SETTING PERSONAL BOUNDARIES: A Primer for Healthier Relationships

SETTING PERSONAL BOUNDARIES: A Primer for Healthier Relationships

SUMMARY: There is a delicate balance between taking care of yourself and the giving of self that is integral to any real relationship with another person. Whether it is your partner, family of origin, friends, co-workers or children, relationships require certain boundaries to stay healthy. Learn to recognize and respect yours.

Boundaries are Limits that YOU Have and Will Not Cross

Personal boundaries are internal limits. They may not be obvious to you, but they exist and influence your actions. Boundaries are important and should be recognized and appreciated. Most of our boundaries are healthy, and to ignore them is detrimental to our physical, mental, emotional or spiritual well being.  Such limits are developed for many reasons, and stem from different sources which may include:

  • Family or moral values
  • Ethical principles
  • Self-knowledge and an understanding of your personal needs
  • Awareness of the consequences of going beyond these boundaries

Boundaries are Limits that Others May Not Cross:

  • Violence, physical or mental cruelty
  • Insulting behavior (vs. supportive behavior):            

“MAKE-WRONGS” – Turn your comments, ideas or thoughts into negative feedback, often subtly and insidiously: 
Example:  
You say: “I lost 5 pounds this week.”                                                          
Make-wrong response: “Great, but how are you doing on the 50 pounds you still have to lose?”
Supportive response: “That’s terrific!  I know this is tough and I’ll help in any way I can!”                       

“PUT-DOWNS” – Convey a lack of faith in your ability to do something and/or to do it correctly:
Example
You say: “I’ll finish the project this evening.”                             
Make-wrong/Put-down response: “Sure, like you said you would yesterday?”
Supportive response: “Okay, but if you forget, do you want me to remind you?”

GLOBAL COMMENTS/CRITICISMS – Turns previous disappointments into general character statements that trap, hurt and prevent moving forward in a relationship:           
Examples:  
”You never get anything done.”                                                                                                          
“You always do that!”                                                                                                                          
“It’s always what you want!”  

Pushing The Limits

     Sometimes, the personal boundaries we set are overly protective and limiting.  This is not healthy. While they serve a purpose, they keep us from reaching for a higher rung. We are comfortable where we are, and unwilling to make the effort (emotional, physical, intellectual, etc.) to push our limits and risk the possibility of growth – or failure.

     Personal boundaries are meant to protect our values, not to stifle our growth. Limits imposed from fear are often cages. Beliefs should be looked at from a position of honesty and humility: 

“Am I a better person because of my internal limits or am I protecting myself from the challenges of self-growth or the intimacy of a relationship?”  

Personal Limits Include:

SPACE – Physical, emotional, thoughts… Everyone needs some privacy.  We have a right to private thoughts and solitary activities.

  • Not sharing everything doesn’t mean a lack of trust in another person, nor does it mean you’re cutting the other person out of your life (or being cut out of his or her life).
  • If you feel compelled to always be with others, question why… What is it about your own company that is so unappealing?  If you are just bored, develop some interests!  You can’t always count on others, but you are always around, so learn to enjoy – and appreciate – yourself. Do you need others to constantly validate you?  What can you do to build your sense of self-worth and learn to respect your wonderful, unique self?
  • Be together, but separate – practice parallel play.
  • Some people are more extroverted, in the sense that they get energy from being with others, while some are more introverted, and recharge by doing solitary activities or having ‘quiet time.’ It can be helpful to know what you – and your partner – need.

TIME – There is rarely enough time in our lives to do everything we would like to do, let alone everything others want us to do.  Give yourself permission to take time… to make time… for self-care: quiet time, sleep, relaxation, healthy eating, grooming, personal interests or hobbies, enjoyable activities, etc. 

