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Take a look around you. Every single item you see represents your choice to have that item in your life. You either chose to purchase the item, or were given the item and chose to keep it. From your new red sweater to the pile of junk mail on your kitchen counter, every item represents a choice made.

When your life is full of clutter, you might begin to resent all the “stuff” around you. Why do you think that happens? Often it is because you don’t LOVE the stuff you are looking at! Maybe the sweater doesn’t fit anymore. Maybe it was an impulse purchase that you now regret. Sometimes we purchase too much of a good thing – who really needs five staplers? – because it is much easier to buy the thing we need than find it in the junk yard that has become our home or office. When someone sends a gift or just gives us something we “have to” have, we often feel obligated to keep it “for a little while.” Let me tell you, I’ve met plenty of people whose “little while” is now 5+ years.

Make a choice NOW to change things. Start small. Pick five items around you. If you don’t absolutely love the item, find it useful/functional, or it doesn’t add beauty to your environment, get rid of it. Ebay, CraigsList, yard sale, trash can. I don’t care – let it go. It doesn’t matter if you paid $100 for it. If you have the receipt, take it back. No receipt? Ebay or donate it. Your peace of mind is more important than $100.

What items are you holding on to that you need to let go of?

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I have to come right out and say that I am not a health/medical professional. My professional organizer/non-medical professional opinion is that lack of energy is definitely a health issue. A serious one.

Lack of energy can have many root causes including depression, improper diet, and not getting enough rest/sleep. The list I linked to is not exhaustive by any means. I’ve dealt with many issues that have contributed to a lack of energy in my life: anxiety, overwhelm, depression, boredom, hopelessness (that “why bother?” feeling). I’ve also dealt with disorganization. I’ve always had trouble determining what came first in this chicken-egg situation. Do I have no energy because I am depressed? Am I depressed because my house is disorganized? Am I disorganized because I am depressed? Am i disorganized because I am simply too tired to put anything away? It makes my head hurt just thinking about it.

I have no quick-fix answer to offer you. I can’t tell you which came first for you. We are all different. I know, for example, that my nature is not to be disorganized. I have never been anal about it, but growing up, my room would get messy (as most kid’s rooms do), but I also enjoyed creating a place for things. I loved organizing my books by creating my own personal library system. I loved boxes, tins, and bins. I loved my Barbie motor home because I could neatly store all my dolls inside of it after taking them on another high speed adventure, running from the FBI. I loved Hawaii Five-0, 21 Jump Street, and The X-Files as a kid, and someone was always running. So sue me!

Somewhere along the way, disorganization made its way into my life. It didn’t feel right. I spent years struggling with depression. That definitely did not feel right. I was too tired to do anything or try anything. I was too tired for work, too tired for therapy, too tired to read, too tired to clean. I will share with you what I know and what I recommend.

Disorganization:

If you are disorganized and (1) can’t quite pinpoint the root cause or (2) don’t have the energy to fix things, try the following

  • Think about what you would do with your life, time, and space if clutter wasn’t holding you back. Don’t do this as an afterthought. Seriously take stock of your life. What can you do in the moment that gets you closer to what you want? Maybe you need to have a yard sale. Maybe you need to skip that lunch on Saturday to stay home and purge your closet. Perhaps today you clean out your junk drawer and tomorrow your glove compartment.
  • Go back as far as you can remember: when did you first notice signs of disorganization. Did you grow up in a house that was a mess? Was it after your mother died? After a bad break up? After you moved to a new city? Remembering when it started can often help you figure out what went wrong. Perhaps you need to develop your coping skills to deal with life changes.
  • Ask friends or family to help you. Set aside a couple of hours where they come in and help you move through your things.
  • Ask a Professional Organizer to help you. Of course, I think I’m great because I been through all this and know where my clients are coming from. But find the one that fits you. If motivation and lack of energy is an issue for you, find an organizer who can be sensitive to those issues. If my clients become crotchety or I feel them moving into overwhelm, I bring the session to a close. I’ve had clients had breakdowns or panic attacks because they felt it was all too much to deal with. We will not be productive if they hate me, hate themselves, are crying, or are too distracted to get anything done. So we got half an hour of work in – that’s half an hour that we wouldn’t have had if I was not there to help you.
  • Figure out what your mood and energy boosters are. Utilize them to help give you the push you need to work on your project.

