This week, I did another two hours work with Rose.

She’d asked me to come back in because she felt that her decluttering had stalled, and she was losing faith that she would reach the end of her backlog of clutter.

From what she’d said, I expected to find the area we’d cleared together three weeks previously recluttered, and little change in the rest of the house.

Not so.

Not only was the area beside her bed nearly as clear as it had been when we’d finished three weeks ago, I could see she’s made significant progress elsewhere. The other side of her bed is now clear too. The stack of clutter against the end wall of her bedroom is reduced, a space at the top of the stairs is clearer, as is the kitchen, and her son’s bedroom is tidier.

It was immediately obvious to me that she was affected by what we psychologists call ‘adaptation’: how, when we change something, the new situation quickly comes to seem ‘normal’.

Because she’s in her home every day, she hadn’t noticed how much of a difference she’d made.

So I spent some time acknowledging her progress. Acknowledging what we achieve is so important for motivation. And we are all so poor at acknowledging ourselves. I see acknowledgement as a key element of my role of a coach.

The other reason Rose had asked me over, was to help her create a plan for clearing all of her clutter, and staying clutter-free.

We started by creating a plan for clearing the backlog, looking first at how much time Rose could spend on clutter-clearing each week.

She is keen to get it done and is aiming to spend an hour each weekday day on it.

As we discussed this, it became clear that she was paralysed by confusion as to what to do first. She has some tasks that need tackling more urgently than clutter-clearing. And, at the same time, some of them are dependent on her clutter-clearing as she needs to access documents that are currently lost in the clutter.

So we made a list of tasks she wants/needs to undertake and identified which of them were urgent, and which of them were dependent on other actions (including clutter-clearing).

Fortunately, she has a rough idea where the documents she needs are, which meant we could prioritise clearing the clutter in those areas.

I then helped her to schedule when she will undertake each of the urgent tasks.

I’m a huge fan of scheduling. We often resist it, feeling that it constrains us. Counter-intuitively, the reality is that it frees us up. Once we know when we’re going to undertake a task, we can stop worrying about it and get on with the rest of our lives. If we don’t know when we are going to do something, often we waste energy feeling guilty and/or anxious about it, and this gets in the way of us achieving other things.

Rose is strongly motivated to declutter and complete all her urgent tasks, so part of my role was to counsel her to be realistic in what she aimed to get done in a day. I wanted to be sure that she didn’t plan to do too much and end up falling behind, getting frustrated and/or feeling like she was failing, which might undermine her motivation. On my advice, she scheduled some ‘contingency time’ into which she could ‘carry over’ tasks that she didn’t manage to complete.

Then we took a notebook into each room of her house. We divided each room into sections that she could realistically clutter-clear within an hour, and listed them on a piece of paper.

Then we counted the number of sections, finding that there were 29 in total.

At a rate of one session per weekday, that means she will be clutter-free in six weeks.

That made her face light up. She clearly hadn’t realised she would be able to get through it so quickly.

“That’s amazing!”, she said. “It’s always been my dream to have a tidy and organised house”.

The thought that I’m helping her make a dream come true brings a lump to my throat. 🙂

She told me that she’s bringing in a style consultant to help her revamp her wardrobe. I don’t think she would have done this before we started her on the decluttering process, as she was ashamed to have people in her home. She’s also planning to repaint the walls once all the clutter is gone.

Decluttering is a key step on the journey towards living the life we want to live.

Next we looked at how she will stay clutter-free once she’s cleared the backlog.

There are four elements to staying clutter-free:

  1. Reducing incoming clutter
  2. Managing incoming clutter
  3. Regularly decluttering all areas of the home
  4. Developing habits that keep clutter under control.

1. Rose has already made progress on reducing incoming clutter. She’s almost completely stopped using shopping as retail therapy, and now turns down stuff her mother tries to pass onto her whenever she sees her.

2. The main incoming clutter that she needs to process is mail so we talked about how she might manage this, setting up a time and place to deal with it each day, and a weekly session to take any associated actions that she can’t deal with on a daily basis. She’s going to use the fridge door as a sort of pending tray and we discussed how she will need to declutter it regularly to make sure that things don’t stay there longer than they need to.

3. We discussed how, once she’s cleared her backlog, she can create a schedule for a circuit of regular decluttering around her house. Once the backlog is cleared, she won’t need to spend nearly as much time decluttering.

4. And we discussed developing a habit of moving things to their proper place as she moves around her home (and training her son to do the same). Adopting the principle of “Never go empty handed.” (My Mum says that all the time – Mums are always right).

Then we spent our remaining hour decluttering her lounge floor. Working around her cute cat, who kept climbing into our decluttering bags, we filled a bag with recycling, put a small amount of stuff into landfill, added a pair of earrings to the stuff she’s going to sell at a tabletop sale in about a month’s time, and filled a tub with things that belonged elsewhere in the house (including her favourite, much treasured necklace, which she was understandably delighted to find).

I’m so chuffed that she invited me back. It was great to see the progress she’s made, to share her excitement at having a clear and realistic schedule for being clutter-free, and to help her understand how she can stay clutter-free forever.

(NB: I provide a confidential service and only blog about clients when they are comfortable with it. Rose approved this blog posting. Rose is a pseudonym).

How’s your decluttering going? Let me know below.


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