I'm in the process of preparing my house for sale. My youngest daughter graduates from high school this year, and I'll be without a child in the house for the first time in 23 years.
Having lived in the same house for nearly 18 of those 23, we've accumulated a lot of stuff. I'm just realizing exactly how much stuff, as I'm going through the process of getting rid of a lot of it.
I wish I'd created more habits around streamlining my possessions during those 18 years. When you have a house with a lot of storage space, you tend to store a lot — stuff that just sits there and collects dust. Now I'm paying the price, as I have to sort through years of accumulation so I can stage this house for sale and downsize to a new house.
The positive side of this purging mania is the amazing feeling of having less. It's hard to express how much lighter and more free I feel without so many things cluttering up all of the spaces in my house. In fact, I'm using this experience as the foundation for a new decluttering book I'm writing with bestselling author Steve Scott, which will come out later in 2015.
I admit, I've never had great organizing and decluttering habits until the last few years when I started embracing simplicity in all areas of my life. Through my own experiences and the research I've conducted, organizing and simplifying your life (not just your stuff) has profound health, psychological, and productivity benefits. If you are thinking about creating new habits for 2015, I'd recommend you consider some related to getting your life in order.
Here are 5 habits to learn how to organize your life:
1. Declutter Your Home
This may seem like a huge goal rather than a daily habit — and if you wait 18 years and try to get it completed in a few months, you may be right! However, if you decide right now to make decluttering a daily habit, then once you're done, your house will be organized, and it will just take a few minutes a day to keep it that way.
In our upcoming book, Steve and I recommend working in 10 minute increments a day in order to tackle decluttering your home. You can even start with just 5 minutes and work up to the optimal time you want to spend on daily decluttering.
Choose a daily trigger to cue you to start your decluttering. A trigger is a previously established habit, like brushing your teeth, that you perform every day. This trigger is your reminder to begin your new habit. You might begin in the room where you spend the most time, and then choose one small area of that room.
Set a timer for 10 minutes, and clean out a drawer or go through a cabinet, sorting items to keep, trash, or give away. Keep some boxes handy where you can accumulate items to donate. Within the first week or two, you might complete an entire room. Depending on the size of your house and the amount of stuff you have, you could complete the entire house within a few months.
Once you finish, keep up the 10 minute habit every day to make a sweep through the house. Anything that's entered the house that you really don't need or want, give it away (or throw it away). Put items that have landed in the wrong room or cabinet back in the proper place. Keep your kitchen counters and other surfaces free of clutter. This should be easy now that your home is streamlined and organized.
2. Organize Your Computer and Email
I'm terrible at this one. My computer desktop is cluttered with items, and I have thousands of old emails sitting in my inbox. Since my business is entirely online, I find the process of keeping things organized really daunting. Since I'm tackling my entire house, I know my computer needs the same attention, and I've been studying the best way to go about this.
For me, getting my email under control is best first step. Again, you can start in 5-10 minute increments, attaching your email clean-up habit to a pre-existing trigger. If you have several years worth of emails sitting in your inbox, start by creating a separate folder for each year and put a group of emails into the appropriate folder, keeping the last 12 months in your inbox to review. If you feel comfortable deleting several year's or month's worth of emails, that will quickly help you get things under control.
Take the first half of your allotted time to go through today's emails, and handle them completely — either deleting, filing to handle later, or responding. If you have hundreds of daily emails (like I do), then you may need two daily email habits, one for today's emails and one for cleaning up the rest. Use your remaining time or another habit time to work on deleting, sorting, and responding to old emails. Once your email is in shape, then maintain your daily habit of cleaning out your inbox each day.
You can create other 5-10 minute habits to unsubscribe from lists you no longer use or want. Also you can clean up your desktop, delete old files and folders, uninstall old software, delete cookies, delete bookmarks you no longer use, organize your photos into folders, and go through your iTunes library to delete old stuff.
Choose one of these areas to focus on, and work through it in short, daily habit blocks. Then remember to maintain your good habits by keeping your computer organized going forward.
3. Organize Your Schedule
Do you find yourself running around like a chicken, doing things that really aren't productive or meaningful? Sometimes our schedule begins to take over our lives, and we don't give much thought to whether or not we're doing what we want to do or should be doing.
We get caught up in tasks and seeming obligations which suck up all of time, leaving little time left for those things that could really improve our lives, careers, and relationships.
The best way to change this is by creating a daily habit to work on it. Set aside 10-15 minutes a day, after a trigger, to begin brainstorming how you can simplify and organize your daily schedule efficiently. I like to begin by setting three non-negotiable goals for my day. You can certainly tackle more than three, but having those three set in place gives you a sense of control and accomplishment.
Also, use this habit time to review your to-do list, commitments, and activities for the week. Immediately eliminate or delegate any that you don't have to handle yourself. Then prioritize the remaining things on your list. Think about other activities you want to pursue that you haven't been able to because of your crazy schedule. Maybe you want to spend more time with your family, learn a new skill, or just have some down time. Add these to your list of priorities.
If you have trouble deciding how to prioritize your activities, first determine your most important life values. Knowing your values can help you recognize how you should be spending your time. Here's a list of value words to help you decide.
4. Organize Your Relationships
Our jobs, children's activities, extended family, and neighbors compel us to spend time with people who aren't necessarily our “tribe.” Think about all of the people in your life who drain your energy, demand your time, or make you feel uncomfortable.
We only have a certain number of hours in the day to spend quality time with the important people in our lives. But if other people are filling those hours, then you're allowing your core values to be compromised.
Rather than allowing random people to fill your schedule, be proactive in spending time with people who are truly important to you. You might begin by intentionally setting aside ten minutes in the morning to spend with your spouse and/or children. Find a morning trigger, and after the trigger, sit down for breakfast with your spouse, or just hug him or her for a few minutes. You can add other “connection” habits several times during your day with different people.
You might use this habit time to call someone you love who lives far away or to write a letter to someone you care about. You can also set aside a few minutes a day or a week to connect with obligatory people, controlling the amount of time you give to them.
5. Simplify Your Emotions
Our emotions are mercurial. We might feel blue, stressed, or just out-of-sorts for no clear reason. It is normal to have occasional emotional shifts. They are often circumstantial and short-lived.
However, when your emotions impact your ability to enjoy life and function normally, then you need to take action. Feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, bitterness, fear, or general malaise that last for more than a few weeks, are signs you need to organize your emotional house. You want your emotional state to be content, simple, and peaceful so you have the energy to experience life to the fullest.
You can support your emotional clean-up by creating small daily habits that have been proven to make you feel better — such as moderate exercise, meditation, proper diet, walking in nature, spending time with family and friends, and practicing positive affirmations. Also, create a habit first thing in the morning to identify your feelings and try to find the cause (work stress, grief, anxiety in a relationship, etc.). Just having awareness about the cause of your negative emotions can help diminish them.
Actually, organizing your life in the other areas I identified earlier will help you feel more calm and emotionally balanced by reducing stress and overwhelm.
When you create habits that help you get your life under control, you'll feel more empowered, centered, and clear. Life is short and our hours are precious. Clear out the extraneous and unnecessary in all areas of your life to make room for the positive, life-affirming behaviors and thoughts you really want.
Check out my book with co-author Steve Scott called 10-Minute Declutter: The Stress-Free Habit for Simplifying Your Home, to help you clear the clutter in your home and simplify your life.