why, and how we put our things and then both in creating new systems as well as in maintaining what you’ve set up.  Our minds are critical to the process – and they can fool us.  How so, you ask?

Have you noticed that you can set aside the time, energy, and focus for organizing and then after you’ve done all the work realized that it’s not as logical as you’d thought?  I’m not sure how many people see this – that the way we think can end up creating some additional challenges to our efforts.

First, there’s more than one “logical” system we could create for ourselves considering the way we work.  If you’ve ever tried to categorize things, you’ve probably encountered those items that fit in more than one place and then have to choose one – and then, most importantly, remember which place you chose – and all at some unknown future point.  Filing is an example of specific example – what to call this or that file and then finding where you decided to put those specific papers.  Sometimes the fact that things can be misplaced even with thoughtful and logical decisions can be upsetting for people – potentially to the point of avoiding making decisions on systems.

One way to help you track your systems is to make a list or a map – keep it relatively simple.  I have a list of each file name and which drawer it’s in and then one of those files has lists of the boxes in storage and what the rough contents are so if I need to find a specific thing I can reference my file and go directly to the box it’s in.  I recently made a map of a dresser for a client – where each box, labeled with a short description of the contents (mostly 1-3 words), represents a drawer in the dresser.  Whatever you can do to help your mind focus on the things that really matter is what’s important.

example of a map for the contents of a dresser

An example of a “map” to identify where things are stored

Second, we might be impatient to find our solutions.  The level of frustration at how chaotic things feel – whether that’s searching for things or how many things we’re dealing with – can tempt us into rushing into setting up something – anything.  And then we change our minds – and set up something else.  Maybe we do this over and over and over again – and avoid sticking with any one system long enough to find out how it does help us.  Just because something doesn’t work immediately does not translate into its being useless.  It’s too easy to discount the importance of our habits – that it takes time, energy, and most importantly effort to shift them.  Do you remember the process of learning to ride a bike?  It took time and practice.  Therefore, make a decision – hopefully thought out – and stick with it for a while, working on being consistent with it.

In our search for answers – the way to make things easier – the thought of spending time thinking can be objectionable.  “What, you mean, I have to not act, let the crummy system/space continue?  And sit still and think?”  Well, mostly yes (you don’t have to sit still ;-)) – if we avoid considering how this or that did or didn’t work, all the various pieces of it; we’re going to keep jumping randomly from one idea and system to another.  Meanwhile, life isn’t going to be simplified and finding things that work for you are likely to elude you – defeating the purpose of trying to make things easier.

Although it might feel counter-productive to evaluate your systems – “a waste of time” – taking the time to do this will save you time, energy, and effort in the long run.  And when it appears that a system has broken down – take the time to re-evaluate things.  You might discover that something else – not the system – has changed.  There are plenty of times that things can become fully functional with some tweaks here and there, whether they are new to you or established yet fluctuating systems – and not require an overhaul, i.e. more time, energy, and effort from you, unnecessarily.

The benefits of being organized are innumerable – the reduction of stress and worry (at least in the organizing area) is priceless.  It would be hard to argue that it’s not valuable – though there are certainly times that it isn’t high on the priority list.  It requires we spend our valuable time and energy on it – all the more reason to not rush into it.  And ideally we’re going to approach our organizing efforts with our mind focused and relatively clear.  It’s your best asset for discovering the systems that will enable you to simplify and focus on all those other things you’re handling.  Therefore, use your mind to choose a system to try, set it up mindfully, and then stick with it for a while – and of course evaluate how it’s working or not for you.

More Scheduling Options

With the challenge of there being so many possible solutions for each of our struggles, the prospect of finding our own approach can be daunting.  It all to easy to want to find an expert that will tell us what to do – break all the pieces down so we can follow it and poof, our problems will vanish.  Even when our experience shows how unlikely this is, we can still get caught up in wanting an easy answer.  Instead, when you know some basic ideas and approaches, you can pick and choose the parts that work for you and move forward.  It is definitely a process – it’s likely to take time – and here are some ideas to help you find your own solution.


Make a Time Map-

This is what Julie Morgenstern’s refers to as a “budget of your day, week or month that balances your time between the various departments of your life.”  I think about it as a chunking of what we need to do and how it relates to our schedule – a combination of the roles we fill and the ways we can shape our schedules to fit our life and style.  It’s a visual guideline for how we want to use our time; usually done in broad strokes (though you design it as you want or need) and from here you can see where to add any additional appointments or tasks.  Here are some sample time maps to see various ways you can design your own: Time Map Sample Booklet.

