Has anyone commented that you are a hoarder? How did that feel to you? What about any other label someone used to describe you?  The way we react can be due to any number of factors, yet like so many things – it’s not a simple black or white question.  Were you even thinking about how we label people when you saw the title “Labeling” or were you thinking about labeling things?

Yet, have you found yourself struggling to find a concise description of a category or a file?  I see this most often with people when it comes to their files- ‘what should I call it?’  There are so many words in the English language that we can choose from – the file we have on our car could be labeled – Car; Auto; VW; Bug/Beetle; Old Beater; His/Her Car; and on and on.

If labeling something that stays the same can present a challenge, it’s fascinating that trying to label people is so common.   To state the obvious, people are more complex than a collection of papers!  This is where it’s worth considering how labeling both helps and hinders you.

I continue to be dismayed overall by the overuse of labeling people as a “hoarder” – it’s so popular that it’s easy to use it to describe anyone that has “too much stuff.”  And “too much stuff” is a subjective – depending on who uses the hoarder label for other people could be someone that has overfull bookshelves in every room.  When it’s applied in the subjective way, someone with stuff that is viewed as too much by someone else – there’s no recognition of the objective criteria that defines hoarding.

Educating people can be part of what I do – and I will share the standards for what defines hoarding.  When someone has been categorized as a “hoarder” by family, whether it’s done seriously or by repeatedly “joking” around, identifying with that can hinder the organizing efforts.  It can be important to know that simply because someone else has defined them as a hoarder doesn’t make it accurate.  The same thing applies when someone is applying that term to themselves – and this is also growing in frequency – it’s not limited to other people defining them.  And it’s just as inaccurate – technically.

The way people react to the label being applied to them – whether it’s self-applied or comes from others – can vary too.  As I’ve said, I find the term overall to carry negative connotations, and many people feel similarly.  Yet, other people (not oblivious to some of the term’s negativity) appreciate that the term gives them a frame of reference – a place to begin understanding what they have been struggling with.

I’ve even been known to refer some of my own behaviors as “hoarding tendencies” and can relate to aspects of the hoarding criteria.  So is there value to identifying parts of a label that resonates with you?  I think so, as it can then offer you some perspective.

Whether you’ve been objectively labeled with some term or not, you can still use the education and knowledge to support you in creating the life you want.  For example, in Buried in Treasuresby David Tolin et al, they talk about how creative people are and how the ideas of how they can use things can get in their way of getting rid of having so much.  I resonated with that – I have all these creative ideas and now as I look at my own collection of hobbies and crafts, I ask myself to try to be realistic and what are the pieces that really matter.

A label may or may not apply to us objectively, yet there’s no stopping any of us from using the tools for our own benefit.  So, if there is a label that has been applied to you – externally or internally – see if the tools and approaches for handling that label can support you and pay no more attention to the specific label than will help you.

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!

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.

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.

NCRW Huh, What’s That?

Do you know what I believe about you?  Yes, you – each and every person who is reading this (and even those who are not).  You are “naturally creative, resourceful, and whole” just as you are.  I believe this about all of us.  This is how I approach each client I have and every person I deal with from day to day (or at least as best as I can!).  It is also a major component for the International Coach Federation, where this is listed in the first sentence in their Code of Ethics.

I’ve taken the first class on coaching, where we had a group to practice with each week.  We spent time talking about NCRW (naturally creative, resourceful, and whole) and how sometimes we’re tempted to jump in and “help” people.  We inadvertently rescue the client instead of helping them find their own way.  I’ve struggled with this sometimes, not from believing that they’re not capable, but from wanting to help them.

Early in my organizing career, I had a client who kept asking me what she needed to do.  I kept responding that I wasn’t here to tell her what to do; I was here to help her figure out what she needed for herself.  I did not have THE answers for her.  I’ve always said that we’re all different and what works for one of us will not necessarily work for another one of us.  I can bring up possibilities, ideas to explore whether they fit you, and even share some observations from my experience and knowledge.

