You have been given an ultimatum from your spouse. Either you part with the clutter and paper piles in the basement, or he is calling in the fire brigade and declaring it a fire hazard.
Your clutter is weighing you down. You are secretly grateful for being forced to take action; it’s what you need to get moving. You have written this date in your calendar to start to sort and declutter your basement.
You go down to the basement. It feels dark and smells damp. It is not exactly a comfortable space to be in. You look around the room. Overwhelmed with fear, your mind starts to race, and your pulse quickens. You simply do not know where to start. You pick up some items half-heartedly; should you keep them or not? Each object represents memories and dreams and makes decision making too crushing for you to contemplate. If you keep it, where should it live? If you chuck it, you don’t want it to end up in landfill, where should you donate it to?
Your inner self-talk carries on. You look around the rest of the room. There are paper piles from your previous business that are stacked up four foot high around you, sucking you in like quicksand. Do you repeatedly tell yourself that you will get those papers sorted, but the job seems too frighteningly unbearable and tedious? Have you lost grants or tax breaks because you can’t find where you put the right papers? Overwhelmed, you find yourself turning around, walking out, and closing the door.
If you find yourself nodding, and you have answered yes to some or all of these questions, we welcome you to join our exclusive club! It is a secret inner circle. I can promise you, many people you know feel the same way that you do. They are just not telling you about it!
Your struggle to get organised
Recognising WHY you think, feel, act, and respond to situations the way you do is the first step to being able to control and reprogramme your behaviours long-term.
Knowledge brings acceptance, and empowers you. When you understand that you are not lazy, your brain just works a certain way you can then start to learn to make the necessary life changes that you are craving for.
Most people expect too much from themselves. They assume they should just be able to do something in a certain way. They believe skills that take time to develop should come naturally, and that they should be better than they are.
What most people have in common is the overestimation of what their brain can do. Just like no one has the perfect body, no one has the perfect brain. If your body is the vehicle with which you travel; your mind is its engine. Brain wiring impacts the way we learn, and brain development affects how we get things done. With the right tools, you can slowly change your brain, your engine, and improve your actions; allowing you to upgrade your vehicle.
Since behaviour is brain-based, you need to find the right systems that suit your brain and lifestyle. Once you start to understand how and why your brain works the way it does, you can start to apply systems and learn skills that work for you. Armed with this understanding, we can begin to look at your clutter situation.
Your executive functions
Executive functions are the self-directed actions one needs for life success. These features are found in the prefrontal cortex located in the front of your brain. These skills will develop over time, typically maturing in the late 20s and beyond. Some examples include:
If you suffer from executive function deficit, your prefrontal cortex will never fully mature. This means that you may have problems in the above mentioned areas for your entire life. The skills listed above are vital for the smooth running of your life. If you feel challenged in some or all of these areas, please understand these challenges are not your fault. Your brain has been wired in a certain way. One important point-you can’t use your executive function deficits as an excuse for your disorganisation. Let’s be honest here, due to your executive function deficits it may be harder for you to learn theses skills. That doesn’t excuse you from opting out.
Your working memory
The strength of your working memory has a direct impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of all the other executive functions. The level of your working memory has a direct impact on your decluttering. Read this sentence again. I will focus on this executive function for now.
Working memory is the function that helps you keep track of information that you need to remember. It is like a virtual post-it note. Most people can keep track of up to seven chunks of information at a time. Those that struggle with working memory can keep track of far fewer pieces of information. Their mental post-it note is much smaller. Imagine the working memory as a junction in a road system, with all of the other executive function skills (roads) converging through it, you can start to understand the importance of this function.
As you age, your working memory capacity decreases; this is why people who used to retain information mentally, now have to make lots of physical lists.
If you misplace items frequently and spend a large part of your day searching for those things, and often get disorientated and feel like you don’t know where you are up to in your day, it is likely you have a poor working memory. These challenges also have an impact on your decision-making abilities; a common stumbling block in the area of decluttering. Every item of clutter must be decided on by you! This is especially true regarding your paper clutter. Every decision you need to make puts a tremendous strain on your prefrontal cortex. With the right tools you can make the decision making process much easier for yourself.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you find that you are plagued with self-doubt. It is highly probable that you may have forgotten the reasons that led you to make a certain decision, whether personal or work related. This leads to obsessive torment and self-doubt. When faced with your clutter you will probably not remember what the reasons were for purchasing that item. This self-doubt will sabotage your best efforts at decluttering. And when you do part with your clutter, you will forget your reasoning that led you to part with that item. You will self-doubt and torment yourself some more.
If you have a working memory deficit, you will easily lose focus. You will experience that fuzzy, floating feeling, that feeling that you are turning round and round when standing still. This makes it more likely that you will lose track of tasks and often find yourself easily distracted, struggling to get back on task. Think about what this problem does to your inner emotional world. It’s not pretty.
Your working memory deficit means that it is very hard for you to workout how to create appropriate systems in your home.
Susan was a middle-aged woman with two children. At first glance, her home looked orderly. When she took me around her house, her dining room cupboards contained – among other things paperwork piles, tablecloths, children’s crafts, camping paraphernalia, and dishes; all dumped with no systemised storage method.
She confessed that her disorganised state was causing great stress between her neat freak husband and herself. Susan is not alone. I find this to be the case in nine out of ten homes I visit.
Please remember this challenge lies in your brain. It does not mean you are lazy or incompetent; it just means that your mental post-it note may be very small or even non-existent at times. I believe that you are probably working far harder than those people with good working memory, with far less to show for it! I always tell my clients that I believe they are working harder than the average person, definitely harder than me, but due to their executive function deficits, have far less to show for their efforts.
It’s time to start working smarter, not harder. You can do this by learning and applying the appropriate techniques to give you the skills that you need to part with your clutter. This will ground you and keep you focused. Your life success in all areas depends on a workable organised system.