When you’re decluttering, taking a “before picture” is so helpful.
“I’ve been working in my yard a lot lately.”
That’s a phrase that sounds normal coming out of someone else’s mouth, but it doesn’t feel normal coming from me.
Working in the yard is helping me stay sane.
My yard had been on my “we really need to” list for years. I’ve never been a yard person. And lately, I’d noticed how bad it was and would grimace every time my brain registered how it looked.
But, not being a “yard person” I didn’t even know where to start. All the leaves and wonky bushes and baby/teenager trees growing in random places where they were never planted overwhelmed me.
But in a moment of desperation, I realized:
- I needed to get out of the house.
- I needed to get some exercise.
- The weather was nice.
I grabbed a hoe.
I couldn’t find the rake.
I started getting the leaf clutter out of one small section of one flower bed.
(A flower bed created by the lady we bought our house from 14 years ago . . . that hasn’t had flowers in it since the ones she planted died . . . 13.5 years ago.)
I dragged the leaves from a 4’x4′ area into a pile, pulled up the weeds, and bagged them up.
And my yard looked a little bit better.
So the next day, I did another small section. And the next day, another. I never spent long out there, but I was starting to see a real difference.
Eventually, I got out a long choppy thing/tool and a shorter choppy thing/tool and started trimming. When he was home, Hubby joined me with some bigger choppy things and we kept on hacking things down.
And now, a few weeks later, working a little bit on a lot of days, our front yard looks significantly better.
It’s not perfect, and I’d never call it gardening, but it’s better. Decluttered.
My biggest regret, though, is that I didn’t take a before photo.
It’s not even that I forgot. I just didn’t want to.
I didn’t want to take a picture because I was embarrassed about how bad it was.
I also didn’t want to take a before picture because I didn’t believe it was possible for me to truly make a difference. I had no faith in my ability to make it better.
I just couldn’t believe that the results would be anything to be proud of.
I was wrong.
I knew I was wrong even while I wasn’t taking the pictures.
I have experienced the power of a before picture so many times.
Here on the blog, where I’ve documented my deslobification process over the last decade, before pictures were a requirement. Even in the beginning when I was anonymous and lived in fear of someone I knew recognizing my house, I was committed to total honesty. (About my house. Not about my identity.)
Because I “had to” take before pictures, I learned their power.
“Before” pictures provide affirmation I want so badly.
The most frustrating thing about housework is that
no one very few applaud. Especially when the result is just better, and not a Grand Finale of Perfection.
When I don’t take a before picture, I’m pretty sure it looks better when I’ve worked for a while.
When I do take a before picture, and then I take a “better” picture, I can swipe back and forth and know for sure I made a difference.
Seeing the difference produces a version of the same lovely feeling I get from applause. I see proof that I made an impact. The effort was worth my time.
Before photos inspire me to keep decluttering.
Taking the before picture is always worth it. Visual proof of progress is a powerful thing.
This space is better than it was before. The effort was worth my time.
And the beauty of taking the photos on my phone is that I can see exactly how much time passed between photos.
Each of the sets of “before and better” photos in this post were taken within an hour. The first set was taken 48 minutes apart. The second set 49 minutes.
This smashes my delusion that I don’t have enough time to make an impact. I know, with timestamped photo proof, that spending less than an hour working in my yard makes an impact.
The same delusion-breaking strategy has worked hundreds of times inside my home.
Even when I’m confident I don’t have time to make a real impact, if I take a before picture and start working anyway, I always see an impact.
And every time I swipe back and forth between the before and the better pictures, my brain adjusts a little. I accept that small amounts of time are worth spending on my home. I chip away at the powerful delusion that it makes more sense to wait until I have time to do the job perfectly.
Take the before picture.
Work for whatever amount of time you have. When you stop, take another picture and see the progress. I promise it will be worth your time.*
*Disclaimer: I only guarantee progress if you use my declutter-without-making-a-bigger-mess strategy. You can read the very basic explanation here, but I recommend my book: Decluttering at the Speed of Life. In it, I teach you the mindset changes and the step by step process for working through any level of clutter, in any amount of time you have to spend, and always making progress. And only progress.
Another disclaimer/funny story: In that first better photo, the difference wasn’t crazy obvious, and the photo was a little disappointing to me. But I knew what to look for and reminded myself there was a difference. And I had no intention of sharing the photos anyway until this post started burning in my brain. The subtlety of the difference was confirmed when my lovely assistant originally switched the photos and had the “better” as the “before” and vice versa. Oh well! It was still worth it!
So great! Since I have been home, I have actually done some of these, and *almost* pasted them into a comment, but then I remembered I’m not sure how to do that. And, of course, I can see the difference, but I’m not sure anyone else could see the improvement. Would you like to see those? (I’m only saying one set, not the whole house-which is still a mess) I do dearly love before and after pics, myself!
If you continue to do yard work and figure out more ways to impliment your stratagies in the outdoors I for one would love more blogs/podcasts on the topic.
I have spent the last 5 years decluttering the inside of our house. It was literally at hoarder status when I moved in with my partner, bringing my daughter and our stuff, on top of his and his three kids stuff which he had moved in on top of the stuff his parents left behind after a messy divorce.
