Six tips to help you make a change

According to the article “Stress and the Decision to Change Oneself” in a 1994 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly, there are six factors that significantly improve a person’s chances of making a change in his life:

1) A stressor disrupts or threatens to disrupt a valued role-identity, 2) one attributes responsibility for the stressor to an aspect of self that one believes can be changed, 3) one has access to structural supports for self-change, 4) one believes that one can effect self-change, 5) the perceived benefits of self-change outweigh the perceived costs, and 6)others provide social support for self-change.

Since this quote is from a professional journal article and not written in Unclutterer-speak, let me rework it without the jargon:

  1. You don’t like how you’re behaving.
  2. You know you are responsible for making the change; no one else can do it for you.
  3. You have access to information that can help you change.
  4. You believe you can change.
  5. You believe making the change is worth it.
  6. Your friends and family support your change.

Thinking about my transformation from a clutter bug into an unclutterer, I realize that all six of these factors were present. I was stressed out and overwhelmed all the time and I hated it. I knew I needed to sort through my stuff and that I would be upset if someone else just dumped it. I did research to find out how to unclutter my life (if only would have been around back then, this would have been a much easier process). I varied my intensity, but most days I believed I could change how I was living. I also believed that making the change would help my marriage, friendships, stress levels, and time management issues. And, everyone around me was willing to lend a hand if I would have asked for it.

If you’re having difficulties on your path to becoming an unclutterer, is it because you’re missing one of these six factors? What is keeping you from changing? Do you agree with this list? Share your views in the comments.

26 Comments for “Six tips to help you make a change”

  1. posted by Mike on

    I don’t think I am missing any of the factors, but it seams that fear of the unknown causes paralysis.

    Besides it is one thing to know what/why you are doing something, it is another to actually change.

    Stepping out of ones comfort zone seems essential to me as a precursor to change.

    Thx Mike

  2. posted by shris on

    I agree with the factors. I’m trying to overcome resistance to change on a non-clutter topic, and I realize there are a couple of points that I don’t have covered yet.

    I think there are nuances to some of the points that get lost in the ‘boiled down’ version, both of the snippet from the article and from your ‘layperson’s translation’. The thing that’s missing, I think, is that the whole set is filtered through your own beliefs. For example, you may actually have friends and family who will support you–but if you don’t believe they will, then that’s just as unhelpful to you as if they actually don’t.

    So you have to figure out how to get past your own perceptions in every single case, not just items 4 and 5..

    My own sticking points happen to be 4 and 5 right now–somehow I have to reassure myself that it *will* work and that is *is* worth it, that the process *won’t* be as horrible as it seems, and that I can live with the process for the rest of my life.. I have to figure out how to make it painless and fun to change–and believe it. Tough stuff.


  3. posted by Janice on

    My clutter takes a back seat to everything else I have to accomplish in a day, for one. But the primary reasons for my clutter are:

    1. My rebellious teenager rules the roost right now and quite consciously at that. When I was little there was no ‘fun’ until the work was done! I hated that! So for the most part now, (95% of the time) I opt for doing the ‘fun’ (learning anything new about IM that I can implement into my business) rather than un-cluttering! And my teenager loves choosing to do the fun FIRST!

    2. My priorities are getting the next IM project completed and learning something new that will benefit my clients or by business. One of the things I’m currently engaged in is your Social Media Mastery program. Lovin’ it and all that you are teaching me! Thanks.

    My clutter consists primarily of paper, stacks and stacks of paper, which will be addressed eventually… just not today or tomorrow! But maybe this weekend… or not.


  4. posted by Mary on

    I have all the factors present in spades, except the support of friends and family. Some family is supportive, but their demands on my time is one reason I have gotten into this cluttered state! The husband is decidedly UN-supportive, as he does not like change and has emotional attachment to everything we own.

    Any suggestions? So far I’ve resorted to just keeping my mouth shut about things around him and sneaking bags to the Goodwill on my lunch break. And while I can talk to my mother or best friend about it, they are unrepentant clutter bugs and nod and smile…..and secretly wonder if I’m off my rocker!


  5. posted by Annette on

    Wow, I didn’t know anyone could unclutter psychobabble. I just made a non-clutter change and every one of those points was reached and realized it was an easy choice and change.

  6. posted by Roshni on

    I think I’m following all this now! I used to stress a lot seeing my house in a mess, scream at everyone for making it so too!
    Now, I’m just taking it one room; one part of a room at a time. My husband is always willing to help if I tell him what to do…earlier, I used to expect him to do it without telling (I still don’t know why he can’t see a mess and act on it himself, but I’ve decided to let that go!!). My biggest helper is my 5 year old! He likes cleaning up with me, his toys are always put away and he’s even learning how to fold his clothes by himself! He’s just amazing!!