  • Interfering with or intruding on this time is actually counter-productive and can even be detrimental to productivity.
  • It’s easy to criticize someone for “doing nothing” when there’s much left undone, but time to unwind is NOT selfish or do-nothing time. It helps us to decompress, recharge and build up the ability to attack projects, go places or just “do something.” 
  • There can be justification in expressing concern at “too much” personal time.  If both partners agree there is an excess of time spent “vegetating,” then provisions should be made to SCHEDULE certain activities at specified times.  This avoids conflict as to what was agreed upon. 
  • Scheduling also allows the person taking personal time to do so without guilt, but since the “assigned” personal time isn’t open-ended, scheduling it helps to limit over-indulgence.  Guilt-free personal time is also an excellent reward/incentive for accomplishing scheduled Task-Appointments. See “The Task-Appointment.”
  • When working, interruptions will slow you down and destroy the ‘flow.’ Some estimates say it takes an average of 26 minutes to get back on track, and that’s if you don’t get distracted by something else! And it is even more frustrating if it took major effort to get activated in the first place. You have a right to minimize interruptions – especially when you are working at a task that requires concentrated effort. If possible, turn off the computer and phone notifications for a set time. Let others know you’ll be in temporary seclusion. Consider a phone message that tells others when you will, once again, be available. Put a sign or count-down timer on your desk or office door that says when you will be free (people are more likely to wait if they have a specific time when they can speak to you).
  • Learn to say ‘NO” so you have more time to say “YES” to what really matters. Our time banks are limited, and everything you do is a withdrawal. So, choose wisely. Decide what is important and set your boundaries accordingly.

PERSONAL GOALS, DREAMS, and INTERESTS – We all need dreams to strive and hope for, but it’s important to objectively evaluate them, discard the unrealistic and work towards actually achieving goals that are truly meaningful.  See “How to Accomplish Goals.”   We also need to accept and enjoy our interests without judging them according to someone else’s barometer.

  • Expressing realistic concern about another’s goals or desires is okay, as long it’s done constructively.
  • To be critical in a negative way (“make-wrongs” or “put-downs”) of another’s goals and desires is to take away something precious from that person.  The same is true for being totally non-supportive. 
  • If your needs strongly conflict with another’s goal (e.g., your partner wants to buy a vacation home and you don’t want the stress, financial outlay and additional demands on your time), you can still express an understanding of the need, even if you are not supportive of the action. Perhaps you can both work out some compromise, such as buying into a time-share
  • The reverse is also true. We can be supportive without fully understanding another’s dreams.  Sometimes we haven’t a clue as to why something is important for someone else (e.g., running a marathon), but we can still support them in their quest.
  • Be careful that you don’t impose your dreams, or interests, on others. If you want to go bird-watching and your friends find it boring, it is unfair to force them to join you. However, don’t give up your interest, just find others who share it. Or suggest that while you birdwatch, your friend can use the time for his photography hobby, so you are both doing what you enjoy.
  • Don’t allow others to impose their interests on you. You can decline to share an activity and still be a good friend.  You can appreciate that your spouse likes to watch sports on TV but choose to watch your favorite sitcom in another room.  Not wanting to watch the news or go to an opera doesn’t mean you are superficial. (Beware the hidden make-wrong!)
  • If you know something will be difficult for the other person, even if you don’t think it should be, accept their limitations (real or perceived) and lend your moral support, without being controlling, indirectly insulting or withdrawing.

Limits Must Be Communicated

  • Know and understand your own limits. It is unreasonable to expect compliance or understanding from others if you’re not clear on your own needs.     
  • Make sure others know your limits before you criticize them for going too far, or not far enough. It is unfair to expect something of someone else unless you’ve clearly explained to them what it is you want or need. Too often we get upset with someone because we think they should just know what we want, need, etc.
  • Relationships consist of more than one person. While it is important to get what you need and to strive for what you want, it’s unhealthy (to a relationship) not to also take into account the other person’s needs and wants.
  • Reclarify as needed. Sometimes we think we said something or made something clear and the other person says we didn’t. Instead of accusing the other, accept that either one of you may be responsible for the misunderstanding and restate your needs and expectations. Remember that conversations disappear, and no one is to blame. Communication is critical. And it always helps to write down things that you want to remember, and if they relate to an event, put them on a calendar and set an alarm!
  • Ask for feedback. To be sure major points are understood and to avoid miscommunication, ask the other person to tell you what they’ve heard, and what they think you mean. (Ask nicely, not with an attitude.)
  • Be flexible. Boundaries can be expanded at times. Stay somewhat flexible and try to see things from the other’s point of view without losing your integrity or perspective.

