Secrets of Simplicity by Mary Carlomango
The motto at our organizing company, Order, is "Your space says everything about you." Have you considered what your physical space says about you? Take a moment to record what your environment looks like, using three adjectives to describe your feelings as you look at your space.

What does your space say about you?

What do you want your space to say about you?

In the Hindu faith, Ganesha, a playful elephantine character, is considered the remover of obstacles. He is the spirit that Hindus pray to before starting a new business, embarking on a trip, or making a purchase. His image is the first icon placed in the doorways of homes and restaurants, signifying good luck and new beginnings. In some depictions, a small rat, possibly representing those pesky obstacles, is visible under his foot as he strikes his proud pose.

First, take a lesson from Ganesha, and discover your obstacles to an uncluttered space by circling the answers below that best describe you.

1. Why does your environment remain cluttered?
  • It is not a priority.
  • I can never get around to tidying it.
  • I don't know where to start.
  • I fear I will never finish.
  • Other
2. How does the clutter make you feel?
  • Confused
  • Anxious
  • Hopeless
  • Embarrassed
  • Indifferent
  • Other
3. What is holding you back from releasing old things?
  • I am not sure what to keep.
  • I'm insecure about making decisions.
  • I fear I will need something the minute after I toss it out.
  • I am afraid to let go.
  • Other
4. What would make it easier for you to declutter?
  • Knowing I am making the right decisions
  • Not regretting losing something
  • Knowing that it won't be time consuming
  • Knowing that it will really work
  • Other
5. How much time will I commit to change?
  • One month
  • Six months
  • One year
  • As long as it takes
  • Other
6. What does an uncluttered environment represent to you?
  • Fear
  • Excitement
  • Work
  • Freedom
  • Other

You have now identified the obstacles that stand in your way. With Ganesha by your side, you can begin to tackle those obstacles. Next, you'll choose a space to declutter. Not sure which space to start with? Ask yourself the following questions about the spaces you're considering:
  • Are there overwhelming quantities of one or two types of items (such as paperwork or clothing) in this space?
  • Has cleaning in this space become an impossible chore due to too much stuff?
  • Is the floor covered with objects and items you need to put away?
  • Are the tops of the desk, tables, chairs, and other furniture hidden beneath piles?
  • Is this space lacking a proper filing and/or storage system?
  • Has it been more than a month since you've sorted and purged your unneeded items in this space?
If you've answered yes to most or all of these questions, then you know where you need to start. Now it's time to start sorting. Choose one area of that space-start small if you're worried that you won't finish-and ask yourself the following questions as you go through each item in that area:
  • When was the last time you used the item?
  • Is it a collectible that could be displayed and enjoyed?
  • Is the item outdated, or is it usable?
  • Are you able to find this item when you need it?
  • Is the item beyond repair?
  • What is your treasure?

The notion that one man's treasure is another man's junk is often true, but what does it mean to truly cherish something? This next exercise will help you identify the real treasures in your life, and let them tell their story.
  • List your prized possessions.
  • Describe how you acquired them.
  • What story or emotion do you associate with each of these objects?
  • What are your reasons for keeping these items?
  • How do you honor these items?
Obstacles and Erroneous Thinking

In doing the exercise above, you likely bumped into some common misconceptions and obstacles associated with our stuff. Let's address those...

Sentimental journey

Problem: You assign an emotion or a feeling to an item, and you feel that if you were to throw it out you would lose some part of you.

Solution: Remind yourself that throwing something out does not mean that you are throwing out the memory of that thing or that person.

Delayed decisions

Problem: You know you are not going to read last Sunday's newspaper, now that this Sunday's newspaper has arrived, but you delay throwing it away.

Solution: Acknowledge what you will and won't do and don't let a delayed decision turn into clutter.

Organizing will mess everything up

Problem: You believe that creating intricate organizing methods will upset your ingenious cluttered system.

Solution: You may feel that you know where everything is, but how much time do you spend looking for things you need? Most likely, you spend more time on this than you think. Wouldn't it make more sense to create an easier, quicker way of finding things?

I am responsible

Problem: You feel guilty about letting items go, worrying that throwing things away means you're wasting them.

Solution: No one's keeping a score card on how much you keep and how much you toss. Let go of the idea that you are wasting items; if it makes you feel better, see if you can sell items that still have some value, or recycle them.

I must be perfect

Problem: You feel that if you cannot finish an organizing job you shouldn't even start.

Solution: Just begin! Remember that life is a process and you have to engage in it to get anywhere near perfection. An organizing or tidying job partway done is better than not starting at all. And there's nothing wrong with doing things a little at a time.

Get more advice from Mary Carlomagno on how to simplify your life!

Excerpt from Secrets of Simplicity by Mary Carlomagno, published by Chronicle Books. Copyright © 2008 All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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