If you know that you have no energy or are depressed because of your disorganization, combat that negativity by changing your habits. I’ve seen people who became ashamed of their homes, which caused them to become depressed and retreat from others. A friend of mine can’t stand to be around clutter. If her room gets messy, it stresses her out. If your house is cluttered, she can’t visit you. You’ll have to meet up for dinner somewhere. Mess makes her stressed and makes her feel physically ill. By bringing order to her home, she keeps her mind clear and calm. If she allowed the clutter to build, her stress would increase. Her life would be a mess. Don’t allow a cycle to form. Read books, ask for help, attend workshops, get an organizer. Do what you can to bring harmony and happiness to your space.

Lack of Energy:

If you lack energy all the time, and not just when you think about cleaning or organizing your home or office, then it would probably be good to see a medical professional. Get a full check up. Talk with your physician about how you feel. Take note of when your energy is high and when it is incredibly low. Your doctor might suggest a wide variety of things including getting enough sleep and cultivating better sleep hygiene. You could be anemic. Perhaps you are lacking certain vitamins. Maybe a change in diet is in order.

Get the scoop on lack of energy from WrongDiagnosis.com

Depression, Anxiety, Overwhelm, etc

Seek help from a source outside of yourself. If you’ve tried battling it on your own and you have not succeeded, please proceed by trying other options. I’ve been a reader since I came out of my mother’s womb, but reading books on depression didn’t help me one bit. They gave me a headache. I couldn’t finish them and was too depressed to return them, so I incurred late fees at the library, which made me more depressed, and so on…

Do not shut yourself away. That will not help. There are many options. Try taking a yoga class. Attend a group meditation session. Sitting in silence with Quakers helped bring some balance to my life one difficult summer. I still fantasize about going back. Try group therapy (this list is a detailed one for the Los Angeles area – perhaps there is one for yours).

Find a therapist you can talk to. Try a couple on for size. Don’t be afraid to ask for a free initial consultation. Find a fit for you. Don’t settle for someone who makes you feel uncomfortable. I felt a little guilty about it at first, but a few years ago when I was searching for a therapist, I wanted something specific. It had to be a woman. She had to be under 50. She had to be stylish, but not terribly so. She had to seem friendly. I did not want to talk about certain things with a man, however qualified he might be. I wanted someone younger, yet qualified so that she was not totally removed from what someone in my generation was dealing with and exposed to. I didn’t want her to be out of touch with 2006, but I didn’t want her to look so amazingly put together that I felt like a slob in her presence. I didn’t want someone cold and clinical. That was me. I had an ex boyfriend who had trouble seeing male counselors because of issues he had talking to his own father about personal things. He also preferred a female therapist who wasn’t “young and hot.” Understandable. There are enough therapists out there that you should be able to find what you need.

If you feel that antidepressants or other psychotropic substances might help you, find a psychiatrist to talk to. As a person who only takes Tylenol when she feels like she’s going to die, this would personally be my last resort – especially with the knowledge that some antidepressants can cause suicidal feelings in some people. No need to make things worse than they are. I am always willing to try other things first – exercise, vitamins, diet, sleep, changing my habits, changing who I spend time with, etc. Some people say Prozac saved their lives. If you do try these drugs, give them time to work. Most likely you will not feel any difference in a week. People I have spoken to who’ve taken antidepressants said (1) they took about a month to kick in and (2) when they did kick in, they didn’t even notice. One person, a close friend of mine who was on Prozac over 10 years ago, remarked that she didn’t think the drug was working because she just felt “normal.” She felt okay. That’s when she realized it was working for her – the drug wasn’t supposed to make her feel high as a kite.