I’m good at what I do, maybe more so because I’m not going to step in and start telling you what you need to do and how to do it.  You are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.  I want to help you discover how true this is and provide support (and accountability as needed) as you navigate your struggles.  As simplistic as these terms are, let’s look at their definitions:

  • Creative: 1) having the quality or power of creating 2) resulting from originality of thought, expression, etc.; imaginative
  • Resourceful: ingenious, capable, and full of initiative, esp in dealing with difficult situations
  • Whole: 1) comprising the full quantity, amount, extent, number, etc., without diminution or exception; entire, full, or total 2) containing all the elements properly belonging; complete 3) undivided; in one piece 4) not broken, damaged, or impaired; intact    — All from

Believing these things about yourself might be challenging, especially as you face the struggles you’re having.  Yet, having struggles and places where you are challenged, you are still creative, resourceful, and whole.  When you work or just interact with me – that is where I come from and regardless of what you are dealing with.  You can be NCRW and still need help.  Sometimes this can be the hardest step – acknowledging and asking for help.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it seems easier to believe that about other people more than you can believe it about yourself.  At least that’s often how I’ve felt. Yet, what would the people who love you say to you about this?  What would you say to a friend struggling like you are?  We’re surprisingly more kind to others than we are to ourselves.

There’s always room to learn and grow – learn more about yourself, how you work/function, what causes you to struggle with this piece or that piece.  As we learn and grow, we recognize more and more how true NCRW is and can let go of some (maybe even all) of the negativity we pile on ourselves.  So remember, I believe that you, yes you, are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.  🙂

Judge Not, Even Yourself

When I meet people and they find out what I do, they want to know, “Have you worked with hoarders?”  “You must see some strange things, don’t you?”  Aren’t you shocked/disgusted/ etc by how some people live?”  Occasionally this is about their own space, and reflects how they feel about themselves or their homes.

Sometimes they then ask, “How can you NOT be disturbed by the extreme situations?”  Every so often, “Was it just a good moral upbringing?” – judge not, lest ye be judged.  Although this was integral to my upbringing, it was not what crystallized the significance of how we look at others, or even ourselves.

A novel, Demian by Hermann Hesse, solidified it for me – where in the middle of the book someone says, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself.  What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”  This statement disturbed me and took a while for the depth of this to sink in fully.

Before long, I realized this truth for myself.  When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, I struggled a lot with feeling that I was being a bum, I was sick, though I did not look it and in many ways did not feel it.  I found myself suddenly very critical of people griping about work, or complaining about not getting enough things done.  My hackles would rise, I was intense about “helping” them and adamant that they just needed to this or that.

It was not about them.  It was about me.  I was struggling with those very issues in myself – I was desperate to get back to work; I was depressed about how little I was getting done; and I wanted solutions and answers, though it was not so simple.  Just like it is not that simple for anyone else!

When I was disturbed by someone or by something they did, it was about ME, and not them or their actions.  The more I started applying this idea to whatever was generating strong reactions in me, the more clear that it spoke to my own struggles.  It could be simply fear that I was perceived in certain ways.  It was fear that I was a certain way.  It was something I was struggling with inside myself.

Now, if I find myself reacting or even feeling intensely about something, I stop and ask myself how it relates to me.  Sometimes it is simply that I am on edge and less tolerant – when I find myself getting frustrated while driving – I now recognize this as a sign of my level of frustration in general and rarely is a true reflection of the other driver.  It is time that I take some time to refocus myself, rejuvenate and focus on some self-care.

My reactions at other times can be more extreme, yet it still comes down to a reflection of me.  The more that I recognized this; the less I reacted to things.  Now compassion wells up and I give everyone, myself included some lenience.  We are all human and therefore fallible.  The best we can do is work at growing and improving – perfection is unrealistic – so let’s make the best of what we have.

The things people can struggle with are not always obvious by looking at them.  Crohn’s Disease is not something that reveals itself in appearance, and there are so many things that do not manifest themselves visibly.  We cannot truly know what others are struggling with and the complexities they face.

I am not perfect, even often flawed.  As we all are.  For me, by recognizing what the real issue was, I was able to find compassion.  When I use the word compassion, I think of the Buddhist definition of “loving-kindness.”  This is what I aim to offer to everyone, including myself.  We need to be able to love ourselves even with our flaws and find our way to “judge not, lest we be judged.”

Coping with Feeling Overwhelmed

With all the work and chaos that re-doing the room brought about, I started thinking about the feeling of being overwhelmed. No one is exempt from feeling overwhelmed at times in life. Some people even seem to be perpetually overwhelmed, rarely feeling in control and at peace.

I like to tell my clients that things have to get worse before they get better, and oh, did things get worse in my house when we were redoing and reorganizing the room. I hate admitting it, but in some ways when it comes to my own space, I can be a bit high strung. The mess that accumulated in every downstairs room from emptying the one room was something that had me feeling overwhelmed. Everywhere I looked, there was a mess. As I looked around, I was overwhelmed with all there was to do, feeling a little hopeless at dealing with it promptly. As much as I might not want it, as much as I might shake my fists in frustration at it, life did not stop just because I was re-organizing a room.

