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Mom decided suddenly last October to move herself. To leave her home of 50 years, the home in which we spent most of all our childhood, and move to a retirement complex where she would have the three things she needed most: company, meals and freedom from the constancy of caring for her beautiful but rambling and now empty home.
Thanks to Barbara’s wisdom and the five-step program’s guidance, we had resources and a clear approach.
I hadn’t reckoned with my own internal sense of loss. It hit me, powerfully, like a tractor dragging a load of 100-foot tree trunks. The weight and enormity of going through 50 years of our family’s stuff and helping her determine what she wanted – I quickly realized that I needed help.
Fortunately, there is a local firm (Gentle Transitions) that specializes in having these conversations, holding mom’s hand and spending time with her so that she could, a few hours at a time, tackle what she needed to go through.
As is her nature, mom immediately started worrying about what was to go to everyone else, but I was able to calmly and firmly say, “Let’s start with you. What do you want and need? They will help you get that selected, organized, design a new floor plan for your apartment, figure out what will fit and where you will have to make some choices and then, only then, we will worry about the rest. Let’s get you moved and set up first! Whatever you want you take.”
So we did just that. The team at Gentle Transitions headed by dear Nan was wonderful. Their system was just like it says the book – File, Act or Toss became Move or Stay – a green dot sticker for Move, a red one for Stay.
It took six weeks to go through and prepare, meeting a couple of times a week so as to not do too much at once, and then it took one day to pack and one day to move and set up. Before the packers arrived I went around and took pictures of the colorful green and red dots scattered throughout her home. After the move I took pictures of mom in her new home with pretty much most things where she wanted them. She commented, “It is so wonderful having all my favourites in view. In the big house I often missed seeing them.”
Then the next step: we went forward with the File-Act-Toss technique, which turned into three piles: Give to Family, Give to Charity, and Junk(we color-coded all of the family members’ items and kept a written list of each person’s requests in mom’s little book as she requested a record of what was going to whom).
We had to go through every cupboard and every drawer. I laughed when my sister visited after we thought we had finished and she said she had found two drawers and a cupboard full of stuff. I replied, “Yes, I was sure I had gone through every drawer and had the cleaning done and I also found another full one last week”. Big houses are complex, with lots of nooks and crannies.
Then, we called the charities and had them walk through and see what they wanted, at which point we found a man who specializes in clearing the junk. They hauled off the oddest objects: rusting old bed frames, dilapidated wooden picnic benches, stained rugs, old blocks in the basement, paint cans, hardware, broken kitchenware, etc.
As the house gradually cleared and the piles diminished to just a few to be delivered, including two books of interest to the local library, the feeling was one of rebirth. The open, fresh joy of our family home came to life. Mom said she “loved seeing the house empty with its beautiful hardwood floors she had cared for.” She could renew her memory of joyful years spent within its adobe walls. And so could I. The last night there I could not sleep and found myself spending an early morning just breathing in the feel of the place in the living room on the old leather couch (which needed to be refurbished and ended up going to a foster youth organization that will refinish it and resell it to help fund their program), and for just that morning I was back as an eleven year old doing my math homework and getting help from my dad with the logic problems.
Thank you, Barbara, for your life’s teachings that made it possible for me to go through this transition with joy.
It is now January and I am on track and working through implementing my decluttering plan I set last year. This past week I finally got to the boxes under my desk. Now I can twirl (truthfully almost!) but actually I will be able to twirl my legs under my desk soon. the boxes that have been there for the past ten years and it feels terrific. Approximately 90% was thrown away, one pile is still to be shredded, but at least they are now designated so and are permanently off my internal mental anxiety list of wondering what was there and an added bonus- I found the list I needed to complete a project that has been sitting dormant for over a year. Conclusion? The FAT system works. See page 56 in Less Clutter More Life and make your plan! And remember to be easy on yourself. Take it steady. It took however many years for the clutter to accumulate, it is ok for it to ease out over the coming year or so. I am feeling easier seeing the marked steady progress.
Barbara and I were speaking the other day and she asked me, “Louise, how can I communicate to entrepreneurial leaders that they need to do the 8 hour miracle – I have an easier time getting them to pay for the training than to get them to complete it – what is the block? Can you help me figure it out?“ I am a good example. Barbara and I have known each other for 20 years and for 20 years I thought I understood her approach and that I could do it, but that I just hadn’t taken the time to do it for myself. I had resisted Barbara’s teaching over the years thinking that I understood it and could do it myself anytime that I wanted to, but that other things were simply more important right now. Each successive moment of other things being more important, continuing for years and years on end.
My epiphany came while helping Barbara to create this book, while sitting for hours with her words and my images working on the design and layout and sequence and taking the time to feel which image was needed to reach the emotional block corresponding to each pages’ words and stories. Often accomplished Entrepreneurs and Leaders, we spend so much time in our heads, focusing on solving business problems, helping and guiding others’ work and building others’ systems, that we forget to take care of ourselves. Our offices can be a mess, but our companies can run smoothly. The mess however takes a toll on our psyches…the hidden cost. It wasn’t important enough. Something else was always more important.
