Insight 2

Again, I am posting a past blog.

Last week I spoke about insight into our hoarding and cluttering situations. This week I want to offer a few suggestions about increasing insight and moving toward positive change.

First, we need to pay attention to what we tell ourselves and others about the clutter and see if we want this story to continue to define us. What story do you tell yourself or another about clutter? “Leave me alone. I’m fine with the stuff and should be able to live like I want to.” “I don’t know how you live in this mess!” “I like having my things around me. I find it cozy.” “I’m frustrated with my stuff, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve tried before, and it just gets worse.”

A way to increase insight is to seek other ways to view our relationships with clutter and with other people, to find a new narrative about the stuff. Buried in Treasures is an opportunity to examine stories about your own clutter and to look for another way of viewing the problems your clutter causes. The new support group forming in September, for people affected by another person’s clutter, is another place to examine one’s stories.

According to Gary Klein in Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, our story is the way we frame and organize the details of a situation. He says, “These kinds of stories organize all kinds of details about a situation and depend on a few core beliefs we can call ‘anchors,’ because they are fairly stable and anchor the way we interpret the other details.”[i] He describes five ways that stories change: connections, coincidences, curiosities, contradictions, and creative desperation and illustrates this in the following chart:

An often ineffective way to increase insight is to try to persuade another person with logic and reason about a seeming contradiction. Anyone who has tried to address another person’s clutter readily knows the impasse this can cause. However, when we spot within ourselves a contradiction of thought or action, we can figure out what is askew and begin to experience change.

Another way to increase insight is to listen closely in places of curiosity or coincidence. According to Klein, this path of connection opens new possibilities for understanding. This can be of primary importance when more than one person is affected by a cluttered or hoarded home. As mentioned earlier, insight comes from within. Change cannot be imposed on another person. However, if people become open to each other at a level of mutual respect, insight may open between people that comes as a creative gift.

Coincidence and timing of ideas, thoughts, and comments from others is a part of this path of connection. Think of times when you turned on the radio while someone was talking about clutter, a book crossed your path that made you think about your stuff, and then within a short period you learned about the Buried in Treasures Workshop. All these things in close proximity prepares you to see your situation through new eyes.

Finally, low insight is a cause for much of the conflict that people experience, what Klein calls the creative desperation path. This is why I offer mediation to people who are in conflict about clutter or hoarding. As the person who is not in the midst of the fray, I am often able to reflect back what is happening in a way that allows both problems and possibilities to appear more clearly. This can be the beginning of increased insight, and with insight people experience greater control over their situations and awareness to improve relationships.

Insight rarely increases in situations where people have entrenched positions about each other and about the stuff. I want to help you shift conversations and prepare for a safer situation. Also, you can find camaraderie in places of conflict, collaboration in places of ultimatums, and increased peace.

 

[i] “The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insight”, Farnam Street, https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2013/09/the-remarkable-ways-we-gain-insights/

Insight

This post was originally written July 2016. I am posting it again along with its companion post.

Today I want to address the dynamic of insight as it relates to clutter. Insight is our awareness of our situation and how it is similar or dissimilar to that of others and to perceived norms. In an episode of Modern Family, Lilly is perceived by her parents, Mitch and Cam, as a very gifted child needing the stimulation of other gifted children. Mitch is excited about her new playmate until she is off the charts in exceptionality: play, music, memory and art. He finally explodes and calls her a “know it all” and immediately we see a young child who is just looking to find a playmate while she has the distinction of a photographic memory. As with other parenting situations, Mitch has again made a sitcom possible. A little insight can go a long way when trying to compare people and situations.

I often hear, “Is this the worst place you’ve ever seen?” “Please tell me it’s not as bad as I think it is.” “My place isn’t that bad. My spouse just makes a big deal of nothing.” Statements like these are common ways I gain awareness of the insight people may have into their situations. The level of insight lets me know where our starting point is and what I can hope to accomplish.

First, I must say that I’ve been in houses described as cluttered, disorganized, out of control, etc., and I was hard-pressed to see a thing I could do to improve the physical space. It can be as common for an in control space to be perceived as chaotic as it is for a chaotic space to be perceived as in control. At both extremes, people have skewed perceptions of their situation and can benefit from some “reality checks” against commonly perceived norms. Both ends do well to explore their relationship to possessions and personal organization to be able to live “at home” in their space.                                                                       

Second, people frequently turn to me for a “reality check” related to their clutter, often because it causes challenge to daily activities or conflict with another person who is affected by the clutter, either directly (in the same house) or indirectly (a family member, friend or neighbor). These reality checks are [Gu1] important. However, they are not easy to receive.

Randy Frost and Gail Steketee, in the book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, tell of a woman who confesses to Dr. Frost that she doesn’t have a problem with her stuff until she knows that he will be coming and working with her in it. In other words, her personal insight about her stuff is very low when she is on her own. However, Dr. Frost’s presence causes her to have increased insight into her situation.

