From clutter to cash: Four ways to sell your unwanted stuff

Gardeners everywhere can probably tell a great number of stories about their attempts to get rid of weeds. It’s not always a fun task (though some of us may find it calming) and it’s one of those things that we often put off doing. In that way, it’s a bit like uncluttering. It’s something we may need to do, but it may feel like a big undertaking. Did you also know that a weed can actually be any plant that is unwanted, even if it looks pretty and has beautiful blooms? Likewise, anything in your home that is unwanted, even if it’s in great shape (i.e., not broken or tattered), can be like weeds. We just classify those things as clutter.

The difference between the two, of course, is that you can’t do much with the weeds once you’ve pulled them, but you do have several options when it’s time to unclutter and let go of unwanted items that are still in good condition. You can donate those things to a group or organization, pass them on to a specific person, or you can sell them. Though, you will likely not get the original value of the item, you will clear your space and get cash or a gift card in return.

Recommerce is not a new idea, but it is one that has become more popular in recent times. This can perhaps be attributed to a tough economy, though some people sell to get an updated version of the item they’re letting go of. Whatever your reasons are, consider the four selling options below as you weed and sift through your belongings. You might end up choosing to only sell some things, but this list will at least get you started.

Seller Websites

Many of us are familiar with sites like Craigslist, eBay, and Etsy (e.g. vintage clothing) for selling (and buying) things. Those websites are still viable options, but there are many others that can help you transition your items to a new owner.

  • Electronics. will take your gadgets (mobile phones, tablets, desktop machines) — even broken ones — and send you a check, an Amazon gift card, or transfer funds to your PayPal account. has a similar service and payment options, except that you can opt to receive a Target gift card. That site also has a referral program. If you decide to sell your electronics on eBay, be sure to check out their Technology & Electronics Selling Guide.
  • Books. If you used Gazelle or TheNextWorth to get a new tablet or Kindle, you may be thinking about purging a few books. You can sell them on Amazon,, or, to name a few. You will need the ISBN number (typically found on the back of the book or inside the book on the copyright page). Payments are made via check, PayPal, or an account of your choosing.
  • Anything. uses the power of your social networks to help you sell your stuff. Log in using your Facebook account and let your friends see what you’re selling in your online yard sale. You will be paid via check or funds transfer to your PayPal account. There are no seller fees, however, Yardseller does markup your asking price. Check out their FAQs for more information.

Pawn Shops

Pawn shops can be a good option for specific things you may want to sell (like guitars) so do a bit of research to find out what is successful through these stores in your area. Selling to a pawn shop may work well since they can often take a wide variety of things, though, because they resell your item, you might not get top dollar. But, they will take the item off your hands immediately and you will get paid at the time of drop off.

Consignment Shops

If you have high-end clothing, shoes, jewelry, or antique pieces, a consignment shop in your neighborhood will consider selling your items and giving you a percentage of the sale. These stores tend to be pretty picky about the items they will accept and prefer to purchase things that are in excellent condition and seasonally appropriate. Some shops will require that you call to make an appointment, so be sure to check their guidelines before going.

A new type of consignment shop has arisen in the last few years that does things slightly differently. will buy your gently used and laundered women’s clothes, accessories, perfume, etc. The transaction takes place at one of their stores (use the store locator to see if they have a shop near you) and you will be paid immediately for the items they purchase. Plato’s Closet works in a similar way for “teen and twenty something guys and girls,” and you can either accept cash on the spot or trade your clothes for a new outfit. They also don’t require that you make an appointment.


So, bartering is technically not selling, but it is a way to let go of things in return for a service that you may need. I read an article recently about someone who bartered a scooter to have her shed painted and dry walled. You may want to have a written agreement about the details of your exchange, and keep in mind that there are tax implications with bartering (read How the IRS Taxes Bartering for more information).

Of course, you don’t have to sell your things at all. You can simply donate them or give them away to a specific person. You wouldn’t have to take your clothing to a re-seller shop, create online seller accounts, upload photos/descriptions of your items, or manage buyer inquiries. You can arrange for donations to be picked up free of cost or meet up with the person receiving your donation. Whether you decide to sell or donate, you’ll unclutter, free up some much needed space, and do something good for yourself.