Finally, I agreed to experience the 8 hour miracle myself. Barbara and I did it over the phone. I had my assistant, April, here with me, and we tackled the creation of the system that would work for my home office. It isn’t the thinking about it, but the doing it, and having the help of someone to do it with you, that makes the difference. Barbara is able to work with strong-minded individuals to help them see what they didn’t see – that actually we are better together, and that how we care for ourselves and do the things that we need, supports us to do our work better.
I feel a weight lifted to know that everything I had in my papers strewn on my desk, beneath my desk, and across the piles in the house, is now on action and reference lists, and indexed so that I can find and work with anything in seconds. We aren’t done, as I still have a few boxes under the desk to process and take through the system we have established, but each day, or week, I end by completing and taking the ten minutes to put things where they need to go, to maintain the system. I feel lighter, free-er, en-abled and my spirit lifts in joy.
“There is a gentle urging in this book that encourages rather than instructs; the message ‘Are you enjoying your work and are you enjoying your life?’ opens in us a dialogue with ourselves. We are encouraged rather then given criticism for the years of our accumulations and indifference to the weight it presses upon us. The photos by Louise Wannier are likewise gentle and peaceful. They urge us to appreciate beauty, space, color, and all nature has to offer. One particular photo of the shadow of a woman against the grass is sweetly seductive, suggesting a walk in beauty.
When I finished reading the book, I sorted through years of holiday cards, keeping only a few photos of those I love, and sent the rest to inhabit some other space, not mine. This book is a deep meditation, and a kind teacher.”
Take a listen to this interview with Maureen Anderson from Doing What Works! We discuss what weighs us down, the detriments of clutter to the vitality of life, and how to maintain a clutter-free lifestyle.
Lee Milteer’s Millionaire Smarts® Coaching Program Less Clutter More Freedom
Lee Milteer Interviews Barbara Hemphill
Transcript of Tele-Seminar
Welcome to this month’s issue of the Millionaire Smarts® Coaching Program for Profit and Productivity with your coach Lee Milteer
Hello everybody! This is your coach Lee Milteer, and today we’re going to be focusing on the topic of more personal freedom by releasing clutter. We have a celebrity expert this month that I truly admire, I have worked with on stage, I have all of her books, and I’ve interviewed her before for my coaching programs. It’s the only and only Barbara Hemphill.
Now, if you’re not familiar with Barbara, you’re in for a super treat. She is frequently referred to as the paper tiger lady, and she is the author of a number of books including, Taming the Paper Tiger at Work, Love it or Lose it, Living Clutter Free Forever, Organizing Paper in Home, What to Toss and How to Find the Rest, but she has a brand new book and it’s called Less Clutter, More Life.
Now, Barbara is an amazing woman. She is a true success story when we think of entrepreneurs and business owners. She’s someone who took a risk, went after her passion. She started her business in 1978 with just a seven dollar ad in a New York City newspaper.
Now, for twenty years, she focused on organizing paper and physical clutter, and then the internet happened and she began to apply her principles for digital clutter. In recent years, she has concluded that the true clutter that prevents people from accomplishing their work and enjoying their life is emotional and spiritual.
Now, she is the founder of the Productive Environment Institute and her goal is to offer attractive career opportunities to individual who have a passion for productivity and being an entrepreneur, and her company provides training to become a Certified Productive Environment Specialist, and they specialize in providing customized services, strategies and systems for both individuals and organizations to enable their clients to accomplish their work and enjoy their life more because they can actually find something. Their ultimate aim is to help people increase profit, productivity and peace of mind which is of course one of my favorite things to do in life. So, everybody, help me welcome Barbara Hemphill. Welcome Barbara!
Oh, thank you, Lee. I’m delighted to be here.
Well, I’m delighted to link up with you again because we’ve been on stage together. I have interviewed you a number of times. Your books are like little bibles in my office, and your name is frequently mentioned when I say to everybody, “Well Barbara Hemphill says.” So, I got your new book, and it’s time I invested in your book. I really need some inspiration to release a lot of stuff before I moved to my new house, so the new house wouldn’t be cluttered. I love the fact that your book is so beautiful. There’s art work. There’s photography, and it not only inspired me, but it actually gave me the motivation in a very easy and short read format.
So, just to give you a little backstory here because we’re dealing with so much clutter moving, both my husband and I lost our parents in the last few years and then we inherited stuff that doesn’t fit in our environment, but it was so hard to let the stuff go because it’s sentimental and it really was the cause of our last home being cluttered with China and silver, furniture, photography that clearly our parents loved but wasn’t our taste.
What your book did for me, Barbara was sincerely remind me to take back my power and create my own life and environment to suit me. So, my office staff and I have done some office cleaning that made us all feel lighter coming to our office every day. I’m sure our audience today wants to have more freedom. So, my real first question to you is, what prompted you to write Less Clutter, More Life, the book?
Lee, this was one of the things that was on my bucket list of things that I wanted to accomplish before I died. In 37 years, I have developed about 20 timeless principles starting with Clutterers Postpone Decisions and ending with Together we are Better, which will be just as true 200 years from now as they are right now.
I was talking with my friend Louise Wannier who is the illustrator in the book. She has the beautiful photographs. I said to her, “I want to put these principles in a book that will be here when I’m gone as my legacy. What’s important is that this is not a how-to book, but a why-to book. It’s got to touch people’s emotions and that means it needs to have artwork.
