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?

Consider Changing Your Routine

I’ve probably said this before; I like routines.  It’s soothing for me to have a plan.  This doesn’t mean I won’t (or can’t) change my plans; nevertheless I enjoy making rough plans.  For years, Thursday and Friday were my prime laundry days.  I certainly had to change that for vacations and when the days filled up with other things, yet I would simply choose another more fitting day for that week.  When I started taking a class, it made sense to completely change my laundry plan.  I decided Tuesday and Wednesday would work better.

The strangest thing happened – at the end of the week I felt tremendously lighter.  It was like a load had been lifted (no laundry pun intended!).  I was no stricter with myself about being flexible.  I was simply less stressed.  And I don’t have an explanation.  Yet not understanding the logic of this doesn’t make it less true.  I feel tremendously better and months later, it holds true.

This is something I would not predict – for myself or anyone else.  We all have things we have to accomplish each week and each month.  This is true whether we plan for those things or not.  I certainly believe that we each have our own way of approaching things – from planning to how we handle our chores.

It can be amazing the effect of making some small alterations to our behaviors. They cannot always be predicted or even predictable.  This is one of the reasons I am a fan of trying things out, looking at things like an experiment and seeing what the effects are.   Years ago I did this with mowing the lawn.  I varied all sorts of factors from the basics of whether I mowed the front or back yard first, to directions and height.  This also revealed something rather strange to me – doing the backyard first left me more tired at the end.  I see no logic to this, yet it held true over and over.  If I had not experimented, I would not know this.

Have you ever noticed a difference in your energy level when you are caught up – when you don’t have tons of things left on your list to do?  This is what I think about with the “eat the frog” idea – you do the most important and hardest things first each day.  When I apply this, I feel more on top of things – I don’t have them hanging over me, knowing I still need to get to them.

These are some of the ways I notice changes happening around me.  And those changes can have profound effects on me.  As I’ve talked about before, embrace change – the freedom to play with it in your life can open up doors you didn’t even recognize before.  This doesn’t mean you need to regiment your life into routines (who wants that degree of control?), yet experiment and find your own way to be lighter and happier.

Anthropomorphizing Your Belongings

After watching a video with my mom recently, we started talking about anthropomorphizing.  My observation of the video was that the animals were being credited with some human characteristics.  She agreed and commented sometimes we go out of our way to avoid recognizing “human” characteristics in animals and shared an experience she’d had.  She observed some elk sliding down a hill, front legs splayed in front of them while their haunches was on the ground.  Now, even that is cute, but after they got to the bottom of the hill, they jumped up and ran back to the top and did it again.  They were sledding, it was play – this served no other purpose.

Yeah, so what does this have to do with organizing?

Anthropomorphizing isn’t limited to animals.  We can view our belongings with a certain amount of personality.  We might be reluctant to throw things away or even give them away.  This always makes me think of The Velveteen Rabbit, where a toy can become real once it’s owner really and truly loves it.

What we tell ourselves about our stuff affects how we deal with it.  Some people throw things out easily once they’ve lost their usefulness while others have a hard time parting with them at all.  And this is just talking about when the things might need to leave – what about how we treat our belongings while they are in our possession?

There’s another argument that a certain amount of anthropomorphizing could be helpful.  If you loved your keys and cell phone, you be less likely to misplace them.  You’d be conscious of them and where you laid them down – mindful of how you treated them, maximizing their chance to be useful.

If you valued your things as if they personality, or maybe more that they had a job to do – to help you – you might want to help them accomplish this.

  • Your papers – accessible and logical so you can find what you need when you need it.
  • Your clothes – arranged and easy to access whenever you want
  • Your dishes – clean and ready to be used whenever you need
  • Your photos and memorabilia – available when you want to share it with someone or even to take a trip down memory lane for yourself
  • Your jewelry – if you know where all of it is, you can wear it when you want
  • Your décor – pleasing and rewarding for you so that you would smile as you walk through your home
  • Your random lost items – peace at being able to find exactly what you need when you need it
  • Your “whatever” – to make your life simpler and more enjoyable

Show your things your compassion and care so they can help you – the give and take that relationships require.  And even if we think of it differently, we do have relationships with things, so let’s nurture that.

Once your things have stopped helping you, it’s time to let them move on.  If appropriate, moving them onto someone else who can appreciate what they have to offer.  What better blessing that gifting that usefulness to someone else?  If they’ve outlived their ability to serve, then simply letting them go.