Pictures that someone else takes can also serve to help increase a person’s insight into how their space looks. I have taken pictures in homes which were unrecognizable by the person living in the midst of the space. “Is that what my room looks like?” I say yes, and often their eyes drop as though they have never seen that space before.

One of the frustrating aspects of insight is that it is particularly low in situations of hoarding because the mental clutter is as normal as the physical clutter. The mind can only see what the mind can see, and in hoarding disorder, the mind’s perception is skewed. Also, another frustration is that people closest to the situation are least able to increase insight, and most likely to increase defensiveness when they try to address the issues that are interfering with relationships, safety and life quality.

Part of the work I do is to help increase insight into the clutter situation while we work amidst it. With awareness comes tools of thought and behavior which can be used to address the mental and physical clutter. Insight is the key that increases hope for change. In my next blog I will address ways to increase insight. Stay tuned!

 

My New Website is Up and Running!

Join the on-line Launch Party at clearingthewayhome.com. Send me a message through the site and be entered to win organizing prizes!

Changing my look and website was not on my mind when I mentioned the staleness and limitations of my old site to my children. They told me about Squarespace and I decided to play around there. Three days later I had a new site developed and it led to a different image. Beginning with my old company image of stairs leading into an inviting Tuscan house, I soon realized that it no longer conveyed the image emerging. I was drawn to new images and was at a crossroad. With appreciation for my 6-year-old image, I decided to say goodbye and let the new emerge.

As I developed the new site, I was drawn into images of nature and growth. Some show growth around obstacles, like the tree with its roots wrapped around the large bolder in the Big South Fork National Recreation Area. Others show nature manipulated to bring balance or to indicate a direction, like the cairn, or the labyrinth I discovered on a hike in Northampton, Massachusetts.

As photos came to mind, I wondered whether to add a gallery of before and after pictures to show the type of progress a client may expect. But I decided that the ones showing major change are only as consistent as the inner ability of the client to maintain the appearance. And some, like the full and overflowing pantry “before” to the “full” pantry after do not convey six hours of work or seven bags of discard.

I realized there is often not a photographic way to show the before and after of much of our work. My hope is that during the 6 years I have been decluttering and organizing in your homes you have experienced a degree of calm. Also, important to me is your increased awareness of the layered effects clutter and organization have on your life. I welcome shared stories of how our work shifted your relationship to your things. Perhaps it helped you re-focus conflicts with other people around clutter. Finally, I hope your things make sense to you and have purpose and meaning.

This is how I measure the success of our work together. I like things to look like they are chosen to be in your home and for you to have increased satisfaction with your things, from the storage solution for toilet paper to the organized entryway. It is as important to be able to daily reach a pan in the cabinet without extra effort as it is to be able to locate a screwdriver and a particular screw when the exact need arises. Easily moving home office items from the dining room when company is coming is as essential for some as organizing a dedicated home office is for others.

When you enter my website, I want you to imagine calm that can be found by specifically addressing clutter, frustration, and challenges. If you want to organize your space, we will first find out what you already do, build on it, and spiral from the inside out, like the picture of the fossil, or take unsuccessful past efforts and see what can sprout new, like the fallen tree in Bud’s picture from Springbank Retreat Center for EcoSpirituality and the Arts in South Carolina. Starting where you are, we will follow a path forward until we find what works.

Please be sure to enter the contest to win your choice of organizing products at the Container Store, Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond, or Home Depot, or the grand prize of an organizing session. Thanks for your continued support of my work. Here’s to the next 6 years!

 

Get a Team and Clean the Garage!

Jobs are sometimes better suited for a team. Usually I work with a client alone, but increasingly I find the benefit of multiple hands. Garage organizing, for instance, is a prime example of work that is enough for 3 or more people to keep busy and productive.

Garages need to be addressed at least once a year, as things tend to collect in the large open space, beginning with a box for recycling that doesn’t get taken out and ending up with an assortment of things brought from other places. We put one thing to the side, and then another, planning to address it at a future date. When that date is finally declared, help makes all the difference!

I encourage you to set a date and organize your garage. I’d love for you to set the date with me, as I love decluttering and organizing garage spaces and have a few tricks for storing and using things that do not cost a lot of money. But this is also something that can be done with family or with a friend. (You help your friend one weekend and they help you the next!)

There are different kinds of friends available and each type offers specific pros and cons. Availability and willingness are not always the best criteria for choosing someone with whom to work in a space. Consider these types and their individual value to you:

When you work with a team, there are several things to keep in mind to have the day run smoothly.

First, have a positive mind set. Work through any ambivalence you have toward the work. Be on the same page with others in the house about the work you propose to do. Know what you will and will not discard, but be open to changing your mind.

Second, have a few tools that make the job flow. A good ladder, for instance, makes all the difference in reaching things easily and storing rarely used items up high. Furniture slides are also helpful, even to move a partially loaded shelf to another wall if you change your mind about placement. If you are moving big-ticket items, have the necessary dolly and truck. Renting equipment has saved more than a few relationships with the friends with trucks.