She said, “Tell me about the book.” I said, “Well, it’s six inches square. It’s less than a half inch thick. You could read the whole thing in a hour. It’s got more white space than words.” She said, “Well, look at the cover of the book. What do you see? What do you feel?” I said, “Well, peace.” She said, “Okay, open up the book. Now what do you see?” I said, “Hope.” She said, “Go to the next page. What do you see?” I said, “Energy. She said, “Well, why don’t you just fly out to my studio in Pasadena, and let’s write it?”
You’ll love this because it’s so God works in terms of getting us in terms of where we need to be. That was in June of last year. So, I said, “What does your calendar look like in July?” She gave me three days, and I looked at my calendar and it was the only three days I could go, and the most amazing thing was that one of my consultants was going to be in Raleigh and I needed to take her to the airport the day before. So, I went to the airport. She went to Pennsylvania. I went to California, and this book was born.
I’m just so excited about it because I wanted this really to be my legacy, but perhaps more importantly, there’s a lot of talk about clutter. As a matter of fact, I read that on January 1st this year on the Google search engines under “how-to”, “how-to declutter” was number 14.
I believe that.
Most of the talk about clutter is related to personal clutter like you were talking about just now and a big part of it is what we inherit from our parents. That’s a huge piece of it, and that’s addressed in the book. What I am passionate about and especially for the people listening to this is business clutter. Business clutter is costing this country billions of dollars every year. I see it everywhere, and nobody is talking about that.
People when they look at what we do, they think it’s just about getting rid of paper and digital. Well, the paper and the digital is actually a symptom of the real problem, and the real problem is two things. Number one, I said it had to do with spiritual clutter. When you talk about spiritual clutter in business and it’s about what business are you in? Have you been put on earth to serve? You cannot be all things to all people in a business and be profitable, and if you’re not clear about who you’re serving, then you’re going to end up with lots of clutter.
The other thing, it has to do with systems, and I’ll give you an example that just happened in our family recently. My husband went to the doctor and he was prescribed his medication. It’s $265 a bottle. We have insurance, so it wasn’t a lot of money out of our pocket, but the doctor wrote a prescription for three months’ worth. So, there’s three bottles at $265 a bottle.
My husband took it for two weeks and he had a side effect, and the doctor said, “Quit taken.” We now have two and a half bottles of medication, which I have to dispose of, which is not easy. That’s clutter. Prescriptions that are expired or not used is clutter because how do you get rid of them safely? More importantly, somebody is paying for that and you know who it is? It’s us as taxpayers, ultimately. That is a system’s clutter. That’s not having systems in place. It does not make any sense at all to prescribe three months of medicines to somebody until you find out if it’s going to work.
Yesterday, I went into an office and it took two people in the office ten minutes to find something that they needed to give to me because they didn’t have the systems in place. That’s what I’m passionate about and I love talking to entrepreneurs because we can change the world this way and that’s what we want to do.
Okay, so let’s just to be clear, define clutter for us particularly in the business office.
There’s a very simple way to answer clutter. That is, “Does this,” and then you can fill in this to be “this idea,” “this thought,” “this item,” “this email,” “this whatever” help me accomplish my work or enjoy my life.
Part of the reason we became entrepreneurs was because we wanted to have control over our lives, and when we keep too much stuff, we end up losing control. So, one of the things that we do in our company is we have something in our clients’ offices something called Productive Environment Parties, and they’re literally events where people come to work in the morning and we feed them bagels and coffee, and while they’re having their bagels and coffee doing a seminar called, “Sometimes it takes and Expert to take out the Trash.”
We explain to them this concept of going to your office as fast as you can, picking up items, and saying, “Does this help me accomplish my work or enjoy my life?” If the answer is no, it is clutter. Then, we help them get rid of it by putting up shredding stations, recycling stations, trash to treasure stations. We did that two weeks ago with a non-profit organization with 24 employees, and in six hours, we shredded three and a half tons of paper.
Oh my word! Three and a half tons? Did you have a big tractor trailer truck out back?
We literally did. We had a shredding truck thing out there and one of the things we did was we make it an employee perk because in our personal lives, one of the big stumbling blocks to getting rid of paper is the security issues. So, we invited employees on that day to bring papers from home that they wanted to shred. So, they got that at no cost. It was a perk they got from the employer. I thought that was really cool.
Very nice. So, let’s say my office for instance. I don’t think there will be that much, but are there places that you can go that literally will take the stuff and shred it for you?
Absolutely, yes. There are plenty of ways to do that. There are some office supply companies, UPS stations, places like UPS stores will have shredding events. You pay by the box. There are lots of ways. If you went to Google and did a search on shredding, you would find places that would take those things.
Excellent. So, let me continue this story. So, after these people got rid of all the stuff, did they psychologically feel different?
Let me tell you the rest of the story. What we do when we do these productive environment parties is usually in the morning, we do physical. By the way, we say to management, “This is not a risk day. The philosophy for this day is ‘If in doubt, keep it.’”
So, we’re not risking anything whatsoever, but what we’re doing with the employees is we’re giving them a form so if they find something in their office that they don’t want, but they don’t know what to do with, they just note that down. Then, we collect all that information, and we go back to management and we can say, “Here’s some issues as it relates to retention guidelines,” or how do we get rid of this? One of the things we address a lot is what we call the seven information management questions, and this helps us address that.