If our things had feelings, I imagine they’d be sad to become clutter since they served us so well, that’s not what they would want.  If you want a more magical approach, in The Velveteen Rabbit, although it looks like a dire end to a well-loved toy who sheds a real tear as he’s about to be burned (the boy had Scarlet Fever), the Nursery Magic Fairy comes, kisses him, and makes him a real rabbit – who the boy sees romping in the wild and thinks of his old toy.  Even with things, it is still a relationship – what would you do to treat that relationship with care and respect?

Book Review: Making Peace with the Things in Your Life

With the extreme numbers of organizing books available, this book was on my radar, though cannot be sure where it would have landed if it hadn’t been included as part of the coaching program I took.  We weren’t required to read the whole thing, just a section – though once I had the book I was reading it.  Making Peace with the Things in Your Life: Why Your Papers, Books, Clothes, and Other Possessions Keep Overwhelming You – and What to Do About It by Cindy Glovinsky, M.S.W., A.C.S.W. is quite possibly one of the best books on organizing I’ve read.

This book takes a different approach than many organizing books out there – it’s designed to help you look at the internal stuff that happens around Things in your life.  Often when dealing with all the stuff that surrounds us, we target the physical items first and this doesn’t always work well – the stuff keeps returning.  Cindy Glovinsky is trained as a psychotherapist and walks the reader through many aspects to explore around the problem with Things.  It’s designed to get you ready to use all those other more typical organizing books available.

One of the aspects that I really appreciated was that early on she talks about chaos and order – how “the two interweave in a perpetual, ever-changing dance.”  She spends a little time talking about how these are both part of our universe and serve a purpose.  Here I go again, my passions – the balance, the self-acceptance, the inevitable changes of life – this is part of life.

You might have noticed that when the word Things appears, it’s always capitalized.  This is done throughout the book to draw your attention to it and change your perspective on the stuff around you.  Generally I dislike the device of using capitals in such ways, though I found that it did shift my perspective.  The word itself is wonderfully vague so it can apply to any of us, with whatever it is that we have.  Her language and use of aliens and characters convey her compassion – for others and yourself.

If you want quick and easy answers, this book is not for you.  It takes you through the major tasks needed to make lasting change. The book is broken into 4 parts – Part I: assumptions about Things; Part II: systematic inventory of Thing habits and Thing feelings; Part III: possible causes of Thing problems with suggestions for coping with them; Part IV: putting what you’ve learned into action.  In the introduction she acknowledges that figuring out what is going on for you with Things is hard work and that it might feel like this is a lot of trouble to go through, yet “[O]nly action informed by insight can lead you out of the circles.”

As with many things – from time management and scheduling to organizing and beyond – there’s a need for the foundation.  I look at David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) as foundational work for scheduling and managing time (at least so far in my reading), which means that Franklin Covey might not work for you until you get the basics of GTD.  If you struggle with handling your stuff well, Making Peace with Things in Your Life is a great foundation on which to start.  Then you might move on to the books dealing with physically handling your stuff and space.

The Balance – of life, stuff, everything

Many years ago I learned about the yin-yang symbol and it immediately resonated with me.  The balance of everything.  Not that life is as evenly balanced as the symbol, yet the idea that with everything, there is another perspective or aspect that we might not think about or even realize.  Initially for me it was that it wasn’t all black or white, that there is a lot of gray – the mix of the black and white.  And even if it appeared to be one thing, it didn’t necessarily make it so.

Life is constantly changing, sometimes in large ways, more often in small ways that we might not recognize.  We’re shifting sometimes from day to day.  I know I will go through phases where a temporary collection of things that are piled up will just about drive me batty, while there’s other times that I can accept that it’s only temporary and also accept that it will get done in time.  There’s a great organizing book that talks about this early on, the natural fluctuations that we all go through again and again over our lives – Making Peace with the Things in Your Life (review coming next week).

The extremes of black and white are on a spectrum, if we didn’t have darkness how would we know light.  And vice versa.  How often do we get caught up in thinking in terms of all or nothing?  Consider your language – as this can be a clue, do you say things are always or never…?  This is an extreme – how often are things “always” or “never”, if you would pause to play devil’s advocate? That’s probably why it’s called black or white thinking – it’s ignoring or discounting the gray between those two extremes.  When we’re really caught up in this, we miss the pieces that would shift us back to the middle ground.