Since my schedule varies extensively, creating and using a time map is more challenging.  Instead I’ve considered how much time I’d like to spend on the various roles of my life each week – then I can add them in as my schedule allows.  The schedules we each have can vary so dramatically – this is where the strength of the time map can shine – you create it for your schedule, both the obligations of your life as well as your personal style.  This deserves more attention; so keep your eyes open for a future post on just time maps.

Get Curious-

Look for patterns in how you schedule and how you react to your schedule.  For instance, when you have an appointment, you find yourself energized or drained after it?  It won’t be that simple though, but it can begin to reveal your own style.  Do you repeatedly schedule things around other appointments?  Do you honor those scheduled tasks?  One of the key features of being curious is that you continue the curiosity – things change and evolve all the time.  Therefore, even if you think you’ve identified an important piece for yourself and schedule, work with that until it changes and then curiosity is still there to use again.

Experiment with the Variables-

Since there isn’t one right way of doing things, use that curiosity to test different options.  One easy thing to test out can be when you run errands – do you do it at the end of a workday or when you have a day off?  Or do you do a bit of both?  Whatever your approach is, consider changing things for a little while – test how the changes impact your schedule, time, and energy.  I’ve discovered that I function better with 1 day a week that has no appointments – even if that means I need to make a couple days longer to run errands.  I also use David Allen’s Getting Things Done 2-minute rule in a different way – where I will decide on an amount of time, say 15, 30, 45 minutes and then work on all the 2-minute tasks I can find during that time.

Brainstorm: What will help you to be more mindful of your schedule?-

Between my curiosity and experimenting I figured out how many working hours were realistic.  Yet, that didn’t solve how I’d sometimes over-schedule myself.  Considering my calendar schedule – I work with the iPad calendar and the week view – I decided to create an “appointment” with the work hours scheduled for that week.  This hasn’t eliminated my over-scheduling, though it’s helped tremendously and nothing is perfect.  You know your schedule and your challenges, what can help you?  The possibilities might not occur to you right way – sometimes they need to marinate.  Once you have an idea, try it and see what happens.  Each idea you try is a success regardless of whether it is a solution for you – at least if you give it a good trial.


I wish for all of us that an easy solution existed.  Once we find the pieces that work, it can seem easy.  It’s the process of discovering our own answers that can challenge us.  I’m here to tell you it can be done – have hope.  Not long ago I wrote 3 Common Scheduling Recommendations, which talks about probably the most common advice from time management experts.  It’s a journey – our path to figuring out how to make things work best for ourselves.  Good Luck and if you have any questions – you know how to reach me.

3 Common Scheduling Recommendations

What comes to mind for what ‘schedule’ means to you?  There are times that I think of my calendar specifically – those appointments that are concrete and involve other people.  Other times it’s broader than just my calendar – where it’s all the various pieces on my agenda.  And let’s be honest, we all have an agenda – whether or not we write it down or make consistent progress.  When we struggle with our schedules it’s setting us up for crazy-making – we feel guilty, lazy, and head towards being overwhelmed.  And no matter what any expert might claim, what will help you is something for you to discover, so let’s consider some approaches that you can experiment with to find out what will help you.


Put Tasks Into Your Calendar-

Most time management experts say that we need to put tasks into our calendar – you choose a block of time and add it directly, making it into a concrete appointment, with you.  If you’ve never tried doing this, I would suggest you test it out and see if it helps you.  This seems to be one of the most popular and common recommendations – sometimes even part of the foundation of time management approaches.  It’s also a prime example of something that works for some people and falls flat with others.  Although I play with this from time to time, it’s something that fails to benefit me.  Maybe my inner child rebels against that much structure or I’m aware of how negotiable those tasks really are – yet more often than not, any tasks in my calendar end up getting done in other time slot or avoided.  The one exception can be errands – where I choose the errands based on time and location, so it’s really the most convenient to do it then.