So, we do the paper in the morning, and then we get together and do lunch because we want people to tell stories about what they’re doing. Then, in the afternoon, we switch and help them cleanout their computers, and we take those principles that we used in the morning and say, “Okay, how do we apply this to email and digital files?” Then, we send them back to their computers.
We did a company with 400 employees. We ended up doing twelve days. So, each employee participated once. There were twelve different days. At the end of the twelve days, we had shredded 33,000 pounds of paper and deleted almost one half of the files on their server. To answer your question, yes the stories what people say – what always happens, it never fails. I’ve done this scores of times and what always happens is people say, “I’m going home to clean out my garage,” or “I’m going home to clean out my attic.”
Partly, in fact, my favorite page in the new book, Less Clutter More Life, is a page that shows a big folder and it says, “What stops us? What prevents us from getting rid of paper?” There’s a list. It says, “I never have enough time. I have too much to do. I have better things to do. Organizing is boring. It’s too difficult. It never lasts. It’s never good enough. I often overthink the situation. I didn’t create it. I have no idea what is there. I’m easily distracted and go on tangents. I get stuck in the memories of the past. It’s too emotionally draining. I want to be responsible and respectful of things I’ve been given. I have to take care of other people and other things in my life first. It’s hard to admit I have an issue. I’m afraid to let something go. I might want it back.”
We talk about that, and that’s what employees tell us. All those things, those are all the reasons. So, when management empowers them, educates them first and empowers them, they’re so free. I did it in a library in Kansas City a few weeks ago, and one of the employees went and wrote on the white board, “I’m so happy to have time to do this. I’ve been wanting to do it for months, and I didn’t even know I had this stuff.”
I think of all the reasons that you listed, my view of most offices and probably my own also is people are afraid to get rid of things that they would get in trouble for getting rid of.
That’s exactly right, and that’s why I said that it is vitally important that management be involved. In fact, I turned down a couple of years ago, a quarter of a million dollar contract with a large company because they were moving. They had six buildings and they were down-sizing to two buildings and they estimated that they had fifty million paper documents in those six buildings that they had to get rid of before they moved. They asked me to help them do it, and I did.
I came up with a plan, but part of the plan was that we had these days, and I did the first day as a pilot. Management didn’t participate. It’s like you can’t do it that way. Management has to be a role model for employees, and it takes both together. As a manager, as an entrepreneur, you have to decide what the philosophy about information is for your company and then employees have to know what to keep because I as a business owner, I don’t know what my employees need to do their job because I don’t do their job. I couldn’t go clean out their files because as soon as I threw out something, they would say, “Don’t you know I need this to do the report,” or whatever.
So, it really does take both management and staff together, and when they work together, it’s amazing. If you just simply do one of those events once a year, it will stop the problem.
What is your view on scanning things versus holding them as a physical object in your files?
Great question. One of the things that we focus on is what we call the seven information management questions, and these seven questions every company, every business needs to answer and for that matter, every family needs to answer. What business am I in? What kind of life – it’s not a moral issue.
One of the things I use is called the cost factor. You can keep everything you want if you’re willing to pay the price, and the price is time, space, money and energy. So, my job is not to say, “Oh, Lee, you don’t need that.” My job is to say, “Lee, if you choose to keep this, this is what it’s going to cost you in time, space, money and energy and is that a price you’re willing to pay?”
So, it’s what information do you need to keep. Second is, in what form, paper or electronic, and if it’s electronic, what program because there are a lot of different programs you can keep it in. Three is, for how long, that is record retention. Four is who is responsible for filing it. That’s teamwork and job description. Five is who needs access to it. That’s securities and permission. Six is how do we find it? Which is naming conventions and version control, and the seventh one is how is it backed up.
So, every organization needs to address those. The issue of paper versus electronic, you can argue that either way. One of the principles in the book is you can have anything you want, but not everything. There are pros and cons to each one. My license plate says, “Less Paper.” I do not believe in 99 percent of the cases that paperless is possible, but less paper is possible and desirable and cost effective. I think a big difference is reference papers, papers that you need to keep for legal reasons or papers that you might need in the future, those should be digitally done, but the papers you use on a daily basis depending on your situation may be better on paper, and sometimes, you actually end up using paper and electronic.
So, you may be more comfortable doing your work with paper, but you need to keep your electronic in case you need to share it with someone else or you need to recreate it.
So, it all goes back to the four words that started this business 37 years ago, “Clutter is postponed decisions.” It’s about making a decision about which is the best way, and more importantly, it’s not just making the decision, it’s executing the decision and then sustaining that decision on a regular basis.
So, what are the stumbling blocks to eliminating clutter not only physically but mentally?
Well, that list that I just read you is the answer to that, but I think the bottom line – well, there are probably two of them that really stand out. One is fear. Fear that you’re going to make a mistake, fear that you’re going to offend somebody, fear that somebody is going to want it again. Then the other one is just time.
I did a seminar for forty people in Maryland last weekend, and everybody says, “I know I need to do this, but I just don’t have time.” Well, there’s an old saying, “Pay me now or pay me later,” and that’s the way it is with organization.
That’s so true.
