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I had my first working session with my first “real” client yesterday—it went great (I think) and she PAID me!  Can you believe it?  I was supposed to have worked with her the week before but she’d had to reschedule.  So it had been a while since I’d met her and seen her house.  I think that contributed to the slight case of nerves that kept me up tossing and turning the few hours before I needed to get up.  Maybe because I also got a new alarm clock and when I have to wake up earlier than usual I’m always afraid I’ll oversleep even though that never happens?  And I have a theory that any thoughts you have while in that half-awake state are crazy thoughts—you’re not sane and would be much better off just getting up and waking up fully so you can become sane again rather than trying to not wake up and go back to sleep, which is what I try to do but instead just lay there thinking crazy thoughts.  Anyway…

I also have to admit that I still harbor a lot of doubt when I help people tackle these projects (though hopefully not as much as they do).  Where to begin, how will we get through it all?  But I have to be in charge.  So I remind myself that I can handle it, we’ll just take it piece by piece, I know what I’m doing.  Or at the very least, I’ll figure something out!  And since I’m being totally honest, I also have a moment partway through when I think, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”  When someone is sitting across from you explaining why they’ve kept this receipt from 2007…It’s boring, it’s tedious, there are more fun ways to spend your time on a beautiful day.  But we’re almost through and the end is in sight, and being done with that crappy clean-out part is so, so nice.  Then you can really get on to the fun stuff!  Like setting up filing systems and bulletin boards and calendars!  Woohoo!

Mostly it just feels really good to help people.  And to see people grateful to have your help.  And to see the weight being lifted as they sort through everything.  Getting paid on top of that?  Awesome.

At RealSimlpe.com, great tips for how to get started on an overwhelming project.  I ask clients to identify either the easiest project or the most annoying project to help them figure out where to get started, but I hadn’t thought about identifying the “first” project—ie, deal with whatever is the first thing you see every day—and I think it’s a great idea.

At The Art of Nonconformity, an interesting interview with someone who did what I’m (theoretically) doing—starting a business on the side very, very slowly.  She finally quit her 9-to-5 after four years!

I really like this approach for weeding out unnecessary stuff, clothes in this case—put it in a secondary storage spot and pull things back into the fold only as you wear them.  After a while, get rid of what you’ve never reached for.  Great for people who are afraid of regret after getting rid of something, or for people who don’t really pay attention to how often they actually use things!


I bought O Magazine the other day because it was a “Declutter” issue—‘tis the season for that now, I guess.  The Suze Orman article promised “a surefire way to build wealth that won’t cost you a penny.”  Her solution: getting organized.  Suze says that financial clutter needs an overhaul now and then just like closets, and that piles of disorganized bills and papers indicate a lack of control over what undoubtedly is important stuff.

While she recommends putting each of your bills into their own folder and we already know that I dismiss that approach, but I did appreciate her advice about which documents to save and for how long—and the fact that she doesn’t recommend a safety deposit box for important docs, but suggests a more portable safe instead, since I’ve been debating that issue for a while myself.

I think everyone pretty much gets that not having your financial life in order costs you more money in late fees and interest.  But finding the motivation and discipline to get it all organized is incredibly hard.  Why, when the benefits are so great?  I think this speaks to what I think is one of the biggest problems people face, but don’t realize they face: mental clutter.

Mental clutter is when you have so many things on your mind that you can’t keep them straight and are constantly forgetting things or getting distracted by remembering things you forgot earlier.  Some people probably think living in a state of mental clutter is just normal life, but I think of it as the epitome of stress.  It’s more dangerous than actual clutter, because that’s objective.  What looks like chaos to one person can be perfect order to another—if and only if they don’t have mental clutter.  Organizing your external stuff is really just a means to the end of organizing your internal stuff, of eliminating mental clutter.

For example: a credit card bill arrives which you don’t have the money to pay right now and just the thought of paying it anyway overwhelms you because you’re paying just the minimum and you know the interest that’s accumulating is going to take you forever to pay off.  So…you put it aside because it’s too much to think about right now and make a mental note to get to it over the weekend when you have more time to think about it.  Which means you’re then walking around trying to remember to pay that bill, along with a million other things, and then maybe you forget and that causes more stress and before you know it you’re overwhelmed by mental clutter.  Bad news bears.