Examples:
If your partner is ill or “down,” you may do more than your share of chores or provide greater emotional support.

A well-meaning grandparent may be allowed to ask questions or do certain things that you wouldn’t permit someone else. (But even here, there should be a limit!)

You may allow a partner or a good friend certain intimacies or criticisms you wouldn’t accept from an acquaintance.

Formulate Consequences for Overstepped Boundaries

  • Calmly state the situation (the other person may not have realized they were pushing your limits).
  • Reinforce your boundaries when they are, or might be, violated.
  • Graciously refuse to accept an over-the-boundary situation. Getting angry, depressed or belligerent doesn’t make it easier for you or the other person. 
  • Allow the other person a backdoor; an easy way to change their mind or offer a compromise that realistically works for you. 

Examples:
Employer:  “I need this report by 9am.”
Response:  “You may have forgotten, but when we met yesterday, I explained that I had to leave early today.  You said it was okay.  It’s impossible for me to cancel my plans at this point, but I can either prepare the report when I come in tomorrow and have it by noon, or give the data to Nancy so that she can prepare the report.”

Spouse:    “Honey, I’m watching the playoffs… can you please keep the kids quiet?”   
Response:  “We agreed that you take care of the children on Sunday afternoons so I can work on my thesis.  I know you really want to see the game, so I can take them to the park now, but if I do, you’ll have to take care of dinner and putting them to bed so I can complete the section I’m working on.”

Partner: “Are you ever going to get that ‘A’ project finished? 
Response: “I certainly hope so.  However, I’m also juggling the ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ projects.  If you can take over the ‘C’ project, I shouldn’t have any difficulty completing the other three on schedule.”

Child: “Mom – you didn’t wash my team jersey!  You’re in charge of doing the laundry!  I need it by 4:00, so wash it now!”
Response: “Everyone in this family is old enough to be responsible for putting their clothes in the laundry hamper. You know that. Since you left the jersey on the floor in your room, it wasn’t washed when I did the family laundry. If you want to wear a clean jersey to team practice, you’ll just have to wash it yourself.  If you’re not sure how to do that, I’ll be happy to answer your questions, but I won’t do it for you.”

Child: “I’ve had it with doing chores around here.  I’m not your slave! You take out the garbage yourself.”
Response: “I won’t force you to take out the garbage.  I know it’s not very appealing, but everyone has responsibilities. Since you don’t want to do your share of what must be done, I’ll have to work harder.  So, I won’t have the energy or time to take you to dance class on Thursday.  It’s your choice.”

Recognizing and reinforcing boundaries makes for more powerful
and healthier relationships.

Just How Difficult is it to have ADHD?

Just How Difficult is it to have ADHD?

There is no easy answer to this question, for many reasons.

ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADD) is on
a continuum, meaning it can be mild, moderate or severe. The less extreme the symptoms, the easier it is to compensate, making it less difficult to live with ADHD. The reverse also applies.

Millions of adults have the symptoms associated with ADHD, but not the diagnosis, possibly because their symptoms, although enough to qualify for a diagnosis, are on the milder end of the spectrum. Or they may have learned to cope, or just accepted the way they are, perhaps (unfairly) attributing some of neurobiological symptoms to moral failings (lazy, inconsiderate, careless, foolish, etc.).

ADHD is a diagnosis based on having checked off a sufficient number
of symptoms from a laundry list of age-related options. Each of those symptoms can vary in terms of how problematic they can be, and under what conditions (at home, school, work, leisure). That’s a lot of variability. There is even variation within the ADHD diagnosis, as you can be primarily impulsive/hyperactive, primarily inattentive or combination type.

For some, having ADHD is a strength. Their ADHD-related characteristics (or some of them) are essential to their personal and professional success. Consider the high percentage of ADDers in certain careers, such as entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, first-responders, comedians, sales, etc.  While the manifestations of ADHD may not be as helpful for all aspects of their jobs, nor in all areas of their lives, they would find life more difficult without it.

