The KonMari Debate: Is ‘Sparking Joy’ Enough?

The KonMari Debate: Is ‘Sparking Joy’ Enough?

Most of us want, even long for, a more organized life. A good start is to create a less cluttered home. When we free ourselves from the pressures of excess possessions and over-accumulation, then figure out the best systems for maintaining the stuff we do keep, we open up more than physical space. We gain more time and energy for family, friends, interests, hobbies and experiences.

One of the best ways to get organized is to commit to working at it for a set amount of time on most days – slow and steady may not win the race but it will get stuff accomplished! My online Action-Accountability Group, The TUIT Project, will support your doing just that. You can join the current session or begin next month.

You’ve probably heard of the KonMari phenomenon. If you haven’t, you will (of course you will, I’m mentioning it here!) It is the popularization of Marie Kondo’s method of organizing (‘tidying up’), based on the premise that everything you own should ‘spark joy,’ or let it go. Her message transforms the focus of decluttering and straightening up (tidying) from having to get rid of stuff (loss) to consciously reviewing everything you own and keeping only those items you cherish (gain). 

I like this re-frame, but I also have mixed feelings. I’m glad the concept of organizing (and hiring Professional Organizers) is becoming better known through her bestselling book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, along with her international publicity and media appearances, her follow-up books (which clarify some of the overly-simplified concepts in her first book), and now her hit Netflix series (which features more relatable homes and families than programs like Hoarders). 

I love the positivity and spirituality of Kondo’s message. However, as a Professional Organizer for more than 25 years (and here you thought I was just a Productivity/ADHD coach!), her ‘revolutionary’ ideas have been around for a long time. There are many veteran organizers who have long promoted the benefits of organization from an energy-creating, spiritually uplifting, life-freeing perspective (check out Julie Morgenstern’s classic book, Organizing from the Inside Out), but Kondo’s adorable, single-focused persona and clear method appeals to our deepest desires and makes them seem attainable. Who doesn’t want to ‘spark joy’ (or, as an Old Navy ad puts it, ‘ignite delight!’)? She has been amazingly successful in spreading her message (and it doesn’t hurt to have a marketing/social media guru for a husband and as the CEO of KonMari Media).

During a recent meeting of my local NAPO (the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) group, we had a somewhat heated discussion about the pros and cons of the KonMari method. It’s a hot topic among organizers everywhere. Here are some opinions from both sides of the debate (I’ve added my comments in brackets with my initials):

Angela Kantarellis, an energetic and very professional organizer, writes in her newsletter about ‘three compelling benefits’:

A powerful brand. “Marie Kondo’s message is simple, clear and consistent. Her brand is positive, light and lovely and she embodies that brand.”

The concept of pure energy. Quoting from Kondo’s book, “One theme underlying my method of tidying is transforming the home into a sacred space, a power spot, filled with pure energy.” Kondo spent 5 years as a Shinto shrine maiden, which has inspired her philosophy. The KonMari method elevates tidying of the home to a spiritual practice. Creating a home filled with pure energy is quite compelling.

Joy and gratitude. The process of going through all your worldly possessions one by one is quite an undertaking. Kondo … has infused the KonMari brand with a rigorously positive energy. The tidying process becomes one that is both good for you and indulgent, like a week at a luxurious spa. The hallmark of the KonMari method is asking each object, as you are holding it, if it ‘sparks joy.’ If it doesn’t, out it goes, but before it does, you thank it for its service.

Judith Guertin writes in the blog:

“Will you be inspired by watching the (Netflix) show? Perhaps. Will her methods become your methods? Perhaps. Will everything you keep spark joy? I can think of many items I need that do not spark joy in my life! Think about it… the toilet brush… no joy, the broom… no joy, the vacuum cleaner… no joy, the pooper scooper…nooo joy! However, these things are necessary in my life. What I have noticed is that having a clean toilet, clean floor or no pet hair on the furniture is satisfying and makes me feel good, and that is the feeling I am looking for. 

[Perhaps feeling good about the benefits of having an item can be the equivalent to ‘sparking joy.’ And, to be fair to Marie K, in an interview in Architectural Digest she says, “Hold them up (your belongings) one by one as you ask yourself, ‘Do I truly need this?’ or ‘Does it spark joy for me?’ Apparently, she’s recently gotten the message to also highlight need; not just joy. –SL] 

What I do know is that having a system that you follow every day is the key. Maintenance of the system is critical to staying on track. And, most importantly, having less is something that most, if not all, of us could embrace in our journey to greater joy.”