If you find that lack of energy or depression is what causes your disorganization, do what you can to solve those issues. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to tackle your physical clutter when your brain is so clutter that you don’t even want to get out of bed. Getting organized is not easy for everyone. I’ve had several clients who worked with me while they were in therapy or working with life coaches. Once you feel better mentally, you feel more motivated to seek help from an organizer, or to do it on your own. You are more equipped to start the project and push through. Things seem less unbearable.

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If you have trouble figuring out which issue came first, like I did, there’s nothing wrong with experimenting. Try organizing a room of your house. See how your mood improves. Do you have a panic attack as you approach the room? A therapist might be in order. Explain your issues. Your therapist might be able to help you figure out when these issues started. Once you have a deeper understanding, you can move forward accordingly.

If you have any questions, I am always open to sharing my experience. You can email me at alaia [at] oneorganizedlife [dot] com.


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Back in June, I did a short series called “10 Minutes, 10 Days.” I wanted to share provide a variety of tips that crossed over various parts of life that aren’t very time consuming. “Organizing takes too much time” is a phrase I’ve heard more times than I can count. Yes, organizing can be time intensive, but if you do not have a lot of time to devote to a huge project all at once, don’t let that stop you. There are plenty of things you can spend a few minutes on each day that will help you reach your goals. The following are a few more suggestions for things you can do in 10 minutes to clear a little more clutter from your life:

  • Clean up your cell phone or PDA contact list. If you’re the kind of person who adds the number of everyone you’ve said “hello” to, then this might take more than 10 minutes. Most of us, however, should be able to scroll through our rolodex and do some quick editing. Remove information from old clients or business contacts that you no longer need to keep close at hand. Delete the information of people you simply don’t want to communicate with anymore. Add people whose numbers are jotted down on Post-it notes. Update or add additional information that contacts have given you.
  • While you are cooking in the kitchen, clear one drawer. If you have a junk drawer in the kitchen, try starting there. Get rid of things that are clearly junk. Put a few items in their proper places. If you keep take out menus, toss duplicate copies or menus from restaurants that have gone out of business. Throw out old soy sauce packets.
  • While filling the tub for your bath or for the bath of one of your kids, clean out a drawer in the bathroom, or toss a few outdated products (please don’t do this if your kid is sitting in the bathtub, unattended).
  • Sort through the mail that has been piling up. Create a pile for unpaid bills. Toss the ones that have been (or will be) paid automatically. Recycle the junk mail.
  • Return stray CDs and/or DVDs to their rightful homes.
  • Pre-sort your laundry. This is great for families that accumulate lots of dirty clothes each day. I live alone and I still find this handy. Have three hampers or purchase a hamper that has three sections in it. I like this idea because as I shed clothes each day and simply toss them in the right section, it is easy to tell, without spending time to sort, whether the whites, mediums, or darks are ready to be washed ASAP.

  • Clean out your purse, briefcase, messenger bag, backpack, man bag (or “murse” as I heard recently), etc.
  • Clean out under the kitchen sink. If you keep plastic grocery bags, stuff them all into one, or corral them in a plastic bag holder. Throw out cleaning products that have lost their effectiveness. If two bottles of Windex are down there, take one bottle upstairs so you’ll have one handy when your bathroom mirror needs a quick cleaning. Cut down on the space your cleaning supplies take up by using products that can be used on a variety of surfaces.
  • Match your socks.
  • Clean up your computer desktop. Remove shortcuts you don’t use frequently. Place documents in folders to clean the clutter from your screen and improve boot up time.
  • Toss out pens, highlighters, and permanent markers that no longer work. Why would you need them?
  • Clean out your glove compartment. I had to do this regularly because my glove box would be stuffed to the gills with napkins, straws, plastic utensils, coupons, car repair receipts, hand wipes, salt and pepper packets, and who knows what else.

