Ready to Escape the Pain

There’s a reason I don’t sell gift certificates generally.  Never mind that some people would be mortally offended to be given a gift of a professional organizer, it would be a waste of money unless the person was ready.  They need to decide there’s a better way and to make the effort to change.  If I only had a magic wand, this could be different, maybe.  When we pause to consider that someone has to be ready to make changes otherwise nothing else will make a long-term difference, we can see how true it is.  The first step is that when the pain becomes too great, we’re inspired to figure out alternatives.

My husband and I have had long interesting conversations about pain.  Generally you hear how having a high pain tolerance is a good thing, “it makes you stronger.”  I know I associate the idea of a high pain tolerance with resiliency; the strength to make it through whatever comes my way.  And we’ve come the conclusion that for many things we have a low tolerance for pain.

Consider the person who is constantly losing their keys, phone, purse, wallet, etc.  I have a friend who struggles with this and they race around in some degree of panic searching – eventually finding whatever it was and moving along with their day.  And it happens again and again; and yet it seems normal to them, it’s just how it is.

Then there’s other people who’ve lost their keys or whatever, get frustrated, and decide to do things differently – they get determined.  They make a decision for how to avoid it happening and begin to implement that change.  It doesn’t get fixed overnight and it doesn’t mean that it never happens again.  Yet, it does mean that it’s more of a rare occurrence rather than a common one.

The second example is someone with a low pain tolerance.  The “pain” of losing that item is too great to simply continue in the same way – it instigates the desire for change.  The frustration or annoyance is greater than the challenge of finding a new way of doing something and making that new system work.  This includes failing and faltering along the way to the new system, yet determined to avoid the pain of lost keys with any frequency.

The frustration of a spouse, parent, or sibling is fairly irrelevant – the pain has to be yours if true lasting changes are going to be made.  And that’s not to say that the frustration of a loved one isn’t motivating, but it can spur movement that is short-lived.  Consider the example of alcoholics – the person needs to make the decision on their own to change otherwise they’ll return to drinking.  The impetus for change wasn’t coming from within.  The context is irrelevant, the person needs to reach the point where they want things to be different, better.

Let me be perfectly clear – we all live our lives the best we can.  If you are someone who loses your keys regularly and haven’t done anything about it, that’s fine – there is no one right way.  People can lead great lives while constantly losing their keys, although they might be frustrating their spouse. 🙂  That’s not the point.  If YOU don’t mind losing your keys, what would motivate you to change that?

As I’ve touched on before, facing changes can be challenging, even when they’re wanted (or positive).  Therefore, when the risk of doing something different is less painful than staying the same – we embark on the process of finding better ways.  It might well even be a process of 2 steps forward, 1 step back – it’s a journey into unfamiliar territory.  It’s also a way to learn about yourself and discover that having a low pain tolerance makes you strong.

Productive Spending

Just by my title you might be cringing, or rolling your eyes, or something.  And if you’ve been following me a while, you hopefully will realize that I’m not here to tell you what to do – I do aim to challenge the way you think about things.  It’s your life after all and no one but you is living it.  Similarly with organizing principles, it’s about finding what works for you – taking the pieces and creating your own version.

Therefore, here’s one of the things I’ve learned for myself – there are times and places to spend more money.  We hopefully all know that it’s wise to watch what and how we spend our money (though some statistics show few of us keep a budget).  Yet, as with so much of what I talk about – I encourage you to be mindful.

Coming from parents who have tendencies toward being frugal, I can struggle to spend a couple of dollars for a treat.  Once a year, chocolate oranges are available – around Christmas and I patiently wait for opening the stocking since my husband knows how much I love them.  This year he wasn’t home and I walked into a store and happened to see them.  I almost walked away, yet this is a treat I enjoy once a year, so why not?  I bought myself two and savored every bite – those few dollars were well spent.

From an organizing perspective, I probably make my strongest suggestion during the whole process for their waiting to purchase supplies – those desirable containers and tools for helping with organization.  This doesn’t come from a frugal point of view; it’s purely practical though it most often saves time and money in the long run too.  If you buy a neat organizing tool before you’re ready to use it, let alone know if it’s going to meet your specific needs – it often becomes clutter.  If you wait until you know what you need and can use it – you can bring it home and put it to use immediately.

When my husband and I moved into our new home, our first house, we bought a stud finder.  We knew nothing about our walls or what kind of stud finder would be best for us and we went with a fairly inexpensive one.  It turned out to be useless.  Yet, this doesn’t mean the highest end product is the answer either.  It does mean that it’s worth considering what your needs are – both for yourself and future.