[When I talk about Organization, I distinguish its components. There’s setting up systems, implementing them, and maintaining them, which is actually Time Management, rather than Organization. You can be great at maintaining systems, but can’t figure out how to set them up, which makes you a perfect candidate for getting an initial boost from a Professional Organizer. I have a talent for designing systems that work, whether for space management or office productivity. But I’m abysmal at maintaining systems, which is why I’ve periodically had the dubious honor of using photos of my office as ‘before’ pictures (which is my trigger to devote time/energy to an office clean-up)! I, like many of my clients, need to budget in clean-up time/maintenance, as it won’t happen on its own. –SL]

“… what Marie Kondo and all Professional Organizers attempt to do is to transfer knowledge and train their clients in systems.  Marie’s systems are very clear, and her clients embrace them. I cheer anyone who can make the world a more organized place. What I also know is that her methodology will not work for everyone. Truly, there is no one size fits all answer to getting organized. If you are drawn to her, then you know what to do. If not, there are lots of other equally talented, empathic, non-judgmental Professional Organizers out there. No system is perfect; the one that works for you is the one you subscribe to and use every single day! “

Ramona Creel, a wonderfully opinionated, veteran organizer and author of The Professional Organizer’s Bible, wrote a scathing Facebook post that also makes a lot of sense:

Problem #1 – One Size Does Not Fit All … Anyone who suggests that ‘rolling your socks stresses them out, and they need to be able to rest separately from each other so they can recuperate after the hard work of supporting your feet’ is not functioning in the same plane of reality as the vast majority of my clients.
I’m sort of joking, but this KonMari tip highlights a major problem I have with her approach – that it comes in the form of ‘commandments’ she sincerely believes all humans (regardless of their situation or circumstances) should follow. I’m sorry to inform you, Miss Kondo… that’s not how getting organized works! Just ‘cuz this bizarre set of rules you’ve created helped you ‘tidy up,’ doesn’t mean they’re the answer for anyone else.

[In her Architectural Digest interview, Marie K expands on the sock folding issue by saying, “…What I mean by ‘allowing the socks to rest’ is that the elastic will get stretched over time and will wear out sooner if you roll socks into a ball.” So either she’s gotten the message that most people don’t think socks have feelings, or she didn’t make it clear the first time. I’ve actually folded socks for years, because I can fit more into a drawer (BTW, unlike Marie K, or Ramona, I am not a minimalist – the photo below shows only some of my socks – the rest are still in a giant laundry bag because I don’t make the time to put them away!) –SL]

A truly functional and lasting system is tailor-made to align with your lifestyle, way of thinking, habits, proclivities, and personal weird-ities. My work with clients is all about creating customized approaches that suit each individual’s way of living their lives. The KonMari ‘do it my way or you’re doing it wrong’ method is completely antithetical to what Professional Organizing is all about – and it deeply DEEPLY offends my organizational sensibilities. It also leads to my next point…

Problem #2 – Setting Yourself Up for Failure … As I said, the way each person interacts with and thinks about their stuff is unique, different from anyone else on the planet. For any system to perfectly match these quirks, it must also be unique. It’s been proven in our industry time and time again: Cookie cutter solutions are destined to fail for the vast majority of people who try them. So … you end up feeling like you failed and are even MORE daunted by your mess than pre-KonMari.

[For clients with ADHD, executive function or chronic disorganization challenges, any kind of a ‘must do standardized approach’ is particularly problematic. Guidelines are helpful; mandates are not. For some people it’s ridiculous to use a specific number, like Kondo’s ‘30’, as the limit for the number of books you keep… or to have only one white t-shirt… or to go through your clothing by putting EVERYTHING you own on the bed at once – that’s easily a trigger for overwhelm and avoidance. Even the concept of touching each item before determining its fate is dangerous to those people for whom physical contact intensifies their ownership/emotional bonds. –SL]

Professional Organizers already struggle daily to help their clients overcome the feeling that they are somehow defective because they can’t stay organized, and this crap doesn’t help any. Plus, it’s not actually teaching clients any useful skills. TRULY understanding an organizing principle (like categorization or containerizing or having a logical reason for where you store things) means you can apply it in a way that suits your needs – and then apply it differently for your spouse, and differently for your kids, and differently for your staff at work. I’m personally about teaching principles that ANYONE can utilize, no matter what their situation, and that ain’t happening here. 

[Marie K does (somewhat) address the concept of categorization when she talks about what I’ve always called functional organizing, by saying, “Everything you’d need to write a letter can go in your ‘stationery’ location.” –SL]

The reason REAL Professional Organizers insist on customized systems is so the client can maintain those systems on their own for years to come without the organizer’s help. Attempting to impose someone else’s logic on your stuff, trying to force yourself to become an entirely different person in order to adapt to a system – that’s a recipe for disaster.

