The Big Idea
Less clutter, less stress
Questions I Answer
- How can I organize my house?
- What’s the best strategy for organizing?
- How can I declutter without the guilt?
- What steps do I need to take to organize myself?
Actions to Take
- Watch this week’s TanyaTV video on how to organize your kitchen.
Key Topics in the Show
The connection between clutter and your health, productivity, and emotional wellbeing
How you can get more organized with the Mount Vernon Method
Getting rid of your guilt while you clear out the clutter
4 steps to getting your project organized without all the stres
Welcome to season nine of Productivity Paradox with Tanya Dalton, a podcast focused on using productivity, not just to do more, but to achieve what’s most important to you. Join Tanya has she kicks off the New Year with a special season titled, New Year True You. To get her free checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast. And now here’s your host Tanya Dalton.
Hello. Hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, and this is Episode 111: How to Organize Just About Anything. Today’s episode has been brought to you by FreshBooks. If you’re searching for a fast and easy way to make customized business invoices, check out FreshBooks, a cloud based accounting software that makes invoicing very easy to do. Right now, FreshBook’s offering a free 30 day unrestricted trial for my listeners. I’ll share some details about that a little later in the episode.
But today, our focus is about figuring out how to organize the stuff in our lives. We all have a lot of stuff if we’re being honest, we’re going to talk about why it’s important to organize and how clutter can actually affect our mental health and even our happiness. I’ll share some strategies to help you organize your home and I’ll share one of my very favorite techniques called the Mount Vernon Method. All the ideas I’m sharing today will help you when you’re trying to tackle any project around the house, and help you get organized.
Why do we want to organize? Okay, I get it, you don’t want to end up on an episode of Hoarders. It’s a pretty good reason. But I wanted to share with you there are actually some really legitimate and really important reasons why everyone should make an effort to keep life feeling a little more organized.
There have been some amazing studies that have made connections between clutter in our health, our productivity, in our emotional wellbeing. Some of these may really surprise you. There were so many, I decided just to pick my five favorites and touch on them really quickly. The first connection is clutter and procrastination. Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University in Chicago has done so many studies around the causes of clutter and the impact on emotional well-being. One of his studies found a notable correlation between clutter problems and procrastination.
I know from the emails I get from you guys and the comments, procrastination is something that a lot of us are affected by it. It’s interesting to note it could be some of that clutter in your life that’s helping foster that. The second connection is between clutter and stress. I don’t think that’s a really big surprise to anyone. But in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a study found that women who perceive themselves as having a messy or a cluttered home actually had a
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physiological response to the perception of chaos. These women had increased levels of cortisol, which is our stress hormone throughout the day. They would begin their day stressed and remain stressed all day long.
The third connection is clutter and happiness. Catherine Roster and her colleagues at the University of New Mexico examined how clutter compromised a person’s perception of their satisfaction with life. They found that the more clutter, the more participants expressed feelings of dissatisfaction. So, clutter was negatively related to their sense of home. I found that really interesting. But even more surprising is this fourth connection, which is clutter and over eating. In an Australian U.S. study, they concluded that people actually consume more snacks and sweets when the environment they’re in is chaotic or feels unorganized.
In the study, participants ate twice as many cookies in some instances than those who are in a less cluttered location. I found that fascinating. This fifth one too is really interesting because they found a connection between clutter and memory. Some studies like the one proposed by Lynn Hasher of the University of Toronto suspect that mental clutter could be the cause of age related memory loss. The theory is that if you’re not able to get through your mental clutter or the material clogging up your neural networks, you’ll be less efficient and possibly slower at processing information. Fascinating, right?
I found these studies to be really surprising. I only touched on these five different ways. But there were numerous other studies that I found that were related to the negative impact that clutter has on our lives. So I feel like now we have more than enough reasons to try to create a little more structure and some order in your life.
So, let’s talk about ways that you can get more organized. I want to talk to you about the Mount Vernon Method. You may have heard me mentioned this before in podcasts or blogs, and I’m a really big fan of using the Mount Vernon Method when it comes to tackling any big project that I’m attempting to organize. Now, super organizer, Sandra Felton was the first person I ever heard use this strategy. Basically, the Mount Vernon Method helps you break down the big task of organizing into nice bite sized bits. You know I like that, right? She named this method after the cleaning technique that’s used at George Washington’s estate.
Just to give you an idea of what it is in a nutshell, the idea is that you start at the front door of your house and you move in a clockwise direction around the room. Organizing the first room, or the first piece of furniture you come to. After you finish working on that one little area, you move on to the next area, and so on so you can work in these little 15 minute or 30 minute chunks. And then it starts to accumulate and build up.
I like this technique because it takes what is normally a very daunting project and it breaks it down into chunks that are more manageable. You know I like breaking down projects into bite size pieces, right? Whether you have 30 minutes or two hours in your day, you work on one area until you’ve conquered it, and then you move on to the next area, and then you move on to the next until you’ve made your way all
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around the whole room, and then you move to the next room. And then eventually get to the whole house or the whole bookshelf or the whole closet or whatever it is.