Unfortunately, for most people, ADHD also leads to certain struggles. The degree to which those struggles make life difficult will vary. If you struggle with time management but aren’t in a job or life situation where following the clock is critical, then that becomes less of a problem.
If you struggle with organization, but have assistants at work and help at home, that challenge is less problematic. If you need to be ‘on the go’ and are a student confined to sitting in a classroom, you might be considered hyperactive, from a negative perspective. But if you have a career where you aren’t confined to your office and you also enjoy an active leisure life, your drive to move shifts to a non-issue, and even an asset.

ADHD symptoms vary – one person could be physically hyperactive,
and another hypoactive. High energy, low energy. Some people do well
in a chaotic environment (many police, firefighters, EMT’s, ER docs, floor traders, teachers, etc. have ADHD) while others would be totally overwhelmed by the noise and activity. Many people with ADHD thrive
in the bustle of a big city, while others seek the peace of a countryside or seashore. So, finding an environment and career that suits you makes a difference in how you’ll view life, and how difficult it is, or isn’t, to have ADHD.

ADHD is inconsistent. Not just from person to person or from child to adult, but from day to day. Sometimes it can feel debilitating or dysfunctional; other times you are on a roll and exceptionally productive. Understanding, and accepting yourself (instead of letting your inner Judgmental Critic be in charge) makes those unproductive times less frustrating.

Other factors contribute. If you are surrounded by critical people, whether at work, socially or at home, you’ll obviously find life more challenging than if you have support and understanding. The more you
are juggling (work, school, home, partner, children, aging parents, etc.),
the harder it is – for anyone. The hormonal changes of aging or the stress
of illness will also exacerbate the ADHD symptoms.

Having ADHD can be really frustrating. It’s tough when you struggle with things that ‘should’ be simple (although you may excel when tackling more difficult challenges). It’s sad when you aren’t achieving your potential, even when you might be considered successful (but you know you could be doing much more). It can be extremely stressful when you know you need/want to do something but can’t activate (an executive function),
or you are doing something you need to stop, but can’t find the brakes.

Strategies are critical for managing your ADHD symptoms.

  • There is often a reduction in ADHD-related difficulties when you take time for self-care and stress-reducing activities (exercise, sufficient sleep, outdoor time, mindfulness, journaling, eating well, hobbies, creative, sports and social activities, pets, family fun time and time to nurture relationships, etc.)
     
  • Some people benefit from medication, but if you couldn’t play the piano before meds, you can’t play it after – you’re just more available to learning how, which can make a difference.
     
  • Some ADHD tendencies are best avoided (or require professional intervention). People with ADHD often have impulsivity control issues and addictive personalities, acting without thinking, whether it’s reckless driving, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, shopping, gambling, internet, etc. They also tend to get caught up in thinking without acting, making it difficult to get things done. Obsessive thinking and perfectionism often come into play, getting in the way of productivity.
     
  • When the ADHD brain feels overwhelmed, instead of tackling the issues, it is more likely to shift into the fight, flight or freeze mode – major avoidance. This is an automatic, brain-based reaction to fear, confusion or stress. So, it’s critical to find strategies that will keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
     
  • Tools and strategies help to manage ADHD-related challenges.
    If you struggle to get places on time, meet deadlines, begin or finish tasks and projects, get and stay organized, manage schedules and lists, create and follow routines, prioritize, self-advocate, make decisions, communicate effectively, etc., it isn’t enough to want things to change. You need specific compensatory strategies that work with the way you think – not the way you wish you thought. The right tools make living with your ADHD a lot less difficult. (That’s what Coaching is about!)  

ADHD is only part of the mix – we have different personalities, interests, strengths, intellectual and emotional gifts, co-existing diagnoses, etc. Some people with ADHD will excel in school, while many others find it a total challenge. Some will be artistic or creative; others might be athletic or musical, all of the above or none of them. Some will thrive in the limelight; others will avoid it. It isn’t just the ADHD we need to manage; it’s finding a life that supports us on many levels. It’s easier to cope with the difficulties that come from ADHD when we are engaged in activities that play to our strengths.