[Kondo emphasizes the importance of organizing everything at once, “Organize your space thoroughly, completely, in one go… If your idea of tidying up is to clean up your room a little at a time… it won’t have much effect on your life.” Dramatic transitions are life-changing, but it takes time to get organized. Quick, transformative results are inspiring, but if that’s your organizational goal, you’ll need to put a lot of other things on hold, including any tendencies to get overwhelmed by volume and pressure. Decision-making fatigue is real. Imagine going through everything you own and saying “Yes, sparks joy so I’ll keep it… No, thanks for your service” and donate or discard. I applaud Kondo’s end goal of a life-changing transformation, but how much of that could you take in one sitting (even if over a period of several days), without tuning out completely? –SL]

Problem #3 – She’s Not Saying Anything New …. I also have issues whenever pop culture praises some newcomer for discovering a supposedly ‘innovative’ way of functioning, when all they’re doing is regurgitating what someone else said years and years before them. (I had the same beef with Stephen Covey when he stole Eisenhower’s ‘urgent-vs-important’ matrix and called it his own – betcha didn’t know he did that!)

Even down to her key concept of appreciating the role an item served in your life as a way of allowing yourself to let it go, KonMari isn’t saying anything that I and my colleagues haven’t been preaching for decades. In fact, the mantra I’ve used with my clients for 20+ years (‘beautiful, useful, or loved’) sounds awfully familiar to the concept of ‘sparking joy,’ yet is far older than Miss Marie. It comes from William Morris (head of the Arts and Crafts movement in the 1800s). He and Thoreau and their buddies were helping folks downsize before KonMari existed in even a gonadal state. She’s just saying it in a way the media has latched onto – but she’s dumbed this concept down to the point of that it’s lost all practical application. Which leads me to my next point…

Problem #4 – Over-Simplification … “Does it spark joy?” Well, let’s see. Tax returns don’t spark joy, but they do they keep the IRS off your ass. The lawnmower generally doesn’t spark joy, but it does keep the neighbors from reporting you to the HOA. My toothbrush does not spark any particular sense of joy, but it does keep my teeth in my mouth. I don’t know much of anyone for whom toilet plungers or rectal thermometers or pet-urine-stain-remover especially ‘sparks joy’ – but they come in awfully damned handy when you need them, I would argue that’s a valuable reason to keep something!

I find the concept of sparking joy too simplistic and limiting. I prefer (again) to teach William Morris’s mantra to my clients – is it ‘beautiful, useful, or loved’? That ‘useful’ category is getting the short shrift in KonMari land. Joy-sparkage also doesn’t take into account things like records retention guidelines (how long you’re legally required to keep a document in case of legal problems down the road). Follow KonMari to the letter, and you stand a good chance of ending up in jail! 

[OK, this totally makes sense, but it might be an oversimplification of the KonMari approach, especially now that she includes the value of ‘need.’ –SL]

Problem #5 – A Surface Solution at Best … The biggest clutter dilemma my clients face has nothing to do with letting go – it’s the slavish (and often unconscious) need to continue accumulating, even after they’ve cleared the decks. Overcoming that requires an understanding of the psychology behind your particular clutter triggers, because your reasons for accumulating … are very different than anyone else’s. They’re driven by childhood experiences, feelings of loss and lack, the values your family attached to ‘things,’ your ideas about status and success and security. It’s far, FAR more complex an issue.

[Clutter or over-accumulation is more likely when you have ADHD characteristics that include taking on multiple – often unfinished – projects and hobbies… forgetting what you have or where it ‘lives’… getting distracted so not putting things away… impulsively buying things that catch your fancy… getting easily overwhelmed by the details of organizing, cleaning, etc. and going into avoidance mode. For people who are already challenged to put away clean laundry (a common plight faced by many of my clients), the KonMari system of intricately folding tops and socks isn’t going to last beyond the initial fascination stage. There are many wonderful, easy-to-read books that outline organizing strategies that are helpful for the neuro-atypical brain, including ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeOrganizing Solutions for People with ADHDThe Other Side of Organized and How ADHD Affects Home Organization: Understanding the Role of the 8 Key Executive Functions of the Mind. –SL]

Clutter comes from trying to fill a hole in your life with stuff  [and, according to master organizer Barbara Hemphill, ‘postponed decisions.’ – SL ]. Unless you can understand what your particular hole looks like, the piles are just going to come back. To overcome that, you have to understand what drives you accumulate, and your reasons may have exactly zilch to do with joy-sparkage. (I can hand you a million hoarders who desperately love every single piece of trash in their house. If they followed the KonMari method, they’d still be buried in squalor!)

Part of what we Professional Organizers do is more akin to counseling than ‘tidying up.’ We understand how to dig deeper and get at the root of your clutter… how to ask the hard questions that go beyond, “Does it spark joy?”… how to uncover hidden feelings you didn’t even know were bringing extraneous crap into your life. We help you achieve a level of awareness about your beliefs, motivations, and actions that keeps clutter at bay. KonMari’s ‘method’ doesn’t really address this.