The idea is you pick up where you left off the next time you come back to the project. If you work for 15 minutes every night on a project, you get as far as you can, and then you pick up the next time exactly where you left off. You keep chipping away at the project until you complete it. To me that’s so much more manageable instead of doing that old technique where you drag everything out to the middle of the room, and then you think to yourself, oh my gosh, this is such a big project. I really love this because it feels so manageable and so achievable. So, how do we apply this Mount Vernon technique? Well, I want to talk about that in just a second. But first I want to share just a quick word from today’s sponsor.
Today’s episode has been brought to you by FreshBooks, a cloud based accounting and invoicing software that can help you create professional, customized invoices to send the clients with just a few easy clicks. You can send branded invoices
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I want to talk about how do we get started? How do we organize and feel a little bit better about our spaces? Well, before I dive too far into the nitty gritty of how to organize just about anything, I want to give you a quick little pep talk. I want to talk quickly about purging stuff, because I know this is one of the hardest parts of organizing. Look, the reality is most of us have an innate need to save things. We feel bad throwing things out, especially if it’s not broken. How can you throw away a perfectly good coffee pot, right? But if you found that coffee pot in the very back corner of the very top shelf on the kitchen cabinet that’s above your fridge, and it hasn’t been pulled out in forever, because you’ve got that new single serve coffee machine for your birthday six months ago. What are you holding on to this old one for? Maybe making dusty lattes? Come on, we have to be realistic. If you haven’t used it in six months or more, chances are you’re not going to ever use it. After all, you had to get out the step stool to even find it, hiding back there behind the dust bunnies, and some random cupcake wrappers and some other things we won’t even get into. You’re not really going to ever want to pull it out at a moment’s notice.
So, let’s think about letting that go. But I get it. It’s even harder when something is brand new and never been used. Ah, the guilt. We have a hard time with these things because we tend to place value on items that are already in our possession. It’s the endowment effect that we talked about back in Episode 16. We often place more value than what they’re actually worth, simply because we don’t want to have to buy a new one. Or because of the what if syndrome that we use to rationalize why we’re keeping things we don’t really need. What if my hair dryer goes out? Really? Do you really need to keep that hair dryer you got back in college? You have a newer one, and this one’s just a spare. But just in case my other one goes out and I have a backup excuse is one that we all use. But by the way, if your other one goes out, and you pull up the one from college that you’ve been holding on to, you’re
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going to plug it in and realize it’s so wimpy and old, it’s going to take you longer to dry your hair with it, and really just running to Target to go buy a replacement one. So, let it go.
We have to get out of this apocalyptic mentality where we think what if the world shuts down tomorrow and I can’t get a replacement? I might need that. I have to keep it just in case. But really, it’s costing you more in real estate in this space it’s taking up, and in emotional costs than you really realize. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to throw it away. Stop thinking about the fact that you’re throwing it away. I want you to flip the script for yourself. Matter of fact, I want to share with you the trick that I use when I get caught up in the endowment effect and end up holding on to things that I don’t really need. I choose a charity, something close to my heart, a cause I care deeply about. And then I think about that charity every time I sort through a drawer or a cabinet.
You see, charitable organizations can either use the items I no longer want, or they can sell them to make money that helps further their mission, a mission by the way that I care about too. That’s why I really take the time to choose what charity I’m going to be donating to. It means I’m helping put money into the hands of an organization that’s doing something that I consider worthwhile. That makes it so much easier. But I also think about the woman, the woman who shops at that thrift store that the organization runs. I think about her working hard all day long. And then she heads to the secondhand shop where she’s moving slowly through the racks of clothing, hoping to find something that might fit, and there she spots my perfectly good, new with tags shirt that I never wore, and her day has just been brightened. I just made someone else’s day simply by going through our closets.
We have the power to brighten someone else’s day. Get rid of the dusty coffeemaker, the sweater you swore you would wear but never did and get rid of the guilt while you clear out the clutter. In my opinion, thinking of others is the biggest secret to helping you organize your home. Choose a cause you care about, think about who is going to be receiving these items that you don’t really love and put those items in the hands of people who will enjoy them and people who will appreciate them. That is a pretty good feeling.
Hopefully, thinking of it in those terms helps you let go of some of these items and makes that a little bit easier task for you. Okay, let’s dig into the process. I want to give you four steps to get your project organized without all the stress. Step number one, prep. Sounds easy, right? Plan your attack. Where do you want to start? What do you want to accomplish? As I mentioned with the Mount Vernon technique, she likes to have you started the front door, but you don’t have to start at the front door. Maybe you want to get your family involved if it’s a home project. Maybe you get everyone else’s opinion on what’s the most frustrating or the cluttered area of the home and consider starting with this shared family space so everybody else will appreciate the improvements being made and they’ll all be able to contribute. Then you just figure out how to divide up the tasks based off of what needs to be done.
Then I like to make sure that I have reserved blocks of time to work on the project. I put it on the calendar, or your family calendar if this is a team project. Remember by using that Mount Vernon technique, we’re not talking about even
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clearing a whole day. It can be 15 minute 30 minute chunks, maybe a two hour chunk if it’s on a Saturday, but carve out that space for yourself. And then I usually encourage people to take some before photos so everyone can see the progress and the transformation that’s taken place at the end of the project. This really helps with those breadcrumbs we’re always talking about. It feels good to see how far we’ve come.
