Clearing the Clutter and Finding Your Life
Why you need to throw 50 things away
-Gail Blanke, author of “Throw Out Fifty Things”
Okay, so we’re living in really tough times. Jobless rates are soaring, home values are plummeting, 401(k)’s are dwindling and bad people are running off with good people’s money. And nothing is the way it was, nor is it likely to be again, for any of us.
Here’s the thing: Sometimes it takes a crisis for us to know what we’re made of, what we stand for, how good we are. And sometimes it takes a crisis for us to let go of the past – so we can grab hold of the future.
As an executive and a life coach, I’ve worked with hundreds of people, from CEOs to stand-up comedians to people who are just plain stuck and who can’t seem to see the way forward. And as crazy as it sounds, I’ve found the best way to enable people to find the confidence and optimism to get moving again is to ask them to go home and throw out 50 things. Weird, right? Well, it works. Our lives are so filled with the debris from the past that it’s a wonder we can get up in the morning, never mind go to work, care for our children and parents, and just put one foot in front of the other. When we rid ourselves of the physical and mental junk (I call it “life plaque”) that weighs us down, we discover the energy we need to step forward into the next glorious phase of our lives.
“OK, but why 50?” you ask. Because once you make it to 50, a powerful momentum takes over; throwing out becomes a habit, a mind-set. And then something wonderful happens: You take control of your life. You start living it, rather than it controlling you. Here’s how to do it:
Fuel the urge to purge.
Imagine how good you’re going to feel and look when you finally let go of the physical and mental clutter — old makeup, stuff in the junk drawer, a bad relationship. Create a vision of yourself stepping into a clearing: Free, strong and unstoppable.
Get a grip on the rules and tools.
The rules of disengagement are simple. One: If the item or person makes you feel bad about yourself, let it go. Two: If you find yourself agonizing over something, whether it’s a too-tight sweater or a too-small view of yourself, let it go. Now gather three sturdy garbage bags, and label them Trash, Donate and Sell. And remember that what might no longer be your cup of tea could hit the spot for someone else. Recycle!
Celebrate the small stuff.
Start with a drawer or shelf and spend 15 minutes, tops. When you’re finished tossing and tidying, take a step back and feel the surge of energy. Don’t be surprised if you can’t resist tackling the whole closet or cupboard — or room, for that matter. Ask somebody to admire your work.
Make it a party.
Have a “Throw Out 50 Things” evening. Turn on some music and get out the wine. Ask someone to write down what you’re throwing out so you make it to 50. Listen to the suggestions other people make about what should stay or go. Their suggestions might seem ruthless at first, but they’ll probably be right on the money.
Don’t be afraid.
This is your life we’re talking about, the only one you have. You don’t have time, energy or room for physical or emotional waste.
So what have I thrown out lately? Well, I just threw out some dark lip liners that my daughter said made me look frightening. (I liked them until I spotted myself in a store window and wondered who that scary woman was.) And I gave away a red velvet dress that I bought almost two years ago. I wore it once and didn’t like the way I looked. It just wasn’t me. The skirt was too flouncy, the sleeves were too billowy; it was too cute and made me look like I was trying to look younger than I am. And with the dress, I’m throwing out thinking that I need to look younger than I am. That’s big. I mean, talk about mental clutter! See how throwing out physical stuff can lead to throwing out mental stuff?
I’m always amazed what people throw out when they get really warmed up. A client of mine went home and threw out the guy she’d been living with for 11 years. When she came back to my office, she asked if she still needed to throw out 49 more things. “Actually, that’ll do it for this week,” I said, “but next week, you’ll have to get crackin’ again.” And she did.
This isn’t the time to hunker down and wait for the light at the end of the tunnel. We could wait a lifetime. It is the time to burst onto the scene with the energy and optimism that comes from clearing the clutter and reinventing our lives.
I’m not kidding about 50.
Gail Blanke is the founder, president and CEO of Lifedesigns, LLC, a company whose vision is to empower men and women worldwide to live truly exceptional lives. Her newest book, Throw Out Fifty Things – Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life, was published March 20th, 2009, by Grand Central Publishing and has been featured on Today, CNN International and CBS Sunday Morning.