[I am concerned that Kondo repeatedly calls her clients ‘lazy.’ She may say it as an incentive to get her clients moving, but for anyone with executive function challenges, depression, anxiety or ADD/ADHD them’s fighting words! A good P.O. would help a client to get into action, not criticize them for being stuck. Getting going on something (activation or initiation) is a brain-based executive function,which is very compromised when you have any of the above conditions. So please don’t tell me I am what I’m battling not to be it doesn’t help me to feel encouraged in any way! –SL]

Problem #6 – This Isn’t Organizing … At least she’s honest about what she’s doing in the title of her book – she’s ‘tidying up,’ which any P.O. worth his/her salt will tell you is NOT the same thing as getting organized.  I’ve been doing this professionally for more than 20 years, and I can tell you there’s a whole-hell-of-a-lot more to staying organized than cleaning out. That’s just the tip of the iceberg! REAL organization requires a holistic approach, that tackles the clutter in your use of time, your management of information, your ability to prioritize and draw healthy boundaries, your spending, your relationships, your own head. Most of my clients’ organizational knots AIN’T gonna get untangled with an overly-simplified, “Does it spark joy?”

[I’m glad the popularization of the KonMari method has brought lots of attention to the benefits of organizing. There are now Professional Organizers who are certified in this approach, and many others who utilize some of the concepts. The KonMari method has been helpful for many, but it is not appropriate for everyone. While I have read and heard glowing testimonials from people who have tried it, I’m not sure how many of them were dealing with chronic disorganization, executive function issues or ADD/ADHD (although I can see where the clear methodology and set rules can be appealing). –SL]

As you’ve read here, there are very different takes on the KonMari method, with validity for them all. Which side of the debate are you on? Leave your comments below.

Need help to feel more in control of your environment and yourself?

Individual Coaching helps develop strategies and systems that work with the way YOU think. We can also do Virtual Organizing using photos and video. Click here to schedule an Initial Conversation with me. You can also find qualified local Professional Organizers by searching the member listings on NAPO or the ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization). 

Online Group – One of the best ways to get organized is to commit to working at it for a set amount of time most days. (Marie Kondo, most of us do not have the time or energy to tackle everything at once!) My online Action-Accountability Group, The TUIT Project, will support your doing just that, helping you to actually get around ‘To IT.’ New sessions begin monthly, so sign up now!

Group Coaching – Interested in a video-chat coaching group? Send me an email with the best day and time!

Piles of Paper & Delayed Projects

Piles of Paper & Delayed Projects

FREE WEBINAR! I recently gave a webinar for ADDitude Magazine: “How to Get More Done… With a Lot Less Stress.” If you weren’t on the call, you can listen to a replay by clicking here – it’s free until July 4, 2018! (I was blown away that almost 9,000 people signed up!) I’d love to hear your feedback.

The following challenges were brought up during a recent TUIT Project Group Webinar. I think the topics (dealing with piles of paper and getting to delayed projects) are concerns for many people, so I’d like to share the strategies we discussed.

How do I deal with avoidance, when it comes to tacking my piles of paper?

  • Work on one pile at a time. Start with the more recent ones, as you’re more likely to find some time-sensitive discoveries.
  • Don’t tackle a big pile – just the thought of it is overwhelming, which automatically creates an avoidance response. So, take a handful of papers at a time, and bring them somewhere else if you need to separate yourself so you don’t have to look at the intimidating ‘master pile’ (or piles).
  • The goal isn’t to shuffle the piles (which is what often happens), but to create workable units of related items that can be reviewed more efficiently than if the categories were intermingled. Remember, your goal is to process the papers, not just organize them! However, organization is the first step.
  • Start by separating the papers, by category, into smaller piles as you go through them. It is a waste of time and energy to transition your thinking from issues concerning the house… to kids… to work… to finances, etc. The same applies to sorting piles of paper at work. The popular OHIO method (only handle it once) doesn’t make sense if it means having to constantly shift focus to deal with different categories and different priorities. Stack all papers relating to a category in one pile or folder (put a blank paper at the top with the category name, so you’ll remember). Then, either go through and process all of the papers in a specific category (do now, do later, do whenever, delegate, discard or file), or continue adding to your sorted categories by taking additional handfuls from the master pile.
  • Don’t think you’ll just get around to this. Knowing you have or want to do something has little to do with getting it done. (Especially for ADDers, who are less motivated by reward, consequence or even importance.) Create a Task-Appointment (time on your calendar to do a specific task) for sorting the master pile, sorting the category piles, acting on the category sorts or filing (if you don’t set a time for filing, it’s unlikely to happen, which will just add to the future piles).
  • You can do this for just 15 minutes a day. You won’t get it all done, but the piles will decrease. A good idea is to make it part of an existing routine. Eat lunch, then sort/process for 15 minutes while the food digests.
  • If there are important items in the master pile, then you might want to focus on pulling those out so they ‘go to the top of the list.’ Systems are designed to help us achieve goals, but don’t overlook what is urgent while working on whatever is more interesting.

What is a good approach for getting to a long-desired but delayed project?