There are so many aspects of life that are impacted by ADHD, from relationships to finances, from career to self-care. You can find ways to compensate, and even excel, but it takes effort and self-awareness. The answer to, “How difficult is it to live with ADHD?” largely depends on whether you’ve been able to create a personally ADHD-friendly life!

This is an edited and expanded version of my requested response
to a question posted on Quora.

MONEY & ME:

MONEY & ME:

Let’s Talk About MONEY…

We’re already in the Holiday buying frenzy season, so step back for a minute to take this Reality Check! (And check out my Time Machine ride, below.)

Some of you are brilliant at earning and managing money. Others have the skill to grow what you’ve earned or have family money to spare. This blog isn’t for you.

Many people with (and without) ADHD have financial issues. The reasons vary, but here are some common ones – can you relate?

  • It’s Now… or Not Now. When you live in the moment, it’s difficult to plan for the future, whether it’s putting aside money for emergencies or unanticipated events (car repair, best friend’s wedding, new air conditioner, etc.)… OR for non-immediate goals (vacation, new house, newer car, etc.)… OR for longer term needs like retirement planning.
     
  • I Want; therefore, I Do. Impulse control isn’t high on the list of ADHD characteristics. If you are lured by items in a store, online or even on a restaurant menu, your first thought may not be whether you can afford – or need – the purchase. You’re less likely to weigh benefit against cost (and even if you do, you’ll more likely decide the value is in the purchase or the cravings, not the savings).
     
  • Appeal of the Bright and Shiny Object. It can be a new outfit, despite a bulging closet and emaciated wallet. It might be a new hobby or adventure, regardless of the cost or despite an already maxed out schedule. If it sparks your attention, diverts you from dreaded boredom, sends a dopamine rush of exciting possibility to your brain – well then, money isn’t the major consideration, if considered at all.
  • FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. It’s too easy to spend money on things we don’t need (the latest phone upgrade?) because if we don’t have the newest and best we’re worried we’ll be out of sync, or ‘less than.’
  • Did I or Did I Not? If you can’t remember whether you bought something, or if you know you did but forgot where you put it, you’re more likely to purchase it, or something similar, a second (or third) time.
  • Magical Thinking. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines this as the “belief that thinking about something or wanting it to happen can make it happen.” Sometimes this is a good thing, as evidenced by the benefits of positive thinking and even the Law of Attraction (when coupled with action!). However, when our current financial actions are driven by future income possibilities, it usually means trouble: l can afford this now as I’ll be able to pay for it when I get my new, better-paying job … I’m in line for an inheritance, someday … I’ll marry into money … I will win the lottery … or the horserace. Maybe, but what are the consequences if you don’t?
  • Difficulty Planning. It’s often a challenge to make decisions that will make a goal so specific and real that you can appropriately budget for it. Let’s say you need additional education or training to change or advance your career. You’ll need to decide on the course, the school and the timing. Only then will you know the expense. Then you’ll need to decide how you’ll pay for it. Do you have the money? Can you save it? Is it worth a loan? Can you get a loan? ALL decisions!  Or, you may want to take a vacation, but where to go? With whom? Fly or drive? When? Tour, hotel or house rental? So many decisions! (BTW, mind-mapping can be very helpful for this type of planning.) Do you have money set aside for a vacation? Can you save it? How much you need will depend on the variables, or the variables will depend on how much money you’ve set aside. This required thinking is exhausting for many people with ADHD, who easily suffer from decision-making fatigue. So, the tendency is to postpone making ANY decisions or to make decisions without thinking through financial considerations.
  • Commitment Phobia. This is a common concern that interferes with making plans. How will I know if I want to do this in six months – or six days – from now? What if something else comes up? You are likely to spend more when you do things last minute, or impulsively, than if you’ve planned in advance.
  • Boredom. Spending money is often tied in to alleviating boredom. And many of us get bored easily and look for diversions, whether it is a shopping trip, entertainment activity or event, online browsing session, expensive restaurant, bar night out, etc. This can easily negatively impact our budget. Contributing to the drive to spend money is the dopamine rush that comes with the excitement of buying something that attracts us (and might also temporarily help with depression or anxiety). This adds to the appeal for ADDers, making it more difficult to avoid impulsive buying.
  • The Cost of Happiness. Studies show that experiences, including convenience services, contribute more towards feelings of happiness and satisfaction with life (and relationships) than do material purchases. Spending money on a cleaning or meal delivery service, which gives the gift of time (and avoids chores that, for many, are not highly desirable), may increase happiness, but negatively impact bank balances. Even so, these expenses may be worth adding to your budget! 
  • Avoidance of the Reality Check. If we aren’t clear about our income, our savings (or lack of) and our expenses (fixed, variable and discretionary), we don’t have the info we need to weigh a purchase against the reality of whether – or not – we can afford it. 