When it’s time to start the project, get into the zone. Turn off any visual distractions like text messages or TV, set a timer, maybe put on some music or your favorite podcast. I have one I could suggest if you like, or even listen to an audiobook. Use that as a little bit of extra energy to get you going. And then you’re ready for step number two, sort. As you start to dive into any project, I like to recommend getting out three bags or buckets or boxes or whatever you want to help you sort and group things together. You’re going to label these three containers to help you sort and edit items.
Bin number one is called keep. Now, these are the items obviously you want to keep. Pretty self-explanatory, right? Maybe it doesn’t belong where you found it and you’ll need to put it back where it belongs. But these are items you want to hold on to. Don’t forget to assign a home for every item that you do want to keep. If you find a kitchen item in your mud room, probably not where it goes and needs to be returned to its proper place.
The second bin is labeled trash. These are items that are broken or not usable. No need to hold on to these items if they’re not working. We don’t want to donate something that’s not working, either. Toss them and move on. Do keep in mind, many items can be recycled. The third bin is labeled, donate. This is where you put items that are still in working condition, they’re not broken and would maybe be better served if they are in another home instead of collecting dust in your cabinet. So, keep that in mind. We just talked a little bit about that idea of choosing a charity, that helps to make this little bin fill up a lot faster, in my opinion.
The third step is to purge. Remember, purging doesn’t mean you have to throw things in the trash. It could mean you also find a new home for the items that aren’t broken, or that you have multiples of. That’s a big one to think about. Do you really need four black long sleeve knit shirts, or could you pare it down to one or two. Maybe someone else could use one. During this purge phase, I recommend using bags or boxes that are opaque so you can’t see through them. What you don’t want to have happen is that you see those items inside, and then you’re tempted to change your mind and put it … Maybe I’ll just change it to the keep bin.
You get a container that is not transparent, and then you’re not as tempted. Out of sight, out of mind. So, put it in there and walk away. No peeking. In general, if it’s something in good condition, but you haven’t used it or seen it in the last six months to a year, it should probably go to someone else. The fourth step is to organize. As you sort through the items that you want to keep, be sure to use labels to help you group things together and find a home for them. You can use containers or bins if you have them, but you can also recycle cardboard boxes or other containers for organizing items in drawers or cabinets.
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I find that people get really caught up in this organizing step, because they want things to look perfect. Really, it’s okay to use old boxes. It’s okay to use bowls from your kitchen to organize things. I have several Pinterest boards with all sorts of great ideas on how to organize on a budget, or even how to make DIY containers to declutter without breaking the bank. I would really encourage you to take a peek there to see some of my favorite ways to organize. But while you’re in this organizing phase, I want you to think categorically about how things can be grouped together. For example, in my kitchen, I have a morning section where I have coffee cups in the cabinets, the coffee pot and a few other accessories like sugar and Agave nectar and that kind of stuff. I also have other morning related items like the lunch boxes for getting lunches ready, and things for the kids to bring to school. I also have a baking area in my kitchen where most of my baking pieces are. My utensils, my cake pans.
When things are grouped together logically it makes life easier and more effective so you aren’t wasting time searching for things that are all over the place. Think about that as you organize. But I don’t want anyone to think that your home needs to look like the pages out of the Container Store catalog. That’s not really livable. Life is not that organized. Let’s be honest, that’s a little overly regimented for most of us. I think you can agree, if you look at that Container Store magazine, it looks beautiful. I love flipping through that magazine. But it’s also not realistic. Have you ever noticed that in the closet, they have like four things hanging? If you look in the pictures of the pantry, every item in there has orange in it, that’s because they’re using a visual trick to make things look even more organized. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of food in my pantry that is not orange. Let’s make life livable. Let’s live a little less cluttered and live happier, that doesn’t mean that we have to be overly organized. We don’t want to be so regimented.
What we’re looking for is living a life that feels less cluttered. Because those studies I talked about show that it will decrease stress, it will lower procrastination. All those benefits that make you better, that make you a happier person as you continue to work on finding that true you that we’re talking about all season long.
Now, this week, I do have a new Tanya TV episode, where I am going to show how I organize my kitchen. That way you can see a lot of what we talked about here applied to real life. I’ll give you some peeks into some of the cabinets and the drawers in my own kitchen. Just go to inkWELLpress.com/YouTube to watch.
Next week’s episode is all about finding financial freedom. So, organizing our finances, we feel a little bit happier with how we’re budgeting and spending our money. I want to close out our show with my listener thank you. Just to remind you, each week I want to read out a review that someone has left, an email they’ve sent me or an Instagram comment they might have made or posted. This week’s comes from Leanne L, who wrote me a note where she said, “I’ve been thrilled to be a part of your journey and I owe you a huge thank you for lighting a fire under me to start chasing my someday.” Leanne, your note really made my day. So, please send my team an email with your address and I will hand write you a thank you note, because it means that much to me.
All right, until next time, have a beautiful and productive week.