There’s also the idea that within each of these extremes, there is a part of the opposite. Although my understanding is that the symbol isn’t about positive and negative per se, this is part of how I look at this symbol.  Even with the most negative experience, there is something positive that you can take away from it.  On some level this ties in with what I said above, nothing is truly black or white – these are extremes.  From my perspective, there’s always something you can learn from your experiences – if not about yourself, about someone else, or the situation.

I now wear a pair of yin-yang earrings at all times, an expression of my belief that we might not see the whole picture immediately, yet it’s there. This image is my reminder to look deeper, and to not stay in one extreme for too long. I was so fascinated with this idea that when I was searching for a cat to be company for the one I already I had – I picked an all white kitten, a good match for the all black one I already had. They were my yin-yang cats, a reminder that things balance and aren’t always what they appear to be initially.

It’s all about how we look at things. The perspective we take or more importantly how we challenge our perspective, looking for alternatives.  And there is a balance to life – even if it doesn’t appear to be true at the moment.

Racing – Time & Energy

How does having lots of to-dos make you feel?  The answer might vary depending on many different circumstances.  There is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment when we have lots of things pressing on our time and still manage to get it all done.  It can certainly make you feel alive, your heart is racing, and you can look around and see all that you accomplished.  There is a time and a place for using this energy.

Unfortunately, if this is how you primarily function, your super productive moments might be far and few between, if you do not have that external pressure to get it all done, it is easy to struggle.  This also assumes that you can turn on those super productive times when you want or need them.

There are times when I race around the house, full of energy, getting things accomplished.  My husband will talk to me, but I often hardly hear him, my brain is working so fast it’s like I can’t slow down to speak.  That feeling is wonderful – the energy coursing through me in combination with all the things that I can get done.

Yet, there are consequences to this energy.  Your focus is often not directed when you’re racing around.  The tasks you work on are frequently the easiest and you ignore the pieces that require more attention or are more challenging to accomplish.  If you continue to avoid those tasks that take more time, they won’t get done.

This can look like ADD/ADHD – the attention and energy, although it’s not limited to this situation – this racing energy can affect us all.  You might discover this energy regardless of the length of your to-do list.  Early on when I became a professional organizer, I would come home from working with people, I would be filled with this energy.  I enjoyed using it to get things accomplished.

Sometimes though there are consequences to using this energy.  I would occasionally wear myself out racing around; I wasn’t paying attention to my real energy level.  Other times, after I had settled down I would look around and see obvious tasks I’d missed.  I’ve seen some people struggle with the energy as things actually get messier by the time they’ve finished.

Consider how that energy works or doesn’t work for you.  If you understand the effect of your racing energy, you can then use it to benefit yourself and your tasks.

Your Needs and Values

It’s interesting how these words keep coming into my life.  A friend shared an article about living a values focused life and in the coaching program I’m in, we’ve talked about values and needs – both for ourselves as well as for our clients.  Each student was given slips of paper with words on them and we chose 3-4 words (some say values are 6-10) to identify our values and then again for our needs.

We all know that “needs” are things we can’t live without, yet in some ways it’s more than that.  These are also our personal principles and priorities – the things we need to make sure life is working for us.  These are the values and desires of what matters most to us and they help to create a meaningful life.  As you will see, this is also beyond the basic elements to keep us alive, things that we all need, and is more about personally what our individual needs are – those things that if we didn’t have, there would be a hole.

These are 4 that I’ve identified for my needs: introspection, nature, connection, and self-worth.

What are your needs?

Then we look at our values.  These are things that are your personal qualities or passions.  What is important as you live each day?  What is integral to who you are at your core?  This is a reflection of what matters as you live your life and who you really are.   These are often things that we cherish both in ourselves as well as others, when someone else shares or expresses the same value.

These are 5 that I’ve identified for my values: accountability (self), honesty, creativity, tolerance, and knowledge.

What are your values?

If your needs are not getting met, it can be a challenge to lead that a life that is fulfilling and meaningful for yourself.  These are things that you make sure are part of your life – and the first step to living a life that works for you.  Once you identify your needs, you can then integrate them into your life.

Once you are getting your needs met, you then need to focus on your values.  Our values are shaped by all of our cumulative life experiences and are our compass for directing our choices.

In general terms, when we try to develop new habits and make changes to our life, it can be challenging.  We might know what we need to do to get where we want to go – yet that doesn’t mean it just happens.  How do your goals relate to your needs and values?  When we set goals and make decisions based on our values, it’s more satisfying to accomplish them.

