“I’ve been looking for that!” No matter how many times I hear this phrase, it still makes me smile. Clients often exclaim this as we dive into the back corners of drawers and the dark recesses of cabinets.
Some very organized and well-intentioned individuals ask how the item was lost if it was so important. A simple explanation is that often there are more items in a designated space than can adequately be stored.
When cabinets and drawers stretch to capacity or shelves start to bend under heavy loads, one additional item can ruin the entire organizational system. It can be exasperating: an individual might spend a lot of time organizing objects “just so,” yet it is still not working.
I typically see this during my first appointments with clients. They show me their organized (yet filled) cabinets and wonder out loud why the system is not working.
In these cases, deeper cuts are necessary because the excess volume is the culprit. You might be setting yourself up for failure if you have to spend more than a minute or two putting items back in their respective homes. If you do not see any empty space on the shelf or in the drawer, your system is vulnerable to collapse.
If you free up enough space, one more apple will not upset the apple cart. You will spend less time fighting to retrieve items. You will also spend a lot less time “Tetrissing,” as I like to call it. The less time you spend maintaining your organizational systems, the more time you have for far more enjoyable activities.
Additionally, you will use those remaining objects more frequently because they will no longer be blocked from view. You might part with three seldom-used kitchen gadgets and instead make sufficient space for your tried-and-true utensil that never fails you. With fewer items in the area, you will readily see your objects, remember where they live, and more easily retrieve them when needed. So even though you have fewer items, you will be able to enjoy them more than you could before pruning your collection. Then you will be less likely to exclaim, “I’ve been looking for that! What was it doing here?” It means that you are probably spending more time enjoying your possessions and less time searching for them. That is what I call organizational success.
Removing a Band-Aid can be a painful but necessary process. As you wait for a wound to heal, perhaps the Band-Aid starts looking ragged or begins to fall off. Right before ripping it off, we might feel a jolt of anticipatory dread and think, “This is going to hurt!” However, we remember that the pain usually subsides pretty quickly. After all, if the deed were that bad, we would never use them and consciously decide to suffer the consequences. Instead, we remember that the pain is bearable. So, we continue to use them, rip them off, and keep Johnson & Johnson going strong.
Starting an organizing project is not that unlike ripping off a Band-Aid. Clients tell me that they avoided it for many years because they anticipated a horrible experience, remembered failed attempts, or worried about becoming overwhelmed. So, they avoided the organizing project, sometimes until the consequences became severe, such as threats of evictions and divorces.
Family members might feel exasperated and wonder why a loved one procrastinates. Fear can be a potent motivator for avoidance. It is only natural to avoid a task if we anticipate that it will result in negative consequences, especially if we remember painful past attempts.
In the online course, Learning How to Learn, Barbara Oakley explains that the brain’s insular cortex lights up when we predict that a task will be unpleasant. It calms down once we start performing the task. Essentially, the anticipatory fear can be worse than the actual task itself. (You can read more about this process here: https://www.tes.com/news/how-to-stop-procrastination.)
This science is helpful for those who avoid decluttering projects. If one remembers the insular cortex, it will be easier to start the task that is perceived to be unbearable. It is similar to occasions when we rip off Band-Aids. We know that we will experience momentary pain, but we will be better off for having done so.
So how about it? Perhaps you are looking around your home and are dismayed by what you see. Maybe you also know that procrastination is becoming an impediment to your overall enjoyment of your home and potentially causing other issues as well. So why not rip off the Band-Aid today and get started? You can even employ James Clear’s Two Minute Rule: https://www.twilightorganizing.com/blog/real-world-examples-of-how-to-use-tactics-from-james-clears-atomic-habits-to-declutter-your-space.
I am only a phone call away if you cannot start without an experienced guide. Clients are surprised to recall initial anticipatory dread before our first session and see how vastly different they feel after gaining traction. It is not uncommon for them to say that they look forward to future decluttering sessions, whether with me or on their own. Once we rip off that Band-Aid, we’re off to the races.
Have you heard the phrase, “clutter is the result of delayed decisions?” Sometimes delaying decisions about possessions results in small piles of clutter. They might only be an occasional annoyance. Other times, though, they can take an enormous financial toll.
Can you put a financial cost on delayed decisions? Absolutely. How about thirty-nine and a half billion dollars?
You might now know that the self-storage industry is enormous. Perhaps you have even seen enjoyable treasure hunts on Storage Wars. According to sparefoot.com (https://www.sparefoot.com/self-storage/news/1432-self-storage-industry-statistics/), the storage industry is now worth $39.5 billion. That number is staggering. It is nearly 40 billion dollars, much of which is the result of delayed decisions.
