People often talk about leading a more "balanced life". It is my belief that this phrase arose from the notion that you can "do (or have) it all". It's a way of expressing a desire to achieve a sense of stability and calmness amid the chaos of a busy life.
The problem is a balanced life is not possible, nor is it truly desireable. There are a number of reasons why this is the case.
Balance, by its very nature, is fleeting. Try standing on one foot. Yes, you can do it. But for how long? With practice, you may be able to improve your performance, but you will need to rest and readjust regularly in order to prevent yourself from toppling over.
In addition, priorities, needs, and circumstances are constantly shifting making it necessary to adapt and change. The idea that there is some magic formula we can apply to achieve the permanent end goal of a balanced life is a fantasy. The moment you feel as though equilibrium is within reach, something will change. A new need will arise, upsetting your stability and forcing you to adapt.
Balance also implies equality of importance. In order for something to be balanced, the different elements have to be equally weighted. When it comes to life, responsibilities, and time management, equality is not the goal. Some things simply require more of our time, energy, focus, and commitment than others, and that's a good thing.
Imagine what life would be like if every aspect of our lives (work, family, social interactions, home maintenance, civic duties, personal development, and more) required and received an equal degree of importance and attention. It would be overwhelming and exhausting, to say the least, and oddly enough, it would leave us feeling unbalanced.
When we speak of balance, what we really mean is that we want to have enough time, energy, and resources to focus on the things that really matter and not neglect the things we value most.
We all know that there are an infinite number of hours in the day. What we sometimes forget is that we can only do so much in the hours that we have. Author and motivational speaker Jon Acuff stated it well when he said:
In other words, it is necessary to prioritize. If a particular thing is important, then other things must, by necessity, receive less attention. For this reason, I think of life, not as a balancing act, but as a juggling act. Juggling implies a more fluid, changing environment.
Think of all the aspects of your life as balls. You can only hold one or two balls at a time, thus requiring you to juggle. If you try to juggle too many things at once, you will drop some of your balls.
At any given moment, some balls are more important than others. They are made of glass; other balls are made of rubber. You cannot drop a glass ball, or it will break. Rubber balls, on the other hand, are safe to drop because they will bounce and remain intact until you are able to retrieve them.
The secret is to determine which balls are glass and which are rubber, knowing that the nature of the ball will change depending on your circumstances and season of life and personal priorities. Some balls even change in nature during the course of a single day. For example, when you are at work, work requires your focus. It is a glass ball. But when you are at home, other things become more important.
The key to success is to learn to discern which balls you can afford to drop or set down and which ones you have to keep in the air at any given time. When we choose in advance what to focus on and what to ignore, we free ourselves from guilt and shame. Instead of feeling bad about some ball you’ve dropped, you can feel empowered by your own mindfulness in deciding not to pick that ball up to for the time being.
Once you buy into the idea that life is not a balancing act, there is much to learn from the juggling analogy. Consider the following:
If you're tired of trying to achieve the impossible ideal of a balanced life, I encourage you to take a step back and reevaluate your situation. Instead of trying to do it all, make an accessment of what matters most. Give yourself permission to set down some of your balls from time to time. Decide when you can best give time and energy to the things that truly matter in your life. Be mindful in the moment by switching balls out periodically to reflect your priorities. Enjoy focusing your energy, effort, and heart on a few essentials and let the extraneaous balls bounce off into the corner until (and if) you are ready to retrieve them.
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When you hear the word clutter, what comes to mind? If you're like most people, physical clutter is the thing you think of first. It may even be the only thing. In truth, though, clutter can take many forms. Kerri L. Richardson, professional organizer and author of the book What Your Clutter Is Trying To Tell You, defines clutter as follows:
When thought of in this way, many other types of clutter become evident. The first step to decluttering is to uncover your clutter. In other words, to truly conquer your clutter, you have to identify it in all its forms in order to root it out and remove it from your life.
Not all clutter is visible. While visible clutter (which I will refer to as physical clutter) is the most obvious, it may not be the most limiting or the most impactful form of clutter in a person's life. Clutter can be mental, emotional, or spiritual as well. While generally unseen, these types of clutter (sometimes referred to as "baggage") can have a radical impact on quality of life and overall well-being.