  7. posted by Jack of Most Trades on

    Factors 4, 5, and 6 are missing in my life.

    I’m not sure I can do this. Despite all the advice to the contrary, I get bogged down in the details and paralyzed when it’s time to throw the crap out. And nobody in my life supports my attempts to un-clutter, indeed, some folks seem to delight in giving me more “gifts” to add to the general mess….
    Quitting smoking was a walk in the park compared to getting rid of the junk.

  8. posted by Brian on

    1) Put your name, career, reputation, or any aspect of your too-comfortable situation on the line. Sink or swim.
    2) It’s not your income, subconscious, health, addiction,… It’s the time of day, the number of bins you have near by, the phone call you could make to a helper.
    3) Let me use scraps from my handy-dandy notepad, a pencil, and some tape to make amazing labels.
    4) Seriously, don’t tell me I *can’t* move that thing from here to there. I can do that and that’s really all any of this is.
    5) So all of this mess is REALLY slowing me down from doing stuff I’d rather be doing… today, tomorrow, next year and i’m just ok with waiting any longer
    6) If you can bear with my weirdness and just hang out while I work on this crap (feel free to pitch in), I’ll buy you dinner. Sound good?

  9. posted by Abbey Fraik on

    7 habits of highly effective people by Dr. Covey, read the book it will change your life the right way.

  10. posted by Amy on

    I didn’t fully agree with the translation of #1. I took the original to mean that life as you know it is threatened, such as your spouse is about to leave you, you are about to get fired or lose your car/house etc because of complications arising from disorganization. That would put a fire under my butt, more than just not liking my own behavior.

    For those who feel paralyzed about taking on a big life change involving uncluttering, you might want to look into the possibility of having adult ADD and even speak with your Dr. about treatment options. I am sure it is not an issue for all clutterbugs, but when you want to change but the task seems overwhelming, that can be a symptom of ADD.

  11. posted by Another Deb on


    I can tell that you used to be a teacher. You ask great questions!

  12. posted by Sally on

    The time issue is huge – many clutterbugs have cluttered lives, too, taking on too many responsibilities. When you decide to start decluttering you still have all those things you’ve committed to, each demanding your time and often creating clutter! So it’s an uphill battle. If you could wipe the slate and start over that would probably be easier, but it’s not likely unless you’re moving to another state!

    Family support isn’t always easy, either. Each time I’ve gone through a declutter cycle I get “undermining support” from my husband — which is to say, he will say “hey, the sideboard looks great” or some such acknowledgment of my efforts and from then on he’ll just point out more places I should clean and criticize every effort I make. I know he thinks he’s being helpful – he just has horrible communications skills, we’ve known each other since we were teens and his parents’ family always communicated that way as well – everything is a criticism. I’m steeling myself for the onslaught and hoping to not get discouraged but it does make it hard.

  13. posted by Jeanne B. on

    I think part of the challenge of change comes from the role-identity aspect.

    Our collection of habits and behaviors identifies “who” we believe ourselves to be; when we take steps to alter that, we’re also altering our self-perception (identity).

    If we’re going to the extreme opposite, such as converting from being a Messy Person to an Organized Person, something in our minds may perceive that as a threat–a danger to our role-identity as Messy Person.

    Even though it is better for us in the long run to become an Organized Person, the fact that it requires a change to our role-identity causes it to be perceived as a threat. Therefore the brain will do everything in its power to prevent success via resistance, self-sabotage, and so on.

    Perhaps the first belief to adopt, before changing the role, would be the belief that it IS OK to change role-identities. Then proceed with changing the behaviors.

  14. posted by gerette on

    This was the exact post I needed today. I’m struggling a LOT with clutter and related issues and laying out for me what I need to make these changes helped clear up some of my anxiety. #4 is definitely my sticking point, but I need to realize that who I have been is not who I have to be.

  15. posted by Megan on

    I think for me one thing to add is that change is a journey and to give oneself permission to not get it perfect from the get go.

    A high drive to get things perfect or a really high level of good can really get in the way of starting the change process (or any project). Sometimes the path is messy (so to speak) and that’s ok!

  16. posted by Pam on

    My problem is #4. I have been reading this blog for over a year wanting to combat my clutter. But I too become paralyzed after 5 minutes of trying. It is so hard to believe I can do it after trying so many times.

  17. posted by chaotic kitten on

    I love this post, so helpful to me. It inspired my blog post yesterday 🙂

  18. posted by April on

    This post made me cry.