A year ago on Unclutterer



  • Nest 8 saves space in the kitchen
    Joseph Joseph’s Nest 8 collection of nesting kitchen items is a fantastic way to save space in your cupboards.
  • Uncluttered collecting
    Being an unclutterer doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t have collections — but it does mean taking an active role in ensuring your collection doesn’t become clutter.


Workspace of the Week: The advantages of an unconventional desk

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Oliver.’s art studio:

It’s difficult when you’re an artist to keep your workspace organized. As someone who spent two years of her undergraduate experience pursuing a painting degree, I can personally attest to the challenges of being neat and tidy when surrounded by so many supplies. My workspace was always a complete disaster zone, and I am in awe of artists who find a way to corral and contain all the stuff. One trick artists (and engineers and architects and anyone with a laptop) can implement to keep organized while they work is to use a standing-height, tilt-tabletop desk with storage trays attached to its sides, like Oliver. does in his studio. These desks allow you to sit in a raised chair or stand while you work, adjust the angle of your desk to best meet your ergonomic needs, as well as hold your coffee cup, phone, and whatever small supplies you need to do your job. And, when you’re done working for the day, you can unload the items and move them to their long-term storage spaces and have a clean surface ready for you the next time inspiration strikes. Thank you, Oliver., for submitting your wonderful workspace to our Unclutterer Flickr pool.

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

Build a better brainstorm with mind mapping

As a junior-high student I learned two strategies for tackling writing projects: brainstorming and outlining. The former was free-form and messy; the latter tightly organized and formal. The idea was to brainstorm first and get all the ideas out of your head, without hesitation or editing. Imagine a dump truck depositing a payload of sand onto the ground. It’s effective, but you’ve got to do some clean-up work before you can move on with your project.

After sifting through to find the usable nuggets, the next step was to arrange them in a tidy outline, which served as the backbone of the final project. Today, I still do these things, but with one change. The brainstorm has given way to a mind map, which combines the avalanche of sand with a little more order, akin to an outline. In short, think of a mind map as an uncluttered brainstorm.

There’s lots of great software to help you create a mind map, though a pen and paper will do. Here’s how to create one, reap the benefits and find a software solution that works for you.

You’ll find many definitions of what a mind map is, but mine goes like this: A mind map is a diagram used to organize a brainstorm. It starts with a single word — often the topic or heart of your project — inside a circle. Supporting ideas are drawn around the main idea inside their own circles and connected with lines. As an example, here’s a mind map I used for this article (at left).

I started by writing “Mind Mapping” in the center, and then began to think about the topic. What about mind mapping do I want to share? That triggered the brainstorm and ideas came, like why do it, software available, organizational benefits, and so on. Each idea got its own “node” on the map. You’ll notice that “Software options” has three nodes of its own: Mac, PC and iOS. Those are referred to as “children,” as they all relate to the “parent” node, “Software options.” That’s where the organization comes into the process. Instead of generating a simple list during a brainstorm with no rhyme or reason to its order, a mind dump lets you group related ideas as you go, without hindering the brainstorm process. As you think of more ideas, just keep going, adding lines and nodes. Eventually you’ll reach the point of exhaustion and you’ll know you’re done.

At this point, I’ll review the diagram I produced and use it to create an outline and finally begin my writing project. This method really helps me feel on top of my project, doesn’t produce a jumbled mess that must be sorted into an outline, and results in a better final product every time.

As I said, there are many pieces of software available to help you create a mind map. I’ll introduce you to four: one for the Mac, one for Windows, and two for the iPad.

Mind Node (Mac, free lite version or $9.99 for Mind Node Pro)

My favorite mind mapping software for the Mac is Mind Node. It’s no-frills interface lets you focus on your project instead of getting stuck fiddling with colors and other little tweaks. Branches are color-coded (you can adjust with the colors if you like) and there are plenty of keyboard shortcuts if that’s your thing. Also, built-in Dropbox synchronization keeps your mind maps available across Macs or even with Mind Node Touch for iPad. Nearly every writing project I complete, from a book to a blog post, begins life as a mind map in Mind Node.