  • Realize that even when you aren’t in action on a project, if it’s something you’ve been thinking about, you have made some progress. The problem is that, without putting your thoughts down in writing – in one designated and labeled place/folder, you are ‘reinventing’ the wheel every time you think about it, instead of moving forward. So get your thoughts in writing to solidify and remember them. Consider that you aren’t starting fresh; you have the benefit of the thinking you’ve been doing. The difference is that when you get it out of your head and onto paper (or computer file), it clears your head and frees you up for action.
  • Define the project – create a Project Sheet. This is the difference between Planning Time and Doing Time (Taking Action). Without clearly planning out your actions, you’ll be less efficient and perhaps less successful at reaching your goal. You have probably spent an incredible amount of time over the years thinking about that project, so you’ve made progress, but haven’t yet taken concrete action towards getting it done, other than maybe a few false starts. Use just the one master folder (or file) where you’ve consolidated your thoughts. If it’s a big project, you may have subfolders or files. If you have old notes you’ve accumulated over the years, but aren’t sure where you put them, decide whether it’s worth the time and energy to find them, or just start fresh. (The ‘looking’ is often an unconscious way to delay beginning.)
  • Think through the sometimes hidden factors that have contributed to the delay in getting started. In this example, Jane Doe had spent a great deal of money on window treatments that never looked right. A major factor delaying replacement was her fear of making another expensive mistake by once again choosing the wrong items. What can you do differently to help ensure success? For Jane, hiring a consultant (a good interior designer) for a quick review would be well worth the expense, as it would alleviate her fear of re-doing it ‘wrong.’
  • Look at the benefits of proceeding (or not). In this case, Jane has to look at her ‘mistake’ every day, so it is a constant reminder of her poor, and costly, choice. That’s a negative impact statement and reason enough to make a change, if it is financially feasible. Note: This is only important because it was affecting the person who was looking at her perceived ‘mistake’ for 10 years – someone else might not even have noticed, so it would be a non-issue.
  • Get specific about those issues that have complicated making a change. Jane wasn’t sure as to which style, materials or colors to use for the replacement window treatments, whether they needed to be custom made, and if so, by whom. There are more resources available now than 10 years ago when she made her original purchase, and it’s easier to explore options on the web (even showing possible window treatments as they would look in the actual room).
  • To help narrow down the choices when making a complicated decision, use basic Decision-Making strategies, like a Decision Matrix, where you create a grid. Across the top, list the factors that affect your decision-making (these are your criteria), which in this case would include things like cost, appearance, quality, availability, maintenance, etc. Down the left side list the options. Then weigh each box by assigning a number. I like to use -3 to +3, with 0 being neutral. So one option, silk drapes, would get a +3 for looks, but a -3 for affordability/cost. Another option, wood blinds, would get a +1 for looks, but a -1 for maintenance. You get the idea. Some factors, like cost, might carry more weight than others. Maybe not. When you total the numbers, it helps determine your best choice, given your criteria and options.
  • By getting your thoughts out of your head, and creating a plan of action with specifics, you can get that long-desired, but not urgent, project accomplished without too much intrusion (time and energy) into your already busy life.
Work From Home on Snow Days – Productively!

Work From Home on Snow Days – Productively!

SNOW DAYS – For many, it means working from home.  Great for avoiding hazardous roads, but when it comes to productivity, there are some built-in hazards you’ll have to negotiate.  Remember these three words to make your work-at-home days more successful. WORD #1: Preparation –   Yes, follow the Boy Scout credo and be prepared

Snow Day in Ossining, Westchester NY by Susan Lasky

Snow Day in Ossining, Westchester NY by Susan Lasky

Always have a work-related contact list and critical info (passwords, etc.) at home – snow day or not.

  • If possible, sync your office computer with your phone and laptop or tablet.  Don’t depend on being able to access your office computer remotely; the internet may go down in bad weather.
  • As an extra precaution, print out the contact list and other critical information.  (Do this periodically.)  It is possible the electric may fail, especially in areas with snow-laden tree branches and exposed wires.  You may need the printout to make an emergency call or two. (Keep your cell phone charged and have a spare, charged power source in case it does – consider investing in a solar-powered charger.)

If you have advance warning of the snowstorm, give thought as to what you can work on at home that would be the most productive use of your time.

  • These may be tasks that will help you finish an important project you are working on now, or a project you’ve been meaning to get to that you haven’t had time for in the office, or it may be a good opportunity to do some planning, away from the urgency and interruptions of office life.
  • Gather any materials you’ll need to do the work from home.  Again, don’t count on being able to remotely access office computers, assuming your company even has that technology available for your use. (Take note, company execs – given this year’s weather, it may be time to review your policies on secure networks and remote access).