The clutter that is conscious is the clutter that you recognize and acknowledge. When you encounter conscious clutter, it elicits a reaction. The reaction can be both intellectual and physical in nature. For example, seeing a cluttered countertop might cause your muscles to tense or your heartrate to increase. It might also conjur negative thoughts and emotions.
While most conscious clutter is physical, not all physical clutter is conscious. It's possible for a person to become so used to physical clutter that he or she develops a sort of clutter blindness.
Unconcious clutter can also evoke physical and emotional signs of stress. The difference lies in the fact that unconcious clutter is not recognized as clutter. It can be anything in your life that is getting in your way, preventing your progress, or impacting your peace and happiness. This description of clutter by inspirational writer Eleanor Brownn perfectly describes what I am referring to as unconscious clutter.
Now that we have expanded our understanding of clutter, let's take a closer look at the different kinds of clutter.
Physical clutter is stuff. It takes up space in the physical world. When searching for a definition of clutter, you will find that it is often associated with disorder, confusion, and excess. Physical clutter refers to those items that are unused, unneeded, and/or unwanted but held onto for one reason or another. It can also refer to items that are out of place or have no permanent home.
It's interesting to note that the reasons behind the accumulation and retention of physical clutter could be considered a form of clutter in and of themselves. I'm thinking here of the guilt or fear that often cause us to hold onto things that really don't have a place in our lives.
Clearing Away Physical Clutter:
This website is dedicated largely to the concept of dealing with physical clutter, so I won't go into tremendous depth here. Instead, I will just offer a few simple suggestions for getting started.
Mental clutter accumulates when we have too much to do or to think about. As a result, our brains become overloaded making it difficult to focus, problem solve, and be productive. This leads to stress, anxiety, and frustration.
If you are like me, you probably find yourself thinking most clearly during down times such as while driving, taking a shower, exercising, or laying in bed first thing in the morning. This is because these simple, semi-automatic activities require very little 'brain power', thus allowing our minds to focus in on a particular problem that's been troubling us or to suddenly wow us with a flash of brilliance or creative genius. The problem is, capturing these light bulb moments can be tricky when one is in the middle of traffic or dripping wet. The good news is, there are things we can do to recreate the circumstances that foster mental clarity.
Clearing Away Mental Clutter:
Emotional clutter comes as a result of negative thoughts and feelings that weigh us down and limit our progress. Guilt, fear, anger, resentment, self-doubt, jealousy, anxiety, and grief are some of the biggest culprits. Despite their damning effect on us (or perhaps because of it), we often cling to these emotions, and the sources from which they spring, with self-destructive determination.
What are the sources of emotional clutter? Some examples include:
The key to overcoming emotional clutter is to develop emotional resilience, or the ability to adjust or recover when faced with change, setbacks, disappointments, and other challenges that life presents.
Clearing Away Emotional Clutter:
Integrity is often associated with honesty. That is certainly an important aspect of integrity, but there is more to this concept than mere veracity. Integrity also means whole, sound, undiminished, unimpaired. When applied to one's character, I think a good way to define integrity is living in such a way that your actions are consistent with your beliefs. In other words, integrity is being true to yourself.
When we make choices that we know are not an accurate reflection of how we believe we should live our lives, our integrity is weakened. Much like a building that is structurally unsound, poor choices can leave us feeling unbalanced, out of alignment, and just off. It could be as serious as committing a crime or breaking a vow or as simple as being unkind or eating something that's bad for you. It all depends on what matters to you and the person you want to be. Whatever the case, the more we live out of sync with the things we believe to be right, the more spiritual clutter amasses in our lives.
Clearing Away Spiritual Clutter:
Clutter can be overwhelming. When it comes to physical clutter, clients often tell me, "I don't know where to start." The same can be true for all forms of clutter, be it mental, emotional, or spiritual.
My response to this statement is always the same, and it holds true no matter what type of clutter you are dealing with. It doesn't matter where you start. Just start, and in doing so, you will build confidence and momentum that will carry you through to the end.
I wish you every success in uncovering and conquering your clutter. It is worth the effort. You can do it. I believe in you.
If you're feeling nervous about uncovering your clutter, contact me. The process is always easier when you have support.
