Do you have a big ‘But …’?

I was in sixth grade the first time I saw the movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. My friends latched onto the “I know you are but what am I” line from the film, and I quipped “Everyone I know has a big ‘But …'” no fewer than a thousand times.

Sure, the line I often quoted from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was juvenile, but it was strangely accurate. Everyone I know actually has a big “But …” in their lives:

  • I would get my office organized but [insert excuse].
  • I would ask the kids to help with chores around the house but [insert excuse].
  • I would start exercising but [insert excuse].
  • I would finish this project but [insert excuse].

There are times when excuses are warranted, such as with health issues (I would eat a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup but I won’t since I’m allergic to peanuts). However, most “But …” excuses are purely a resistance to change.

We keep bad habits and clutter in our lives because they’re known quantities. We know what life is like when things are disorderly. Life after a change is different and unfamiliar. It might be better, but we don’t know that from where we are now.

As someone who went from a clutterbug to an unclutterer, I can vouch that life is really greener on the organized side. I have more time and less stress in my life than before. The change was worth it, but making the change was difficult and I know I said my fair share of “But …” excuses as I was going through the process.

So what is your big “But …”? What is keeping you from letting go of your clutter? The next time you catch yourself making an excuse, think about what you’re saying. Is your excuse warranted, or are you just voicing a fear of change?

20 Comments for “Do you have a big ‘But …’?”

  1. posted by Theresa on

    Great post! As an organizer I’ve also found that people may say “my home is organized BUT I’m always late or I can’t get the mail under control…” Often it’s the one thing that is keeping someone from feeling in control. Sometimes a person just needs a coach to determine a new system to handle the BUT and overcome the fear of change. A professional organizer can help!

  2. posted by Kate on

    I want that greener side. I want that simplicity – more space, more time with my kids, less stress. I want it all so bad I can taste it!


    To get there – on top of the daily and weekly chores, there are all these projects: Clean the garage, go through the toys, purge the bookshelves, excavate the storage closets, clean out the junk drawer/cupboard/closet/playroom/garage…

    I am already exhausted and stressed by the day to day chores. Finding the time to tackle these “declutter jobs” is nigh on impossible. About once a month, I scrape together time to tackle one project, or a part of a project. Some months are too busy. After a year, the places that were cleaned out have accumulated clutter again – sometimes they’ve had clutter shifted to them, from the next place I declutter.

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a month of time off – and the energy and motivation – to get the whole big picture “re-set” – so that it’s just a matter of putting things in their organized places? That is a life I could live. If I could only get there.

    Honestly, my house is fabulous for organized storage space. Before I ever discovered this column, I was finding solutions and systems for all sorts of challenging clutter problems. If I could only get there, I would be happy to be living the uncluttered dream.

    My “but” isn’t a fear of being on the greener side. My “but” is begrudging the time and energy it takes to tackle the huge monumental jobs that stand between me and that bliss.

    Can you hear my frustration?

  3. posted by RML on

    I would let go of my clutter, but…I´m scared of going through some of it.

  4. posted by Mark on

    I have the exact same clutter issues as commenter Kate. I just wish I had the time/energy to declutter. It seems like I never do.

  5. posted by [email protected] on

    My biggest clutter ‘but’ has always been the issue of time. Now that I find myself part of the jobless tribe, I’m seizing the opportunity to move forward.

    Now my ‘but’ is “I’d be less cluttered, BUT…it’s an awful lot of work to get there.” 🙂 Still movign forward, though.

    Excellent reminder with this post! Thank you!

  6. posted by becoming minimalist on

    the “but” that i kept running into is, “i’d get decluttered BUT the job seems so big i don’t even know where to start.”

    that was our excuse until we decided to start small – real small. declutter a vehicle or a bathroom cabinet. once you do, you’ll get a little glimpse into how much better life can be.

  7. posted by Loren on

    My biggest is ‘I’d love to be more organized BUT I don’t know how.’ Then my BUT becomes ‘I don’t have the money to BUY those shelves to put everything’ then it is ‘BUT I don’t have the time’.
    Your website has been a huge help with gaining knowledge, and as I become more organized I’ve discovered that I have more time. And when I have more time I can get creative and think up solutions to those problems that don’t involve money (or at least not as much money).