WORD #2: Expectation –  Be realistic, this is NOT another day at the office There is a limit to what you will be able to accomplish – choose carefully – don’t promise (even yourself) more than you can reasonably deliver. Realize that you WILL have distractions – house chores will call to you (especially if the work you plan on doing is less than fully engaging):  “Straighten up … clean … cook …  patch the hole in the wall …  organize the closet … ” PUT ON THE BLINDERS.  If you were at the office, you wouldn’t be tempted. You will probably receive, or have to make, some personal phone calls.  This is not a day for chatting, although others who are stuck at home but not working may think it is.  Limit the calls, as you would at work, “Hi, how are you? I’m okay, but working… will call you back.” Children – they are home as well, and DO need your attention.  Build in time to spend with them – you can’t work a full schedule unless they are older or you have in-home childcare.  Take an hour and go out sledding with the children.  You can be just as productive – even more productive – for having taken a play break.  Then don’t worry if you use the TV or a video to babysit part of the time.  Consider a project they can do nearby, while you do yours – have some ideas in advance (Preparation!). WORD #3: Clarity – Know what to do, and when to stop Be VERY specific in terms of what you will work on – the more focused you are, the more productive you’ll be in what could become a very distracting environment.  Begin the day with a clear and detailed written outline of what you have decided to accomplish.  This helps to maintain a focused work ethic at home (and gets you back on track after external or internal interruptions). Create your own benchmark – have a goal that, when achieved, will make you feel you had a fulfilling stay-at-home workday.  Reach your benchmark and STOP WORKING.  Celebrate with a cup of hot chocolate, or maybe some tea, laced with rum and spices (I think they call that a hot toddy ).

Love It, Use It, or Lose It

Love It, Use It, or Lose It

Don’t hide your clutter or feel guilty. Here are 11 reasons why it is so easy to accumulate clutter, and 13 ADHD-friendly rules that will help you to organize your home for good.

An ADDitude reader recently asked: “I’m 35 and a wife and mother to two boys. I was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD two years ago. I like to hold on to stuff — knick-knacks from my grandmother, a ticket stub from a play I saw with my husband five years ago, and so on. The only time I ‘sort of’ clean up and get organized is when I invite friends or relatives over for dinner. This doesn’t happen often these days, because I’ve run out of closet space and other hiding places for all the junk. Can you give me some hoarding help, so I can have my friends over again?”

Clutter-shame is a complaint of many adults with ADHD. There are lots of reasons we find it hard to let things go. Here are a few:

1. We have many interests and find it hard to set boundaries (on what we buy, what we keep, and where we put things).

2. It is easy for us to see possibility and potential, so we tend to hold on to things “just in case.”

3. We struggle with systems and getting things done, so it’s easy to wind up with stacks of mail or piles of laundry.

4. We keep things because they help us to remember an experience (tickets, programs, souvenirs).

5. We form emotional attachments, making it harder to let go of things (even if we dislike our aunt’s embroidered napkins or struggle to find space to store 200 drawings our children did in grade school).

6. We keep things visible because we might otherwise forget about them. We tend to “file by pile” because “out of sight is out of mind.”

7. We make impulsive purchases when shopping, because individuals with ADHD are usually in search of ways to stimulate their brains. Buying something new can create a rush of excitement, along with the temporary dopamine flow of contentment. We may fail to think clearly about how, or if, we’ll actually use the new item. This adds to clutter at home.

8. We have difficulty prioritizing and making decisions, so we just find it easier to keep everything. As Barbara Hemphill says, “clutter is postponed decisions.”

9. We get distracted and leave things where they were as we move on to something else, whether it is a kitchen counter with the remnants of last night’s dinner or a sofa with piles of magazines on the cushions.

10. We forget — or can’t find — what we have, so we buy extras.

11. Poor time management and lack of interest makes it challenging to follow routines, like emptying a dishwasher to avoid a sink full of dirty dishes or putting away clean laundry before it gets wrinkled.

The result? Our home becomes, and stays, a mess.

Having guests over is an excellent reason to get activated to straighten up. Unfortunately, the cleanup is usually done in a rush, and hiding items adds to the clutter in your hiding places. Use invitations to friends and family to incentivize the organizing process, then organize by following these strategies:

1. Tone down the emotion. We think, “I really have to straighten up” or “I need to declutter,” which seems overwhelming, and our ADHD brains react by going into the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. When there’s too much to do, we’re likely to avoid doing anything. Start by accepting that the smaller our task, the more likely we’ll get it done.

2. Understand the difference between a task and a project. Organizing a room — or even a closet — is a project. Breaking the job down into baby steps gives us do-able tasks. What are the specific areas that need to be organized? Think of each shelf, surface, or drawer as a separate space or task. Imagine each as a branch on a hybrid fruit tree. Each branch holds a slightly different fruit, and together they are part of the “room tree.” It’s easier to work on one branch then it is to prune the entire tree.

3. Imagine success. Think about how you will feel when you walk into a room that is organized to your satisfaction. Remember how great it feels to invite guests to your de-cluttered home. Think about what a good role model you’ll be for your children, how appreciative your family will be, and how you will feel as you make progress. Forecast this feeling of pride, calm, and comfort, rather than focusing on the stress and discomfort you will go through to achieve it. Think of the current situation as temporary. Accept the fact that things may get worse before they improve. As you organize, look for progress, not perfection; effort, not excellence. It’s better to promise yourself less and deliver more. Relax, breathe, and smile.