Recently, as I have begun to work virtually with clients, I have encouraged them to keep a downsizing journal.
A downsizing journal is exactly what it sounds like: a journal dedicated to the process of downsizing. Downsizing is a major undertaking that involves a great deal of physical, mental, and emotional effort. At times, it can be overwhelming, frustrating, and/or exhausting. Staying on track and maintaining your motivation for such an undertaking can be challenging. Writing about the experience can help you appreciate your purpose, examine your feelings, vent your frustrations, and record your progress.
You can obviously include anything you like in your downsizing journal. That's the beauty of journals; they're personal. That said, I do have a few recommendations for how to utilize a downsizing journal effectively. Consider including the following:
Define Your "Why"
Your "why" is your purpose for downsizing. I enthusiastically encourage you to start your journal off by creating your persoanl list of reasons for embarking on the downsizing journey. Take your time producing this list. Ponder. Ask yourself questions such as:
Record your answers. You can create a simple bullet list or write detailed paragraphs explaining each of your reasons. However you choose to record the information, it's important that you look at it frequently throughout the process. Use it as a reminder of why you started the downsizing process and a source of motivation to keep you focused and moving forward.
Describe Your End State
Your end state is closely related to your "why" but different enough to merit a page or two of its own. Your end state is what allows you both to visualize and to recognize success. How will you know when you have successfully downsized if you don't have a picture in your mind of what that will look like?
Again, it's helpful to ask yourself a few questions and record your answers. Some questions to ponder include:
Again, it's important to revisit your answers periodically in order to evaluate your progress and be reminded of what you are working toward.
Outline an Action Plan
If you are working with a professional organizer, he/she can assist you in creating an overarching plan for achieving your downsizing goals. Downsizing is a comprehensive process that typically involves editing all of your possessions, at least to a certain degree. As such, it is best to break it down. I recommend taking one of the following approaches:
Creating a detailed plan for downsizing will take some time and thought, but it will make the actual process much simpler because you will know when you have met your goal. Decision making will be less stressful if you have a clear set of guidelines in place to help you determine what you want/need to keep.
Record Your Progress
A journal is a great place to insert before and after photographs to document your progress. You might also use your journal to make to do lists. Personally I find crossing items off a list extremely satisfying. You can also just write about your progress in typical journal format by describing what you accomplish each day or week.
Vent Your Frustrations
As with any major undertaking you will encounter challenges throughout the downsizing process. Things will not always go according to plan. Venting your frustrations on paper can be wonderfully theraputic. It's a way of purging your soul while purging your belongings!
Work Through the Decision Making Process
If you're having trouble determining what to part with or struggling to let go of things, write about it. Make a list of pros and cons for keeping or getting rid of a particular item that's causing your stress. Seeing it all laid out in black and white often yields an obvious solution.
Record Your Feelings
When you're feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scope and scale of the process, write it out. When you're feeling proud of what you've accomplished, record those emotions. Writing down your feelings can be an effective way of processing them. The simple act of writing it down can help you to make sense of what you're feeling and deal productively with those emotions.
Write About Your Stuff
Do you have fond memories of a particular item? Whether or not you are keeping the item in question, I recommend writing about it. Describe the circumstances that led you to acquire the item, who gave it to you, what you love about it, why it has value to you, and where it came from. You might even experiment with writing to the item itself. Pretend you are transcribing a letter to the beloved item. Reminisce about how you "met", who "introduced you", what kinds of experiences you enjoyed together, and so forth. Be sure to include a photograph of the item as well.
Keep Track of Things
We downsized as part of a recent move. For us the process involved giving away many items to friends and family, donating items to charity, and selling some items. Because I was giving away a lot of things to a lot of different people, I kept an ever-evolving list of the items I had offered up, who had claimed them, and when/where the items would be handed off to their new owners. A downsizing journal is the perfect place to keep track of such information. If you're selling a lot of things, you can also use your journal to list each item, your asking price, your rock-bottom price, and other pertinent information.
If you are embarking on the downsizing journey, I hope you will consider keeping a downsizing journal. Doing so can help you manage, process, record, and preserve the process. Your downsizing journal can be private, or you can share it with a family member or trusted friend. If you are working with an organizer, I recommend you share portions of your journal with him/her as you deem appropriate.
