Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash
By Bridget Baker
Decluttering and keeping your home “tidy” have been trendy topics these days. Experts have written books on the benefits of simplifying your life and letting go of clutter. These passionate minimalists have posted videos on YouTube sharing items they’ve let go of, and in turn, what you should let go of.
Knowing what to do may not make the difference, however. Having someone else telling you how to let go of a certain amount of items per day or month, or to only have so many items in your closet, may help you to get more organized, but it might also create frustration or feelings of inadequacy.
You might know you need to do away with clutter to make your life simpler. It can nag at you, making you feel guilty for what you’ve accumulated. You drool over Pinterest-perfect pictures of pristinely white kitchens with empty surfaces, and you feel like your own kitchen is so far from looking that way (and that you’ll never get there). Rather than feeling inspired, the comparison trap can leave you feeling like you don’t have enough time, energy, or money to get that organized. You give up and say, “Oh, those people are only so organized because they’ve got a nanny/personal assistant/staff of minions.”
Well, that doesn’t mean you’re inadequate; it may just come naturally to them. It’s like having a naturally thin person giving you dieting tips, or a naturally outgoing person telling you to just “get out there” and have fun. It’s most likely not you–it’s them.
For me, staying organized and letting go comes naturally. I was a little OCD even at a young age. As a kid, I took out a permanent marker and labeled my dresser drawers (socks, T-shirts, underwear). I used to ask my Mom to clean her room when my friends were coming over. I grew up idolizing the carefully-placed stick-on labels in Martha Stewart’s linen closet. I was an organizing geek, and I still am.
For me, staying organized and cleaning feels like a meditation. I even love doing laundry! It has a start and an end, and I find folding warm clothes fresh out of the dryer to be soothing. It makes me feel productive, accomplished, and clears my mind to work, write, and play.
Recently, I began developing a course to help others get and stay on top of their clutter, specifically as it relates to their email inboxes. I had bullet points, I had steps–I had a system! I thought people would feel like I’d helped to make their lives easier by tackling their inboxes and mastering their lives.
I asked a handful of people if they wanted to be my guinea pigs and offered them the course handout for free in exchange for their feedback. After polishing up the PDF to send to them, I emailed them out and awaited their responses. I’ll admit, I had expectations—and we all know how that goes. Expectations often lead to disappointment.
After not hearing back from any of them, I wasn’t faulting them, but I knew something was up. I knew they either weren’t benefiting from what I had sent them or they were butting up against some challenges, but didn’t know what to say. I decided to let them off the hook by following up with them to check-in.
What I realized was that most of those people were all struggling with the same thing. They had read through it, and what I suggested sounded like great ideas. When they proceeded to the practical application of my process, however, they got stuck. To look at the thousands of emails in their inbox left them daunted, and they just ran the other direction.
It was not out of a lack of willingness or desire to get more organized, but a feeling of guilt and of feeling overwhelmed at the current state of their email. They stopped at the beginning and never started.
What I realized was that I was coming from a place of being a naturally organized person trying to help people who did not organically feel that way to simplify their inboxes. It was so simple to me. Why weren’t they jumping on it?
What was missing was my perspective, my compassion, and my understanding that something much deeper was running the show for them. I also realized that even though it came naturally to me, it would take work and effort to create the habit for other people. They could make it second nature, even if iit wasn’t their default way of doing things.
We can make something a habit, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Step by step, day by day, with consistent effort and committed action, we can affect change. It all starts with the first step and a committed mindset. A great idea or a desire without action remains just that–an idea. If you find yourself feeling unable to take action, it’s important to check in with the “why” that’s underneath, why you’re feeling unable to move forward. There may be very valid concerns or fears or shame you’ll need to get past.
After taking a look at what’s stopping you and validating the way you’re feeling, the “why” may no longer matter. You may not WANT to work it out—you may never actually get to a place where you want to—but with each time you show up to the gym, or get on the mat, or approach the running trail, you’ll start to feel benefits. Momentum will begin to build. After a few weeks, it’ll feel awkward if you don’t work out. That sweet spot is when a habit starts to form. That’s the place where doing the action can become second nature.
If something comes naturally to someone, it’s easy for them. The real accomplishment is when something doesn’t come naturally to you, but you can see the benefits that are possible on the other side of it, that you can put in the work. When you make the effort and push past your edges, you can let go of your tendencies and can step into your true nature. You’ve got this.
Bridget Baker is a branding consultant, website designer, minimalist, digital nomad, and adventurer. For 10 years, she’s supported small business owners in branding, designing, writing, simplifying, and integrating their websites so that they can do what they love and have more fun in the process. She also lives full-time in a travel trailer with her husband and little dog writing and speaking about minimalism, decluttering, and living simply.