Research shows, there’s lots of statistics – the one that is very common and that I think is actually quite conservative is that the average person spends 150 hours a year looking for something. Well, I was in the office yesterday, two people spent ten minutes, just one person, two people, ten minutes. Well, that means there was twenty minutes being spent. First of all, it made a very bad impression. This office is – they can’t really serve me because they’re not doing, they would be better off having a conversation with me, showing me some other product or service that they have to offer, but instead they were looking for something.
So, when somebody is disorganized, it means that they’re not doing what is really important in business to do. So, you’re going to pay one time or the other, so you might as well do it now.
Now, a big part of that is people when they try to solve this problem, all start in the wrong place. They try to clean up the back log first, and that is absolutely backwards. When we go into work with people, one of our most popular services is called the Eight Hour Miracle. It’s an organizing intervention for one person in one office.
We go in to do that, we ignore everything they did in the past because, and this has been proven over and over, and I’m sure you saw it Lee as you were moving the things out of your house, eighty percent of what we keep, we never use.
We don’t even often know why we have it or why is this even here.
That’s right. That’s exactly right. So, when we start to work with somebody with a company, we don’t care what they did in the past. It doesn’t really matter. At this day and age, just like we talked about at the beginning of the call, the time just flies so fast. It used to be when I started in business and it was true for you, too. We used to go back and analyze what we had done two and three years before. It doesn’t make any difference what we did two or three years before because everything has changed.
Now, it’s only a matter of what do we need to do going forward? So, one of the principles in Less Clutter More Life is today’s mail is tomorrow’s pile. So, when we go into work with individuals or businesses on systems, we’re not going to pay any attention to what you did in the past. It doesn’t really matter. We’re going to say, “What do you need to do in order to accomplish your work going forward?” In order to answer that questions, we have to start with the most important question is, “What is your vision for this business?”
If this business is the business you want it to be, what is it going to look like? How many hours a week are you going to work? What kind of profits are you going to have? How many employees do you want? What kind of people do you want to work with? How are you going to change the world? If you don’t know that, then you’re going to have a hard time. That was actually you asked me at the beginning why did I write the book.
One of the things I learned in my own personal life was my first marriage, after fourteen years, came to an end. I was devastated. I moved into a new house. I remember calling my mom and saying, “I could live in this life for the rest of my life.” I loved it because he had shell shaped sinks and it was a corner lot with a big yard, and I said to my mom, “I could live here for the rest of my life.” I thought I was set, and I can remember being in an airplane flying over St. Louis and looking out and seeing bright blue sky and puffy clouds and thinking, “This is going to be the best year of my life.”
Thirty days later, my marriage ended. I was sitting in a counselor’s office and the counselor said to me, “Okay, you have a blank slate. What do you want?” I said, “I have no idea. I was Mrs. Tom. I wanted to be Mrs. Tom. I had three adopted children that I loved, and I had this little organizing business on the side that was making enough money to fill in the gaps because my husband worked for a non-profit organization.” I thought I was set.
Suddenly, everything was gone and she made a statement to me which I have used with my clients all these years since which is, “All right, let’s start with what you don’t want.” What I find with most individuals and businesses is that many people are not clear about what they want, what they really want and one of the ways to figure out what that is, is to start with what you don’t.
It’s like peeling the layers of an onion. You keep saying, “Well, I don’t want this. I don’t want this. This doesn’t help me accomplish my work. this doesn’t help me enjoy my life.” You keep peeling and peeling and eventually you get to the core which is what you are all about and what you were put on earth to do as an individual or as a business.
That’s actually brilliant advice, and I hope everybody listening today will take that to heart because I think that we go brain dead sometimes or go into denial about our own needs because we’re just so busy, busy, busy trying to be the rescuers and serving other people. I just think that most people lose their focus of why they’re here and why they’re of service and what they want to do. That’s absolutely brilliant.
One of the questions I have for you is and this is a big problem. I’ve experienced this myself is what do you do when the clutter belongs to someone else? I live with a very wonderful man, and I love him more than anything, and we have different views of what is clutter.
That’s one of my most commonly asked questions. I think it comes up in every presentation that I ever give. I understand it intimately because I am married to someone who is actually a retired officer in the army and one assumes that somebody like that would be an organized person. Wrong!
This is a guy, I mean, he could step over five pairs of shoes and never see them. He can sit with piles of clutter all around him, and he doesn’t care to learn because he says jokingly, “Well, that’s what I married you for.” It’s really true.
When we were first married – we’re married 28 years now – and we were first married, I thought this reflected on me. I was really worried about it. I was like, “If I can’t even fix my husband, how can I fix myself?” I learned a very important lesson and that is, and I say this all the time, “I’m not looking to convince anybody to get organized. I’m looking for the people who always wanted to be but could never figure out how.”
So, in the meantime, how do you live or work – frequently it’s your boss actually. I work a lot with employees and the boss is the problem because as entrepreneurs and let me just say I am not a naturally organized person. People think this comes easily to me. Man, I’m a prime example of teaching what I need to learn.
Now, I work with it. It’s not like I go and organize other people’s stuff and don’t do mine, but I often have people come to my office. I love to have people come to my office because they can see it. They can see visual things of how we do our numerical filing systems and things like that. It’s easier.