I had so many tasks on my list that it felt hard to make any real progress – completing one task still left me with a long laundry list. We’ve all been there – the battle that it feels like you cannot win. Part of the cost of feeling overwhelmed is that we are essentially beating ourselves up. We have lost any real sense of hope. We start thinking that there is no escape and no end. It is hard to move anywhere within ourselves when we are stuck with such thinking. We need to give ourselves a break; would you be so critical of your best friend for being in the same situation? We often offer much more leniency to others than we do to ourselves.

What I tell myself when I start to fall into this self-defeating thinking is that it takes consistent, small steps. It is rare that we have concentrated large chunks of time or energy to delve fully into fixing the various things that need our attention and getting through the things that have built up with time. This also does not address establishing new and more constructive routines. Small yet regular steps are enough to get through the disorder, as well as make sure things end up where they belong.

The way that you decide to react to the feeling is what matters most. If we let ourselves become stymied by feeling overwhelmed, it can be that much more difficult to start moving forward. Facing difficulties in life, whatever they might be, is challenging. It is easy to wish for an easy, fast solution.

Yet, if we can approach the difficulties life throws at us with determination, we will get through it and build up future confidence in ourselves. We can even “fake” feeling positive about our situation to help move us through the challenges we face; practicing the adaptability we would want.

I can tell myself that all it takes is the small, regular steps and even believe it, although it does not always feel that way. I wish it actually eliminated all feelings of being overwhelmed, but it does not always work that way. When I start taking those small steps though, I am reminded of how even 15 minutes can make a dent into what I am dealing with.

How resilient do you want to be? Do you admire people who seem determined to adapt to whatever life hands them?

I read a study dealing with resiliency regarding facing health issues. This applies to anyone facing any situation that feels overwhelming. Those people who scored high on resiliency also scored high in feeling “a greater sense of control over their lives, greater tolerance of negative emotions, trust of their own instincts, and use of spiritual practices to cope.”

Isn’t this what we all want? A way to adapt and avoid unnecessary stress despite what life brings our way.

Take the first step, take a little time every day and start addressing the things that are causing you to feel overwhelmed.

Oh, and the stuff in my house that ended up everywhere during the room re-organization? It’s finally getting back into place, while some of it is finding various new homes. If you know anybody who’s looking for a desk, let me know I have one needing a new home.

The Perfect Holiday… That Wasn’t Perfect

Thanksgiving is the holiday most overwhelmed with volunteers – and it is a time when we think about what we are thankful for and hopefully share that with those we care about. Along with thinking about the things we are thankful for, it is a time that many people try to find ways of giving back. This is the time of year when we think about all the people who are less fortunate than we are, as well as how we might give back some of the blessings we have.

In this season of giving, if you want to find ways to give of yourself, look around your home and find things to give away. You will give yourself freedom from clutter, and help someone else. Let’s take a look at that next week, when I’ll discuss more ways of thinking about your belongings and parting with them. If you’re like me, you won’t have a lot of time to think about the items in your home until after this holiday has passed.

Sometimes we have expectations of ourselves, maybe of others, about how our holidays are supposed to go. People often worry about the details of the meal or the state of the house, imposing the image that everything needs to be perfect, some sort of Donna Reed type holiday. Holidays seem to bring this out even more strongly than at other times. Regardless of what you have planned, make a point to relish the time with your friends and family and the experiences the holidays will bring. After it is all over, that’s what you are going to remember, not whether the turkey was a little dry, or if your house wasn’t perfect.

If we go back to the intent of Thanksgiving, it is all about getting together with those you care about and being thankful for the things you do have. You have a home, food, and loved ones to be grateful for. Those dust bunnies, the chores you didn’t get a chance to do, really are insignificant compared to all this.

Of course, it’s easier said than done to step outside yourself enough to catch yourself from worrying about minor details. Try reversing the situation. When I’m a guest and the hostess can’t stop worrying about getting everything right, I feel sad that the intent of the holiday is lost. And the thing is, if she hadn’t drawn the guests’ attention to the minor details, no one would have even noticed them. Reversing the situation lets you relate to this, and it is a safe wager that your guests are simply grateful to be included and are not aiming to be critical of the details.

With it being less than a day before Turkey Day, take a deep breath and relax. Whether you are responsible for many details, just bringing something, or simply showing up, this is a day to realize all that you have to be thankful for. Challenge yourself to enjoy this day and appreciate all that you do have.