As for what’s different between the lite and pro versions, you’ll find features like image nodes, Wi-Fi sync between desktop and touch version, improved hyperlinks and improved printing options in the pro version.

Mindjet MindManager (Windows and Android; $399 for Windows version)

MindManager isn’t inexpensive but it’s extremely powerful. It will look familiar to anyone who has used Microsoft Office, as it uses a similar ribbon toolbar, which reduces the learning curve typical of new software, as does the built-in tutorial. Speaking of Office, there’s extensive support for Microsoft’s suite of apps built right in, and a number of export options, like PDF and Flash animations, making sharing easy, no matter what kind of computer your collaborators use.

MindNode Touch (iPad, $9.99)
IThoughtsHD (iPad, $9.99)

There are two great options for the iPad. The first is MindNote Touch, the sibling to the desktop app. It works in much the same way, but “touching” your ideas — to use a market-friendly phrase — adds some fun. Thanks to Dropbox, you can sync mind maps you make on your iPad with your Mac and vice-versa, which is very convenient.

IThoughtsHD is another mind mapping app for the iPhone and iPad. There are a few features that set it apart but my favorite is the ease with which you can create nodes, child notes and sibling nodes. While MindNode requires you to move from the keyboard to the mind map itself to create and label nodes, iThoughtsHD lets you keep your hands on the keyboard at all times. For example, hitting the space bar three times in a row creates a new child mode. No need to move your hands up to the map. Likewise, hitting the Return key three times creates a sibling node. It’s very fast.

I use mind mapping for writing projects, but that’s hardly its only use. I’ve also created map to organize a vacation, chart a video project, plan for a wedding and more. Give it a try the next time you’ve got a project on your plate that’s large or small, business or personal. You still have that powerful brainstorming session, but will avoid sifting through the resulting mess before getting on with the rest of the work.

Unitasker Wednesday: Cork Presenter

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

This is one of those unitaskers that makes me believe manufacturers think their customers are suckers, patsies, easy marks. In their eyes (especially manufacturers that target pregnant women and people who like to cook), we’ll buy any doodad and gizmo they tell us we need. Them: “You need this gadget that does the same thing as what you already own!” Us: “OF COURSE WE DO!!”

As proof of this theory, I would like to introduce you to the Cork Presenter:

Now, anyone who has ever dined in a fine restaurant and enjoyed a bottle of wine is aware, a sommelier doesn’t set a wine cork down in a Cork Presenter after opening a bottle of wine. Wine etiquette suggests that the sommelier should hand the cork to the person at the table who is hosting the dinner. The person at the table inspects the cork to make sure that the printing on it matches the information on the label of the bottle (this is done to try to detect fraud), and then the sommelier usually guides the host to set the cork down on a small bread plate or just on the table or even to pocket the cork if the host wants to keep it. If a group of wine aficionados are at the table, the cork might be passed around for everyone to inspect, but eventually the cork makes its way back to the bread plate.

What is nice about bread plates are that they can also be used for bread or cookies or anything else you would like to set on them. When opening a nice bottle of wine at home, a small bread plate can also hold a wine bottle’s cork, just like it does at The French Laundry.

Oh, and this little unitasker costs $30 — further proof of my belief that manufacturers are just rolling around laughing at their customers from their Scrooge McDuck money bins.

Thanks to reader Jeri for sharing this unitasker idea with us.

A year ago on Unclutterer




Two simple task management apps to help you reinforce habits

Sometimes technology, though often helpful, can be daunting. You can spend a lot of time trying to learn how to use a new app (or gadget) before really being able to use it to your benefit. That’s why it’s nice when you come across an app that is simple and easy to use while helping you keep a regular habit of getting things done. I recently discovered two that I’d like to share with you: Wonderful Day and iDoneThis.

Wonderful Day

Don't you just love an app with a happy sounding name? Well, it does a bit more than just sound happy. This app is based on Jerry Seinfeld's (not so secret anymore) productivity secret, also known as Don’t Break the Chain.