You are more than your job, your home, your clutter, your procrastination, your health, etcetera.  Who are you down at your core?  These are the pieces to remember as life happens – your needs and values.

Define Your Time

Time is this fleeting thing.  We all have the same amount as everyone else and nothing we do can make it multiply.  There are a multitude of ways to approach handling your time – from those that encourage people to put all tasks into your calendar or to base your tasks on your current availability of context, time, energy, and priority.  I’m certainly one that prefers the latter approach since if I fill my calendar with tasks, I will simply avoid doing anything in that slot.

You could even say that I’ve taken that idea of choosing tasks based on context, time, energy, and priority and put my own personal spin on it.  I’ve even given it a fun name: “Whim time.”  This term might even sound like an oxymoron, how can those two words fit together?  Whim is defined as – “a capricious or eccentric and often sudden idea or turn of the mind: fancy.”

For me, “whim time” is when I listen to myself about what I feel like doing – this can be productive or it can be time for rejuvenating.  It’s about paying attention to my mood and using that to help determine what I will work on.  For instance, there is something about making phone calls – to search out speakers for the support group, or following up on insurance issues, or whatever else – that may mean playing phone tag, which I typically avoid.  Yet, there are times that I am happy to tackle that process – and it makes sense to take advantage of that when it strikes.  (This also doesn’t mean that I only wait for the mood to work on those tasks.)

There’s something light and easy-going about doing things according to my mood or more correctly called my state of mind.  I am not being a taskmaster upon myself yet I can get plenty of things accomplished.  When I can use my whim time as I’ve set it up – to make decisions about what I will do with my time and to do those things – I have a great feeling at the end of the day.  It feels productive in the best way – being mindful of where I am at – both mentally and physically.

Sometimes, my “whim time” turns into escapism.  This is not what I set out for my time.  It’s a behavior that the equivalent to burying my head in the sand and ignoring both what’s good for me and what needs to be worked on.  When this happens I feel horrible.  In this age with all the possible ways we can distract ourselves and escape; it’s easy to slip into this.  I wonder if it’s not even more of a temptation with our never-ending to-do lists.  Is there ever a time when you are free from more tasks that need your attention?

I’ve talked about being mindful of how you use your time (in the blog, Use Your Time Intentionally) and I’ve talked about finding ways to make your tasks fun (in the blog, Make It Fun).  In many ways, my “whim time” is my combination of these two principles (and somehow David Allen’s Getting Things Done).  I didn’t set out to create this, but this is what it evolved into over time.

Maybe “Whim Time” is something you can use for yourself.  Maybe it’s not.  You are welcome to it, if you want yet I would encourage you to find your own way to define your time that makes sense to you and for your life.  Experiment with different ways to handle your time, observe what works and what doesn’t (and this isn’t always obvious from one or two tries) and see what develops for yourself.  It really doesn’t matter what you come up with, as long as it works for you.

I’d love to hear what works for you and how you got there. 🙂

Cultivate Curiosity

In this line of work, I run into too many people who are busy “should-ing” on themselves – “I should have done more”, “I ought to have time for that”, “I never get enough done” and on and on.  And my heart breaks a little.  I get it, it does hit close to home for me too, yet this doesn’t help anyone get more accomplished.  Most often this can even derail our efforts to improve.  We’re too preoccupied feeling badly, angry, frustrated, whatever and this doesn’t move us any closer to our goals.  To some extent we become stuck.

“How do I get unstuck then?”

If we can cultivate curiosity about ourselves we can solve many of our struggles.  One of the key pieces of this though is that we need to rid ourselves of the judgment that comes along with looking at what we do and why.  Has there ever been a time when criticizing yourself has helped you get past a struggle or to solve a problem?

Instead, try to step back and examine what is causing your difficulties.  Sometimes this benefits from a compare and contrast – so if it’s a particular chore – what is different about this chore compared to another chore you accomplish with minimal challenge?  The answers you come up with could be a long list, as you want to consider as many different factors as possible: time of day, effort, energy, time consuming, complicated/simple, boring/interesting, dreaded/exciting, rewarding, etc.

Even if you cannot compare it to something else, you can examine what that thing brings up for you.  What is it about that thing that has you resisting it? When you start to get the clues for where your struggles are, you can then start making changes to how you approach that thing.

