When it comes to major obstacles that stand between us and our dreams, organization (or should I say a lack thereof) is among the most devastating. Regardless of how great a goal may be, without an organized environment and a properly defined game plan, failure is imminent. Though it is easy to understand how major unforeseen circumstances can wreck a project, it is far more common for simple distractions to derail our focus to the extent that while we aren’t explicitly failing, we definitely aren’t progressing at a pace that will result in success.
This is why it is vitally important to thoroughly declutter our lives.
From our physical workspaces and literal closets to the media we consume and the people we surround ourselves with, each aspect of our lives should be organized and serve a purpose.
An Organized Workspace
I candidly have no idea how anyone can get anything done iftheir workspace isn’t clean and organized. Whether it’s a carpenter’s work bench, a chef’s kitchen counter, an author’s desk, or a programmer’s file folders, I am a firm believer that a cluttered workspace lends itself to a cluttered mind and endless opportunities for distraction and procrastination. As if staying motivated and on task isn’t hard enough, there is no benefit to tempting yourself with distractions. So, follow your mother’s advice and go clean your room/workspace! I promise you will see an increase in productivity.
Equally important as cleaning your workspace before starting a project is cleaning up after you finish a project. My dad always said that “a job isn’t finished until all the tools are put away.” He didn’t say this just so we wouldn’t get in trouble with my Mom, but also because he didn’t want to stunt our momentum.
Sure, you may have finished one project, but there are always more projects to be done. I don’t know anyone who is motivated to start a project when the first thing they have to do is clean up the mess they left the last time. It’s far easier to simply ignore the mess (and subsequently your next project) and not make any progress toward your goals, thus perpetuating the crazy cycle of unproductiveness.
So rather than continue down this path, clean up your workspace now and then leave it clean at the end of the day, as though you were leaving yourself a finely appointed invitation on white linen paper to “come back soon.” While it’s easy to avoid a mess, it is damn near impossible to decline a fancy invitation to a place you deeply desire to go to.
Less Is More
I’ve heard it said that you find out who your real friends are by who shows up to help you move. As such, I’ve always made it a priority to show up on moving day, even for the most casual of acquaintances. While the appreciation and good will I receive for showing up (even when their own family was absent) is nice, there is another added benefit: Every time I help someone move, I am incredibly motivated to downsize and minimize my own personal belongings.
Bonnie (my wife) finds it both amusing and slightly annoying when I get home after a move and start walking through the house, evaluating what furniture we could stand to part with so that we won’t have to move it later. It’s not actually the furniture that really gets me, it’s all the random stuff: old computers that don’t boot up, treadmills that haven’t been used in decades, cassette and VHS tapes from the 80’s, and fine china that is still in the original boxes.
“But this treadmill is still good?! I can’t throw it away!”
Yes, the treadmill does still work, so it probably doesn’t belong in the landfill, but it also doesn’t make any sense for it to stay in a place where it isn’t being used. Perhaps the Salvation Army could find a good home for it?
“I paid a lot of money for this! You want me to just give it away?”
Maybe you could sell it? You won’t get anywhere near what you paid for it, but you will reclaim the space it was taking up and it is only going to continue to depreciate anyway. No matter how much money you wasted on it or how well it still works, these concerns are about the past and what we need to be focused on is the present and the future.
“Am I going to commit to consistently using this treadmill today and for the next three months?”
If the answer is “no” the decision is simple. It’s time to leave this failed project behind and move on to cleaning out your closet. Not the proverbial skeletons in your closet, but the literal old clothes in your closet. We’ll get to the skeletons later.
Cleaning Out the Closet
It all started about five years ago. In the midst of moving, Bonnie was trying to clear out some of her old outfits when she showed me her wardrobe mandated “little black dress”…
“I think I’m going to keep this.” she said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear it in the past six years.” I replied. “How old is that?”
“I’m not sure.” she responded. “I’ve had it forever and have always refused to get rid of it because every girl needs a little black dress…”
“Except that YOU haven’t needed one in the past six years?” I asked.
That’s when we made the deal: “I think you should get rid of the dress and should any occasion ever arise that requires you have a little black dress, you will have free rein to run out and buy a new one. Since you haven’t needed one in the past six years, the likelihood of you needing one in the next six years is ridiculously small. In the off chance that you do need one, what is the likelihood that the one you’ve been packing around for the past ten years is still going to be in style?”
