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What’s Parked in Your Positivity Garage?

written by Judith Krings 31 July 2015

Judith Krings, Ph.D, PCC, is a zestful positive psychology coach and clinical psychologist known as "Dr. Spunk" in her radio and TV days. She is author of the Amazon bestselling coaching strengths book, Photo Adventures in Cuba: Unlock Your Power of Positivity as well as Rev Up Your Relationship Resilience: 7 Positive Psychology Tips to Make Love Last. She is a coach trainer for MentorCoach, a speaker, and workshop facilitator. She resides in WI and Puerto Vallarta, MX. Full bio. Judith's articles for Positive Psychology News are here.

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?

Making space

Making space

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.

Box after box

Box after box

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.

Moving toward order

Moving toward order

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:

Experiencing harmony

Experiencing harmony

  • 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.

Appreciating Beauty

Appreciating Beauty

To sweeten the PERMA pie, I add VITALITY here, too. I loved this cleansing, energizing exercise. The lifting and hauling. The sorting. I was zestfully energized.

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

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Jan Stanley 1 August 2015 - 10:48 am


I love the way you connected the sorting and decluttering with your values, and how you described it as a gift to yourself. I have been doing little bits of this over the past year amounting to maybe a box or two per month. I have enjoyed seeing one corner cleared, or one shelf now neatly stacked. You have opened my eyes and I will now bring a PERMA+ approach to the job. Thanks for your wisdom and zest. I’m so happy that you’re sharing your voice with us! Jan

Judy Krings 1 August 2015 - 12:09 pm

Thanks ever so much, Jan, and happy you join me in the “clear the clutter with positivity” club. It feels so great, doesn’t it? I breathe easier and feel much more at ease when I see spaces in my surroundings and life in general.

It is a pleasure and honor to be here at PPDN. I enjoy your articles as well as those of all the other remarkable writers. THANK YOU for sharing your happiness and motivation.

Marion Levine, Ph.D. 2 August 2015 - 1:55 pm

Judy, this is a brilliant — and entertaining — article! Declutterng is such a huge problem for so many, and I certainly count myself in the club that can be overwhelmed by more than enough stuff. I know from helping others that stuff is not just about things — it’s about our history, our future, and, basically, our identity. And here’s where a positive psychology understanding of
our identity is so clever and effective — align declutterng with your strengths. How original! And simple. Like PERMA with vitality added in, these are easy ways to maintain a mindset that moves one towards
clarity while going through material that can bring up a myriad of memories and feelings. Deep gratitude to you,
Judy, for staring your process in such detail, and adding in photos which
etch into our minds the goal towards which many of us need to work — the beauty and harmony of bringing order
to our possessions.

John D. Patredis, LPC, BCC 2 August 2015 - 5:19 pm

Judy, thank you for a front row seat on your colorful, witty, entertaining, and encouraging journey that
transported you from clutter to harmony. I enjoyed the ride (and found it informative) as you allowed us
to view your GPS screen as it guided you through your character strengths and PERMA. Thanks for giving
all of us a nudge to give ourselves the gift of a less cluttered life. It becomes clear that with 2.3 billion
surface feet of self-storage and with fifty percent of self-storage renters now simply storing what won’t fit in their houses that you have given us all something to think about.
I am going to start my de-clutter project as soon as I jump into my 1967 forest green Corvette convertible and go get me a piece of tiramisu.

Judy Krings 2 August 2015 - 6:27 pm

Thank you dear Marion.

You are a beautiful writer and talented coach. I especially appreciate you enjoyed the strengths application and your comment, “it’s about our history, our future, and, basically, our identity. And here’s where a positive psychology understanding of our identity is so clever and effective — align de-clutterng with your strengths”. You caught the essence of the article. I can see your catcher’s mitt now! Big thanks for taking the time to share. Smiles of deep appreciation headed your way.

Marion Levine 2 August 2015 - 6:53 pm

Thank you, dear Judy, for your kind words of appreciation, and, again, for sharing your wisdom.
True to the great coach that you are, what you wrote is actionable and leads to concrete steps.
I plan to tap into my strengths, toss in some PERMA with vitality, and start to tackle
my stuff with a renewed mindset and optimism!

Judy Krings 3 August 2015 - 5:30 am

Terrific dear Marion! I can feel your motivation dancing in the moment. Your positivity salad sounds delicious. Ironic you talk about motivation, too. This morning I woke up thinking about a client’s internal and external motivation and how he could harness both to journey forward optimistically. I am not sure if I was channeling you, but what fun. Many thanks, Marion.