Anyways I am really pleased (most days) with how far we have come, and now I need to really focus on the outside. It isn’t that I haven’t tried to work outside, but 23 acres of 30 years of accumulated farm detritis is rather overwhelming. I have been trying to apply your principles and they do work when I can figure it out, but any words of wisdom would be amazing.
I’ve been using this strategy in my garden, too.
I have a huge pile of mulch (neighbours hedge trimmings, mulched and piled for me to apply to the garden).
During lockdown, I’ve gradually been weeding a section of the garden – just a bucket of weeds at a time, and then immediately mulching the freshly weeded soil.
Not only does it look better – and locks in the gains from weeding, as the weeds don’t grow as well through the mulch. I can visibly see where I’ve been – and it inspires me to keep going.
The mental limit of “1 bucket of weeds” works for me like your 5 minute cleanups – stopping me being overwhelmed by the scale of the task ahead!
Have completed the back garden (go me!) And am starting work on the side garden next.
I LOVE this idea!
Lori Nation says
So true!! Also–take the “before” to help inspire friends who are going with you on this decluttering “journey” with you. It ALWAYS motivates me when I see before and after pictures of other people’s successes. And you are totally right: my own pictures help me, too. I kind of accidentally started a project the other day and randomly kept plugging away at it all day until it was suddenly finished! I was so excited that I took a picture to share with a couple of friends who are on the journey as well but then realized I didn’t take a “before” picture. They know me and my struggle so knew it was a big deal but sadly they wouldn’t know the full extent of the amazing thing that just happened. Luckily it still looks great so hopefully that will help keep me going.
Thank you, Nony, for your amazing tips and kind honesty that motivate us more than you could know!
I am somewhat amused that one of my favorite photos of my cat that I put on FB pages all the time shows a powerful “before” picture of my office desk. I keep looking at that photo and at my current mostly-clean desk and thinking “WOW!”
Also feeling the urge to add to the post “THIS WAS A YEAR AGO, MY DESK LOOKS MUCH BETTER THAN THIS!!!”
Dana White says
I do a mixture of a slob comes clean and The Organised Mum Method. To day was garden day. I weeded the front path and washed the front door. Took 5 mins. What a difference. Before = Grotty. After =clean!
Bernadette K says
I think this is SUCH a great tip! Like you, I would NEVER take a before picture because of the embarrassment I felt at letting it get quite this bad!
However, your idea to take a picture before, then one an hour later, will not only serve as a visual reminder to how well I’m doing, but will also prove to be a proverbial kick up the backside when I’m flagging through boredom at 12 minutes in. If I know I will be taking a photo in an hour, I will subconsciuosly be more inclined to work harder – win win!
Dana, you rock!!! xxx
Joni Gonzales says
Before photos are definitely motivating. Anytime my house really starts to fray and I need motivation, I go through and take a photo of every room before I start straightening. Even if I forget to take after photos, having in-your-face documentation of my mess gets me moving 🙂
Thanks for the encouragement. Even though I love your before and after photos, I never think of taking them myself. I guess I just needed you to tell me to do it. I will start this week!
Stacy Ann Simmons says
When my (1st) husband filed for divorce, he just grabbed his racing stuff from the garage. And left me with 30 (yes, 3 decades of STUFF.) Mind you this was a 3-bedroom, 2 bath modular home. When if it came time for them to leave the rest, they only took what they wanted and left me the rest. Do you see the pattern? Like an idiot I rented a huge storage unit put a good share of the house contents into storage. It’s sad but true quite a bit of it is still there or worse, it’s now in my two bedroom two bath apartment. Everyone who comes to visit looks around and says “wow you’ve got a lot of stuff in here!!” I’ve tried selling stuff at a yard sale, (what a bomb) and giving Facebook a shot and some of the other still places this spring off from Facebook. Nada. Nothing. Sold! I can’t believe people didn’t see value those items like I did. Are they blind? Well it is certainly true: one persons junk is another person’s treasure.
I started all this to let you know that I take pictures on a semi-regular basis just for insurance purposes. I used to work in insurance for 20 years. In our arson class we were told to shut our eyes and write down everything on the wall behind us. Do you can do that and there were only five or six things on the wall. The instructors point was if you have a fire or something like that happen, you are required to write down everything you have/lost. So your pictures served more than one purpose. Personally I would save the after pictures for insurance. LOL
Kristy Whited says
Oh my goodness, YES! I learned this lesson about 1.5 years ago when I replaced an old retaining wall in front of my house near the street. It was made of very old stones that looked like they had been salvaged from some really old home’s foundation and covered with ivy. I always thought there was something old-world about it and thought its imperfection was quaint and charming. I decided to replace it, and WOW….I had no idea how bad it looked until I saw the picture of the new wall. Shabby chic? Nope. It was all shabby and NO chic. LOL! Before and after pictures really do drive home just how much progress you have made and a great way to record that progress for historical reference.
Jacquie Jones says
I love your honesty in this post and as always, it just makes me want to get up and do something. Your transparency leaves me between tears and smiles because I get it. I totally get it. Love your pics. Keep them coming.
Katie Clemens says
Using “choppy things” can really make a difference. Just wait until you buy a choppy thing with a long handle to trim tree branches — it’s addictive! (might want to take your before picture ….and then another along the way so you don’t get carried away with the sense of power)
Good job on what you did — I need to get out and work on my yard.