Danielle LaPorte is in the midst of finishing work on her next book and recently tweeted the following:
Danielle’s perspective is wonderful. I know her home and work spaces are usually well organized, clutter free, and inspiring. While she is in crunch time with her book, though, she has let many of her minor responsibilities go for a few days as she focuses on what matters most to her. Her book and her family are her top priorities, and nothing is distracting her from these two things. She can see the big picture, knows eventually order will return, and isn’t letting herself feel any guilt over the secondary details.
When people turn to me for advice, often their questions begin with descriptions of very serious issues in their lives — physical limitations, sick family members, personal health concerns, financial difficulties, legal matters, major deadlines, and job security. After sharing these heavy anxieties, they will ask for guidance on handling clutter and being organized. In some cases, especially with long-term issues, turning to uncluttering and organizing can provide relief and improve the quality of life (especially with on-going physical limitations and financial difficulties). In most cases, however, the decision to turn to uncluttering and organizing is a distraction from what is really important. People want to avoid the serious problem or have lost sight of what matters most and can no longer see the big picture. It’s like an amplified desire a student might have to clean her apartment when she really should be studying for an exam taking place in a few hours. Stress can quickly cause someone to lose their clarity of priorities and sight of what really matters.
Regardless of the situation, my first piece of advice is to pause, take a deep breath, and remember uncluttering and organizing are not brain surgery. Unless a hoarding situation is immediately endangering someone’s life, clutter is typically not a life-or-death affair. Too-small clothes crammed into a stuffed closet or old magazines sitting on an end table will be fine if they sit a few days longer. Your bookshelf doesn’t have to be dusted right now. Your son can load the dishwasher using his haphazard method instead of the one you prefer and the sun will still rise tomorrow. Just take a break from whatever it is you’re doing and try to relax.
Once you’ve calmed a bit and have a clearer state of mind, ask yourself the following questions:
- Right now, in this very moment, what really matters to you?
- Will uncluttering and organizing help you focus on these priorities, or are these actions avoidance or procrastination measures?
- Do you want to unclutter for the sake of uncluttering, or do you want to unclutter to help you focus on what really matters to you?
- If you delay uncluttering and organizing a few days/weeks/months will there be major repercussions, or will your situation actually improve if you focus on what really matters instead?
There is a time and place for uncluttering and organizing, but it usually isn’t when more important issues deserve your full attention. Focusing on the big picture and what really matters to you will help you gain perspective to know when is the right time for uncluttering and organizing, and when isn’t. Uncluttering and organizing are simply tools to help you achieve a remarkable life — they’re not the only tools in your workshop and they’re not what matters most to you. When calmer waters return, then is the time to put more effort into uncluttering and organizing.