It’s not always easy to know what is the worth spending the money on – when I first got my iPad, I picked up a stylus to use with a handwriting program.  It worked, though too often it was frustrating and inconsistent.  After talking with my husband, I purchased a different model that works really well.  I appreciate its quality and have begun eliminating paper clutter from phone messages by using my stylus and iPad.

As you can see, this isn’t about a suggestion that will fit all of you – it’s about your life and stuff.  Yet, it is about thinking about the things that have value and use in your life – and not scrimping on spending the money that will help support you.  Living on either extreme rarely serves anyone.  Therefore, when and where does it make sense to spend some more money for your needs?

Tasks – Big Picture View

I suspect that Stephen Covey is right when he commented that the “urgent” things in our life rather than the “important” things drive many of us.  The distinction between these two things comes down to whether those “things” further our goals, the long-term ones that give our life meaning.  If we’re repeatedly running from one urgent task to another urgent task then we’re not focusing or working on the big picture view of our lives.

Of course, Stephen Covey isn’t the only one telling us how important it is to plan, to be mindful of our goals – both short and long term ones – since most (if not all) time management experts address this concept.  When we avoid planning, it’s that much easier to focus our time and energy on working on those urgent tasks.  The urgent tasks tend to be in our face – virtually demanding our attention or something bad will happen, often the crises.

Yet if we only think about the immediate things that need our attention, when do work on the things that actually have value for our lives?  And don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to shift our focus.

One of the most helpful ways to tackle this, for me anyway, was to think about the roles in my life.  Each role that I fill has meaning – whether it’s required or voluntary – and deserves my time and energy.  Not necessarily equal time and energy mind you.  So I made a list (and yes I do like lists) of what different areas of my life I wanted to spend time and energy on.

We’re not all going to have identical lists – though many of us have jobs and families – both of which need our attention.  The idea is to keep it relatively short since ideally you’ll set aside at least a little time each week for these areas of your life.  This could relate to Your Needs and Values – as some people might put Spirituality on their list – for me, that’s contained in my Personal category.  My list has evolved over time but I’m currently working with 5 areas that I want to attend to each week: Business, Household, Volunteering, Relationship, and Personal.

This means when I look at both my calendar and to-do list, I am actively thinking about when I will focus on the various areas.  It doesn’t mean that it always works as I planned; yet it’s not supposed to.  “Urgent” tasks do come up and it’s not about ignoring or avoiding those.  It’s about making sure your life isn’t driven by those urgent tasks.

It means that we’ll have less regret at the end of the week, month, and year.  We’ll know that we’ve directed our energy toward things that matter to us – personally.  It doesn’t matter if you make a list of your categories; it doesn’t matter if you create a mission statement for yourself; it doesn’t matter how you go about it.   What does matter is finding a way that works for you to make the most out of your life in the big picture view.  How else does your life have a greater meaning?

Feeling Stressed and Overwhelmed?

There has been a lot going on with me – both personally and professionally.  I see how I am cycling through feeling overwhelmed and feeling balanced.  As a professional organizer, I do feel a need to largely be balanced.  Yet I am human and therefore not perfect.  This also means that I can relate to many of the struggles my clients face.  So, what to do?

Most of us end up feeling overwhelmed at some point and even more often than sometimes.  I’ve talked about this before in Overwhelmed? and in Coping with Feeling Overwhelmed — all my points can help someone move through things even when feeling overwhelmed.  Except there’s something that probably needs to happen first – you need to consider what you need.

  • What’s contributing to your feelings of being overwhelmed?
  • When do you tend to feel this way?
  • What connections can you discover about this?
  • What would help you in the midst of this feeling?

There’s a time to push through, to take the first smaller steps of dealing with things.  Then there’s a time to give yourself a break.  Only you can hope to discover which of these is right for you.

If you are anything like me, you might be filled with self-doubt that you are going to be too easy on yourself.  How can one really, truly know when it’s time to allow some space instead of plodding ahead?

Are you able to step back and recognize your own tendencies with objectivity?  This world is filled with all types – and I tend toward that Type A driven personality.  I expect a lot of myself.  Meanwhile, there are some people who are comfortable and even yearn for all the time off they can get without any inner drive to do more.  Since I recognize that I can be hard on myself, I then can pause to consider if it’s time to give myself some slack.  This won’t necessarily eliminate the inner doubts, yet it’s a step in the right direction.