Identify Your Roles-

This is another popular piece of the foundation for managing your time – identify your values and the life roles you fill.  Another way to think about these is what are your big picture goals for your life – those important things that you want to spend time on.  I’ll even go a step further and tell you to make sure one of those things on your list needs to be: personal/self-care or some other name that means you’re making yourself a priority in order to have the energy for the other things.  If we identify “relationships/family/friendship” as a role we value, we can then make room in our schedule for attending to that.  I talk about this in Tasks – Big Picture View, and share my own list of 5 roles. The list of your roles will work more effectively if it’s short (again time is limited) and then you make effort to include fulfilling aspects of it in your schedule.  You can use these roles in other experiments – both to help you include them in your schedule and to see if you are living your values the way you’d like to be.

Include Time Estimates with Each Task-

Many experts talk about writing the amount of time you think a task will take right after the item – regardless of what the task is or how time consuming.  As I talked about in Take Control of Your Schedule, we all only have so much time to work with and it only helps us if we can avoid over-scheduling ourselves.  I’ve talked before about how our perceptions of time can be distorted – in either direction – so writing down your estimate about how long each task will take you helps you to be mindful about what you’re trying to accomplish and whether it’s a task for another day or time.  Also by having the time estimate there, you might realize how you need to adjust the allotted time for certain tasks, more or less time – helping you control your schedule in the future.  Although I do not write time estimates each week on my to-do list, I use this as needed – whether to remind myself that this or that task will take more time or to clearly show that just because most tasks are “small” the time still adds up.  I’ve also noticed that when I am feeling overwhelmed that including the time estimates on my to-do list helps lessen my anxiety and stress, which translates to making the most of my time in smart ways.  Of course, if you use a digital calendar and put your tasks directly into your calendar, you are blocking the time – the estimate of the time that task will take you.  Even if you don’t physically record your tasks, you can consider the time required when you’re thinking about what’s on your agenda.


These 3 approaches to handling your schedule more effectively are probably the most well known, although I’ve got several more on my list of options for scheduling experiments for another time.  None of these are the end-all be-all that will solve any schedule challenges.  They can all be used together or not – although knowing these approaches, even if you don’t actively use any of them, can be important as you work with your schedule.  If you haven’t tried any of these, test them out for yourself and your life.  Do they add any benefit for your schedule?  Is there a particular time or context that they could help you?  Remember, it’s all about finding ways to help make your life easier.

Get the Help You Need

Smilingly I would comment to people when they called that if there weren’t lots of people struggling on their own, my profession wouldn’t even exist.  This experience of feeling unable to handle things on their own elicits responses that vary widely – some people are nonchalant and comfortable while others are deeply ashamed and feel like they might be somehow broken.  And if you fall into this latter group – read on as I discuss how understandable it is to be embarrassed and why it’s completely normal to have someone help you.

Anyone can be nervous about the state of his or her home and spaces.  And I mean anyone – from the “hoarders” to those in an immaculate home, and everyone in-between.  The self-described “hoarders” are often quite embarrassed – though by labeling themselves as such, they’re putting themselves in with the extreme situations shown on TV.  Then there are plenty of people being labeled as “hoarders” by their families and don’t necessarily realize that having some (even a lot of) clutter doesn’t make you a “hoarder.”

Our loved ones can sometimes unintentionally make things more challenging (if we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt, and I like to give everyone that).  There are people who seem to struggle to understand how anyone could get so behind, or not handle things more efficiently.  As I’ve interacted with some people like this, it seems that they cannot conceptualize anything beyond how they “just do what needs to be done” so why can’t everyone else do that?  Others are frustrated and hurt at how things have fallen apart and their emotions interfere with being helpful about getting things back on track.  And that can lead to becoming hopeless about things ever improving – for everyone involved.  These messages – whatever they might be – can then add to the embarrassment of both the situation as well as needing help at all.

I desperately wish there was a way I could shift everyone’s thinking to understand that we all need help.  It doesn’t make us a failure nor does it mean that we are broken in any way.  Although it is contrary to many people’s conceptions of a professional organizer, professional organizers will call in other professional organizer’s to help them with their own spaces.  Why would they need someone to come in?

It’s easier to do things when you’re not alone.  I cannot claim to know why this is so – yet many, many people talk to me about this.  I feel this same way, and have asked friends over to simply keep me company while I work on something.  We are social animals after all.  Things seem less onerous and there is someone to bounce ideas off of.  It can be amazing that simply having another person present can reduce how overwhelming things feel.  Maybe it’s an implicit accountability – “I’ve invited them over to talk to me while I do x, I better do x.”  When someone is right there with you, you’ve got a place to turn for support if you need it.

