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Is This Why You Can’t Get Rid of Clutter?

One of the first things I hear when I talk to clients and students about their clutter is how overwhelmed they feel. They see this giant (or what feels like ‘giant’) task in front of them and can’t figure out how they’ll ever tackle it.

Below I share an excerpt from my book, What Your Clutter Is Trying to Tell You, where I write about one of the three common causes of clutter: Unrealistic expectations. (The other two are limiting beliefs and a lack of boundaries).

By approaching your clearing from a realistic place, your resistance will quiet and you’ll up your chance for success BIG time. Read on for more…

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“The number one obstacle to clearing clutter is unrealistic expectations. You look at the piles and you can’t imagine how you’re ever going to do it all, so you freeze or tell yourself, “As soon as I have a block of time, I’ll dig in.” I’ve heard countless clients say, “Once I have a free weekend, I’ll clear out that garage.”

Aside from the fact that you’ll almost always find something more enticing to do than sorting clutter, the belief that you must have a huge chunk of time free before doing anything is just a deterrent.

Get this: you can feel the joy and elation of all your clutter being gone by just getting started. That’s because success is in the action, not in the outcome. Pretty cool, eh?

Success is in the action, not the outcome. (click to tweet)

Expecting yourself to tackle the entire closet at one time makes your inner critic throw a fit. It’s too big for her, and it feels like a prison sentence. Break the project down into smaller chunks, and she’ll get on board.

My favorite way to do that is by using the Pomodoro Technique®. This simple time-management approach has you use a timer to break work down into manageable chunks. (The developer of the technique, Francesco Cirillo, used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer when he was in college. Tomato in Italian is pomodoro. Add that to your trivia toolbox!).

This structure makes it easier to stay focused while helping you avoid the burnout that often comes with trying to do too much at once.

Here’s all it takes:

  1. Choose your task or project (going through books, drafting what you’ll say when you set a boundary, getting caught up on your tax filing, etc.).
  2. Remove all distractions. Shut down your e-mail, silence your phone, and close your door.
  3. When you’re ready to begin, set a timer for 25 minutes. Work consistently until the timer rings.
  4. Take a five-minute break away from the task.
  5. Repeat.
  6. After four Pomodoro rounds (or Pom rounds, as I call them), take a longer break, like 20 or 30 minutes.

Using a structured approach to clearing clutter helps quiet your inner critic because you’re baby-stepping along. She doesn’t get as riled up that way. Sure, she may still resist the task, but the five-minute break at the end of the round provides a sort of light at the end of the tunnel.

About that five-minute break: Keep in mind it’s only five minutes, so plan accordingly. Don’t expect to run to the grocery store or return a friend’s call. Before you get started, come up with ideas for how to spend that time so you don’t get into something that takes too long or too much brainpower.

Something like:

  • Standing up and stretching
  • Getting a glass of water
  • Stepping outside and taking a few deep breaths
  • Throwing in a load of laundry
  • Closing your eyes and giving yourself a little pep talk (C’mon, Kerri, you got this. Let’s do another round!)

You may opt to have your Pom round be 20 minutes or 30 minutes long. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you keep the time frame realistic. No two-hour Pom rounds allowed!

When I first started using the technique, I doubted that I could focus on one thing for that long. It felt like an eternity. Then, as I got more comfortable with the idea, I began feeling like 25 minutes wasn’t enough. I’d want to dive in quickly because I “only had 25 minutes.” It was a pretty cool shift. Even my inner critic was vibing with this technique.

As you dig in, you’ll learn the best approach for you. Pay attention to when you’re tempted to throw in the towel. What’s coming up for you in that moment? What’s your inner voice saying? How can you address her rebellion? What does she need? Beware of those shoulds — “I should do it this way,” or “I should work on it for this long.” Remember, she’s a clever one!

Be realistic about how long you’ll work on your clutter. Trial and error will help you see how much bandwidth you have at any one time and discover the best time of day to have momentum.

As you begin to put action behind your intention, you will rally the support of that powerful Universal force that is waiting to be called upon, and soon you will find yourself in the flow, fast-forwarding to your dream life, even when you think it’s out of reach.”

To get your copy of What Your Clutter Is Trying to Tell You, click here.

 If you feel ready to transform your relationship with clutter and make space to live BIG, check out my video course starting soon here

4 replies
  1. Kit
    Kit says:

    I have also gotten results by deciding to make a first pass at cleaning off a table or cleaning out a closest. Usually there are some obvious things to do that will improve the situation. So for a first pass I will do all or most of the obvious things, and then as much more as I feel reasonably comfortable doing. If I come back to the same area a week or two later, more improvement will be obvious. My subconscious mind identified additional items that I really do not need or want and better places to keep more of the items that I don’t want to discard.

  2. bryn
    bryn says:

    I can’t call it clutter. My hang up has been the label “clutter” or junk or crap. The things were a treasure/value when I acquired them. I was not foolish or indulgent or wasteful. I used, loved, and wanted these things. How I spend my time has changed so my things can change. Clutter, to me, has no value; piled junk mail is clutter. My stuff has value – just not to me anymore. I no longer cook for family and friends so my fancy cooking “crap” could be used by a younger family. I no longer need to impress my bedroom walls with layers of pillows so I can give away the bedding to a pet rescue or thrift shop.

    • Kit Donner
      Kit Donner says:

      Hi Bryn, I certainly have parts of my accumulated items where I have exactly the problem that you describe. So does a good friend of mine, possibly even more than I do. Of course, some of the items that were originally treasured have not aged well, and sometimes it is hard to see accurately what a once treasured item now actually looks like. But other items have improved with time and might be a treasure to someone else even if I am no longer able to use it.

      I especially have a hard time accepting that I am no longer as athletic as I once was and probably never will be. Maybe this is obvious to everyone except me, but I have recovered from serious injuries before, so I keep thinking that my physical limitations are only temporary, rather than accepting that some of the changes probably are permanent.

      I did sell my sailboat but cannot bring myself to part with my saddle, even though I don’t have a horse. I have ridden recently, but being able to ride is only a small part of what it takes to own and care for a horse. I am not ready to give up hope of being able to ride and care for a horse yet, but I need to think about how I will know whether it is time to make this decision.

      But my saddle is never going to be clutter in my eyes. It is a very comfortable, well made saddle. At some point, I might decide that it is too important to me to keep it idle and not being used, and that I need to let someone else enjoy it next.

      I think that sounds like something similar to what you are talking about.


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