Well, one day, I had invited – there was a couple I had worked with, an entrepreneurial couple, and they were going to come to my office. It was on a Saturday afternoon, which I don’t’ usually do, but that was the only day we could work on. I said, “That’s no problem. I’ll do that, two o’clock Saturday afternoon.”
Well, Saturday morning, my husband had left his glasses at the gym. He was, “Oh, I don’t want to go to the gym.” I said, “I have some errands to run. No problem, I’ll go pick up your glasses, run my errands.” Well, in true ADHD style, I’m out running and have some more ideas, and so I’m executing these ideas, and all of a sudden my phone rings and it’s my client saying, “We’re almost at your office.”
Well, I knew what my office looked like. It wasn’t very organized because I had worked really late that night and I love to start things and don’t’ like to finish them, and I love the big picture and don’t like details and my assistant wasn’t there that day to pick up anything after me, so it was kind of a mess. I’m thinking, “Oh great. This is great. No, wait, this is a great teaching point.”
So, they walked in and I said, “Okay, look at your watches.” I said, “Now, I want you to,” because I looked like a mess, and you might say, “Good grief, they pay here to teaching organizing?”
I understand that totally.
I think most entrepreneurs do, Lee. I think that’s what makes us entrepreneurs is because we have those ideas. At any rate, I said, “Look at your watch.” They did, and I said, “Now, watch what happens,” and 27 minutes later, everything had been put away and put away in the right place.
So, the problem is not the clutter. The clutter happens. Life is complicated. People get sick, employees don’t show up, you have travel schedules, etc. Clutter happens. The problem is when you don’t know what to do with the clutter, and that’s where the systems – we use the acronym of systems of Saving You Space Time Energy and Money. Normally, I don’t like acronyms because I think they’re so contrived, but I love that one because that’s what a system does.
Anytime there is something in your life or your business that needs to be repeated, you need a system for it. When you have a system, it will save you space, time, energy and money. So, they saw that, “Look at that, 27 minutes later everything was put away and put away in the right place so that she could find it.”
Let’s go back to the clutter belonging to someone else, and again I’ll tell you my own personal story. I came home from work one night. My husband’s clutter was all around, and I just wanted to scream. I heard my mother saying, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I didn’t say anything at all because it wouldn’t have been nice.
I walked straight back into my bedroom, and I looked at my own bedroom and this was the days of audio cassette tapes. Some of them might have been yours, Lee.
I hope so Barbara.
Quite likely, and there is a whole pile of them. The portable cassette player and piles of cassette by the bed, and there was a rocking chair that probably had two days at least of clothes on it, and I looked on the counter and there was my make-up that I hadn’t put away when I got dressed in the morning.
So, I started cleaning up my own stuff, and a very interesting thing happened. My anger went away. I realized that part of the reason we struggle so much with other people’s stuff is that we’re really struggling with our own, and that when we deal with our own, we can deal better with other people.
The other thing is it boundaries. So in our family, my husband is retired now. I have no intention of retiring. My mother was working at 82, and I have her genes. I have no intention of retiring. My goal is to give a speech when I’m a hundred. My husband is retired, and he absolutely loves it. So, he’s at home all the time, what he calls twice the husband and half the pay.
So, after he went home, it was like, “Okay, he spends all his time here, so it’s right that he should have more space.” We have a 4,000 square foot house, and on every floor there’s some spots that’s his. When you walk through the house, you can very quickly see which is his.
We have some rules. There’s a certain amount that he can clutter up, but it can’t get over into mine. So, it has to do with boundaries and often, actually I’ve had people say, “Okay, I want to buy Less Clutter More Life. I’m going to give it to my husband.” I won’t sell it to them because I said, “If you’re buying this to convince somebody else to get organized, you might as well take your money and throw it down the garbage disposal.”
I’m sad to hear that. I had the very same thought, “I’m going to give this to my husband because it’s so short and it has pretty pictures, and he’ll read this and be convinced.”
If he has any interest, this is a book that’s most likely to trigger it because it is easy to read. You can read it in less than an hour. It really is. So, if anybody has any inclination – like I would never have somebody reply like your husband, I would never say, “Buy Organizing Paper Home what to Toss and How to Find the Risk,” for your husband. I would say, that was a complete waste.
This one might potentially be, but it really has to do with you doing your stuff. Why is it so much easier to look at somebody else’s stuff? Because you don’t have the emotion. The reason we struggle with our own is it’s the emotion, and you can look at somebody else’s stuff and say, “Why are you doing that for?”
One of the things when I wrote, “Love it or Lose it Living Clutter Free Forever,” I did a lot of research, and one of the things I discovered that was really life and business changing was that when I worked with someone that found it very difficult to let go of things, if I ask enough questions without exception, I would find that that person had experienced a severe emotional loss in their life.
I think about a gentleman that I was at a trade show. I moved to Raleigh, and there was a guy here who was kind of like a groupie. Every time I did a trade show, he’d show up there. One time he said to me, “You know, my clutter started at age 54. I lost a job I loved and I never found another one,” not one that he liked. That’s a perfect example of clutter accumulates when you’re not crystal clear about what you want your life and your work to be like.
So, when we work with a client, one of the places we start is by saying, “Okay, describe your life. If you had the life and the business and the work that you wanted, what would it be like? What would it look like?” If they don’t know, which unfortunately a lot of times they don’t, then it’s like, “Okay, well, then let’s start with what you don’t want,” and then we go back to peeling the layers of the onion off again.