4. Create an ‘Organizing Plan.’ Decide on the areas you want to organize. Make a list of the projects (rooms, closets, etc.) and the specific tasks (spaces or things that need to be organized). Don’t worry yet about how you’ll organize — that can stop you before you start. Now decide which areas get priority. If you have difficulty prioritizing, think about where you’ll feel the greatest joy when it’s organized (or where you feel the greatest discomfort now).

5. Organization doesn’t just happen. There’s always something more interesting or urgent to do, so schedule organizing time on your calendar as Task-Appointments. Be specific as to which tasks you’ll work on. Unlike your Organizing Plan, which is a Master To-Do List, create an Action Plan for each organizing session, so that you are working toward realistic goals. Set a timer so you know when to stop (makes it easier to start and less likely to get overly hyper-focused). If you keep avoiding an organizing task, set your timer for 15 minutes (or less). Sometimes it’s just activating that’s the challenge, and it’s easier to get started when you know it’s only for a short time. (This is the strategy of my online accountability group –

6. Create a supportive vibe. This is not an easy process for you, so stop thinking it should be. That’s a trap. Take a walk outside before you begin working. Put on background music that will help keep you energized and focused. Make sure you have sufficient lighting. Stay hydrated and avoid hunger. If you take meds for your ADHD, take them to help with focus and decision-making. Keep the mindset that what you are doing is a gift to yourself and your family.

7. Love it, use it, or lose it. Pick one shelf, one surface, or one drawer. Look at each thing there and ask, “Do I need this? Does it really need me?” Marie Kondo suggests asking yourself, “Does this spark joy in my heart?” Judith Kolberg, founder of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (now called the Institute for Challenging Disorganization) encourages over-personalizing the elimination process, by asking if an item is a friend, acquaintance, or stranger. You keep your friends and get rid of strangers. You enjoy acquaintances for a while, then are happy to see them go.

8. Minimize the sense of loss. If an item is something others might use, either donate it or give it to a friend or family member who would appreciate and use the item. Think of this as blessing someone else with your stuff.

9. Take photographs, then discard, recycle, give away, or donate the object. You can use those photos, whether of memorabilia or art projects, to create photo books or a DVD that you can share with others.

10. Group like with like. As you go through various spaces, group similar items in one area, so you will get a feel for what you have. This makes it easier to decide what you want to keep. Group items by function — how things are used. The book on first aid goes with the first-aid supplies, not with books.

11. Everything needs a home. Decide where the items should live. You might store linens in a central closet, or, for more convenience, in the rooms where they’ll be used. Think in terms of prime real estate. Those items used the most frequently, or those you want to display, should live in your prime real estate. Store the less-used items farther away. The home should be big enough to accommodate the items without stuffing them in (generates a mess), and small enough so you don’t have extra space that could become a haven for clutter. Label everything you can – it’s easy to forget what goes where, and labeling also helps others to maintain your systems.

12. Say “enough.” Set boundaries by deciding (without looking at what you have), how many of a certain type of item you need. If you have limited space to display your goodies, be more selective. When the space is full, it’s time to stop. If you don’t love an item enough to give it priority, then it’s an item you can release. When we have too much, everything loses some of its value.

13. Don’t go it alone. Working with a friend, family member or coach provides moral support, a sense of focus, and an objective perspective (“20 vases on that display shelf makes it difficult to appreciate any of them”). Just having someone else present (your “body double,” a term coined by Linda Anderson) will help you to stay focused on decluttering. Let them hold up items that, if you touched them, might reinforce an emotional bond. Avoid working with anyone who has a “just throw it all out” mentality. Consider the value of investing in hiring a professional organizer. Look for one trained to work with chronic disorganization and ADHD through NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) or ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization).

Getting organized doesn’t have to be painful. You CAN do it! Let go of the guilt and commit to taking baby steps — every success breeds success. Celebrate even the small accomplishments. You’ll feel energized and terrific, and your home will reflect your new approach!

Reprinted (with edits!) from my article in ADDitude Magazine

How To Avoid Tax Prep Overwhelm

How To Avoid Tax Prep Overwhelm

The deadline for filing taxes is fast approaching. Many people have difficulty getting their financial records in order (if they can even find them!).  This can be especially painful for those with ADHD or executive function challenges.

Be realistic.  What is the likelihood that you will have your personal taxes ready to post or postmark by April 15th? (April 17th in 2017.) If it is slim, or predicated on wishful thinking, file for an extension now, to avoid penalties for late filing (you’ll still have to pay taxes and interest, so the sooner you file, the better).