  • What are those things contributing to your feeling overwhelmed – and how critical are they?
    • How many of them could wait?
  • How much better could you accomplish them if you took some time to rejuvenate yourself?

There are times I wish I could disappear for just a little while – yet for me that feels too much like trying to escape.  It usually improbable that we can abdicate all our responsibilities when we’re feeling overwhelmed.  This simply means that we need to identify the most important things to focus on – notice I said important – which doesn’t necessarily mean the most critical.  And what is most important for you might be completely unique to you.

As with everything I write about – there is no one way of doing anything – and that includes how to take the best care of yourself.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I would encourage you to take that as a sign that it’s time for you to pause and consider what would help you to be revitalized.  Feeling stressed and overwhelmed is often a signal that something is out of balance – figuring out what that is can only help you through it.

Thinking about Money

Sometimes I think money is thing that causes people the most anguish.  Even if you have “enough” it doesn’t eliminate the concerns and issues that come with needing money.  And really, how many of us feel like we actually have “enough” – there are so many unknowns in this world.  We tend to have strong opinions about how it should be spent or saved.  I’m not here to tell you any of those things, yet to encourage you to think about money more.

Several months ago my husband and I were talking about some purchases.  We checked prices online and it gave us pause.  The lovely picture we were considering for over the sofa was a bit more than we’d expected.  Since we’ve already recognized the temptation for making purchases without enough thought, we consoled ourselves that we weren’t making a decision in this moment.  There was time to see how we felt later and moved on with our day.

It was a weekend day and we headed to the Renaissance Faire.  We had a few vendors we wanted to visit and were considering a purchase there.  It’s a tapestry shop and we discovered these exquisite tapestries – a set of 4 – and it came with a discount when you buy at least 2.  Oh was I drooling over them.

Fortunately my husband and I had established a good pattern before buying anything unplanned.  We walk away.  We found a place to sit and talk about our thoughts regarding these tapestries.  He liked them as much as I did and had the same temptation to bring them home.  Still we moseyed along, visiting another vendor, knowing we still had time to get back and buy the tapestries.

Then something interesting happened.  My husband was struck with the irony that just that morning we were cringing about spending about the same amount on one thing yet somehow we weren’t reacting in the same way at the thought of buying several things.  We’d been sucked in by the idea that by getting more for the same money it somehow wasn’t the same – never mind that we’d get a discount for getting more than one.

It doesn’t matter what it was or how much – it’s about how varied we can be about things.  In one context, we pause and consider; in another, we barely pause and almost rush in.  We practice being thoughtful – controlling our impulses in order to discern what matters most to us.

Have you ever bought something and later regretted it?  I’d be surprised if you haven’t.  We’re working on cutting down on those regrets, hence why we walk away in the first place.

  • What is it about that thing that makes you want to take it home with you?
  • Will this feeling fade or will you feel the same way in a year?  Are there alternatives?
  • Are you simply wanting to buy and not so concerned with its use and value?
  • If you were to spend the money on this thing, is there something else you’d rather spend the money on?

Buying things is necessary – we all have to do it.  Yet how mindful are we of how and on what we spend our money?  If we begin to recognize our own patterns about money, we can take steps to lead a life that supports who we are and our values.  Money causes enough headaches; don’t let it cause you unnecessary pain.

By the way, the beautiful tapestries stayed with the vendor and the limited edition print was ordered a while later.  Months later this still feels like the right decision for us.

Envisioning Your Space

When you are looking at reclaiming your life and your space, it’s important to begin thinking about how your space will be.  Sometimes this can be challenging for people, how can they imagine anything past what they are currently dealing with.  Yet, this relates to goals – what are your goals for your space?  What do you want to get out of being more organized – and more than finding things easily?

We all have different visions for our spaces, if you can imagine it at all.  There are many different ways a space can look and feel.  Beyond the decorating scheme, the way you arrange furniture and use décor can influence how the room feels.   Consider how your partner feels about things as well, as what feels good for you might be the opposite for them.

The first step often is identifying how you want to feel in your space – relaxed, comfortable, serene, energized, etc.  Obviously, you probably won’t want to feel the same way in every room, especially if you’re looking to feel energized which wouldn’t be conducive to a restful night of sleep.

Once you’ve figured out how you want to feel, you can move on to discovering what that means for you personally.  What does relaxed look like to you?  What makes something relaxing for you?  How is relaxed expressed for you?  This means thinking outside your current space and in more general terms.

