This Before and After from one of our community members at LearnDoBecome recently gave us all a lift:
The “Before” photo is still very lovely. There’s space to sit and move around, and it’s a beautiful space. But often it’s the piles of stuff hanging around and the lack of clear flat surfaces that cause friction and/or overwhelm in our lives.
I recently taught an organization class to a group of 8- to 15-year olds. They were absolutely darling and so excited to apply the skills we discussed–and in the midst, I had a few a-ha moments I thought might be helpful to you.
I’d asked the coordinator to bring a junk drawer or two…something we could actually work through together, so I wouldn’t need to just talk about the theory of organizing. I wanted to show them that they could take a pile of “stuff” and easily transform it into clear space.
Two of the participants each brought a large cube organizer full of miscellaneous items that they wanted to organize. So that’s what we did, and here’s what I learned:
(1) When there are a lot of different items in one space that aren’t united in purpose, our brains feel overwhelmed.
As I got started with the class, we put our chairs in a circle with the bins in the middle, and then I asked the students how they felt when they looked at them. There was a tangible feeling of dread. It felt like way too much, and I think they were a little worried to dive in.
This really applies to every area of our lives–stuff on our shelves, random items in drawers, too many thoughts in our heads. When we can’t categorize things like “markers” or “client archive files” or “cooking utensils,” our brains search for some commonality, and it ends up being like when your cell phone is searching for service, but it can’t find any. That drains the battery, even though the phone isn’t functional.
Daniel Levitin in The Organized Mind talks about this quite a bit. Our brains naturally need categories to make sense of the world, and so something like a “junk drawer”–unless it truly is where you put a specific number of miscellaneous items you know how to find when needed–is going to cause instant overwhelm.
(2) The majority of what is in our “piles” is unnecessary.
Going back to this experience with the group, in order to start the decluttering process, we dumped everything out of the bins–one was on my left, one was on my right. (In hindsight, I should have put down a sheet or something because one of the boxes had glitter in it, but the vacuum got most of it up afterwards!) Then I told them to JUST pull out the trash. The whole group helped, and then I asked, as we looked at the very small piles that remained, “What did you notice in that step?”
They all looked at the trash bag and then back at the piles we were sorting and could easily see that most of what overwhelmed them was very easy to toss/recycle.
That’s often the case with most of our random storage areas. If you have a full garage, office, closet, etc., I’m guessing most of it can be tossed/recycled. And yes, the decision-making isn’t always easy, but we can help you with that. 🙂
(3) “Eliminate the unnecessary, so that the necessary may speak.” -Hans Hofmann
I heard that quote long ago, and it still inspires me. We often hear that less is more, but then we keep shopping and gathering and acquiring things like our lives depend on how many physical objects surround us when we die.
I took my group of students through the 3-box method (full podcast about it is linked below), and in addition to the trash/recycle area, we created little sections of things “to donate” and things “to put somewhere else.”
The “donate” discussion was actually really helpful (things that would have gone in the trash could actually be salvaged, in many cases).
As a side note, our daughter had her baby shower here at our home last week, and a few friends from her Geography major in college attended. They studied sustainability in their classes, and so they got her some darling baby clothes and a board book from a local thrift store. It was such a great idea–and a smart use of resources!
The final pile we created in the organization class included things “to put somewhere else,” and it was actually way easier than I thought it was going to be. They could see that art supplies could go “upstairs where we keep art supplies” and hair ties, nail polish, etc. could all go into the bathroom vanity area. Whenever they were confused about an item, I just asked, “Where’s the first place you would go to look for it?” And then they knew!
It was cute because I got a text from the coordinator the next day whose daughter had been part of the class. She said, “[My daughter] went straight to work when she got home and came back with several boxes to donate and put in the garbage.”
I loved that. If I had known how to do this when I was younger, I would have done the same. But I didn’t know how to look at a room and just focus on the trash for 10 minutes. I thought that as long as a piece of clothing fit, even if I never wore it and didn’t like it, it was my responsibility to keep it in my drawer or closet or under my bed in case I desperately needed clothing someday. (I probably only wore 10% of what I owned.) And I felt like the rest of the house already had its own piles to deal with, so putting something “somewhere else” wasn’t being responsible. It was better for me to let my own space pile high in order to protect the items from getting lost or contributing to the overwhelm of the whole family.
Alia and I actually spoke about this in the “Empower Students” class we taught last week. (See the link below to sign up for the replay!)
She shared some specific ways parents can help children 10-20 to organize their lives, and she shared stories from her own growing up. It still floors me when she says, “I honestly have never known the feeling of overwhelm,” because that was my nearly constant-state until I was 30.
So whether you’re helping your children or students learn organizational skills or simply implementing something like the 3-box method as you do your own home spruce-up, I just want to send a huge hug and some love and encouragement.
We don’t often realize how much the things in our lives weigh on us.
But the gift is that when we do remove the unnecessary so the necessary will speak, the lift we feel is typically well beyond what we expected.
Our LearnDoBecome Directory (linked below) that Taryn put together has a comprehensive list of all the posts here that can help you clear clutter.
I recommend you start with the 3-box method, but then you can click around and listen to more episodes, if you’d like additional support!
Of course, building the full STEP Command Central is going to help you not only organize your home, but you’ll have a full system in place to keep your mind calm and enable you to move forward on personal and professional projects without the stress. If you haven’t taken our free training yet, there’s a link below, as well!
I am excited for you and look forward to hearing how your “spruce up” goes!
Thank you for being with us at LearnDoBecome!
The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin (Amazon Affiliate Link)