If you know you need to get organized, don’t procrastinate by waiting until you can “find more time.” Do what you can with the time you have. I’m sure you have a little wiggle room somewhere. Many of the suggestions above save you time in the long run. Conserving energy by washing clothes when you have a full loads is a responsible thing to do – and also cuts down on how often you have to spend your time doing laundry! When you have five minutes to get out the door to work, being able to grab a pair of socks instead of having to look for a match gives you time to take yourself a quick lunch. And when a police officer pulls you over for speeding, you won’t be embarrassed when a bunch of stuff comes tumbling out of your glove box as you search for your insurance papers. I’ve had a speeding ticket and an avalanche of napkins. I don’t judge – this is a safe place.

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The hardest part of many projects is getting started. Organizing is no exception. Maybe you’re not sure where to start. Maybe you feel pressed for time. Or, perhaps you know where to start but feel overwhelmed by the task. Here are some ideas that I recommend for people who are having trouble starting an organizing project (you can also apply these tips to other kinds of projects):

Pick something already! If you really don’t know where to start and cannot figure out what your priority area is, there is nothing wrong with just diving in and getting started. Sometimes, just jumping in and seeing what you have to deal with will give you a clearer sense of direction or ideas on what priority areas can be.

Tackle the thing that is bothering you the most. Your living room might not be the highest priority in your mind, but every time you walk in and trip over things you just about lose your mind. So, maybe you tackle that before you organize your office. That’s fine! Eat that frog and move on.

Take small steps. Be realistic and don’t set yourself up to fail. If you are standing in the middle of the madness, remember – you don’t have to do it all at once. Clear out a drawer, straighten up your desk, clean out the medicine cabinet, sort your mail and toss the trash. These small steps add up to big results.

Get an accountability partner – or team. Get someone else (or multiple people) involved in the project. A friend or relative might not be physically pitching in to help you, but let them know what you are doing, and what your goal is. Ask them to check in with you. If you feel comfortable, ask them to bug you about it. Let them know you are having trouble getting started. At some point you’ll either (1) get sick of them asking if you’ve started, and so you do so that you can tell them “YES! Now stop asking!” or (2) hate the idea of letting that person down, so you get to work and make them (and yourself) proud! Choose someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to about something like this – which can be very sensitive and private for some people. And don’t choose a friend who is going to email you once and then not think about. Choose an assertive person who is going to call you out on what you said. This person will call you, text you, or drop in to say. Pick that one!

Box and Bribe. I had a client who hadn’t had anyone (other than me) in her place in years. What she most wanted was a welcoming environment to have her friends and family in. To make sure we got everything done in a timely manner, I suggested she throw a party. But to box her in, I had her set a date, create a guest list, and invite people. That’s quite a box! Another (more pleasant) way to motivate yourself is to set up rewards for getting things done. Some people like to set one big reward for the end of the project. Other people find that setting little milestone rewards along the way keeps them motivated. Do what works for you.

This article was featured in The Twenty First Edition of the Carnival of Improving Life and the Carnival of Self-Mastery


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Harboring an an excess of stuff can definitely be a downer. Clutter often effects people in ways they don’t realize. A cluttered environment can often deplete your energy, put a damper in your productivity, and in general, can bring on negative stress and unnecessary frustration.

The following is a suggested list of ten things you can get rid of today that will help create a little more space in your life.