In trying to make this applicable to many situations, this is vague.  Therefore, let me give you an example.  I was often procrastinating mowing the lawn.  One of the major factors was the dread of lugging out of and back into the basement.  Another factor was feeling like it was extremely time consuming.  The first factor has now been dealt with as we have a garage, but until that happened, there wasn’t much I could do about it.  The second factor – time – I could discover how much time it actually took up, so I timed it.  From lugging it up, mowing the front and back yard, and lugging it back down, it took me 45 minutes.  From that point onward I could easily dismiss mowing as an option if I didn’t have that much time and could plan when I would have enough time.  I also began to stop procrastinating it as much, yes, I did qualify that, I will sometimes still procrastinate doing it, though it gets less and less as time goes on.

There are other chores I dislike because they seem dull, and I can take my iPad and play a show on it while I work or vacuum during commercials.  Obviously I don’t need to watch it intently, it’s a way to make the chores a little more interesting.  The point is that I’ve approached my quirks (my resistances) with curiosity, identified what factors contribute to my resistance to accomplishing them, and then found ways to lessen the resistance.  Even when I falter and don’t get it done when or how I would like, I work at giving myself a break.

Is there another way to look at the chore (or whatever you are struggling with)?  Much of our lives deal with perspectives – the way we decide to look at things.  Yes, it is a choice and this means we can change the way we view things.  Therefore we can decide to look at that dreaded chore differently.  This rarely happens overnight, but if we discover the reasons that matter to us as an individual, we can begin to make the changes.

For me, making the bed was one of these.  I didn’t care much if it was made or not and I struggled with wanting it to be near perfect if it were made.  This meant I spent time and energy walking back and forth around the bed fixing it.  Then I timed myself lying in bed doing a sort ‘snow angel’, slipping out from under the covers, and doing some minor straightening – under 2 minutes.  Then I started appreciating the made bed when it was time to go to bed at night.  I stopped looking at making the bed as a chore; rather it became something to look forward to – a nicely made bed –at the end of the day.

What is it about this situation that causes you difficulties?  Thinking about the answers for yourself can help lead you to the answers you need to make the necessary changes.  Don’t get me wrong, you might not find THE answer on the first try.  Nevertheless it will lead you toward the solutions you need.

Get curious.

Delaying Gratification

If you were told that you would get 2 marshmallows if you could wait for 15 minutes while 1 marshmallow was sitting in front of you – could you wait? What if you were between 4-6 years old? This was a study, called Stanford Marshmallow experiment, done in the late 1960s (of all the articles and blogs I read, the information varied a lot between all of them). This study has fascinated me from the first time I heard about it (Crucial Conversations- book & my blog), and somehow references to this study keep coming into my life.

The initial results were that about 30% of the children were able to wait the 15 minutes to receive the 2nd marshmallow; they weren’t told to not eat the first marshmallow, they could just with the consequences of not getting a second marshmallow. Yet, of the children who managed to wait, many years later were the ones who scored higher on their SATs and had longer lasting relationships – they had a higher resiliency than their peers who couldn’t stop themselves from eating the marshmallow before the 15 minutes were up.

What made the children who could wait different from those you didn’t? Often the children that resisted eating the marshmallow, found ways to distract themselves from the temptation sitting there – they looked at the ceiling and sang a song, cover their eyes, kicked the table, etc. – essentially not focusing on the marshmallow.

You might be able to glean then why these “long delayers” scored higher on their SATs and in general seemed to be more successful – they had the skills to put off pleasurable activities to accomplish things. They would be able to resist going to a party in order to stay in and study. Many people are talking about how this is self-control – and yes, it is, the self- control to delay gratification.

Every day we face temptations. How we respond to these are what matters – and now I tend to think about marshmallows. I don’t know that I would have managed to wait long enough to eat two of them as a child, yet this doesn’t mean I can’t stretch those self-control “muscles” now.

The scientists are continuing to study the original group and other studies on this also are active. There is some data to suggest that we can learn how to become “long-delayers” – and focus our attention away from the temptation and avoid giving in. I think this requires enough practice to have success – we need the positive reinforcement, even internally, to have the motivation to keep stretching that self-control muscle.

The marshmallow study is motivation for me – the idea pops up periodically and I then pause to consider what self-control might be applied. Sometimes it’s walking away from a tempting purchase for a period of time. Sometimes it’s putting things away before I sit down and relax. Sometimes it’s waiting for time to pass and see if the desire is real – like the temptation to eat. Sometimes it’s exercising when I don’t really feel like doing it – not procrastinating when it would be “easy.” In essence, I try to apply this to most areas of my life.

Can the marshmallow study be motivation for you too? How would you apply it to your own life and choices?