It should be no surprise that my solution is to find a way to not have to think about it.  For financial stuff that means automating it.  Everyone should take advantage of online banking and online bill paying.  In my opinion this is one of the best inventions known to man.  One session of going through just one month of bills means you can set up recurring payments to each biller well before the deadline every month.  I prefer sending it from my bank account rather than having the biller automatically withdraw it because it’s easier to make changes if you switch banks and you aren’t chasing down your money if you have a dispute about a bill.  Then you also don’t have to worry as much about saving bills because you can always print the backup from your bank.  Once you’re relieved from the burden of having to keep track of all your bills, it is so much easier to start paying down debts and setting aside savings as well.  Then not only are you not paying late fees and interest but you’re also putting money aside and not even missing it—bonus!

The closet, I mean.  Congratulations to Sara for putting in all the hard work to get her closet to this gorgeous state!  Here are a couple before and afters (see more on the Before & After page at www.coolcalmcollectedorganizing.com):

Closet before

Closet before

Closet after

Closet after

Believe me, this was no small feat!  But the overwhelming sense of calm and relief immediately upon completion is well worth it, I think (and I think Sara will agree–she was so taken with the newly organized space I suggested she set up a comfy chair in there and use it as her favorite spot to relax with a good book!).  I’m so glad I could help bring it all together.

Without exaggeration, I think half the battle in remedying a problem is correctly identifying it.  It’s not as easy as it sounds, and you can’t determine a solution until you really understand what you’re dealing with.   One of my favorite bloggers, Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, talks about it as well.

I’ve had two situations recently where I was frustrated by systems that weren’t working until I realized that I hadn’t correctly identified the problem.

The first had to do with paper filing: I keep and file all the bills and other financial miscellany we receive for at least one year, just in case I need to go back and reference something.  I had folders for each bill in a small two-drawer filing cabinet.  So the cell phone bill would go in the Verizon folder and the electric bill would go in the National Grid folder and so on.  I hate filing though, so I would procrastinate it because I just didn’t want to spend time doing it everyday.  But then things would pile up and when I finally got around to it, it would take forever, which was even worse.  I thought the problem was just that I didn’t like filing, but I had to dig deeper.  Why didn’t I like filing?  I finally determined that what I really didn’t like was the sorting—going through the pile and sorting each bill into its appropriate folder.  Once I realized that, I had a lightbulb moment: what if I just filed them by month instead of by category?!?  Then I could let them pile up for a month and at the end of the month just stick them all in their own folder!  I could still go back and find something if I needed it but I wouldn’t have to spend time sorting through the pile of bills.  Thus the lovely, decorative wall-hanging monthly file system pictured above was born.  Now not only do I not even have to think about filing the bills, but they add interest to our office space too!

The second situation had to do with laundry.  No one likes doing laundry either (if you do…wanna come over?), especially me.  But it’s not the collecting or washing or drying that I dislike—those things are pretty easy, especially because we have machines to do the hard stuff for us.  It’s the folding and putting away that I can’t stand, and I’ve always hated it.  I used to let baskets of clean laundry sit on my bedroom floor for weeks until I had finally worn all the clothes in there and they were empty again.   It drove my mom crazy.  Sorry, mom.  I would still do that today if I had any extra floor space in my bedroom, but I don’t (and I am unwilling to follow my husband’s example of leaving the baskets in the spare bedroom—that’s right, I’m talking to you!).  I had thought it was the act of folding the clothes and putting them away that I didn’t like, but I realized that, once again, it was the sorting I didn’t like!  I didn’t like going through a big pile and having pants and shirts and socks and having to fold each thing a different way and put them in a different spot.  So now, instead of sorting and washing my laundry based on color (lights vs. darks) I now sort them based on type, or tops vs. bottoms.  This way I have a basket full of pants and I fold them all the same way and put them all in the same spot and don’t have to think about it as much.

When you have an area of clutter or some obstacle to efficiency that’s driving you crazy, take a second to think about what the problem really is.  Is it really that you’re too forgetful or have too much to do, or is it just that you don’t have a good list-making system?  Is it really that you have too much stuff, or is it just that you don’t have appropriate places to store the stuff?  (You probably still do have too much stuff, though.)