I just returned from a walk in the brisk fall air. I love fall. It is by far my favorite time of the year. I spend much of the summer anxiously awaiting its arrival, and I mourn its passing as mild, sunny days give way to winter's chill.
The reasons for my fondness of fall are many, but this morning as I observed random leaves floating to the ground, one in particular stood out in my mind: change. I like the change in the weather, the change in activities, the change in focus, and the changes in nature.
All this got me thinking about the concept of change, especially when considered in conjunction with some other aspects of my walk which I will share in this post as well.
We are currently undergoing a major life change. We are moving houses. I'm both excited and overwhelmed by the prospect. That is the thing with change; it can be both uncomfortable and exciting at the same time. For instance, there are many things about my current home that I love and will miss. That said, there are even more things about my new home that I am eager to enjoy. Instead of focusing on what I am giving up, I am trying to appreciate those things that I love about the old house and the enjoyment those things have brought to my life. I will look back on them with a nostalgic fondness and appreciation. I will not pine away for the loss of them. Instead, I will focus on the new experiences and opportunities that my new home affords.
Change can take many forms, but certain types of change are commonly experienced. My walk brought to mind a number of metaphors for change which I would like to share.
In recent months much of the world has experienced a narrowing of the path ahead. COVID-19 has restricted people's ability to work, socialize, and function freely. Many people have keenly felt the limitations imposed by these external constraints. Others have instituted their own personal constraints in an attempt to protect themselves and their loved ones.
At the same time, many people have utilized this time of reduced external opportunities to reflect and build inwardly. There have been so many marvelous examples of people using this time of restriction to expand their lives in meaningful ways by focusing on family, rethinking priorities, tackling projects, and purging the unwanted from their lives.
When the path before us narrows, we can choose to see it as a limitation or an opportunity. In reality, it is both, We can utilize the duality of the circumstance to look back with gratitude and insight regarding the distance we have traveled while simultaneously focusing our efforts moving forward.
Sometimes, the road ahead gets steep. Troubles seem to come in bundles. Life gets a little (or a lot!) hard for awhile. At such times, we can find ourselves asking, "What next?!" as new problems present themselves. It can feel as though we are endlessly climbing.
Just as climbing a steep hill in real life makes us physically stronger, climbing metaphorical hills can make us emotionally and intellectually stronger. The beautiful thing about hills is that they always end in an enhanced perspective. When we get to the top, we can see farther, understand our position better in relation to everything around us, and know better how to plot the course ahead.
It can be tempting when trudging uphill to focus downward on the next step. While this method will keep us moving forward, it does little to make the journey more bearable. Instead, why not pause periodically to catch your breath and look back at the distance you've traveled? Doing so can instill feelings of gratitude, accomplishment, and hope. When you resume, try to look up and enjoy the ever-decreasing distance between yourself and the summit.
Thinking in terms of time management, responsibilities, and other burdens, we sometimes need to lighten our load for the upward trek by laying aside, if only for a time, those things that are extraneous and superficial in order to focus on what matters most. What matters most at any given time will change with our circumstances and needs. Don't be afraid to tell others, "My path is steep right now. I need to lighten my load." Depending on who you tell, they may actively look for ways to help lessen your burden.
They say that what goes up must come down. When we get to the top of life's metaphorical hills, we are typically faced with a steep decline. After the difficult upward trek, it can be tempting to let gravity and our renewed energy pull us downward at an ever-increasing pace. Better to walk carefully and intentionally, enjoying the newly gained perspective.
Following a challenging time, give yourself grace and patience as you slowly add meaningful things back into your life. Resist the urge to invite too much into your life too soon, be it activities, commitments, or stuff.
Occasionally, something really big comes along. It might be an illness or injury. It might be the loss of a job or a loved one. Whatever the case may be, such life changing events tend to demand an inordinate amount of our time, attention, and energy. They force us to yield to their demands and set other aspects of our lives on the top shelf to gather dust for a time.
Such events or circumstances are largely unavoidable, and in many cases, unpredictable. Many of my clients are just emerging from (or still caught up in the midst) of a life-changing situation. Their routines have been derailed, and their personal surroundings have suffered as a result. With all their energy and effort focused on managing the 'big thing' in their life, things like order and organization have yielded. That's normal, but it doesn't have to be permanent.