So, what does it take for a Reality Check?

OK, this time machine won’t really transport me to another era (magical thinking to the max!). Sadly, I won’t be able to improve my finances by going back in time to buy IBM, Apple or Google at first offering, or buy into that NYC co-op conversion. (But thanks, Rob Niosi, for the make-believe time travel on your magical work of art!) 

Since I have to face the reality of my finances and to understand money and how it affects me, I need to gain clarity about:
  • My actual income, after taxes. (BTW, if you are entitled to reimbursement for business or medical expenses, and struggle to get in the paperwork, give yourself permission to have someone help you submit those expenses!)
  • My fixed and variable expenses – the money I need to spend to live (not necessarily to live well…). This includes required expenses related to basic housing, groceries, clothing, electronics, transportation, home and personal care. Also,insurance and medical care along with regular savings for emergencies, unexpected needs, special expenses and retirement. It might include loan and credit card payments (including student loans), plus expenses related to children, dependent parents, pets, etc.
  • My disposable income – the amount of money I have left AFTER I deduct all of my necessary expenses. The availability (or not) of disposable income also affects the quality and quantity of my choices (Mercedes or Honda… house or studio apartment… Nordstrom or Walmart… exercise DVD or gym membership… luxury hotel or inexpensive hostel).
  • My discretionary expenses – the things I buy because I want them; not because they are necessities. This category includes entertainment, dining out, vacations, renovations, etc.

So, Reality Check:  What is your REAL income after taxes? How much do you need for your fixed and variable expenses? The amount remaining is ALL you have available for your discretionary expenses, unless you want to run up debt that will only compound the problems. 

Ouch! Our tendency is to overspend because confronting the reality of how much money we require to live, and how much we have left after those expenses, is something we want to avoid. 

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. www.OvercomeOverwhelm.com

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 ProductiveEnvironmentNetwork.com 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!

POWER of the PAUSE!

POWER of the PAUSE!

Press ‘Pause’ to Review and Reset

If we’re always in action – or inaction, without taking a conscious pause to step back, observe, reflect and perhaps redirect, we’re doing ourselves an injustice. All pauses are not the same. Check these out:

PLANNING Pause – I often talk about Planning Time vs. Doing Time – how important it is to set aside specific time to focus on deciding what you need to do and how you’ll get it done (Clarity) along with when you’ll do it (Priority). When you pause to plan, your efficiency quota can increase exponentially! See my blog “TheTwo Magic Words for Productivity: Clarity and Priority.”

REFLECTION Pause Another helpful distinction is Reflection Time vs. Action Time. The idea here is to make the time, while working on a project (preferably one task at a time!), to pause and think about the efficacy of your actions. Ask yourself if what you are doing now (task, project, direction, etc.) is the best thing for you to be doing at this point in time. Consciously consider whether your actions will help you to finish the project, attain a goal or, on a broader scale, live a life you love! If so, continue; if not, redirect your efforts. 

HABIT Pause – One of the benefits of Reflection Time is seeing patterns you might have overlooked, or known but ignored. You can’t fix what you don’t realize is broken, so take a pause to think about it. Members of my online Action/Accountability group, The TUIT Project, are asked to consider not just what they’ve accomplished, but what worked and what got in the way. How can you build on that? What habits/patterns support your efforts, and which ones hold you back?  Here’s an example: Annie is a TUIT group member who identified chronic perfectionism as getting in the way of her productivity. While helpful to a certain extent (especially knowing how easy it is to get distracted and careless), it’s also easy to have too much of an otherwise helpful thing – ever hear of ‘paralysis by analysis, or ruin something that was working by overthinking or over correcting, or miss a deadline because you wanted to fix ‘one more thing’? Awareness helps, and awareness begins with a pause.