    I hate that I’m always late, my to-do list is miles long (I put off even things I enjoy! How crazy is that?!), I eat because I’m emotional rather than hungry, I choose to be lazy even when I know I should choose to be productive/active, I’ve gained 40 lbs in the past 5 years, I keep disappointing my husband with my forgetfulness, I’m not getting enough sleep, my face is glued to a computer screen for at least 14 hours a day (every day!), no matter what I do I always have piles of things in my house (they may shrink, but they never disappear), etc.

    I’M SO SICK OF MY BEHAVIOR. I want to change!!!

    But #4 is my weakness. I have attempted and failed so many times before. Now I’m afraid I’ll never succeed.

    Erin, this post is great. But what do we do if we don’t have one of these things? Is there any hope for failures like me?

    I’m so miserable.

  19. posted by Judy on

    April, your recent post mad me feel so sad. I have been just like you, until only recently. My wake up calls were that my kids were unhappy with our home being cluttered and were too embarrassed to have friends over. Also, I believe that my habits were part of the reason that my husband left me. Now, I have a buddy who is helping me (slowly but surely) get rid of the clutter. She is non-judgemental, patient, and has great ideas. Without her help, I am not sure I would be moving in the right direction. Please get someone who knows how to help, to assist you. You WILL feel so much better! Small steps are important, and you will be pleased and will continue the process. My best to you!!!

  20. posted by chacha1 on

    Dear April, I agree with Judy. I think it would help you to find a friend and suggest a “decluttering buddy hour” every other week or so. Just having some moral support and someone to talk to while you tackle a piece of a project can be so encouraging. Set a strict time limit and then stop and just enjoy being with your friend.

    And please remember, the Whole Project is often too much to tackle all at once. I find it extremely helpful to write down a project in outline form, with all its component parts listed separately so that, in a way, the description of the project becomes its own to-do list.

    Start with the tangible things first, the clutter. Once you no longer have that issue stressing you out, progress to the next thing. And ask yourself Why you may be choosing to do the things that make you unhappy. Keep asking Why until you get the bottom of it.

    You can do it!

  21. posted by Kimberly on

    I have found a vehicle for change. According to my daughter, her friends’ mothers have also seen the light because of this show: “Hoarding” on TLC. Every time I watch it, I have the “urge to purge”. I go around the house de-cluttering and getting rid of all the unwanted items. I can’t stand the thought that my clutter could turn into what is portrayed on the “Hoarding” show. It really does help to get you moving.

    Go for it!!

  22. posted by Kimberly on

    And one more thing, I think the main problem is the indecisiveness. You have to make up your mind to make some decisions on some items. Back away emotionally and remind yourself it is worth your peace of mind to decide what to do with things – ultimately to donate or trash things you don’t use frequently. And you know what frequently means, don’t you? Often.

    Don’t be afraid of making decisions, decisions lead to change.

  23. posted by Meg on

    My question goes along Mary’s comment in April of last year.

    I have been a clutter-bug my whole life and am ready to make a serious change. My problem is not my family, but rather my roommate. She is also a clutter-bug with issues to work out on her own. If I unclutter our common space, I wake up the next morning/week/month to find it in disarray again. Additionally, as I unclutter my personal space, her’s does not change. Just walking by her room is adding stress on my life. I know not to throw out any of her things but something has to be done.

    Any suggestions on how to handle this one? It is difficult when it is not a family member but rather a friend who deserves privacy concerning her own issues. Moving out is not an option for financial reasons and the fact that we have signed a lease. Our only air conditioning unit is in her room so the door must stay open during summer months to keep the entire apartment cool.

  24. posted by MellieTX on


    First, good for you for wanting to change and taking steps in that direction. Don’t give up- this process takes time, I’m working through things myself. It is possible to take someone else with you. No one can be forced. You’re on the right track by respecting your friend’s things and focusing on your own part of the mess. Of course it will be frustrating, but keep after it.

    As you make progress you may be tempted to express your frustration to her about the mess. At such times, refrain from making statements judging her mess. Instead, if you must talk about it, share your struggles, your progress and the ups and downs for YOU as you declutter. If you set in place routines for keeping your things under control and your life begins to run more smoothly she may be interested in joining you in the process. Nagging will send her running in the other direction.

    Best of luck to you. You might also seek support on the forums if you haven’t already- lots of great ideas and encouragement out there.

  25. posted by J on

    April, I hope you will see this post even though it’s in response to something you wrote an month ago. You sound very much like an adult with ADD or ADHD. Please do some research on adults with this issue and then, if needed, talk to a doctor who is open to this diagnosis for adults. I was diagnosed at 67–Ritalin has truly changed my life.

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