When circumstances force your to yield to their demands, know that yielding, by it's very nature, is temporary. Whatever the passing obstacle, it will pass, and it will once again be safe for you to continue on your way. Don't berate yourself for "letting things get out of hand". They are just things, and over time you can regain a comfortable level of control.
While it would be nice to always be assured of a straight and shady path (like the one above), that isn't how life works. That's actually a good thing. An unbending path is a boring path void of opportunities to test ourselves and increase our strength.
I purposefully saved this image for the end. This part of the path is located toward the end of my walk. As you can see the path ahead curves. The sign, in fact, indicates multiple curves ahead. There are curves ahead for all of us, and we often can't see what lies around the bend (as is the case here). That's why it's good, when we get the chance, to sit down on a comfortable bench and rest. While we're at it, we might also take a moment or two to toss out any "trash" that is burdening us before stepping back onto the path to see what's around the corner.
Change is inevitable. Change is often difficult and almost always uncomfortable. Change is also necessary and beneficial. When viewed with the proper perspective, change can be an instrument for gratitude as we look back on past experiences and the ways in which they have shaped and blessed us. Change can also be a precursor and instigator of growth in our lives as we adapt to our shifting circumstances and improve ourselves in the process.
It isn't only our circumstances that change. We change over time as well. Our interests, tastes, needs, wants, and preferences change. Often, instead of letting go of things that held meaning or interest to our former self, we cling to them. Our progress on the path ahead, be it hilly, curvy, or wrought with obstacles, will be easier if our burden is lighter. Letting go of the things that no longer represent who you are and what matters to you, leaves you free to welcome the changes ahead.
How has change impacted you? What insights have you gained as you have overcome challenging times?
We're moving, or at least we think we are. We are certainly considering it seriously. At any rate, we're in a moving mindset.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband said to me, "When we move, we're not taking that with us." It happened to be a piece of furniture, and I happened to agree whole-heartedly with him. In fact, my response was, "I was thinking the same thing." And I was. In fact, I have been thinking that about a lot of things, and this has got me pondering: If I wouldn't take it with me when I move, why am I holding onto it?
Sometimes the answer to this question is a perfectly reasonable one. Perhaps the item is useful in the current location, but it won't be needed in the new one. Such would be the case if, for instance, you lived in an area where is snows regularly and you were moving to a southern state. You might opt not to bring the snow blower to your new location.
Often, however, our reasons for holding onto things we wouldn't take with us if we were moving are not so easy to define and may require a little soul searching. I have decided to begin a pre-move purge. Even if we decide not to move, I know I will be glad that I embarked on this endeavor. No matter what one's current life circumstance, a little purging is always good for the soul, not to mention one's space.
Below is my ever-growing list of items I will not be taking with me if and when I move. I've got specific examples, but I've decided to generalize in order to provide information that will be more widely applicable.
STUFF WE'VE OUTGROWN: Clothing is, of course, the first thing that comes to mind, but it is by no means the only category of items that fit this criteria. It is possible to outgrow items not only physically, but also intellectually, emotionally, or simply in terms of preference. As an example, a client of mine recently told me that the music in her CD collection "no longer falls on my ears like it used to." In other words, her tastes have changed. She has outgrown her old music. What have you outgrown? You don't have to wait for a move to get rid of things you no longer love.
PILLOWS: The National Sleep Foundation recommends replacing pillows every one to two years. This is because pillows absorb dust, dead skin cells, body oils, and other icky stuff that attracts dust mites and other microorganisms. While it is possible to extend the life of some pillows by washing them every three to six months, they will not last indefinitely. The following are indications that your pillow needs replacing:
MATTRESSES: Like pillows, mattresses serve as collection sites for all sorts of yucky stuff. There are some things you can do to care for your mattress and extend it's life, but generally speaking mattresses should be replaced every eight to ten years. Moving is a great time to assess the condition of the mattresses in your home and leave behind those that have lived a full life.