DOING Pause: Redirect – I don’t believe you can just stop doing – or thinking – about something. There will be a void and you have to fill that void with a different ‘something.’ So, telling yourself to be less of a perfectionist is not going to be very helpful unless you then substitute another concept or behavior. In Annie’s case, an internal bell now rings when she’s caught up in perfectionism, and she reminds herself, “Go with Good ‘Nough!” as a replacement mantra for perfectionistic behavior. Successful people don’t constantly second guess themselves – they get into action and move forward towards completion, pushing through the obstacles instead of getting stuck in finding a perfect solution. See my blog “Ready – Fire – Aim.”

ACTION Pause Sometimes, an Action Pause is the best way to get something done. Temporarily walk away from it – avoids the law of diminishing returns. Shift to another task or recharge with exercise, an outdoor break, play break or even a quick nap.

PROCESSING Pause Many people with ADHD also have a degree of ‘slow processing.’ This has nothing to do with intelligence, nor the ability to understand concepts (which we often get quicker than many people). It does, I think, reflect the way many of us understand things. We need to relate new information to something we’ve already processed, whether consciously or not. Facts in a vacuum don’t work. So it may take a bit of time to absorb the new info and tie it together with something we already have stored in our atypical brain. That is partially our genius – we make links that many others will not. It’s also our challenge, because we may not easily get stuff that others pick up without pause. Allow yourself the gift of the pause. Take time, without guilt, to absorb things, whether it’s a conversation, a lecture or a scenic view. Don’t apologize for that blank stare when someone is talking, or feel pressured into a quick response, but do have a response ready, “Hmmm… I’m thinking about that.”

SPEAKING Pause People with ADHD tend to be impulsive, which can mean blurting out what they think without thinking it through. Poor short-term memory  can also contribute to the rush to get a thought out before we forget it. Sometimes we are so focused on what we want to say that we’re not in full listening mode. This can by annoying to others, and then some. A great idea that is poorly communicated is doomed. So, recognizing this tendency, pause to consider if what you want to say is appropriate, helpful, timely and succinct. If not, remain on ‘pause.’

THINKING Pause – Therapists, coaches and some teachers are trained to ask a question, then pause, giving the recipient time to reflect and respond. We have so much going on in our lives that it takes time to think, so that we can pull out what is most pertinent, relevant or important. It’s easier to discuss things at a superficial level, but when we pause to really think about something, that’s when we open the door for those ‘Ah Ha!’ moments.
What do you think about the PAUSE? What are some Pauses that work for you? Share them in the comments section below.

STOP the SHAME!

STOP the SHAME!

It’s tough enough that many of us have challenges with ADHD/Executive Functions (organization, time management, prioritization, activation, short-term memory, etc.).  But we compound the problems when we add guilt to the mix.

I may not be happy that I’m not checking off all my To-Do’s – even when I’ve realistically created a theoretically do-able Daily Action Plan. Feeling a degree of anxiety about accomplishing things can be helpful as an impetus to action, but dwelling on my failures is totally unproductive – and unfair!

ADHD and EF challenges are neurobiological, which means they exist, like it or not. It isn’t a question of morality, intelligence or willpower. I can find strategies to compensate and even excel, but without them, I will struggle with even simple tasks. And there are days when even my best strategies will go unheeded.

I can write this blog and feel energized, but before I began, I shut my eyes to avoid looking at the kitchen counter that needs straightening, saying ‘later.’ As a productivity/ADHD/organization coach (ah, the irony!), I tell myself to just take 10 minutes on the counter (which would totally be enough time), but my brain cries out that I might lose the train of thought that inspired me to write this. So, the kitchen counter waits.