It’s a very simple concept – work on a task every day, and when you do, cross it off on your calendar. You’ll end up having a chain of X’s or check marks (or whatever mark you prefer) on your calendar. If you miss a day, then you will have a break in your chain. Over time, you’ll be motivated to keep the chain going, and if you’re like some people (moi), you won’t like seeing a broken chain.

Wonderful Day allows you to make your own chain sans the paper calendar. There’s nothing wrong with using paper, if that’s your preference. But, if you’re more tech inclined, this process can’t be any more simple. You can set multiple tasks that you want to focus on as well as the days you’ll work on them. You might have “exercise,” “write,” and “work in the garden” on your list — anything you think you’d like make a habit of doing. Each time you complete a task, you’ll see a green dot, and when you miss a task, you’ll see a red one. If you’re a visual person, this app may work very well for you.

Platform: iPhone, iPad
Cost: $0.99
Other apps like it: Don’t Break the Chain, Joe’s Goals (web-based)


iDoneThis is different from your usual to-do list because it’s more of a “done” list. Each day, the app asks you a very simple question: “What have you done today?” Add the tasks you did on the date you did them and the app will add a check mark for you. The more you get done, the more checks you’ll see. If you miss a day, you will see “No entries for today” and the app will send you a daily reminder, though you can turn off that feature if you’d like. You can also set future reminders along with a specific time that you’ll be notified. The developers describe it as sending a “message to your future self.”

iDoneThis is extremely simple and doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles (though you can sync with your web-based iDoneThis account). But, it’s very easy to use and can help you build a habit or routine of accomplishing a task every day. You will likely be motivated to get something done just to keep the “done” chain going.

Platform: iPhone, iPad
Cost: Free, monthly subscription fee for teams ($3/person/month)
Other apps like it: List

What’s on your summer to do list? Organizing your closet

Sorting, categorizing, and purging clothing are not activities just for springtime. If your goal is to simplify, unclutter, and to keep only the things you need and use, summer is an opportune time to reveiw and edit what’s in your closet. A new season gives us a reason to check if our style and tastes are still the same as the year before, to see if we have duplicates, and to organize things in a way that helps us find what we want when we want it. You will also get a good idea of the colors you tend to stock up on so you can find ways to introduce others that flatter you (or to streamline your options). And, if you read Erin’s recent post on “material saturation,” you would have learned that our closets (as well as a few other places) are bursting at the seams, so this is just a good a time as any to figure out:

How much clothing you have

This is typically the first step in the clothing review process. You can’t really know what you’re going to keep or donate until you find out exactly what and how much you have. If you have clothes in several places, gather them together so that you can really see how large (or small) your stash is. Sometimes we forget where we store things, so check on high shelves, under the bed, in the guest room (in the closet and under the bed in there, too, if you have a guest room), basement, attic, outdoor storage units, and the laundry area. Once you have them all together, use a flat surface like a table or your bed as a staging area for sorting and categorizing.

Now comes the hard(er) part, making decisions about what gets the boot and what gets lovingly placed back inside your closet.

How many clothes do you really need?

So, how often do you really wear all your clothing? Frequency of use can be used as a benchmark when you’re deciding what you’ll keep. Some things may only be worn once in a while (e.g. for special events) while others are not worn because you no longer like them or because you haven’t seen them. If the latter statement refers to you, give them until the end of this season to see if you reach for them. If you don’t, they are probably good candidates for your favorite charitable organization. Do the same for clothes that you just don’t fancy anymore.

Are you still holding on to clothing that you used to love?

You don’t have to get rid of everything in your closet and there’s nothing wrong with keeping a few items because they have high sentimental value. But, if your closet is filled with many clothes that you used to love but don’t wear anymore, it’s time to look at things a little differently. And, don’t just buy something because it’s on sale. It has to “make your heart sing,” so says Stylist, Stacy London. You might also want to think about which item will leave your closet so that your new purchase can move in.

Do your clothes still fit and flatter you?