Third, have a general plan that will keep people busy. Some work needs your direct attention, but other work can be done with a few simple instructions and time. Consider the type of workers you have and let them help you out of their strength.

Finally, be sure to take water breaks to refresh and regroup. A glass of lemonade or cup of coffee and a brownie are also a nice touch! Allow around 6 hours to make a big difference in a big space.

Working with another person or two keeps up momentum, allows for collaboration on some decisions, and multiplies exponentially the change that can occur. If you need a team, let me and my assistants come to your rescue!

All the best,

Susan

Decluttering Jenga and Organizing Tetris

I get to play two games while I work: Jenga and Tetris. If you know the games, skip to the third paragraph down!

In the game Jenga, rectangular wooden blocks are placed three across with another set of three stacked on top of the first crosswise. Continuing this pattern, a tower is built that is 18 levels high. The challenge is to remove a block from the stack and place it on top without the tower falling. The trick is to touch the blocks slightly to find one that is not load bearing and can be removed without consequence.

In the electronic game Tetris, a patterned series of blocks fall from the top of the screen and must be placed by moving it right or left and rotating it in such a way that they form complete rows of blocks, which then disappear after every space on the row has been filled. When the screen is filled with uncompleted rows, the game ends.

I liken much of my work to these two games. Either we are trying to remove items from a “tower” and relocate them safely, or we are taking diverse items and trying to place them compactly into a defined space. Especially when working in a cluttered home, I remember and teach the basics of these games as we remove items from a pile without creating an avalanche and find a space to place it.

With a hoarded house in mind, I offer the following pointers about how to play Decluttering Jenga and Organizing Tetris.

When I began working in hoarded homes, my goal was to start from the top of a pile and work down to the floor or table or sofa beneath the accumulated things. However, two dynamics became obvious after doing this a few times: chronology and accessibility.

First, chronology: we’re dealing with cubic feet that have archaeological layers and the items on top are the things most frequently or recently used. When starting from the top of the stack and working our way down, the least used things become most accessible and the most used items hidden. We can’t always shift things to the side while we remove the less used items because there simply isn’t room. How do we maintain daily use of important items while removing the bulk of things which can be more easily considered for discarding?

I offer a few tips:

1.  Plan the movement of items to safe and open spaces for discarding and saving. Allow at least 4 hours of uninterrupted time to:

a.        set up tables and shelves for sorting,

b.        remove and review items,

c.       organize and return items to storage or usability.

Be prepared to remove discarded items at the end of that day. If possible, work outside, but otherwise, find stable places inside to work. For instance, an origami shelf can be unfolded in a tight space. Four shelves quadruple your surface space.

2.  When possible, target large items for removal and work your way toward them. For instance, if there is an unused fitness machine, work a path toward it. When removed, you will have opened functional space. (Of course, you have potentially lost a clothing rack!!!) When you remove a sofa, you’ve hit the motherload!

Second, accessibility: we need to use all available space to increase movement. This means choosing function over aesthetics until a hoarded home is under control. For instance, the use of a big shelving unit allows more organization and containment than a smaller, more “homey” shelf. The bulkier shelf usually looks better than the current piles, and they make the space safer from avalanches. Another way to make space is to use the walls. Do you have pictures that you want to hang? Hang them now and you can get used to seeing them on a wall, even if not on the perfect wall. They are also protected from damage. Find your birth certificate or car title? Put it in a Ziploc bag and tack it on the wall.

Sometimes people can have both unusual amounts of things and increased safety in their space. For instance, imagine that you have an enormous, much-loved wardrobe of clothes, shoes and accessories, hanging across every doorway, draping across sofas, and filling half of your bed. At the same time, you have a spare bedroom that is partially filled with things of less importance. My recommendation is that you organize the entire room as a closet for clothes and accessories, including a portion for storage of other things. When things are accessible it becomes easier to make good decisions about long-term value. Take one full wall and turn it into the ultimate place for your clothes and accessories. Don’t think 12-inch-deep shelves either – think 20 inch– large enough to hold handbags or hats two deep. Use this stepladder to easily reach.

Discarding for change is challenging because of the nature of hoarding disorder. One trick to discarding for change is to get to the things that have been lost over time and have been functionally replaced with other things. This entails making our most used things easily and safely accessible, but moved so we can get to the items buried. Significantly, the first expectation of this excavation is to compare items for better decisions about discarding.  

While moving and arranging things without the expectation of discarding, we gradually notice the relative difference between things and learn to ask multi-layered questions the deeper we go. By the time we get to the seventh hammer and we have put the first six together, it can seem absurd to keep seven. Discarding from the bottom of the stack doesn’t work well with gravity, but it does work with emotional and psychological thinking, well-being, and decision-making.

Hoarding disorder makes discarding tremendously difficult, but with conscious understanding, good therapy and a realistic game plan, life inside the house can steadily improve. Find emotional “Jenga” blocks that can be removed and watch things begin to fall into a “Tetris” row that disappears before your eyes!

All the best,

Susan