Some people are more likely to view things from “new eyes” when there’s someone with them.  I’ve noticed that myself – when we had a small party, I suddenly saw all the cobwebs on the ceiling that I’d missed and how this and that spot felt a little cluttered.  It’s like I was viewing my home from each guest’s eyes – at least possibly.  And when you bring in a professional, they can go a step further than simply another set of eyes – they can recognize how things could be improved (though most of us aren’t going in looking for that randomly – just when someone hires us!).

It saddens me that any of us would be ashamed of needing help.  If we think about it, there are lots of things we all need help with and have no embarrassment about – so why is there a double standard about needing help with some things (even within ourselves) that brings up shame?  Maybe those who are comfortable are those who recognize that getting help is the next logical step – it’s not a big deal.  Whatever you might be struggling with – I encourage you to lose the embarrassment or at least set it aside and find someone to help you through it.

Ready to Make a Change?

Yes? No? Maybe? Sometimes? I feel like a broken record as I reiterate that making any change can be hard.  We all know that it can be more than worth the effort too.  Some people are worn down by the “failures” of their prior efforts at change.  Others are worried about what those changes will bring with them – besides the positives they’re looking for.  And more are simply impatient for the changes to happen.  This is why I encourage you, first and foremost, is to allow yourself to be exactly where you are in the process.

Simply wanting things to be different doesn’t magically make them happen.  If only it were that simple.  Likewise, knowing there’s a process to making successful changes also doesn’t solve the struggles.  I’ve found that when I can remind myself that all of life – its up and downs – are part of the journey.  Although apparently misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, we’ve probably all heard the sentence,

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

I apply this idea to making changes.  There are things you can learn along the way – those rocks that trip you up, the unexpected detour off your path, the storm that hides the trail you were following – all experiences, however difficult, can teach you things and help you down the road.  If you’re engaged in the process, wherever you’re currently at – your patience and resilience will see you through.

Again often this is easier said than done.  Regardless, please allow yourself to be exactly where you are – as I talked about in “Are You Ready?”  You cannot hurry yourself into being ready, let alone be cajoled into changing.  There are many factors that interfere with making changes and how you handle those can have a dramatic effect on your progress.

Recently I talked about “Listen to Understand” which was directed to our interactions with other people.  The same approach and skills applied to an inner dialogue can provide insight into what is getting in our way to making the progress we want.  Often this is when it becomes all the more challenging to remain nonjudgmental – to tell yourself that you’re just making excuses, or whining, or just stupid, lazy, or crazy, etc.  Don’t – seriously stop yourself.  Set backs are common, to be expected even – and we can take that opportunity to learn.

If you’re curious and questioning, you’re not making excuses – you’re searching, looking for what’s happening in your experience and how it impacts you.  And it’s not necessarily all about the negative impact – it’s about your perspective, all of it.  In our searching to understand, the solutions might elude us for a while.  We gain an insight here or there – move forward some and hit a roadblock.  “Rawr, I’m stuck (or back-sliding) again, why can’t I just do it right?”

We learn as we do.  The challenges we each face aren’t laid out with all their facets in black and white like an assembly manual.  We search and discover something a little deeper, hoping this will be the key to clear our path – which it likely will do for a little while.  Then it’s time to dig again – uncover more of our tendencies to reveal the next steps.

Our state of mind when we reach that stage of readiness to change can be so inspiring – even exhilarating.  The whole house needs organizing – I’ll do it all.  Yet think about what your reaction would be if someone who’s not been exercising said, “I’m going to work out 5 days a week for an hour each time.”  You’d probably cringe, worrying how they might hurt themselves, and maybe that they’re going to set themselves up for possible failure.  It can be hard to take things slowly.  To approach things methodically might feel counterintuitive to the energy and motivation.  “Oh at long last I’m finally ready and need to take advantage right now.”

Although I can guide you along the path to making changes – and caution you about some common pitfalls – this is your path.  Sometimes we need to have the experience for ourselves.  There’s nothing wrong about that – as long as you continue to move through the stages of making those lasting changes you’re searching for.  Try to keep the pessimism at bay, and encourage the curiosity – about yourself and what works for you.  The changes you want can be achieved – with some time, effort, and patience (remember, patience comes to those who wait for it!) – I believe in you. 🙂

Are You Ready?