  1. Trash. Empty your trash cans on a regular basis. Gather up trash that’s laying around and throw it out.
  2. Junk mail. Need I say more? Okay, I will. Get rid of your junk mail. Sale papers from stores you don’t shop at, credit card offers, and other junk that comes in the mail – get rid of it immediately to avoid a pileup.
  3. Items you no longer like. If you bought a shirt you once loved, but not it’s out of style, or you just don’t like it, there’s no reason to hold on to it. Ask a friend if they’d like it, or donate it. If you have a lot of items you no longer like, combine them with the things that fall into the next category and have a yard sale!
  4. Items you no longer need or that have become useless to you. Just like items you no longer like, if you bought something at one point because you needed it, but you know you really don’t need it any more, donate it, sell it, or if you know someone who (genuinely) needs it, you can ask if they’d like to have it.
  5. Outdated materials. Old store sales papers, catalogs, periodicals, event invitations, coupons – these are all perfect examples of irrelevant material than can become overwhelming if we let it pile up. Recycle it!
  6. Duplicates and excess “stuff”. I’ve walked into many situations with clients where we’ve come across 10 pairs of scissors, five staplers, and even a couple of irons. I’ve fallen victim to this myself – you don’t remember you have something, or you can’t find it, so you just buy another one. Well, not only is that a waste of money, but now you’re left with more stuff taking up space than is really needed. Pick the best pair or two of scissors and get rid of the rest. If you have way too many pens, just keep the ones that write the best. Only keep the stapler that doesn’t keep getting jammed.
  7. Free giveaways or tchotchkes. Just because it was free doesn’t mean you need to keep it. If you collect free stuff from festivals, meetings, conferences, or from people who just give you stuff in passing, you are in no way obligated to keep it. I must admit, there are some clever tchotchkes out there, but appreciate it, have your laugh, and let it go.
  8. Things that no longer work. If that toaster isn’t working – get rid of it. Toasters are inexpensive, you can get another one if you need to. I know an older woman, approaching her 90’s, who is of the mindset of getting things fixed. She recently paid $350 to get her TV repaired. First off, the repair man should have, in my opinion, told her that her TV wasn’t worth $350. He chose to take advantage of her instead. No one would buy that TV for $350 if you tried to sell it, and she could have purchased a much better (and lighter) television set for less money. When she moved in with her daughter a month later, she had to give the TV away. If your kid’s toy is broken, please get rid of it. Old broken cell phone? Donate or recycle it to an organization like CollectiveGood, please.
  9. Things you keep in your off-site storage unit. Why are you paying for storage? I suppose for some people out there, legitimate reasons exist. But if you rarely visit your storage unit, how important is the stuff you are keeping in there? I had a storage unit once. I was living in a studio apartment and maintaining a storage unit to the tune of $80/month. While I did go every once in a while to retrieve things, my mom pointed out that I could put that money toward a bigger place. That made sense. Did I get a bigger place? No, I just got rid of the stuff in storage because I realized it wasn’t important enough to want to move it all in with me.
  10. Items that have negative associations. I mentioned this in my 10 Minutes, 10 Days series. Keeping items that bring up negative emotions for you continue to stir those emotions whenever you encounter them. Free yourself from the negativity by letting go of these items.


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Post-it notes are great for jotting down quick notes to use as reminders for things that need to be taken care of. I love post-it notes and use them often, but the important thing to keep in mind is not to let those post-it notes turn into clutter.

Set aside some time to gather all your post-its into one neat stack. Go through each note one-by-one and take care of what’s on it. If you have a name and number on a post-it – add that person to your address book and toss the note. Did you jot down an event date and time on a post-it? Add the event to your calendar and, again, toss the note. If something written on the note can’t be taken care of in the moment, add it to your calendar for a set date and time so you can get it taken care of.

Don’t let your post-its become clutter. Make sure you go through them at the end of each day, or if you don’t write very many, once a week should be fine.


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Merriam-Webster:

Clutter (verb): to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness <a room cluttered with toys>

Clutter (noun): 1 a: a crowded or confused mass or collection b: things that clutter a place

Wikipedia.org:

Clutter may refer to any of the following:

Excessive physical disorder:

  • A confusing or disorderly state or collection; or the creation thereof. Excessive, unnecessary or uncontrolled clutter can be a symptom of compulsive hoarding.

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Clutter can be a real pain. I actually say that figuratively, but for some people, the clutter in their lives can become so out of control and overwhelming that they do end up in pain – emotional pain (stress, depression) and physical pain (slips/trips/falls, cuts and scrapes, etc).

Getting rid of clutter can make you feel so much better about your life. Trust me – I know! I could talk for days about the benefits of getting rid of clutter, but why not try the following for me, ok?

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