I totally understand that and in their early childhood, their parents divorced. Anyway, basically at the tender age of seven or nine years old, they lost everything, and from them on, they like hoarded. They kept everything. They were so afraid to let everything go. Their environment was just overcrowded and stuffed. They literally had cards from businesses that had been dead for ten years that they had worked for, but they kept the calling cards.
So, there’s a lot of psychological stuff that goes along that I don’t think people sometimes attach to clutter. Also, a lot of people grew up like my grandparents were in the depression era and they kept everything, and both sides of my family had farmers or ranchers. So, they have large spaces with big barns, and they were kind of MacGyver, “Let’s keep that. We might use that to fix something.”
I grew up on a farm in Nebraska, and my dad did that, and my brother and I were just talking about it not too long ago because all over the farm were these barns with these different pieces of what I would call junk in them. One of the pieces of advice that I give to people because often people at seminars will say to me, “I just can’t get rid of this, but I don’t want to leave it to my kids,” and I say, “One of the best gifts you can give your children is to say to them, ‘Whatever you do with this is fine.’”
One of the things my brother said was, “Every time I tried to clean up these piles around the farm, I feel like I’m dishonoring Daddy because he kept it and if I got rid of it,” and so when somebody dies and you said you talked about dealing with your parents, it’s like you’re dealing with the grief of losing your parents and then on top of that you have to deal with all this stuff, and it’s really overwhelming.
One of the things I’m doing in my own life, I turned 68 years old last month and one of the things I’m doing is going through my house and finding things that I would like other people to have and instead of putting it in my will, I’m giving it to them now.
It’s giving me so much joy. I’ve written little stories. I’ve given it to them. I’ll send it to them, and I’ll say, “Here’s the history of this item, and this is why I want you to have it.” The feedback has just been, people are so touched and I’m thinking, “Instead of putting this in my will and making my kids left to deal with it, why don’t I just give it to them now?” I don’t need it.
I’m so happy you told us that story. This past year for Christmas, I’m good friends with Dan Kennedy and he is a Disney crazy person. Anything Disney, and I had work for Disney for twelve years, and over the years, they gave me a number of gifts, and I kept them all because they came from Disney, but I didn’t have the love for Disney that Dan had.
So, I actually this past holiday found – they were gold pins with Mickey on them, and they were nice things. So, I gathered them all up and as part of my gift to him, I wrote him this long story about where each thing came from, where I had spoken for Disney and who had given it to me and the books they had given me that were signed by Disney people.
He wrote me the longest, nicest thank you note this year saying that of all of the gifts that he got, that he really treasured what I had given him, not only because it came from Disney, but because it also had me attached to it.
So, I’m so happy that you brought that up because it didn’t occur to me to ever share that with anybody, but I’m going to actually do that. I really appreciate that tip. In fact, if you’re listening today folks, this is probably one of the best tips you’re ever going to get. Not only make people feel good and feel appreciate, but also to let go of some of those things you want them to have.
There’s a story in Less Clutter More Life that comes from I was doing a seminar for a bank, and a woman came up to me and she said, “My husband died ten years ago, and I still have all the stuff in his closet because I just haven’t been able to give it away.” We did the seminar, and when it was done, she came up and she said, “I just figured out what I’m going to do with all my husband’s stuff.” I said, “Tell me.” She said, “I decided, that every time I give away something of his, I’m going to give away something of mine at the same time.”
I said, “You know, that’s why I love what I do because in 37 years, nobody ever came up with that idea, and it is a wonderful idea because you are getting rid of your clutter. You’re getting rid of the stuff from your husband. You’re blessing two people, and you’re still doing something with your husband even though he’s gone from this earth. I think that is awesome.”
That really is awesome. I’m impressed. I think all of us could go through our offices, and even though they’re offices, and still give things away. For instance, we’re getting ready to retire a number of up to date CDs and DVDs. We got rid of all of the cassettes a long time ago, but we’re retiring them to make room for new products this year. So, we’re gathering all these books and educational materials and we’re donating them to a battered women’s homes and organizations and things like that where they can distribute those to needy people who really need it.
So, I think that there’s just a lot of options that entrepreneurs and business people have that are right under their nose to help other people that we don’t even think about.
That’s true. One of the things we do on our productive environment parties – this is in businesses, and we set up what we call a trash totreasure table, or in some cases even a room. As people are cleaning out their offices and they find something that they don’t want and that the company doesn’t necessarily want. It’s the flower vases and the mugs and the notebooks and the tchotchkes and all that kind of stuff.
They can put it in the trash to treasure place, and part of the fun of the day is that employees can go there all day long and take anything they want as long as they take it home with them. People have so much fun with that.
One of the other things we do with the productive environment party is we give away gift cards for the people who win prizes for finding the funniest thing or the oldest thing or the most unlikely thing or the most unusual thing. So, at the end of the day, when we gather together to talk about the day, we have people tell stories about why they should get a prize. So, they’re getting motivated for cleaning out their clutter that day, and people just love it. I’ve done scores of those days and none of them have ever failed because everybody wins. Management wins because it’s opening up issues that as a company you need to address.