I want to feel enveloped in my space.  I’ve begun to think of it as a nest – my home is a place that surrounds me with love and beauty.  This vision isn’t immutable; it shifts and changes.  I had at least one shelf in every room for a while, yet this began to feel more like clutter – a place to put more stuff.  These came down, pictures go up, and the décor either gets rearranged, saved, or donated.  Yet, as I look around and change things, my home is still my nest.

Consider these two extremes: the house full of knick-knacks and the sparse and immaculate house.  Both of these can be relaxing to someone – although not likely the same person.   Neither is wrong.  Really.  I do encourage people to avoid either of these extremes and find the way it feels good for them.

What feels like “home”?  What feels comfortable?  What is realistic for you and your family?  Maybe the sparse and immaculate home sounds ideal, yet is this reasonable for your life?  And there’s time for hard choices – I have a room that feels too crowded.  For the size of the room and what I use it for, there’s no room for anything more.  I recognize this, yet I’ve evaluated the different pieces and I am not willing to part with things right now.

We all need goals to help direct our efforts.  When tackling major organizing projects or simply revamping a space, consider your own vision of how you want the space to feel.  Then, how do you set things up to create that effect?

Accountability – Nasty or Nice?

This word – accountability – has troubled me sometimes.  Too often someone wants to impose his or her version of it on someone else.  Even the definitions I’ve found fail to communicate a strongly positive connotation.

  • From Miriam-Webster: the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions
  • From the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable

Although they’re not necessarily negative either.  There’s a weight to being accountable, you are agreeing to be responsible.

In my coaching classes, we talk about accountability a lot.  Yet, it’s in the context of helping our clients define what accountability looks like for them.  And then, what they want from us around their definition of accountability.  They create the entire experience – according to what works for them.

Sometimes I feel a bit cynical, that the world is becoming filled with people who tend to blame others.  “If only, he or she didn’t… then I wouldn’t…”  Other times I think we’re reluctant to reveal the extent of the responsibility we each feel for things – to be that vulnerable.

Making changes is hard.  Plain and simple.  There are philosophies abounding about how to make them happen.  One of the most successful tactics for realizing changes is to tell people about your intentions.  This makes us most likely to follow through – there’s an accountability built in.  We’re making ourselves accountable by telling other people about our goals.

This is exactly like in our coaching practice (and many organizing clients) – our clients share their intentions and we follow up and see how they are coming.  Of course, we also spend time talking about the details making it specific.

Yet, what happens when someone is critical of our not succeeding in making those changes?  It undermines our efforts.  We’re less likely to broadcast our goals again.

We need to make sure we find supportive people to share our goals with – people who will encourage us at the same time that they won’t let us off the hook easily.  Hence, hold us accountable.  You need to define what that looks like for you – how do you want to be held accountable?  Ideally, even if you don’t manage to meet your expectations, the result is not criticism, but curiosity, “what happened?”

Accountability can certainly develop negative connotations depending on whom you’re sharing things with.  In essence, accountability is a positive concept.  We all need it to some degree, just in our distinct, personal way.  When I think about accountability in this way, whether for myself or for those I work with, I appreciate the value it has.


Many years ago now, I was talking with my husband about work and management roles.  He was talking about the importance of employees continuing their education, how people need to be reading magazines and books related to their career- always furthering their training and education.  At the time, it made sense on one level to me, I could understand that if you are in a job you need to be continuing to educate yourself about what is going on in the industry and increasing your knowledge base.  Due to where I was at the time, I also cringed.  Uh-oh!

To me this is a great sign whether we are in a career that speaks to who we truly are.  Are we following our life passion?  I shifted my direction and can honestly say now that I don’t think I will ever be satisfied with my knowledge on organizing, time management, productivity, efficiency, etc.  I am constantly searching and questioning.  I do this for myself as well as for what it can provide for my clients.  It excites and interests me – it’s not “work.”

There are some people who are so curious they study many different things, and I do have this temptation sometimes.  Yet, we all have limited time and energy – there’s only so much we can learn.  Learning might not even be the highest priority – we’re already juggling many different life responsibilities.  This is one of the reasons we don’t even try to learn how to do everything for ourselves; we have a network of people to turn to.