Look with a critical eye at each article of clothing. Are they flattering to you now at your current size? Try them on to see how you look and feel in them, especially while you’re still at the store. It will take a little more time to do this, but consider the time you’ll save by leaving something unflattering at the store instead taking it home only to return it later.

Do your clothes still fit your current lifestyle?

Think about your current lifestyle while you’re in decision-making mode. Do you need to attend a variety of diverse events that require several types of clothing, or can you wear some of the same outfits? Has your style evolved over time? If the prospect of searching for clothing that will make you look your best is a bit daunting, you can use an in-store stylist to help you select a few core pieces. Many stores, like Nordstrom, offer this service (for both men and women) free of charge. This doesn’t mean that you have carte blanche to buy any and everything. But, you may get advice that will help you make wiser purchases and help keep your closet from being filled with things that you will never wear.

How will you put everything back?

Before putting everything back in your closet, first figure out if any of your items need to be laundered or taken to the dry cleaners. Some things, even though you may have already worn them once or twice, can go directly in your closet. A recent article in the Star Tribune noted that it’s okay to wash your jeans “intermittently” but jackets and blazers can be worn up to six times before needing to be cleaned. You can also take a look at Real Simple’s The When-to-Wash-It-Handbook for “when to wash” tips on various items, including delicates and everyday wear.

As you return things to your closet…

  • Group like items together (e.g., all the pants together, all the shirts together, all the dresses together, and so on) and keep in mind that not every item should be put on a hanger. Sweaters, for instance, keep their shape best when they are folded (find more clothing tips in Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook).
  • Color coordinating (i.e., keeping similar hues together) the clothing in each category will help you to find what you’re looking for more quickly and see the colors you tend to gravitate toward.
  • Consider using hangers of the same type and color to give your closet a neat and orderly look. By maintaining a uniform look, you’ll be more likely to things back where they belong.
  • Keep donation basket or bag in your closet or laundry room for clothing that you haven’t worn in awhile or simply don’t like anymore.

No matter what structured elements you decide to include in your closet, put things back in a way that makes sense to you. Avoid creating a system that is too complicated to keep up with and the next time you decide to organize your closet, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much easier the task will be.

A year ago on Unclutterer



  • Repercussions of uncluttering and organizing
    We often talk about the benefits of uncluttering and organizing, but we rarely even hint of their being downsides. Today, I thought we’d break that trend and discuss all the work that — at least in the short term — uncluttering and organizing create.
  • Stumped!
    Over the years of writing about organizing and working with clients, I continue to be baffled by how to neatly organize a small number of items. Whenever I see these items or hear about them, I cringe. Organizing them successfully is a complete mystery to me. Maybe you have a few, too, in your home or office — a specific item that always seems to be out of place, cumbersome, or impossible to store well?
  • Excerpt: Six tips for organizing your time spent on the telephone
    Since most of us spend time at work dealing with facts and data, the phone should be taking a backseat to other forms of communication. That being said, it’s impossible to avoid the phone in the workplace. And there are times when picking up the phone is the best way to handle a situation. The following are suggestions for how to use the phone in an organized way during those times when you need to rely on it.
  • Assorted links for July 22, 2010
    Interesting products and articles related to uncluttering and organizing.


  • Three laws of basement storage
    If you use your basement for storing things other than root vegetables, let me introduce you to my Three Laws of Basement Storage.
  • Off-beat solutions for organizing your mail
    If you don’t immediately process your mail when you come home each evening, then I strongly recommend having a set place to store your mail until you do have time to process it.

Ask Unclutterer: Rituals, mechanisms, habits and traditions to ensure an uncluttered home

Reader Sasha and others submitted questions to Ask Unclutterer that were very similar in content, asking:

The quote at the end of Tuesday’s post by Anthony Graesch has been on my mind: “The inflow of objects is relentless. The outflow is not. We don’t have rituals, mechanisms, for getting rid of stuff.” After an initial uncluttering project is completed, what rituals and/or mechanisms do you suggest to maintain an uncluttered space? When should we unclutter our homes again?