Here’s a records retention issue we need to address. Here’s a systems we need to address. The employees are thankful because they’ve been given that because nobody goes to work and says, “Oh, I don’t’ have anything better to do. I think I’m just going to clean out my files.” If you do, people look at you like, “Are you made? We have this project to do! What you doing?”
In fact, this very afternoon, I’m going to work with a non-profit organization. I’m so excited. It’s the first company that has ever done this, and I’m hoping it’s the first of many, but the executive director mandated at the beginning of the year that the third Wednesday of every month for two hours in the afternoon is going to be clean-up time, and everybody is going to do it. Management is going to do it, and everybody is going to do it.
A part of the problem is you clean it up and then it comes back again. Well, it comes back again because you’re not taking time to clean it up. So, she decided to mandate it so that’s part of the systems that the third Wednesday of every month will be cleanup day for two hours.
I really like that. That’s a brilliant suggestion and I hope everybody’s listening today will activate that in their own business. I forgot the statistics already that you said earlier about how many hours a week we look for things, but it was pretty big.
So, we only have a little bit of time left. So, let’s do a hypothetical business owner here and the business owner has been in business for say fifteen years and their office is just a mess. So, where do they beginning? What is the first few things that they start to do?
Well, I think most important is that they do something. There are many different ways that you can go about getting the results you want, and one of the things I would say is don’t hesitate to ask for help sooner rather than later, and that help may not be very much. We do thirty minute phone discovery sessions with people that we do free just to say, “Based on what we’re hearing from them, this is how you need to get started.”
Some people do better if they do the easy stuff first and then it kind of gets them going, and then they moved to the harder stuff. Other people do better with the harder stuff, but I think one of the fastest ways to get a jump start in a company and even in a household is to have what I call that productive environment party.
So, you set aside a day and say, “Okay, today we’re simply going to go through the office or go through our house as fast as we can. We’re not going to get stuck.” If we get hung up on something and say, “I can’t get rid of that,” that’s fine. Go on to the next thing because remember we said eighty percent of what we keep we never use anyway, and the most we keep, the less we use.
So, go through that office and say, “Does this help me accomplish my work and enjoy my life?” Here’s one very important thing. For every hour of organizing that you do, of clutter cleaning, allow ten minutes for clean- up. So, if you’re in a storage room for example and you’re cleaning up and you say, “Okay, I’m going to spend two hours in this storage room,” you’re going to find things in the storage room that need to go someplace else. Don’t take them someplace else right then. Stay in the storage unit until you get that done, but then put in piles the things that need to go someplace else, and then for every hour, there’s ten minutes of getting those things where they need to be, and that will keep you from getting distracted.
That’s great. I use basket. I’m a basket person. So, when I’m cleaning up, I’ll label baskets, “Okay this basket goes to such and such room, and this basket goes to the kitchen.” I think I actually learned that from you on one of our original calls a few years ago, and I have adhered to that practice ever since. So, I don’t leave the room I’m cleaning because we’re easily distracted by shiny objects.
We do that all the time. We’ll start cleaning up one thing. We’ll go to another room. So, this is what I use to do. I’d start cleaning one room, find something that needs to be in another room, I’d go there and then I’d start tearing that apart, and the next thing I knew there’s four rooms totally torn apart, and nothing is put away, but I think I’m organizing.
You feel more discouraged. One of the other principles that is in the book is that in every organizing process, things will feel worse before they feel better. An example, I’m working with this physical therapist right now because I’m having trouble with my hip. She’s teaching me to walk and sit differently.
Well, that means I have to train other muscles that weren’t being used before, and those other muscles hurt. Well, it’s the same thing. In order for me to change the way I’m doing it, I’ve got to go through some pain. It’s the same with that, but if you stay focused and don’t try to do all things at once – it’s just like every business principle. You cannot do everything at once. You pick one thing and you stick with that. You get successful with it. That gives you encouragement that you’re able to do it, and then you move on to the next.
Excellent, so give us a website that people can find you Barbara.
Just go to BarbaraHemphill.com or ProductiveEnvironment.com. Both of those websites will take you to me, and the new book, LessClutterMoreLife.com also talks just about the book, LessClutterMoreLife.com, and that will give you some of those principles. You can see some of those principles which are in fact the most important thing.
In order for you to have the life you want, you have to get rid of the things that don’t help you accomplish your work and enjoy your life, and that’s what that is about.
Barbara has been kind enough to donate to our program here a number of articles which I will be publishing and providing. Barbara, this is the perfect timing to be interviewing you. I really appreciate it. You always come up with amazing tips and I love your stories and I think everybody can relate to this.
As a homework assignment, I would like for you to please make sure you read the transcript to this, listen to the program several times, maybe even have your staff listen to it so that everybody could start once a month – I love this once a month thing, and the trash to treasure thing, I think is a really important concept that we could all use. There is some stuff that we have no use for, that is for sure. So, Barbara thank you so much for your time. We are most grateful.
Thank you, Lee for having me. I always enjoy talking to you and appreciate the opportunity.
We appreciate your knowledge. Folks, you may want to give Barbara’s business a call to maybe step in and help you. I know she always helps me in the calls, but I can’t imagine what she would be like with real people on site. It must be like amazing. So, this is a wrap. I’ll talk to you next month. This is Lee Milteer signing off. Thanks again!