Although I could be fascinated with learning woodworking – the real deal – how to make gorgeous furniture out of wood, I am not that committed to it.  It’s too involved for me, and I’d rather be doing other things with my time. I’m pretty sure we all have interests that we decide not to pursue – at least for the moment.  Does this make you feel badly?  Are you ashamed that there’s a limit to what you’ll try to learn?  Will you avoid turning to someone who does know about a particular subject?

There comes a time when it’s worthwhile to ask for help.  I’ve taken yoga classes a few times; I have yoga videos and equipment.  This doesn’t stop me from deciding that in the next couple of months I will sign up for a yoga class.  There’s several reasons why – I want the accountability and motivation of a class and I want someone to be able correct my poses, to name a couple of reasons.  I will probably struggle with some sense of embarrassment – I’m sure my yoga practice is back at a beginner level.  Nevertheless, it’s well worth it to me.  Nor does it mean that I won’t be learning independently of the class.

Do you know when it’s time to ask for help?  Whether it’s something you think you “should” be able to solve on your own or it’s something that you find embarrassing to admit to – there’s a time to turn to someone who is educated and passionate about the topic.  Too often I hear of people resisting turning to someone to help them – from the wanting to exercise regularly yet won’t ask friends or hire a trainer, even for a short time to get them started.  You don’t have to do it alone.  You certainly cannot be an expert in everything.

We all need to recognize what it is that we have time and energy to learn on our own and when it’s time to turn to an expert.  This can be more challenging depending on what it is that needs expert attention.  Many of us don’t hesitate to take our cars to a mechanic and visit the doctor when we need.  Sometimes when it’s more personal, intimate we might resist.  I encourage you to open up to places where asking for help could make all the difference – you don’t need to learn everything alone.

Maintenance – Everything Needs It

As I was edging the lawn this week, I found myself thinking about how fast and easily the dirt and grass overtake the sidewalk.  And I used to procrastinate doing it.  Yet almost everything in our lives requires some maintenance – at least if we expect it to last.  If you think about it, there’s plenty of things you are happy to maintain – your relationships, your job, what else?  What are the things that you take care of in life?

When we start to think about it, there are many things that need our attention and care.  Our cars need to have oil changes and the tires need air.  Our clothes need to be laundered and dealt with – hung up or folded.  Our dishes need to get washed.  Our homes need to be cleaned periodically.  Some of these can feel like work, yet we manage to get them done – at least most of the time.

Maintenance is work – even when we realize the value of it.  Even if these are things that are inconsistently done, you recognize the value of it.  Life is full of things aren’t easy.

What I have come to realize is that virtually everything in our lives requires maintenance.  Each piece of décor needs to be dusted eventually.  The knives in my kitchen need to be sharpened.  The clocks on the walls need batteries as well as to be changed twice a year.  The lawnmower that helps me with the grass needs to be cleaned and sharpened.  The heater needs a new filter regularly.  The list goes on and on.

It’s a decent argument for limiting the amount of stuff that we bring into our lives.  How much time and energy do we want to spend maintaining that?  Is that item worth the maintenance needed?

Yet, we also cannot eliminate all things from our lives.  We need things – I appreciate my dishes and the food that I put on them.  I wouldn’t want to go around naked.  I like sleeping on my mattress and box spring – even if I need to rotate the mattress regularly.

We need things and therefore need to maintain those things.  Therefore, consider these questions in reference to maintaining things:

  • What comes more easily for you?
    • What makes that easier for you?
  • What takes work to maintain; yet you still do it consistently?
    • What makes that worthwhile for you to work on it?
  • What are you willing to do?
    • And then what are you potentially willing to give up to maintain this or that?

There are no easy answers to maintaining things – or rather to developing new patterns of maintaining things.  I encourage you to recognize the things that you already maintain.  Then you can use that knowledge you can gain from these successes and apply them to new areas needing maintenance.

Revisiting the Past

It’s hard for me to believe that I have been blogging since October 2009.  I thought I would share an oldie but goodie from late 2009 – it seems to be popular.  Maybe you haven’t seen it, although even if you have you might want to re-read it and see if it can inspire you now.  🙂


Loving What You Own

When did you last look around your home with a critical eye? Are the things you have out, things you truly love and value?  And what about those things in boxes hidden around?

Whether you keep things out where you appreciate them or if you store them and rarely look at them – they take up valuable space.  It’s easy to become blind to the things around us, they become part of our normal landscape, and we forget to even think about them.

It’s challenging to take that emotional step backwards to evaluate your belongings.  Yet, If they are … [click to keep reading]


And the question remains, what are you going to find a better home for?