Avoid avoidance.  It is possible to overcome major avoidance, which is what keeps many people from getting their taxes done on time. For some of us, just the idea of finding and gathering all of the information feels overwhelming. And when something is overwhelming, we’ll do anything to avoid dealing with it (including putting it off despite the financial consequences). So accept that tax prep is a necessary evil, and make it easier by treating it as a PROJECT – not a task. A project consists of many tasks, and you can only do one at a time!

Begin by breaking down this project into various steps (the individual tasks). Some of these are itemized below. The idea is to focus on a single task at a time, so you aren’t overloaded by everything that needs doing.

Don’t say ‘YES’ unless you can say ‘WHEN.’  After you’ve decided what tasks you’ll need to do in order to finish your Tax Prep Project, decide when you’ll do them. Enter each task on your calendar, as a Task-Appointment, which is an appointment with yourself to do a specific thing at a specific time. This dramatically increases the likelihood that you’ll actually work on the task. It is easier to wrap your head and energy around beginning a specific task (activate!) then it is to think about accomplishing the entire project.

And if a task looks like it will take too long to complete in one appointment (given your attention span and other obligations), just work on it for a set amount of time. If you do that, you’ll have met your goal (even if the task itself isn’t finished). By doing what you planned, you’ll feel successful, and so more likely continue with other Task-Appointments and complete the project. Success breeds success.

The following steps will apply to most people:

  • Task #1  Gather Papers. Begin by gathering the many financial papers you probably have in several different places, and put them in one location, even if you use the proverbial shoebox to hold everything! Don’t review them; don’t think about them. Just collect.
  • Task #2  Sort into Categories. Sort the various papers you’ve gathered into categories (receipts, statements, tax reporting forms). Put them in separate folders (paper or poly project files) or just stack the papers, writing the category name on a blank paper kept on top of the pile. If you do your banking/investing/accounting by computer, set up a folder for the tax year, and include all relevant downloads.
  • Task #3  Group your Deductions. If you itemize, group your family’s deductible receipts (medical, charitable contributions, childcare, education, business expenses, etc.).  Note: You can request an annual statement from your local or mail order pharmacy that itemizes all medication expenses, so you don’t need to worry about keeping each receipt during the year. Obtaining this statement can be a separate Task (visit the pharmacy… make the call… or download the pharmacy record).
  • Task #4  Review Banking Documents. Go through your checkbooks, bank and credit card statements for possible deductible expenses. Note: If you are reimbursed for a medical expense, it is not a deduction.
  • Task #5  Determine if Anything is Missing. Are any reporting forms missing?  (W2 or 1099’s, property or school taxes, mortgage interest, bank interest, investment records, stock dividends, etc.) You should have a list of what to look for from your accountant or tax preparer (many will send you a tax preparation document that you can just fill in with your information). If not, several are available online or through the IRS or free (legitimate) tax prep websites. If any critical reporting forms are missing, set a Task to contact the originator for a copy. Do this early enough to get the information before the filing deadline! Note: Accountants may have different requirements as to what documentation they need to do your taxes, so check in advance.
  • Task #6  Tally the Results. Go through each category, list the details (whether using paper or computer) and add up the totals.
  • Task #7  Make your IRA Contributions before April 15th, if you intend to deduct them for the prior year.
  • Task #8  Complete the actual Tax Return Forms. Having everything organized isn’t enough – now it’s time to complete the actual tax returns, and submit them before the tax deadline. You can complete the forms yourself, use legitimate online tax software, or give your prep work to your accountant or tax preparer.

Take your Tax Prep Project a baby step, or task, at a time, and it will be easier to complete it without getting into a state of overwhelm or frustration. Hopefully you can do this in time to file by the due date, but if not, by or before the extension deadline.

Don’t ignore them – taxes DON’T just go away! Worse, the amount you’ll owe will increase if you don’t file on time. As a coach and organizer who mostly works with clients who have ADHD or executive function challenges, I’ve seen SO many who didn’t file taxes, even though they had the money to pay them or didn’t even owe money. Some were in dire trouble with the IRS. All because of overwhelm and avoidance!

Prepare now for a stress free next year. If you want next year to be less stressful, set up a system now, instead of scrambling next March. Use the category folders (Task #2) to file the appropriate papers as you receive them, so you’ll only have one place to look when it’s tax prep time. Consider keeping everything in a convenient magazine holder or file tray on or near your desk (the less effort you have to put into filing, the more likely you’ll be to do it). Some people prefer to scan each paper as it comes it in, so they don’t have to worry about storing/sorting papers.

If organizing for tax preparation is a challenge, work with someone to set up a simple system for managing your financial papers. It is worth the investment to hire a professional, given the possible penalties and interest due to late filings, the potential savings from having a clear record of all deductible items and from spending less time (and money) with your accountant and, perhaps most important, the reduced stress and improved comfort level you’ll experience. Find a local organizer who specializes in these systems at the National Association of Professional Organizers, or the American Association of Daily Money Managers,