Banish Clutter Forever! One Simple Secret is All You’ll Ever Need
“Unbelievable as it may sound, you only have to experience a state of order once to be able to maintain it.”
—Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Would you like something new and wonderful to come into your life? A new job, a new friend, an opportunity? A relationship? One of the easiest, most effective ways to attract something new is to create some space. If you feel stuck, start decluttering and clearing the decks. Go through your files at the office and toss out all those old memos, reports, and articles you’ve been saving in case you need them someday. The easiest way to get ruthless is to imagine that you are being promoted and are relocating to another office. I was amazed by one of the sales managers at the bank. She was given a job managing a different team of people, and when she cleared her desk, all she had to take with her was one small manila folder. I asked how she managed that, and she said the new department would have all the information she needed there. She was right of course, but I was still very impressed—most people end up packing two to six boxes of binders, reports, files, memos, and personal objects they will probably never use.
Set aside a few hours at work for a big clear-out. Toss loads of old papers or if still important, send them to the archives. If you can’t do that, then spend 30 to 60 minutes a day for a week just clearing out junk and you’ll be amazed at how much useless paper you’ve accumulated. When you do get promoted, you’ll be ready to go!
Once you’ve tackled the office, you can build on your new organizational skills. Start clearing the decks at home! Your home is a sacred space where you need to relax and recharge so you have the energy to tackle your work. If you come home to a cluttered and uncomfortable space, you aren’t giving yourself a chance to fully recharge your batteries. If you are like me and have the instincts of a pack rat (a desert rodent that uses trash to build a cozy den), you may need some help in this process. One way to start is reading Marie Kondo’s inspiring book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. After years of grappling with my own clutter and experimenting with various forms of clutter-busting, I have found hers to be the simplest, most effective and permanent solution. There is only one question to ask when evaluating whether to keep or discard any object. You must hold it in your hands and ask yourself, “Does this give me joy?” If the answer is no then out it goes. After all, why would you want to keep anything that doesn’t give you joy?
Before I discovered this amazingly simple method, I used to ask myself, “Have I used this in the last six months?” If it wasn’t a seasonal item like skis, I’d donate it to charity. However, the joy question is truly the ultimate and only question you ever need to ask. It is a far better and more important question because sometimes we don’t use something, but it gives us joy and sometimes we use things that don’t give us joy. I used to advocate clearing clutter with a friend who isn’t attached to your belongings, but if you simply get in touch with what gives you joy, you’ll find you can clear clutter all by yourself and it is an invigorating experience. Don’t even listen to music while you are clearing out, as it can distract you from the process of getting in touch with what gives you joy.
You are probably wondering how to get started. Many experts say to declutter 15 minutes a day, working one room at a time. According to Marie Kondo, if you do this, you’ll be decluttering forever. She recommends that you make clutter clearing a special, once-in-a-lifetime event. First, clear clutter by category, not by room. Start with your clothes and get all of your clothes out of the closet, out of the attic, the dry cleaners, or the hall closet so you can see all the clothes that you own. The sheer volume may startle you. Then start by sub-category with tops first, then bottoms, then hanging items, socks, underwear, handbags, accessories, and shoes. Hold each piece of clothing, one by one in your hands and ask if it gives you joy. If not, then out it goes. Using this simple method, I very quickly cleared my closets and oddly enough, kept some clothes that I couldn’t wear but gave me joy and discarded clothes I had been wearing that didn’t give me joy or were a bit worn out. Now my entire wardrobe gives me joy, I can see everything I own as nothing is in off-season storage and I also have space for new things. Revolutionary!
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One of my clients said that he was losing weight and had 25 shirts that he couldn’t wear right now, but was hoping to fit into soon. I told him that he could still apply the same strategy as some of those shirts will give him joy and some won’t. He realized he had bought two new suits recently, but only one gives him joy. He also has a few favorite shirts that he likes to wear but discovered that he often saves them for special occasions and instead opts for shirts that don’t inspire joy. By tossing the ones that don’t give him joy, he is now wearing his favorites all the time.
Marie Kondo’s approach works because instead of focusing on getting rid of stuff, which can feel demoralizing and discouraging, you are focusing on what to keep, which is so much easier and even fun. She recommends that you “Pick them as if you were identifying items you loved from a display in your favorite shop.” The process itself is life-changing because you quickly become expert at using the joy filter for decision-making, an important skill for everything you consider in your life—not just your stuff!
After clothes, sort your books, miscellaneous items, and papers, saving the hardest for last—sentimental items. If you are like me and you can’t bear to part with some sentimental items, try this idea from one of my seminar participants: create a Memory Box full of special things that make you feel good. Whenever you feel bummed out or discouraged, look through your box and get an instant boost. (Old love letters can remind you that you are lovable and loved and if they don’t, why are you keeping them?)
Getting rid of clutter is incredibly therapeutic and will give you a huge burst of energy. That is why we eliminate clutter at the start of our life coaching program— so you have the newfound energy to tackle your really big goals and the space for new and better things.
Many clients who come to me feeling stuck are almost too tired to get out of the rut. They don’t realize that the clutter is sapping their energy. 90% of the time people have clutter in their lives, even if it isn’t visible. When I was doing a seminar abroad, I was invited to stay with one of my clients in her home. She had an immaculate, white, spacious, modern home that was lovely to look at. I didn’t think she had much clutter to clear yet – when I commented that she had done a great job—she admitted she had tons of papers, books, and magazines neatly stashed away in her closets behind closed doors. She spent the next few days tossing out old magazines, donating books she would never read again to friends and the local library, and weeding excess papers from her files. Within one month she was offered two different jobs, and the opportunity to go into business with a friend. Suddenly, she was unstuck. The most amazing thing to me was that she decided to sell her beautiful home and move to the shore. Freeing the house of clutter gave her the energy to attract and respond to new and better career opportunities and even freed her of the house itself, which, though lovely, was keeping her tied to a job she didn’t like due to the hefty mortgage payments.
Once you create some space, the universe will try to fill it, so be careful to say “No, thank you” if what comes along doesn’t add joy to your life. For instance, be very careful before you agree to store things for friends and family. If you do agree to store things, make sure you set a specific time limit and decide what will happen to the items if the time limit is exceeded.
As you create an abundance of space, there is more room for good things to come into your life. Make this a formal ritual. As you drop off your old things at a charity shop, you can express your gratitude and appreciation for them, even if it was just the pleasure of having purchased it in a shop and you never wore it or used it. Drop off the bags and silently say, “Thank you for having served your purpose in my life. I am now making space for something new and better to come into my life.” It sounds corny, but every time I do a thorough decluttering, I get a new client. It all goes back to energy—you are freeing up the energy attached to your belongings, allowing room for the new.
Excerpted from the revised and updated edition of Coach Yourself to Success: 101 Tips to Accomplish Your Personal and Professional Goals by Talane Miedaner, published by McGraw-Hill (2014).
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