Clearly, the conclusion to this story is that I run into problems when I have to think too much!  My standard, go-to solution should always just be whichever one will require me to do the least amount of thinking.  My brain’s not lazy, it just has better things to think about than bills and laundry.  Like cupcakes!  Those are always better than bills and laundry.

I recognize there probably could not be a more boring title, or subject.  Still, everyone has some semblance of a routine, even those who don’t do the same thing all day every day.  I mean, at the very least, everyone brushes their teeth at least once a day, right?  Right?  I’m constantly reminded how important acknowledging and understanding your routine is if you want to incorporate a new habit or activity into your life.  For me, that’s blogging.

When I very optimistically started this blog last summer I thought I’d just write when I felt like it and has the misguided notion that I would feel like it fairly often.  In reality I rarely felt like it and when life got busy I never felt like it.  But it’s like exercising–I never feel like doing it but I want to feel like doing it and I know I’ll be glad I did it once I do it.  That means I need to find a way to get it done without thinking about it.  And that means creating a routine.  I’ve tried getting up early in the morning and exercising first thing, but I know I don’t really have to get up and I’d always rather sleep.  I’ve tried planning to come home and go for a run/walk immediately before doing anything else, but there’s always something else to do–like open the mail, or sit on the couch.  I’ve tried using the gym where I work during my lunch hour but I always feel rushed and gross when I get back to my desk.  After some thinking I realized that if I took advantage of the convenience of the gym at work, the free time I have immediatley after work, and the utilized restriction of changing at work and not going home first I would actually get to the gym more days than not.  And it works.  I pack my clothes in the morning when the thought of a work out is far away enough not to be bothersome.  I bring the bag into my office with me so I have no excuses.  And when I leave I just walk over to the gym (which I’d have to walk right by to get to my car) and once that happens there’s no turning back.

So I needed to figure out something similar with blogging.  I started by figuring out what the obstacles to my blogging were (following my other tenet of identifying the problem–more later).  Since I spend so much time on a computer at work I rarely want to look at one when I’m at home.  But I don’t have time to blog at work, nor is that what they’re paying me to do!  But if I could take advantage of the technological roll I’m on when I’m at work as well as the free time I have when I’m not at work…thus, blogging at the end of the work day, before I head over to the gym.  Ta da!

The same is true with getting organized.  If you currently have  a routine that leads to disorganization, you’re going to go back to being disorganized no matter how much time you spend getting everything in order.  You need to identify the issues that are causing the disorganization and then do the hard work (!!) to create a routine that combats them.  If your routine is to just leave non-essential stuff in your purse when you switch to a different one, you’re going to have a bunch of purses filled with random stuff and never be able to find anything.  But if you suffer through a few seconds of inconvenience when you switch purses you’ll save yourselves potentially hours of inconvenience later when you’re searching for that thing you forgot you left in your other purse.  The good thing is, after just a short while of enforcing your new habit, it will become…routine, and you won’t have to think about it anymore.

Of course, sometimes life happens and routines get interrupted–case in point, I am now posting this from home because it’s snowing so hard that I left work early.  So you do have to retain some flexibility and can’t take your routine too serisouly!

I spent several hours today helping a client tackle her closet–purging it of stuff she no longer wears, putting what she’s keeping on nice new hangers, relocating some things and just sorting through everything.  It was hard work!  I could tell it was a challenge for her to focus on what we were doing and push through the urge to toss it aside, do something more fun–it really takes a lot of discipline to do the work required to get organized.  It’s definitely not instant gratification!  People probably wonder why, if you can recognize that an area’s disorganized, you can just deal with it and organize it yourself.  I’ve found that part of the most helpful thing I can do is just be present to hold someone to the promise of their intention to deal with their disorganization.  Just keeping someone on task and focused is half the battle!  And there are undeniable moments of being overwhelmed, to the point of wondering how the heck all this stuff can really come together–when you come across a bag of things totally unrelated to each other and that you forgot you had and don’t even know what to do with anymore, for example.  Getting organized is a process and you can’t skip steps, so you really do have to do the hard work to get the reward of a clean and organized space.  But if you plow through it and just take one thing at a time and ignore the feeling that you have to conquer everything at once, you will get there.  So, like all other things, I’m finding the same applies to starting this new business–it’s challenging and sometime overwhelming but I’m just going to take one thing at a time and enjoy the little rewards as I reach them!