DAMAGED STUFF: I have a tendency to use things until they are unusable. My cell phone is a great example. My children regularly chide me about the fact that it is so outdated (I still have an iPhone 7 and my iPad is 8 years old). But it still works, albeit not as well as I would like. Another example is my blender. The lid to the pitcher does not seat properly unless you physically hold it down. It makes using the blender a bit frustrating. To replace the pitcher and lid costs almost as much as a new blender, so I am not taking the old one with me when I move. It isn't worth salvaging.
Most of us have stuff that is broken, stained, frayed, threadbare, or otherwise damaged. We hold onto such things because we once loved them, and we would like for them to be whole again or because we do not want to spend the money to replace them. Whatever our reasoning, holding onto such items only adds clutter to our lives.
OUTDATED ELECTRONICS: We have a bin in our attic full of old electrical chargers and cords. I cannot identify the purpose of 99% of these accessories. I strongly suspect that the vast majority of these cables and cords do not work with any device currently residing in my home. We've lived here for seven years and never needed them, so they will not be coming with us when we move. Do you have any outdated electronics in your home? My page Where to Donate or Recycle Electronics offers a variety of resources for disposing of electronics safely and responsibly.
UNUSED APPLIANCES: I knew it was time to get rid of the quesadilla maker when I went to make quesadillas and intentionally opted to use another method for preparing them. The same was true for my fondue pot. Unused appliances take up a lot of space, so parting with them is a great way to clear the clutter from your kitchen.
UNUSED SURPLUS: I'm a firm believer in being prepared and keeping things on hand that you use regularly. It's wonderful to be able to pull a staple item off the shelf when you run low rather than having to run to the store. That said, most of us hold onto an excess of things we don't use or only use periodically. In the case of food items, this can be doubly wasteful. The space needed to store the items is wasted, and often the items themselves go to waste because they expire and have to be discarded.
I happen to have a weakness for school supplies. Despite the fact that I have resisted the urge to 'stock up' on such items during the late summer sales for the past two years since my youngest child graduated high school, I still have drawers and bins teaming with empty notebooks, unopened bags of pens, and other school essentials. It's time to make a realistic assessment of what we will actually use in a timely manner and edit my cache.
DUPLICATES: We recently bought a brand new squeegee to push the rain off our deck. A few weeks later we discovered that we already owned a squeegee - the exact same squeegee, in fact. One of them is going to find a new home before we move. A couple of years ago, we received a waffle iron as a gift. We already had a waffle iron. Since getting the new one, I have not used the old one. I'm keeping the new one and bidding the old one farewell. As the wife of an army officer, I also have an impressive collection of serving trays which have seen a lot of use over the years. In addition to my own collection, I inherited several from my step mom. These days they don't get nearly as much use as they once did. Time to pare down the collection and pass some on to another user.
Chances are you can think of similar examples among your possessions. If you have two, and one will do, I encourage you to choose your favorite and give the extra one away.
STUFF THAT"S MOSTLY USED: The list of examples that fit into this category is potentially unending. I'll just give you a few to get your mind going: lipstick and other cosmetics, nail polish, partially burned candles, gift wrap scraps, craft supplies, medicines you no longer take, paint or glue that's drying up, lotions and other toiletries you tried but didn't love. You get the idea. Look for stuff that's been opened and partially used that's been sitting around for some time. Ask yourself if you're ever going to use it and get rid of it if the answer is no.
STUFF I"VE BEEN KEEPING FOR THE WRONG REASON: As an organizer I am not completely immune to the subtle, yet alluring, array of excuses that cause us to keep things we don't want or need. My moving game plan is thus: make an honest assessment as to why I am keeping things and part with those things that have been burdening me in one way or another. Examples include things I've kept out of guilt, things I've kept out of laziness, things I've kept out of a sense of sentimentality, and things I've kept just in case. Whether you are moving or not, it is always freeing to let go of things that have been burdening you, so I'm looking forward to this part of the purging process in particular.
Be Motivated By Moving
Motivation follows success
Desire is the true impetus for change
Curb your inner critic
“…your inner critic is just a loving little liar. She really doesn’t mean you any harm. She’s scared, so she makes up all sorts of excuses so you won’t make progress. Because in her eyes, any change is bad.”
Reap rewards along the way
Make commitments to yourself
Determine your what, why and how