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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.
The File Index is great! It helped me so much to organize files in my head. At first, I worked with a draft. As I started processing the papers, it became obvious that I needed to modify the index. Having it on the computer made the process so simple. I was able to print labels for the folders once.
And my husband and I both know where things are!”
In the few days since I completed the project, I am already reaping the rewards. Last evening after dinner, I went back to the office to read a book with my little dog. The best part was that I had no guilt about the chaos surrounding me. Do I have things to do around the house? Yes, of course. But I know when I’m going to work on them.
Hi everyone, I am beginning again with my weekly blogs. I have set an intention to begin again. It is a mindfulness practice that I am bringing to my decluttering work. Thirty years of clutter takes time to work through. I have too much to simply take it all out as Marie Kondo suggests in her book, the life-changing magic of tidying up, the book that has taken the country by storm; but for me, that would be simply overwhelming and physically take too much time.
So I am continuing with a little at a time; scheduling an hour a week and sometimes three, to begin again, take another pile and work my way through it. Now that I have the Action Files and Reference Files and numbering system established – a part of Barbara’s 8-hour miracle -approach to staying organized, I have the system in place to describe and place each item so that I will no longer lose it again in future; and now that I have the mental check intact of asking myself for each item – will this item help me accomplish my work or will this item help me enjoy my life – I know how to simply File Act or Toss.
This weekend another chunk – large pile is no longer underneath my desk – and my feet can move freely, extend into the lovely, delicious, sumptuous empty air and stretch out with joy.
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.
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.
For years when someone asked me to autograph one of my books for them or a friend, I always included the book recipient’s name in the inscription. When I started autographing Less Clutter More Life, for some reason, I recalled all the times I was with clients agonizing over what to do with a personally autographed book they no longer really wanted. In fact, for years, the only books I personally never donated were autographed!
With that realization, I stopped adding the recipient’s name, unless specifically requested to do so. If you have an autographed copy, you will see the inscription, “Blessings, Barbara Hemphill.” Now when you are done with the book, you can easily give it to someone else.
That experience encouraged me to give some thought to what other clutter I could be creating for others without meaning to, and what can I do to avoid it. Now when I give a gift, I often say, if it turns out this ____________ doesn’t work for you, please feel free to donate it to your local Goodwill, or someone you think might enjoy it.
Recently during an 8 Hour Miracle, applying the “Does this help me accomplish my work or enjoy my life?” test, my client discovered several photographs of the children of her colleagues. I really don’t need them, she said, but I feel badly throwing them away. I totally understood. I suggested that she say a prayer for the children before she discarded them, but the experience has made me wonder how I could be more proactive in helping others to eliminate what I give them.
I have spoken with hundreds of people who are concerned about what their children are going to do with the things they are leaving behind for their children to deal with because they were unable to do so themselves. I have also worked with dozens of clients who were simultaneously grieving over the loss of a loved one, and agonizing over what to do with everything they left behind.
Based on my experience in over three decades, one of the most wonderful gifts you can leave your children is the message that whatever they do with your belongings is fine. After all, as the Good Book says, “This world is not my home.” Everything I have has been loaned to me by my Creator, and I’m off to an even more amazing place where I can truly accomplish my work and enjoy my life.
1. Start with your own stuff and don’t tell anyone what you are doing. Be a LeadHer by example.
2. If you don’t feel you can do it alone, invite a friend to join you. As my mother always said, “More hands make lighter work.” Offer to do the same for her. You may even have a child who is naturally organized, and would love the opportunity.
3. Decide whether it would easier for you to do a little at a time – or set aside a larger block of time for sorting. Either works!
4. Identify places that would appreciate having what you don’t need. Our county has a non-profit that helps victims of domestic violence.
5. Before you begin, get a trash bag, for those things no one needs, and paper and marking pens.
6. For every hour of organizing, allow ten minutes for “clean-up.” Set a timer as a reminder!
7. Go through the area you have identified and ask, “Does this ______ help me accomplish my work or enjoy my life?” If your answer is “Not really,” you have an opportunity for a blessing.
8. If you’re still not sure whether to keep something, ask “What’s the worst possible thing that would happen if I got rid of this, and I was wrong?” If you can live with your answer, let it go. If you’re still not sure, don’t stop – just go on to something else, and keep asking.
9. If you find something that belongs somewhere else, don’t go there – just put it in a pile to take when you are finished. Make a sign to indicate destination.
10. Before you go to your next activity, make a date with yourself to tackle the next cluttered area. Once you have gone through all the areas in your home, you can sustain your success by making it an annual event.