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Too much stuff?

When Organizing Isn't Enough by Julie Morgenstern

If you’re getting ready to toss stuff for spring cleaning, read this book first:

When Organizing Isn’t Enough:
SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life
by Julie Morgenstern

It was one of my Top 9 Books of 2009.

Julie Morgenstern is an organizing expert and consultant. With an edge.

Whether intended or not, her writings touched my spiritual needs as much as my physical ones in my search for less chaos and more space in my life.

Morgenstern encourages you to find the theme of your current season of life. Common themes include: connections, creativity, freedom, wisdom, etc.

Part 1: Getting Unstuck
It’s about breaking free of the obsolete stuff in your life so you’ll have room for the important stuff.

She retells a Zen parable about a traveler who built a raft to cross a flood. Because it worked well in that situation, he kept the raft. And carried it around with him as baggage for the rest of his life.

What are the rafts you carry that you no longer need? Identify what weighs you down, whether it be objects, commitments, or habits. What distracts you or depletes your energy?

Part 2: Separate the Treasures
Treasures can be objects, but they can also be skills, schedules, habits.
According to Morgenstern, a true treasure “will not generate mixed feelings—if there’s even a little negative energy mixed in, the item should stay with the trash.” [A tad too extreme for me, but a point worth considering.]

Some questions to ask yourself in distinguishing true treasures from maybe’s:

  1. What practical value does this item provide?
  2. If I just got rid of it, what would I miss about it?
  3. If it was taken away, would I try to re-create it?
  4. Is it invigorating to my life right now?
  5. As I think about my theme, does it vibrate with relevance?

Part 3: Heave the Trash
“Which has more value—this object or the free space for something new?”

Don’t just heave physical objects: look at unfinished tasks that weigh you down as well. That includes unnecessary schedule attachments and habit attachments.

In this section Morgenstern also includes “habit breakers”:

  • for procrastination
         (i.e., if it’s hard to start a project, try tackling the 2nd or 3rd step first)
  • for perfectionism
         (i.e., take a break at the point of diminishing returns)
  • for chronic lateness
         (i.e., create a cheat sheet for how longs things really take)

Part 4: Embrace your Identity 
This section is a spiritual pep talk to trust yourself, have the discipline to deliver, and live in the moment.

From a distance, you recognize determined people by their achievements. But if you are lucky enough to be close to a determined person, you know that each achievement is made up of a million different tiny steps.

Determined people have an ability to face one moment at a time—to do battle with an individual obstacle as it comes up, without losing sight of the bigger goal….

Organizing isn’t about neatness; it’s about function. ...The key is to custom-design your system around your natural habits and the way you think so that it brings out your best self, rather than restricting you.

Part 5: Drive Yourself Forward
The last section encourages you to break your mold, experiment with your theme, and beware of the 30% slip (which is when you make progress, but then slip back into your old habits just a bit).

Morgenstern includes multiple real-life examples to show you exactly how this has worked. Those were beneficial to me. (And just so you know, her spiritual talk isn’t necessarily Christian talk.)  

This is a book worth reading on many levels. If you combine it with Getting Things Done, which is a super-practical book, I can’t imagine the tornado that would ensue from your flurry of organization. (I read them separately, so I only experienced high but damaging winds blowing through.)

The more we understand our attachments, the more we can alter them into what they should be. And should not be. And live the life of real meaning that we’re intended to live.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy
and where thieves break in and steal, 
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust destroys
and where thieves do not break in and steal. 
For where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

* * *
I now follow Julie on Twitter @JulieMorgenstrn. Her tweets are usually links to helpful articles on organization and time management, such as this one.

Here’s a 5-minute clip about her SHED method:


Unknown said...

I couldn't watch the clip so I will at home but... yesterday I was looking at your Top 9 for 2009 list... and Shed caught my eye and I put it on my list...and then today your bring it forward for me... weird, but thanks! I just turned 50 and in the processing of sorting all areas of my life..

Lisa notes... said...

I have to say that is very odd timing! It was totally out of the blue yesterday that I decided to write up something for Shed, a book that I read many months ago. Hmmm...

Happy Birthday! I've been reading about your RAOK project for quite awhile now, and am super impressed with it. Many blessings to you for the many ways you've been blessing others.

Stephani Cochran said...

I needed this. I'm going to be off work soom for about a week. During that time I will be evaluating (I do a sort of life assessment once a year and review my progress 6 months later), catching up, organizing, reestablishing the important routines, etc. Maybe I should start this book as it may help me in some of these areas. Thanks for sharing.


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