So, Bonnie gave away the dress and to this day, has yet to need another one.
As a matter of fact, at least once per quarter both Bonnie and I each fill up a large garbage bag full of clothes and take it to the Goodwill. Yet, our closet always remains full of clothes. After having done this quarter after quarter and year after year, we have both grown fully confident that we will never go without something to wear and should we ever need something specific, we can go out and get it. Except that we rarely need anything specific and we never, ever even slightly miss any of the clothes we’ve given away. Candidly, I can’t even remember what was in that last garbage bag, but I’m confident that someone else benefited from its contents.
Though I doubt that Bonnie misses any of the stuff she has given away either, she is still definitely more sentimental about material things than I am. I take after my Mom on this matter. Through sixty-one years of marriage, while my Dad was busy buying stuff and bringing it in the front door, my Mom was busy spring-cleaning year-round and taking it out the back door. They are each other’s perfect complement.
Fortunately for me, Bonnie isn’t near the hoarder that my Dad is and I’m not nearly as cut-throat as my Mom. So, we purge as much as we can, as often as we can, and move on, always conscious of the idea that things wasting physical space are also taking up mental space, whether we acknowledge it or not.
When I was in junior high, I had a friend in my neighborhood whose house was a mess. His Dad had passed away when we were in elementary school and the life insurance money was such that his Mom resorted to spoiling him and his younger brother without restraint. As the years went by, all of the material possessions accumulated to the point that every surface in every room of their house was filled with clutter. Not necessarily garbage, but stuff. Everywhere.
As a result, his Mom had a strict rule that he wasn’t ever allowed to have friends over to his house, out of some sort of shame, I suppose. Since his mom also worked all day, it was our favorite place to hang out.
“You guys wanna come to my house? My mom’s not home.”
Here is the really interesting part: While every other room in the house was overflowing with stuff, my friend kept his room immaculate. Every shirt hung nicely in the closet and every CD alphabetically organized. While his mom understandably struggled to both work and maintain a household after the passing of her husband, my friend was still able to excel both in school and relationships. In large part, I believe, because he was able to create some sense of order in his physical space that made way for his mental and emotional growth.
A few years later, when we were in high school, his mom decided that it was time to declutter the house and make it a livable space again, at which point he was allowed to have friends over. Shortly thereafter, for the first time since her husband had passed, she started dating and ended up in a serious relationship.
No clue if she needed a little black dress or not, but I’m sure it was an option for her too.
Guard Your Mind
When I was younger, I used to listen to a lot of rap music: 2Pac, TooShort, Dr. Dre, and Biggie Smalls. At the time, I didn’t really give too much thought to the lyrics as all of my friends were listening to the same music and nobody seemed to have a problem with the content. Despite how derogatory the messages were towards women, I distinctly remember being at a college party where the house was packed with dancing coeds and everyone was singing along in unison to the song, “Ain’t No Fun” by Snoop Dogg. In that moment, I couldn’t believe that even the women were singing along to this anthem of misogyny and promiscuity, but that was exactly what was happening.
As the years went by, I found it more and more difficult to sing along to what were once my favorite songs, regardless of how dope the beats were. Not that I ever wanted to promote their messages of drug use, violence, and misogyny, but I had normalized it for the majority of my adolescence by buying it and allowing it into my ears.
It wasn’t until we started having kids that I reached my limit. Until then, Bonnie and I would have our iPods on shuffle when an old hip hop anthem from the 90s would come on and we would laugh at how we ever thought the message was acceptable. But we still wouldn’t delete the song.
Now, I’m at a point where I find misogyny and negativity in any form unacceptable. Whether it be in a rap video, a country song, in politics, or at church. Not because of a moral code or ethic, but because I understand that the same way eating unhealthy food has a negative impact on our physical bodies, so too does listening to unhealthy music and watching unhealthy shows have a negative impact on our minds.
From the shallow materialism of the Kardashians and the nonsense of mumble rap, to the hate speech of Fox News and the prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen, I believe it is more important than ever to self-censor as well as fact check every single bit of content that we allow into our minds. As intelligent as we may think we are, every time we consume negative media we are normalizing and making these messages acceptable, thus promoting their existence.