“Ready for what” you might ask?  At any given time you could be prepared for various things – the need to adjust or even make abrupt changes – those things that life inevitably demands.  While there are times that any change, even minor adjustments, can be overwhelming.  This is part of life – whether we like or accept it.  A valuable skill to develop is to learn to recognize what we can and cannot handle – at least at certain points in time, since this too shifts with different variables.

Therefore for this moment – are you ready to work at getting organized? And it most definitely can be work.  When we let things slide or we never learned the skills to develop and maintain an organized environment, it takes time and effort to bring your spaces into order.  As FlyLady says, the state of your home didn’t happen overnight and it can’t be fixed overnight – whatever the actual state of things in your own spaces.

And to be blunt, just because you are frustrated and overwhelmed doesn’t automatically mean that you are “ready.”  And equally, it doesn’t mean that you’re not “ready.”  There are “Stages of Change” or “Stages of Readiness” people have identified that we all move through and among – along our individual paths.  These apply to any changes we want or need to make in our life – from getting organized to any other changes we want to implement.

  1. Pre-contemplation/ Initial Rumblings
  2. Contemplation/ Identifying Possibilities
  3. Preparation/ Reaching Out
  4. Action/ Beyond Talking
  5. Maintenance/ Life Jolts (increase in commitment)

–       first items are taken from “A ‘Stages of Change’ Approach to Helping Patients Change Behavior”; second items taken from ICD’s fact sheet, “Readiness for Change – Revised” (pdf link FS-010, second from the bottom of page)

Remember I also said we move among these stages – the idea of relapse – where we falter in making the progress we want, is moving to an earlier stage in the process.  It’s completely normal and simply means you’ve encountered some additional challenges and can move back toward the progress you want – when you are ready.

Being “ready” isn’t a solitary, concrete event.  It is moving through the process at your own pace, influenced by your life and experiences.   It’s all about you and where you are at within these stages.  Making changes is challenging – even when we desperately want to make them – hence that it is “work.”  Also it is rarely a straight line – making consistent, steady progress from the moment you begin to developing the skills in maintaining the change you’ve identified.  If you think about any change you have made and even those you set out to change – what was that process like for you?  Likely, it was challenging – it took time and effort – especially initially.  It quite probably required learning new skills, or how to apply other skills in new ways.

One of the best things you can do for yourself – as you embark on making changes, even with getting organized – is to give yourself permission to be exactly where you are in the process.  You will likely not be right where you are now as time passes – moving through the stages doesn’t necessarily require that you “work” those stages, they can happen naturally.  Lasting change comes from within – your own motivation or where you are within the process of making changes you’ve personally identified – and being patient with the process.

Wherever you are in the process, whatever changes you want to make – you can begin anytime.  Waiting until you are solidly in an “action” stage isn’t required.  Although you can also wait until you are ready for taking action.  There is no one right answer – it’s about you and what will work for you.  And it never hurts to find support as you embark on the process of making changes – whatever that support looks like.

These Stages of Change can provide you with a framework for how we all process. This outline also doesn’t address other complicating factors, which I’ll talk about soon.  It does illustrate what is typical for all of us – it’s not as simple as flipping a switch and presto things are fixed.  If only it were that easy.  Hopefully it will encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you strive to make changes – whether that’s getting organized or whatever other changes you want to make.  Truly it is simply part of the process – even when it’s annoying – it’s still “normal.”

What changes do you want to make?  Where are you in the process?  Are you taking action?

Listen to Understand

My husband was sharing how he overheard some coworkers talking – Dave was asking about the family situation of John.  Then Dave began to tell John just what he needed to do.  Meanwhile my husband knew a bit about John’s situation and saw how Dave wanted to give advice more than understand the choices John and his family had consciously made.

Families can be notorious for having the answers for each other.  The mom/dad/sibling who knows just what you need to do, and it would solve all your difficulties.  Except they really don’t. This doesn’t just happen in families, it happens with coworkers and friends, almost anywhere.  We all like to think we understand what the other person is dealing with and how to help them.

We share a common bond – we’re human and have similar life experiences.  We went to school.  We have a family.  We’ve felt unwell.  We’ve loved; we’ve lost.  We want to connect.  Yet with all our shared, similar experiences, the way we think and feel about those things can be dramatically different for each of us.  Our perspective about these events is based on more than the actual event – it’s colored by our prior life experiences, our own personality, the effect of that experience, and the list can go on and on.