Many groups of people have uncluttering and cleaning as a ritualistic component of their culture. For example, in many south Asian countries in preparation for Diwali the entire house is cleaned and all old clutter removed before a family begins celebrating. This holiday is in the last quarter of the calendar year when temperatures are mild (60ºFs and 70ºFs) and families can work both out and indoors. Some sub-groups even include painting and decorating as part of this ritual, where walls get a fresh coat of paint and older decorative items are replaced with new (pictures are even swapped in frames). There is a religious purpose for this behavior, but even the non-religious observe the secular aspect of uncluttering and cleaning around this holiday.

On the whole, we don’t have such holidays in the U.S. where everyone observes a ritual for annually cleaning and uncluttering our spaces. I’ve noticed most families only go through such whole-home uncluttering activities when moving or right before entertaining guests. And, when entertaining guests, it’s usually more of a pick-up and put-away surface cleaning than a deep uncluttering and cleaning. As a result, I agree with Graesch and his statement that most families bring stuff in but rarely let stuff go. We’re definitely a culture of acquisition.

To maintain an uncluttered home, I think it’s a good idea to have habits and traditions in place to keep the outflow of goods equal to (or greater than) the inflow.

Four good habits to observe every day of the year:

  1. Don’t bring clutter in. Keep a trash can, recycling bin, and shredder near the main entrance to your home so you can immediately trash the trash, recycle what can be recycled, and shred anything you don’t need that contains personal information on it (like those preapproved credit card applications you get in the mail).
  2. One-in-one-out. Try your best to get rid of one item each time you bring in a newer item (this works for most products except for quickly consumable items like food). For example, if you buy a new pair of jeans, get rid of your oldest, hole-iest pair. If you’re starting to notice one-in-one-out isn’t enough, aim for one-in-two-out or one-in-three-out.
  3. Permanent box for charity. I also recommend keeping a Rubbermaid bin in your laundry room for deposits of donation items. I suggest the laundry room because it is incredibly simple to pull a piece of clothing you no longer want out of the dryer, fold it, and then put it straight into the donation bin. A sturdy bin is great because it can also hold non-clothing items you wish to donate to charity. Once the bin is full, toss it in the car and take its contents to your charity of choice.
  4. Put things away after you use them. When you put things away after you use them, you don’t have stray items all over your home and you know when your storage spaces are getting full and ready for uncluttering. It also helps you avoid having more possessions than you can store.

Four traditions to observe during the year:

  1. Spring cleaning. Getting your home ready for the warmer months of the year is good for many reasons. You’ll be able to clean things thoroughly, as well as notice if any damage has taken place to your home over the winter months. For a comprehensive list of spring cleaning tasks, check out pages 185-190 in my book.
  2. Fall cleaning. Just like spring cleaning, it’s always a good idea to get your home ready for the cooler months of the year. For an exhaustive list of fall cleaning tasks, check out pages 100-105 in my book.
  3. Cabin fever uncluttering. There is a point during the winter when you become tired of the snow and ice and cold temperatures that keep you indoors and you are longing for warmer weather. When these days set in, I know I’m mentally ready to do a thorough uncluttering in the house. Go through everything in your home and get rid of all the clutter. (For me, this is usually the first or second week of February.)
  4. Too hot to move uncluttering. When it is too hot to move outside and you start looking forward to fall, this is a good time to do another full-house uncluttering project. You’re inside retreating from the heat, anyway, so you might as well put that indoor time to good use. (Never fails, this happens for me the last week of July or first week of August.)

If these winter, spring, summer, and fall times don’t work for you, find times that do — the week before your birthday, the week before Easter, every weekend in October, etc. Attach rewards to the end of these projects so you have something to look forward to, in addition to your uncluttered and cleaned home. Also, be sure everyone in your home is involved in working to get things done. Everyone should feel responsible for and have a stake in the smooth running of the home.

Thank you, Sasha and the others, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Backsliding can help you fine tune your routines

We’ve all been there. We make a resolution at the start of the year to change our behavior and current ways of doing things. Perhaps, we decide to exercise more, to stop smoking, or to become an unclutterer. And, we start seeing the results of our efforts, of our commitment to our new goals … then it happens. We backslide. We somehow fall off course, even though we may have earnestly given our new routine our best try.