Judy Krings 3 August 2015 - 5:54 am

Hi, John, Your lovely email light me up like a brilliant firecracker. Your humor started my day off with all of Barb Fredrickson’s 10 positive emotions singing in a delightful chorus in my head. How creative to cite the clutter statistics. They blew me away. 2.3 BILLION feet. Too much stuff.

Ironic, too, as our renter in our furnished house next door told me she decided to empty two of her storage units in another state and bring some of her furniture here. YIKES! Now I will need to figure out a place to store the new furniture that is already in her house. Life is so curious and requires shifts as contexts change. I swore I would never get a rental unit. It is good thing I purged, as I may once again need to find space for her furniture. One day at a time, I remind myself. I shall mindfully live in the NOW.

Thanks ever so much, John, for taking the time to write such a delightful response.

Homaira 4 August 2015 - 10:52 pm

Dear Judy,

What a lovely article about the fulfillment you found in decluttering, and what a delightful way of making us all a part of your journey! I totally felt your enjoyment and relief – there is nothing like open space that lets us find meaning in our lives.

Love the way your garage looks now!

Judy Krings 5 August 2015 - 5:00 am

Thanks so much for your kind reply, Homaira. Reading your words, “open space” made me feel relaxed. Ahhh…indeed! I plan to keep my garage doors open to peace, calm, and arranged-by-color spray paint!

Robyn 9 September 2015 - 3:33 am

I like the way you approached this enormous situation with such positivity and also by sharing your “stuff” with others it was a double positive in the end for you. I am trying to look at my situation one item at a time. When we look at the big picture one gets do overwhelmed. Like you by looking at one bag, one bin at a time the job seemed more realistic. With me I look at one decision at a time and cross it off my list. Pick out furniture, pick out lighting, pick out carpeting etc. one item at a time and take one day at a time and I think we will make it. Looking at all of this in one big picture one wants to bury themselves in a back room or get tied up with Mr. Depression and get nothing done. I know as you when the project is ALL down I too will feel proud of a job well done and feel accomplished. One day, one item at a time!!!!

Judy Krings 9 September 2015 - 8:29 am

Thanks, dear Robyn. have lost everything you owned to a tragic fire a few weeks ago, I can only begin to imagine the myriad of feelings you had while reading this article WISHING you still had clutter to organized. No one unless they have been in this position could fathom your grief. You bet you can be so very proud of yourself and how you have showed up, trying to rebuild your entire material world. Thank god you are one resilient lady who I love, admire and appreciate. I know you are exhausted, but no way Mr. Depression will win. You have a ton of friends and family who mirror back to you now all the love and spirit you have gifted them in the past. I am here, too,and you know how you and I together kick butt! Love you and thanks for taking the time to post.

Wayne Jones 9 September 2015 - 11:35 am

A lot of this really resonated with me, especially your final salute: “Here’s to work/play lighting your way to flourishing.” I like to think of my work as my play. I try to have fun doing everything I do. Being very “gold” (to use the Personality Dimensions analogy), I am very task oriented and structured, and I love to check the item off the list upon completion. I enjoy doing this. I try to vary my tasks so that I get to enjoy each one in a different way. And, as a bonus, if I can build some relationship with others at the same time, that’s gravy.
Finally, I found the reference to Seligman’s PERMA very interesting.

Judy Krings 10 September 2015 - 11:35 am

Hi, Wayne, I am tickled you enjoyed my article and so grateful you let me know. I think you and I might be twins from a different mother. I like your varying tasks. I have this on my daily list to make myself per my friend, Tom Rath, to get out of my computer chair and MOVE for 15′ each hour. A Fitbit is helping me achieve that.

You also reminded me I might add a sign off to my http://www.coachingpositivity.com website, “Here’s to work/play guiding your flourishing way (or ‘today’)!” When I did radio and TV it was, “It’s YOUR life, live it well!” many moons before positive psychology was on my radar.
Thanks ever so much for taking the time to post a thought-provoking post. I am smiling with appreciation.

Erin Chan 17 December 2015 - 10:03 pm

I really liked your positivity when it came to handling such a big project! The fact that you can even call it a vacation is great. I can really relate to how you felt about decluttering things in your life and the accomplishment of finishing such a big project is amazing. I will definitely try your positive approach when I’m decluttering things in my life.

Judy Krings 18 December 2015 - 9:34 am

Thanks ever so much, Erin. I am so happy this article inspired you to re-frame who you look at de-cluttering. I teased myself sometimes and say, “Quit muttering and get to de-cluttering!” Today it is my desk that needs to be nice and not naughty for the holidays. Hope your holidays are as bright as your comments made me today, Erin. Happy hugs headed your way.


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