If that number feels too big to be relevant, maybe three thousand, ten thousand, or twenty thousand dollars would feel different? If one only focuses on a monthly fee, those numbers might seem far-fetched. They are real, though: many well-intentioned individuals initially plan to rent units for a few months. Months fly by and unobtrusively turn into years. Many individuals reach out to me when the fees reach those numbers.
Storage units are not inherently bad. They can be excellent solutions for temporary situations. Temporary storage, though, does not sap finances the way that long-term rentals can. In helping individuals close their storage units, I’ve noticed a few patterns that stymie them many times over:
How many times have we forgotten overstock items housed in cabinets above refrigerators, in garages, and basements? It is easy to do. It is hard enough to check the pantry before we run to the store. Looking on garage shelves after checking the pantry sounds like a good idea but often does not happen because it takes too long.
Telescope this “out of sight, out of mind” effect to an off-site storage facility. It takes even more time to gather items from a storage unit. They are definitely not in sight and easily out of mind.
In other instances, individuals are painfully aware of those monthly fees. Still, they pay attention to other urgent tasks, even those that might not be important. (It can be tough to focus on non-urgent yet important tasks when so many urgent tasks compete for our attention.) Also, it is not as if the storage unit is going anywhere. It patiently waits. Once a month, it very quietly whispers, “Hey, I’m here”: the monthly fee unobtrusively appears as a small line item on recurring financial statements.
Regardless of whether a storage unit is mostly “out of sight, out of mind” or naggingly present at the corners of our consciousness, it can feel overwhelming or downright exhausting to think of emptying it.
Sometimes units become flooded, and we wince at the thought of discovering items damaged beyond repair. It is often daunting to think of downsizing sentimental items, whether reminders of past passions, hobbies, careers, relationships, or deceased loved ones. Sometimes it is painful to realize that the items are not nearly as expensive as the units that house them. These distressing thoughts can make it easy to delay the decision-making process and keep the storage units indefinitely. It is no wonder that seemingly innocuous metal boxes, tucked away in hidden corners of cities and suburbs, rake in billions of dollars every year.
Clients call me when they are fed up with taking the monthly financial hit. They are frustrated but also tired at the mere thought of starting. The effort is worthwhile, though. It is exciting to witness clients walk up to the self-storage office, plunk their locks on the counter, and proudly state, “I’d like to close my storage unit.” I can almost see the weight lifting from their shoulders. Not only have they stopped spending cumulatively large sums of money, but they have plans regarding how to use the re-acquired funds.
Even though it can be eye-opening and sometimes painful, calculating the total cost of the delayed decisions is a valuable exercise. It can be motivating to then think of all the better ways to use those funds.
You may be one of the millions of Americans who had the best of intentions when opening a storage unit. Initial months turned into multiple years. It does not have to stay that way, though. You, too, can be one of the many who feel that rush of excitement as they tell the front desk staff, “Hi. I want to close storage unit number 509, please.”
Excepting “preppers,” whoever thought that pandemic pantries would become the norm? I know I didn’t. Yet here we are, slightly more than a year out from the start of a global pandemic, with pantry shelves straining under the weight of the increased load of canned goods and sundries.
Were you one of the many who rushed to a grocery store right before the mandatory shelter-in-place started, wondering when you would return? If you live in San Francisco as I do, you too witnessed one of the strictest shelters-in-place in the United States that initially made many of us wonder how we would tackle activities such as grocery shopping. Most of us were entering new territory, never having lived through a pandemic. We wanted to ensure that we had enough food to sustain ourselves for however long this unknown virus might stick around.
As we ease into some sense of normalcy, it is a great time to take stock. What hides in your pandemic pantry? Initially, mine included a few cans of vegetables that I would not have purchased in pre-pandemic days. Like others, I was unsure how long I needed my produce to last between trips to the store. I dutifully ate that food, but one can of vegetables sat on my pantry shelf for quite some time before I was ready to bite the bullet (green beans, in this case).
How much of that shelf-stable food have you used? Is it usurping so much space that meal prep has become challenging? Are canned goods or bags of dried bean soup mixes collecting dust because, realistically, they will not be used? How many items are approaching expiration? It can be painful to think about wasted money and food, but those early pandemic purchases continue to cost precious real estate on pantry shelves.
Luckily, there are various options to unload extra food. You can try your local food bank. Another option is to post a note on your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook. You could host a food swap and finally see non-pixilated versions of your friends and family. Everyone could bring their neglected shelf-stable food and swap it for items they would use. A guest could donate the leftovers. Think of how nice it will feel to open your cupboards and only see ingredients that you love!
Author: Judith Dold
Musings from yours truly about all things organizing.