My brain works in a way that is sometimes quite incredibly wonderful, but won’t usually win awards for straightening up, making calls I’d rather avoid or working on tasks that don’t light up my engagement button. Activation, or getting started on something, has little to do with motivation. I may really want to lower my cable bill, but initiating a call to the cable company to complain meets brain resistance and is easily postponed (it’s important, but not urgent, and has now been on my list for several months!).

I can choose to feel shame and guilt, or I can choose self-acceptance. My challenges aren’t excuses, but they are explanations. I choose to not spend my life focusing on what I don’t do/haven’t done, because that would be a sad way to live. Instead, I look at what I do accomplish (often things that were not on my Action list) and appreciate my efforts. I look at where I’m struggling, and focus on compensatory strategies to help me do better.

Here’s an example: My natural tendency is to be late for just about anything. When I was honest about this, and the negative affects it had on both myself and others (my PowerPlan to Success™ Step #1, Self-Awareness), I accepted responsibility, tempered by knowing I have brain-based challenges that contribute to lateness (Step #2, Self-Acceptance). HOWEVER, I decided I could still improve (Step #3, Belief in Possibility, and that You Always Have a Choice). So, I developed a load of compensatory strategies, both practical and mindset. Now I’m late only occasionally, but if I didn’t use these strategies, I’d be back to old habits.

It’s a waste of energy and a drain on your spirit to mourn the person you are not.  Yesterday morning I spoke with a client, Annie who felt shame when she used a timer to remind her of things. It reminded her that she “was a failure, because I can’t do it myself.” We discussed this, and Annie was able to reframe her thinking from one of failure and self-blame to a positive take. She focused on how terrific it was to proactively compensate for a brain-based challenge that she could not control by willpower alone. She shifted from feeling defeated by her perceived failure to feeling empowered by her decision to let a tool (the timer) create a successful outcome.

That same afternoon I spoke with Paul, who was berating himself for not having done something on a timely basis that resulted in some really negative consequences. We spoke about systems that could make a difference going forward, but the real issue was one of Self-Acceptance. For any system to be effective, it must be used. So he needed to understand and accept that he has executive function deficits that require conscious compensation:

  • He can’t rely on his memory. There has to be an independent trigger to take action. (Although Paul’s need was for a long-term reminder, accepting, and finding a strategy to compensate for his poor working memory was similar to Annie’s realization that using a timer was smart, necessary and nothing to feel ashamed about.)
  • He can’t depend on getting something done immediately, even when remembered on a timely basis. This can be a struggle for anyone, but is particularly tough for those with ADHD. (Research shows we are less motivated by Importance than those with neurotypical brains.) Build white space, or open-time cushions, into your calendar, in case you need to delay a scheduled To-Do, then have a can’t-miss way to remind yourself when you’ve run out of avoidance time.

When Paul accepted the reality of how he worked (or didn’t!), he also let go of the shame he had attached to his failure to take timely action. And we came up with some nifty strategies to avoid this in the future.

We always have a choice. We can be the 5-foot tall person who spends her life bemoaning the fact (totally out of her control) that she isn’t 5’10”, or the woman who is 5’10” and wishes she was more petite, or we can focus on our reality and make the most out of it. We can be the person who refuses to wear glasses because he doesn’t think they look good, or we can buy funky glasses that mirror our personality or mood and have fun with it. We can want to lose weight and keep feeling guilty about our lack of willpower, or we can find a program with strategies (not willpower!) that work for us. We can take charge of our efforts, instead of being ruled by inadequacy and self-judgment. Will we always succeed, no. But there’s a lot less stress, and less time wasted wallowing in self-blame and guilt.

Please, stop beating yourself up for struggling. Accept that your wonderful, creative and capable brain has some challenges. Find strategies to help and give yourself credit for workarounds. When things don’t go the way you’d like, refuse to define yourself by your struggles – and don’t let others erode your self-esteem. 

If you need help finding alternative strategies, there are terrific books (I’ve listed a few in www.SusanLasky/Resources), and a wealth of good podcasts, webcasts and articles online. Also, consider the benefits of individual coaching to jump-start change – click here to schedule our no-obligation Initial Conversation. If we’ve worked together and you have some new (or recurring) issues, let’s catch up!

Give yourself permission to be imperfect!