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. While many people may say that consuming pornography is harmless, for many young people these images create unrealistic expectations of what intimacy in a healthy relationship actually looks like and these images can’t be unseen. Not to mention, it is the porn industry that directly funds the sex trafficking slave trade that currently exists in our world.
Similar to pornography, romantic comedies can create unrealistic expectations of real-world relationships as well. From the dramatic break ups, to the cliché “sprint through the airport to stop her from getting on that plane to Paris,” these rom-coms are more comedic than romantic and should be seen as self- indulgent fantasies more than anything.
Equally harmful is the over indulgence and consumption of violent and misogynistic video games. While playing sports or puzzle games in moderation, as a pastime, is as harmless as shooting pool or throwing darts with your buddies, the war and gang themed games can normalize and desensitize us to these real-world atrocities. Additionally, excessive time spent on any video game can subconsciously create a false sense of accomplishment that can stunt a person’s real-world drive and productivity.
“So, what am I supposed to do?!”
Based on the fundamental principles of supply and demand economics, when we consume negative media we are directly contributing to and responsible for the further creation and multiplication of more negative media. This means that the only way to reduce it, for our sake and the sake of others, is to radically stop consuming it.
Negative, sensationalized, overly dramatic, and unrealistic media is like junk food for the mind and a clean diet is just what the counselor ordered. So rather than waste time with reality TV and sensationalized cable news, try watching a show on PBS. Science and history are full of real-life drama.
The Company You Keep
I don’t really believe in the cliché sayings like “tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are,” or “you’re only as good as the company you keep.” For starters, these saying are super judgmental and the business of judging people really isn’t a business I want to be in. Second, I don’t believe we always have full control over the people we are surrounded by. As a child, you don’t get to pick your family, your neighborhood, your school, or even your country. Even as adults we don’t get to pick our co-workers, our neighbors, or our mailman. Rather than being judgmental and unfriendly for fear of being dragged down the social ladder, or worse yet, suckling at the power tit in hopes of advancing your social surroundings and standing, we should each aim to be the rising tide that lifts all boats in every environment we find ourselves in.
This isn’t to say that you should willfully put yourself in negative situations where the people around you are making negative decisions. But when you do find yourself in a negative environment that is outside of your control, you should lead by positive example.
If you listen solely to the sensationalized cable news, you probably think that the U.S. is on the verge of a civil war every single day. On the contrary, if you walked a mile in my shoes, you would experience a very enjoyable existence while being surrounded by people of differing religious, political, educational, and economic backgrounds.
When I was in high school, a couple of guys in our circle of friends joined the football team. One day they commented that their coach had said, “nobody on the team should be hanging out with anyone that isn’t on the team,” so as to maintain singular focus on the goals of the team. At the time, I thought it was pretty stupid that the coach wanted the players to ditch their friends in hopes of winning a few high school football games, but I now understand the strategy of a singular focus. I just don’t agree with it.
The problem with a singular focus is that it comes at an extremely high social price. The idea of only surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals to make major progress toward your goal may work in the short-term, but it’s not socially sustainable in the long term. Whether you’re trying to get in shape so you can only hang out with other CrossFitters, or trying to pass the bar so you can only hang out with lawyers, or trying to stay sober so you can only associate with other AA members, it’s just not realistic. The world is, thankfully, not a mono- culture.
With the exception of detoxing from severe addictions, isolating yourself into an environment where you are deprived outside options or thoughts doesn’t seem healthy. If you can’t hang out with chubby people because you might be tempted to eat a donut and wreck your diet, maybe losing weight isn’t really what you want. Likewise, if the only way to stay in good standing with your religion is to be completely isolated from any differing ideas and to never ever have your faith tested, then maybe the “truth” that is being preached isn’t as strong as they say it is.
When it comes to goals, it is paramount that you truly understand and fully desire what accomplishing that goal entails. If you’re half-hearted about a goal, then even the slightest distraction will send you off track. At which point you should re-evaluate whether this goal is something you really want or if you are just pursuing it because someone else said it was a good idea.