Some people think that as a professional organizer I will come on in and know just what to do to fix their struggles.  I could try to do that – although I won’t.  It wouldn’t be sustainable that way, since it doesn’t take into account the individual and their situation.  The cause of their struggles could be any number of things and without understanding that – how much of a true solution could there possibly be?  All those variations based on their life need to be considered.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t present lots of ideas and share stories.  I will even discourage someone from tackling things in a certain way.  Yet, each person is truly an individual so that means they need to learn and experience things their way.  How many of us touching a hot stove at some point in life, despite being told not to?  Sometimes we need to learn things for ourselves, through direct experience.

What I try to do most is to listen.  Then I ask questions to follow up on what they’ve shared.  I listen to the language they use – are there lots of “shoulds” in what they are choosing?  What are those “shoulds” about?  How did this or that experience effect them?  My answers are not their answers, just as my experience is not their experience – the perspective we take away can be strictly our own.

This was illustrated a while back for me as I was working with one of my clients.  I wish I remembered the specific details more, though she was sharing an experience with me.  She and I have several things in common – I can relate to many things in her experience, and I almost jumped in with a comment about “yeah, I know how you feel…” Then I caught myself (it does take practice to counter the familiar response of jumping in with both answers and relating) and instead asked her how that felt.  Her response was not what I’d expected – despite our similarities.  That is exactly what stuck with me – by listening and asking more, I heard her and learned more about her experience.

One of the greatest gifts we can offer people is to listen to them.  Really listen to them.  Get curious – about yourself and others – and ask follow-up questions.  How did you decide on that?  What influenced this choice?  Deep down what we all want is to be heard – hoping to be understood.  Everyone could be understood – their choices came from their life and experiences.  Practice listening – it’s harder than you might think!

Embrace the Duality

I have a wonderful job – I get to work with amazing people.  Often I get to meet some of their family members.  Occasionally those family members aren’t supportive (at least as I would like to see them being supportive).  Even more rarely, I will overhear comments about my being there to help.  One spouse in particular would make comments when I would arrive –  “we don’t want any,” time after time.  He could have been kidding or he could have been frustrated.  In truth, it could be either of these, or both, or some combination of any number of things.

It’s much easier to put those experiences into “boxes” that we understand – oh, they made that rude comment to me so they must be rude.  Or as so many of us take the responsibility on ourselves – they did this or that, so it must be because they’re upset with me.  Our explanations for things can fall into a context that makes sense to us – and often is a clear-cut, black or white interpretation.  This may or may not be the truth for them.

Where’s the middle ground in how we view things?  Well, first it’s incredibly hard to simply hold an experience and not put it into a “box.”  It takes energy and focus.  We have to look at it – rather than shove it away and maybe avoid it.

We do these same things with our own behaviors – we label ourselves as “good” or “bad” for this or that choice, behavior, action.  I know very few people who go around making bad decisions – they make the best choice based on the information they have, their own personality, and values.  As with everyone on this planet, it was the “best” decision they could have made in that moment and situation.

Consider a pro-con list – with each choice you’re considering there are pros and there are cons.  They are personal to you – your pros (and cons) might not be anyone else’s.  It’s the opposite sides to one coin – the choice contains both the pros and cons – at least potentially.

The same thing can be said of the things we do with our life – day to day.  We go to a job that often frustrates us, yet it’s not as simple as just needing the money – we believe in what we’re doing and find joy in it periodically.  We have so many interests that we fill our schedules full and our anxiety skyrockets – yet we wouldn’t change it and find those activities rewarding.  We buy containers to organize the stuff surrounding us that sit unused adding to the stuff around – yet there’s hope for making changes.  Our ongoing behaviors and choices can have both pros and cons within them.  It’s not as simple as black or white.

My job means that I will sometimes work with people whose family isn’t as supportive of them as I would like them to be.  It doesn’t mean that I won’t do this work or work with those clients.  And it doesn’t mean that I will understand what is truly going on with the family members – their concern, their frustration, their whatever – unless they share with me.

There’s nothing wrong with the duality and it doesn’t have to be one or the other – “good” or “bad.”  There’s nothing saying that we can’t live with and stay with those contradictions in our lives.  It doesn’t make it easy to see and hold the duality though.  When we can open our eyes, see the pros as well as the cons, and accept it – then we gain some clarity – a big picture view.  And maybe changes will have to be made, but even then, the next choice will have some duality too!