Is your life filled with projects? Is your “Task Positive Brain Network” in full gear with to-do’s barking in your brain?“What’s your next project?” my dear friend, coach Gayle Scroggs, asked me in an email the other day. I whipped back an immediate response, “Purposefully, there are no major projects in my immediate future, except cleaning out 34 years of stuff collected in my basement. After that? Watch out, garage. You are next on the organize and purge list!”
Gayle flashed back a quick email, “But, Judy, those ARE projects!”
Decluttering as a Movement Toward Harmony
Curiosity in full gear, I sat myself down to ponder. I had categorized projects as professional entities, just as I separated work and play. I queried myself, “Are cleaning out the basement and garage work or play…or both?” Did I dismiss them as projects because there was no monetary reward nor career advancement? Why did I choose now to clean up my basement and four-stall garage instead of another career project?I knew why. I was tired. I needed a break from technology. I also had decision fatigue about planning what to do next in my career. I have had five major life traumas in the last 4 months. I needed a cognitive break. I was reminded of Tom Rath’s book, Are You Fully Charged? I knew I wasn’t. I needed a way to move toward internal harmony.
My basement was overloaded with three decades of stuff from my husband’s businesses, my businesses including my toy invention business, health records after my life-altering car accident, 175 scrapbooks, mementos precious to my mother and my kids, and enough Christmas decorations to give Macy’s a run for their money.
My garage groaned with sporting goods galore, three large no longer used reindeer covered with thousands of Christmas lights, and 2 shelves containing every garden supply known to man. Bulging boxes of spray paint for my garden menagerie and enough vases to give every friend a large bouquet needed to go. My husband’s beloved 1967 forest green Corvette convertible, his joy for 3 decades, was held hostage by lawn carts, a John Deere tractor, and a trailer filled to the brim with grandchildren’s toys. Too much stuff! This clutter deserved to be put on the forefront of my “Do it for the Gipper” playlist.
I recalled Stuart Brown noting there were hundreds of way to play. I reframed the perceived drudgery of cleaning up as a way to play.I imagined my motivations being like the layers of a luscious tiramisu dessert. I’d wanted to tackle the neglected home areas of life for years. I was sick of looking at the messes. I couldn’t find things. I wanted to give away treasures I knew someone else might enjoy far more than I do. But heretofore, I had put my career first.
My #1 strength, “Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence” was screaming in pain! I admit I was also embarrassed about what other people would think. I could see their horror when my garage door lifted to reveal my disaster area. I could imagine yellow and black tape across my garage stall spelling out, “Warning, Danger Area!”
The water meter lady recently made an unscheduled visit to my basement. I was mortified. I made excuses. She was a kind lady. She said she had seen worse. But this mess was NOT the real me.
What rationalizations had I been using to push these nasty messes out of mind? Like a jack-in-the-box, the answer popped up. “Work comes first!” I had ignored my gut for years. Funny, when I am coaching, I listen with great intensity and pounce on my gut feelings, happily grateful for my automatic pilot. But for myself, I had put my “clean the clutter” on the back-burner. I had ignored my desire to have my home as organized as my work.
Time for an action plan. I realized to live my best self life right now, I needed a shift from WORK to PLAY. Cleaning my basement and garage was a way to connect with my values. I could enjoy anticipatory savoring of beauty and excellence by imagining my abode as a soon-to-be feast for my grateful eyes.A Gift to Myself
I decided to make cleaning my basement and garage a vacation from work. I crafted this activity as a gift to myself, a gift I had waited too long to unwrap. I found myself smiling as I opened bins, basking in the joy the gifts had brought me years ago. But now it was time to let go. I sat in deep appreciation as I re-read hundreds of thank you cards from clients. I savored Mom’s 90th birthday bash emails and cards and her photos. I sat on son Sean’s Harley Davidson rocking horse. At age three, it was his prize possession. I remembered his thrill last year, at age 34, when he bought his first real Harley.
With delight, I bagged up half my wardrobe to give to my former office cleaning lady. She would be ecstatic to get Christmas in July. I loaded up my friend’s dump truck… twice! I gave away a ton of stuff to our son, Jason. I also resurrected six huge bags of stuff from his youth and teased him about his report cards. I enjoyed his smiles, as he revisited his childhood. To my friend who will never be able to travel the world, I gave hand-carved canes and other art. I can’t forget the household supplies, jewelry, and office supplies happily given to my beloved office manager, Robyn, whose home tragically burned to the ground two weeks ago. Thinking about her situation helps me put my life’s blessings into perspective.
PERMA of Decluttering
Martin Seligman’s PERMA was with me every step of my work/play way:
- P = Positive Emotions: Removing clutter also removed stress. I was happy digging into my mess, except when I found the biggest mouse in the universe dead under a bin!
- E = Engagement: I eased into flow when I swept my garage floor for two hours. What a joy to sweep away dead leaves, grass clippings and plain old dirt! Accumulated angst was also gone with the wind.
- R = Relationships: I savored gifts, letters, and trinkets from old friends. I gave many souvenirs to my accountability guru girlfriend. She offered a playful punch while she helped me re-organize and de-clutter. Our laughter bellowed as we joked and poked around.
- M = Meaning: I relived life. I especially treasured the nine heavy boxes of reminders of my precious mother. We traveled the world together for forty years. She died a few days before Chris Peterson. Caring for her during her last years was meaning personified.
- A = Accomplishment: Doing what I had wanted to do for years was exhilarating. Giving myself space to shine in my home, not my career, felt like a huge breath of fresh air, bringing peace, freedom, and calm.
It took three weeks of focused effort, in between my coaching clients, to retrieve my basement and garage from the eyesore category. I admit it was not all play. There was back-bending, muscle-aching grunt work involved. But in my humbly proud mind, the journey’s end was titled “Positivity Parked Here!”
How about you? What paths do you choose to clear? Here’s to work/play lighting your way to flourishing.
Brown, S., & Vaughan, C. (2009). Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Avery. Stuart Brown also writes for the Penguin Group Blog.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Hudson Street Press.
Krings, J., (2015). Take The 15-Years Since the Millennium Flourishing Quiz.
Rath, T. (2015). Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life. Silicon Guild.
Stratton-Berkesell, R. (2014). Playful Inquiry. TEDxNavesink. YouTube.
Values Infographic. VIA Institute on Character. For a quick review of the 24 character strengths.
All the pictures are used courtesy of Dr. Judith Krings except the initial picture of garage clutter.
Garage clutter courtesy of StJohn79