  8. posted by natalie seiling on

    I chanced on your web site and have found it very helpful. I try to visit it each day to motivate me. Three years ago I moved into a smaller house. I married two years ago and my husband moved in (we are in our 60’s). Now I find myself with a lot of ‘stuff’. And, like your other writers, the daily chores tire me out enough without worrying about basements, garages, etc. But, frankly, I’m too old and my health isn’t the best to have this ‘stuff’ around. Theresa is right — be open to new ideas and overcome the fear of change. Believe me, the feeling of satisfaction is worth it. So what to do?? I decided I would have a room-a-month project. Closet, drawers, etc in ONE room for a month. Little by little it’s getting done. Sometimes I promise myself a Block Buster movie or ice cream as a special treat when I accomplish something. Getting the room done entitles me to an afternoon out. May sound childish, but it works. I have some big items that have to go. Again, once a month I call a charity, they come and out it goes. I also keep a notebook of what my monthly plans are and what I have accomplished, along with words of encouragement as I take baby step by baby step through. Best of luck to all you!

  9. posted by Sandy on

    I would get rid of a lot of the stuff I’ve accumulated, but….I paid for it.

    I’m really trying to get past that. I have eliminated a lot of stuff that I have been dragging around for years.

  10. posted by L. on

    Listing our house for sale this month has made my husband finally realize the value of uncluttering. Sometimes it takes an unstoppable force or immovable object to get people past their fears of change.

  11. posted by knitwych on

    I used to invoke the Big But all the time. Frequenting this blog helps me refrain from doing that, because I get regular doses of good advice as well as inspiring photos of well organized, attractive spaces. Also helpful: Telling myself “Just freaking DO IT already!” when I see some little something that needs doing. For me, tackling little things (cleaning out the junk drawer, taking the time to put the laundry away once it’s done rather than just putting the basket down in the bedroom, etc) works much better than designating an entire day or weekend to a specific project. I recently overhauled my kitchen, and even though it was a lot of work, I broke it down into little chunks.

  12. posted by Consultant Calamities on

    🙂 This post made me smile…I LOVED “Pee Wee’s Big adventure.” I may have to go watch it again soon (yes, I own it…)

  13. posted by Shalin on

    This post is really coming at an interesting time for me – thank you Erin! 🙂

    I guess my big “But” would be the general one when it comes to change – social consequences, actually. Not being able to joke around with, hang out with, or relate to other similar clutterbug friends when I have only a handful physically near me…

    Instead, I might be seen as showing them up. I guess you gotta do what you gotta do. And perhaps I’d serve as an inspiration they can relate to…


  14. posted by Teri K on

    This is a good thing to add to a weekly GTD review. Sometimes I find myself not completing tasks on my lists. During my weekly review, I’ll need to start adding “I would finish this task but…” to help me identify what is really stopping me from completing it. Thanks Erin!

  15. posted by Nana on

    When I was in a support group, someone said, “Any time someone says, ‘I’d like to [fill in the blank] BUT…’ think of a pink rubber eraser eliminating the words that come before ‘but.’ That’s where you’ll find the truthful statement”

  16. posted by Melissa Stacey on

    What a great post and so very true! I hear the “but” excuse so often in organizing and life in general. It is so important to let go of the fear to achieve your goals.

  17. posted by Business Development | Social Media Literacy |…words » Productivity Re-cap 29 May on

    […] Erin Doland of Unclutterer writes about all the excuses we give not to get things organized in her article Do You Have A Big But..? […]

  18. posted by Leslie McKee on

    Isn’t it funny how holding on to something = not deciding! saying but…does the same thing. thanks for the extra awareness!

  19. posted by Amy on

    BUT… kids, cats, husband. 30 minutes every morning is enough to stay on top of the daily kitchen cleaning. An hour every morning can handle that and some laundry / cat litter / sweeping. The minute I get on top of anything i realize I haven’t opened a book in a week!

  20. posted by Open Loops 7/7/2009: Articles I Think Worth Passing Along—— on

    […] asks “Do you have a big ‘But …’?” Here’s the part I like best: “We keep bad habits and clutter in our lives […]

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