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How Cleaning the Closet Can Change Your Life

How Cleaning the Closet Can Change Your Life
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I’m spending my birthday cleaning my closet. Again. Why have I done this for the past three years, and why is it even necessary? Allow me to explain how a 20-minute exercise can change your life.

There is a difference between living life driven to get things done, marking off each task as it’s finished, and a life that leaves its mark on the world.

Socrates reminds us that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” asking us to look within to understand the true value of life. When we live with the end in mind, reflecting on what we might leave behind, our purpose is revealed from a Soul perspective rather than a list of meaningless tasks.

An examined life is one willing to seek out those barely perceptible places of the soul; an often tangled and undeveloped part of ourself that is very much like a pantry or linen closet. The doors are kept closed to hide the mess, but until you know what’s hidden inside, you’ll never know what you have to work with.

Souls are like closets–full of potential.

Not sure what is actually in there or how to find it, we’re afraid to even open the door in case everything tumbles out.

And sometimes life feels just that way: overcrowded and overwhelming. There’s no shortage of things to do, but it always feels like something is missing.

So where do we start? Let’s continue with the closet analogy to create a masterful plan, composed out of purposeful, meaningful reflection, based on where you want to end up and what you hope to leave behind.

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1. Empty the closet–start with a clean slate

If you were cleaning out an actual closet, you would first take everything out. An empty closet is a manageable closet. In the same way, clearing your mind of endless tasks, the “hurries and worries,” will allow you to inspect and systematically decide how to reorganize your life. You can then determine what’s currently working, as well as what isn’t.

Find time for quiet reflection. Schedule a minimum of 20 minutes of solitude without any distractions. Use a pen and paper to do this, not a tech device that requires tapping or typing. This is important: there’s something about writing things out by hand that accesses the more creative, soul-chasing part of your brain.

Set a timer. For 20 minutes write down everything that comes to mind that you would like to do, be, have or experience. Include relationships, finances, health, career, creative aspirations and personal growth.

Who do you want to be? Where do you want to go? What do you want to do and experience? How would you like your relationships to grow? What would you like to learn?

Ask yourself what you want more (or less of) in your life. Give yourself a five-year window and brainstorm within this limit of time. Don’t think too hard, and allow yourself to dream. Focus especially on experiences and whom you want to share those experiences with.

2. Putting the closet back together–your priorities

Your previously cluttered, disorganized and unusable “closet” is now clean, freshly painted and ready to be put to good use. Next step? It’s time to put it back together, but NOT by stuffing everything back inside.

To restructure how we live, just like reorganizing a closet, will require letting go of what no longer “fits.”

The number 1 thing to let go of? The unrealistic expectations you have for yourself and others.

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Let go of the idea that it’s your job to save people from the consequences of their own choices. Allow them the grace to grow by learning from their mistakes. In turn, you will gain valuable time to pursue your own personal growth.

Let’s keep going.

Now take another look at that mindful and reflective inventory you have assembled and pare it down to your top 20 things. Sort them according to the following categories: Personal, Family/Relationships, Health, Career/Work, and Spiritual/Creative. I like to use different colored highlighters for each category. Under each heading, rank the items with Most Important at the top, and Least Important at the bottom.

Within each category, notice what catches your eye first; what makes your heart beat faster? What do you feel an irresistible pull to passionately pursue?

3. Master list vs. master plan–write yourself a story.

After you have ranked each item, turn your list into a narrative.

Write yourself a story, as if it is five years from now and you have done everything on your list. For example, you could write: “It is 2019 and this is what I have experienced/accomplished in the past five years…”

I am… I have…I live…I make…I do…

This narrative becomes your vision for all that you hope to do and be; it contains those secret longings that may have been squashed and hidden away for years, unrevealed and unexpressed until now.

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This will become your story–a story that will allow you to live on purpose. You will be focused, not simply driven; aware of what you are doing and even more important, why you are doing it. No longer are you checking off boxes on an ever-growing, meaningless list of things to do.

There are some things you need to hold on to indefinitely.

What to keep:

Projects that embody “process.” The process has to do with the entire journey of a project. It focuses on making memories and savoring moments. An example might be a family history project. If you are interested in genealogy, you could spend time alone and online, looking for records on Ancestry.com. From the process perspective, it could include spending time with family elders and recording the stories that embodied their lives. Yes, it will probably take more time, but you will ultimately have both a fuller, richer family history and have built stronger relationships.

Hold on to your legacy. Remember that what you create is what you leave behind. Photographs and images, letters written, meals infused with time and care, traditions kept and memories that result from them…the many savored moments carried in our hearts as a legacy of love, encouragement, inspiration and wisdom.

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” – Pericles

Habits that nourish. The behaviors that build health, nurture the spirit, and warm our hearts are the activities that grow relationships with friends, family and community.

Room to breathe. Create space within these lofty aspirations of yours! Just as towels begin to smell musty if they are crowded, we also need breathing room. Lists rarely get shorter. There is always more than enough to do, but we also need down time to just be.

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And finally: Hold tightly to things that will slow you down. Children. Pets. Crock pots. Children are especially wonderful teachers as to what is truly essential in our lives. Eating yummy food, playing with friends, and plenty of sleep. They are also great at noticing the small, subtle flavors that adults so often miss.

To view the world through a child’s eyes is to pay attention. And when we do this, as Henry Miller pointed out, our world becomes “mysterious, awesome, and indescribably magnificent.”

It can be life changing, for there are some alleyways and doors that are meant for us alone, and we will miss them if we run too fast.

Joseph Campbell wrote,

“If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”

In other words, they are your doors.

So slow down and enjoy the journey. And you can start by cleaning the closet.

Featured photo credit: Gretchen Rubin One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself/BK via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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