Though you may feel disappointed and frustrated by this bump in the road, all is not lost. This is an opportunity in disguise, a chance to look back at what worked and what adjustments can be made. In other words, don’t give up. Instead, refine your plan so you have a greater chance of success when you begin again. Take some time to:

Investigate what happened

So, things didn’t work out. You could just accept that and wait for your disappointment to wear off. Or, you could try to figure out the reasons why things didn’t go as you intended.

When you look with an investigative eye, you focus on facts and less on how you (currently) feel. Ask yourself questions to drill down to the reasons that made it hard to stick to your new plan.

  • Did you take on too much at once?
  • Did you need more support?
  • Was your new routine too complex?
  • Were you feeling particularly stressed (or other emotion)?

By looking closely at the events that took place before the difficulties arose, you’ll have a better idea of the changes that you can make before trying again.

Consider that you may need more time

You might have heard that it typically takes at least 21 days for a new habit to stick. While there is some data that supports the theory that you can successfully make adjustments in about a month, the reality is that it takes most people 12 weeks or more. When you’ve been used to doing things a certain way for a while, changing that behavior probably will not happen quickly. Consider that you might need to give yourself more time to let your new routine become a natural part of your everyday life.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, in a recent interview with NPR, explained that “there’s a cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behavior unfold.” This happens after you’ve become used to the new habit. While practice may not exactly make perfect, repetitive actions do increase your comfort level, so much so, that you won’t have to think about what you’re doing. The new behavior will become more instinctive, like brushing your teeth. With this in mind, give your attention to the new routine as often as is reasonable and for as long as you need to.

Redouble your efforts

Dust off your previous plans and analyze them and the process you used to integrate the new habit a bit more closely. To increase your chances of success this time around, here are a six points to think about:

  1. Disadvantages of the “bad” habit. Looking at the negative effects of your current behavior will remind you of why you wanted to make a change.
  2. Benefits of the new change. Thinking about the positive outcomes can be very motivating and will solidify why you made the decision to adjust your behavior.
  3. Complexity of the change. Keep things simple and focus on just one aspect of your life that you’d like to improve. Making realistic goals will prevent you from taking on too much and getting overwhelmed.
  4. Ups and downs of the process. Hiccups will happen. That’s unavoidable, particularly until your comfort level with the new habit increases. Expect that things may be a bit tricky, especially in the beginning, but don’t let this discourage you.
  5. Strategies you’ll use. Continue using tactics that worked and remove the ones that didn’t. Instead of looking for significant change after 21 days, use that timeframe as a “pausing point” to assess where you are and check that you’re still on the right path.
  6. Visualize what success looks like. How will you know when you’ve made it over the hump? What will that look and feel like? Write out or sketch your success picture. Post it somewhere visible to inspire and remind you of what you’re working toward.

As I mentioned before, there is no one way to make improvements that will work for every personality. You will find some things helpful and others not. You may discover that you need more or less structure. Maybe you need someone to motivate you to continue on. Perhaps being in a different environment would be helpful. Writing down your thoughts might have a positive effect. As you go through this process of change, be mindful of how you’re feeling and be aware of what seems to work best for you. Keep things simple and use setbacks as opportunities to refine your system so that you can find a routine that works for you.

Unitasker Wednesday: Hot Dog Hero

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

When overcoming a bad habit, I try to make positive, declarative statements about my behavior and avoid telling myself I can’t or won’t do something. For example, I’ll think, “I make nutritious and healthful food choices,” instead of “Don’t eat junk food.”

I’m reconsidering my policy on avoiding can’t and won’t statements, however, after discovering this week’s unitasker selection. The device leaves me feeling strongly compelled to declare, “I will not eat any hot dogs steamed inside an animal.”

I’m 99 percent certain this is a dog since it’s wearing a collar and “barks,” but one percent of me thinks it might be a rabbit. Whether dog or rabbit, animals’ innards should not be cooking meat products. It’s reminiscent of seafood restaurants with tropical fish tanks lining the walls and daily the fish in the tanks are forced to watch their cousins being eaten off dinner plates. I find it all very unsettling.