One of the saddest stories I’ve heard in my role as Person Who Talks About Decluttering On The Internet was told to me by a life-long friend.
I was about two years into my blogging journey, and she was one of the few people in my real life who knew I was telling my deslobification story to the world as Nony (short for aNONYmous).
She shares some of my issues, so she related to what I was writing. We talked as she read through the blog from the very beginning.
When we met up as my family traveled through her town, we talked cleaning. (I’m so fun to have around, y’all . . . )
Her story, told with tears in her eyes over the progress she was finally making, was about the most damaging thing ever said to her.
A woman in her life who helped a lot of people by sharing organizing tips gave the advice to take something with you every time you leave a room. Meaning, if you walk from the living room to the kitchen, grab a dirty dish to put in the dishwasher or a piece of trash to drop in the garbage.
That’s great advice. I’ve heard it from other organized people as well. Doing this simple thing will have a great impact on a home. It’s a wonderful habit to cultivate.
But the damage came from the casual remark that followed.
Something like: If someone won’t do that, then I can’t help them!
My friend described her heart sinking at those words.
She knew that remembering to take something with her every single time she leaves a room . . . wasn’t going to happen.
Not that she couldn’t or wouldn’t do it sometimes. She might even work hard to get to the point of regularly. Or even often.
But every single time being the standard made the standard unattainable.
And being told she couldn’t be helped if that standard couldn’t be reached told her she couldn’t be helped at all.
Which ripped away any hope she’d had.
I’m here to tell her and you and myself that there’s hope. And help. Even for the person who “can’t be helped” because they can’t remember something they really wish they would remember.
For those of us to whom a hairbrush on the coffee table or a coat in the middle of the floor might as well be invisible.
To be clear, before I get into the hows, the hope-slasher didn’t mean to hurt my friend. It was an offhanded, casual remark that was likely made in jest and she would probably be horrified to know how much it hurt.
As someone who regularly wishes she hadn’t said something she just said, and who is the Queen of Offhanded, Casual Remarks Made in Jest that have probably hurt people I’d be horrified to know I hurt, I am not criticizing her.
But I can’t not say anything for the sake of those of us who’ve heard such things (or thought we heard such things) and felt hopeless.
It has also been long enough that I doubt she would remember she said it if she ever landed on this site.
So how do you manage to keep the house out of chaos when the standard of “every single time” isn’t attainable?
Take action in the moment when you do remember to do something.
Instead of worrying about remembering or wishing you could remember, act. I could turn this into a 12,000 word blog post with all I’ve learned about combating my all-or-nothing fear of failure. But I won’t. Mostly because I’ve written two books about that.
For now, I’ll explain why the five minute pickup is the “take something with you every time you leave a room” for those of us who can’t remember to take something with us every time we leave a room.
Five minutes can happen now. I can talk myself out of fifteen minutes. 30? That’s crazy talk. But five little ol’ minutes are hard to argue against. Our coffee pot takes longer than that to brew. On my stove, water takes longer than that to boil.
Because five minutes can happen now, whenever now is, I can set my timer in the moment when I happen to notice my house getting shambly. (Shambly: made-up-by-me word to describe the beginning stages of my house being “in shambles”)
By acting in the moment when I notice, I make progress. I pick up five minutes worth of out of place stuff (20 or 25 minutes worth if the whole family is home). Five minutes of focus can produce a lot of progress.
And those five minutes of focus make up for a lot of trips taken from room to room with empty hands.
What if I Can’t Remember to Do a Five Minute Pickup?
I get it. Really. I struggled with the same thing until I decided to stop struggling.
I’ve made a conscious decision to not assign my five minute pickup to a specific time of day. Not that there isn’t an ideal time for it. There totally is.
But when I set a specific pickup time and forgot to do it at that time, I failed. I’d berate myself for the failure, hope I was going to remember the next time those numbers appeared on my clock, and repeat this scenario for days.
While my house got shamblier and shamblier.
I could aim for a time, but I decided to define success as just doing it. Whenever I thought of it. Wish I would have done one last night? That’s my reminder to do one now, and doing one now is success.
Success wasn’t defined as remembering. Success was defined as doing.
Decluttering helps me find places for things I do need (by answering my first decluttering question) and get rid of things I don’t need. So even when a room is strewn with stuff, there’s less stuff. A focused pickup time (even just five minutes) gets the room back under control. Or a lot closer to under control.
And it builds.
I remember to do five minute pickups more frequently when a space is decluttered. I notice what’s out of place since things actually have places.
And, the more I do focused five minute pickups, the more likely I am to do something crazy and formerly out of character, like . . . pick up one thing to take with me when I leave the room.
It’s like magic, but not magic at all.
Hear “I can’t help you” instead of “you can’t be helped.”
Of all the things I’ve blathered about in this post, remember this one most. Just because one method doesn’t work for you or you failed miserably at following one person’s advice, you’re not hopeless.
Try another way.
Listen to another perspective.
Start throwing stuff away.
There is hope for you. You can be helped. But you are the only one who can figure out what kind of help will actually help you.
I mentioned my book(s) at the beginning of this post. I was trying to be subtle up there, but I’m done with subtlety now. I wrote those books for the person who is where I was nine years ago. I was hopeless and felt helpless. How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind will take you from complete and total bewilderment to knowing exactly what it takes to keep your house under control. Decluttering at the Speed of Life will help you change your mindset about clutter and give you the exact steps to getting that clutter out of your house. The books are available in all formats (digital, paperback, audio) wherever books are sold. If a video course is more your thing, I have one of those too: The 5 Step Clutter Shakedown.
And if you can’t afford to buy the book(s), check your local library. Most libraries have my books, and you can ask your librarian to order them if yours doesn’t.