For example, when it comes to weight loss, I’ve always had ten to fifteen pounds to lose. Unfortunately, over the past few years, that ten to fifteen has become twenty to twenty-five. The problem isn’t that I’m weak willed, undedicated, or unable to accomplish difficult tasks. My life’s accomplishments speak for my ability to achieve goals. The problem is that I haven’t ever truly associated a meaningful purpose to losing that weight.
Yes, it would be nice to have six-pack abs at the pool, but drinking a six-pack at the pool always seemed like much more fun. Sure, looking great with my shirt off would be great, but friends and beer and chicken wings and candy and bread and seriously, how often does someone see me with my shirt off anyway? In other words, the ends never really justified the means for me. Theoretically, it seemed like a good idea, but realistically, the sacrifice wasn’t worth it. Which is why I had to change my understanding of the end goal. Rather than saying I wanted to lose weight to look good at the pool, I had to shift my perspective to account for the thing that matters most to me: My family. Now, I don’t think about losing weight. I think about getting healthy and staying strong. Why? Not so I can have a six- pack or look good at the beach, but so that I can carry my sleeping kids, two at a time, from the car to their upstairs bedrooms and take my family hiking and biking and swimming and running. As the kids get older, they’re going to get faster and I want to be able to keep up with them. When they say, “hey Papa, let’s go on the roller coaster”, I don’t want to talk about how I have a bad back and that they’ll have to go on without me. I want to be able to race them up the stairs and dare them to sit in the front row!
One day, many years from now, I want to be able to walk all three of my girls down the aisle on their wedding day and sometime after that, be able to throw my grandchildren into the air when they come running to me. But in order for this to happen, I need to get healthy and stay strong now. Perhaps the six-pack will come through the process, but if it is does, it will be a by-product, not the end goal.
Which brings us to the people I need to be surrounded by in order to make this priority of health and longevity a reality. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t need to associate exclusively with physical trainers and dietitians. Instead, I should have a core group of mentors and accountability partners who understand both my goals and my struggles and then live my life focused on my priorities.
The purpose of a mentor is to guide you through the obstacles of your journey. This mentor should have successfully traveled this journey before you and have a vested interest in helping you and others learn the same things they have learned. I say this explicitly because not everyone who has accomplished what you set out to accomplish is necessarily going to be a good mentor. In fact, good mentors are hard to find, so when you find one make sure to be very appreciative of them and all that they are willing to share with you.
In addition to mentors (yes, you can have multiple mentors), you should also have accountability partners. Accountability partners are people who share the same end goal you have and are at a similar place on their journey. These partners should encourage you, just as you should encourage them through camaraderie. While having many accountability partners is great, it isn’t necessary.
Aside from good mentors and accountability partners, you shouldn’t need any more individual support to stay focused on your priorities and accomplish your goals. If you find that this support isn’t enough, the priority you set probably isn’t really one of your priorities yet.
The truth is that your desire to achieve a specific goal needs to be bigger than any of the obstacles you may run into. Regardless of how hard you try, you will never be able to completely eliminate the naysayers and haters. Likewise, it’s impossible to eliminate the environments of negativity and temptation. Not to say you shouldn’t try to avoid them and ignore them, but a few of them will always find a way in and your resolve needs to be greater than their distraction. In these times, you have to be able to rely on the desire for your end goal and your small group of partners to carry you through.
This means you can be friends, neighbors, and co-workers with people from all walks of life. It’s not the advice and actions of the people around you who define you, it’s the people whose advice and actions you follow who define you.
So, choose wisely who you listen to. You’re likely going to end up just like them.
Having wasted countless hours and obscene amounts of money on mind-numbing media and unnecessary material possessions (that eventually end up in the landfill), I can say with the highest degree of confidence that it is in relationship with others where all of the value in life can be found. It wasn’t until I thoroughly decluttered my life that I was able to clearly see that the greatest joy and fulfillment come from being a part of a positive community.
Posifocus Mantra #3
A Clear Mind Sees Clearly.
What is one material thing that is taking up space in your life that you should give away? What is one source of media that would make your life better if you stopped consuming it?
Choose one space in your home each day this week to organize. Start with the utility drawer in your kitchen, then move to your bedroom closet. Choose one piece of media to stop consuming. Intentionally replace it with a piece of beneficial media. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
Join the Posifocus Group and share your thoughts and experiences with the Posifocus Community! Use the hashtag #declutter.