Is Black Friday Sabotaging Your Organizing Efforts?

Black Friday! Cyber Monday! Get this whatever before it’s gone. You will never see a deal like this again! Do you feel the sense of urgency and adrenalin rush? That can feel good. That good feeling, the shopper’s high, is challenging for some people to resist and it can lead to financial and clutter troubles. If you are trying to de-clutter or downsize, you don’t need the temptations that is offered at this time of year to add more.

So how do you manage to get through what has become the shopping season? Here are some tips to help you:

  • Keep your goal in mind. Does shopping really fit into that goal?
  • Know that “Black Friday” is also “Buy-Nothing” day. You can choose which you support
  • Avoid all things shopping-related: ads on t.v. and in print, stores, email offers, and people talking about their deals
  • Explore other things you enjoy – time with friends and family, games, walking, etc.
  • Consider whether you need more things, have a place to store them, want to maintain them, and have no other goals for your money
  • Think about some of the negatives associated with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, like crowds or the ease of losing self-control
  • Remember that most good deals come again

What other things keep you from letting Black Friday Sabotage your organizing efforts?



Let’s divert a little from the subject of cognitive distortions to a coping strategy that Hurricane Sandy has me thinking about. After talking to family in Connecticut and hearing debates on the radio about whether the New York City Marathon should be held so soon after the storm I have thinking about denial. First there is the denial so many people had that a disaster like this could happen to them. How many of us do not have a family disaster plan, safety kit, and grab and go box with important information and documents?

ESPN broadcaster Colin Cowherd of all people alluded to denial on his radio show today. Regarding the marathon he commented something like “people deal with grief in different ways”. Denial is seen secondly in a way we cope with grief and tragedy. Denial has a way of making other people angry, but it serves a very important purpose. Denial protects us from experiencing the full force of our emotions. It is a primitive coping strategy, but it will work for a lot of us who are lucky enough to escape disaster. Some might argue that having the marathon would allow those runners, workers, volunteers, and spectators a chance to escape the realities of what happened. They could use some denial time to begin to cope with their emotions. I am not arguing that the marathon should or should not have been held; I can see both sides of the discussion and I am glad I did not have to make the decision.

Denial can also be seen in the professional organizing industry. People often ask how someone who hoards can live like that, and my first answer is ‘denial”. Can you imagine if you didn’t employ denial as a coping strategy and you were able to truly see, feel, hear, and smell, the situation in which you were living? And to know that you played a large role in creating that environment? Challenging people to work their way out of hoarding environments can be met with resistance and anger because the challenge goes head-on into the denial.

So how do you help someone change their hoarding behaviors when they are in denial? I think you start by finding small opportunities, by opening the door a crack rather than breaking it down. Sometimes people can recognize a need to increase their own safety or gain a little counter space to prepare a meal. If you can respect their boundaries and just help clear a path or counter, you might get another chance later to open the door a little more. You can share your worries about their safety that come from a place of caring and not frustration and control.

Helping someone dig out of a hoarding situation is likely to be a long and emotional journey. When someone uses denial as a coping mechanism they need time to learn to experience their emotions without getting overwhelmed by them. Whether the denial is about a risk, loss, or a living environment, it serves a protective purpose. If you are stuck in denial, see if you can open the door a little to ask for some help to find another coping tool that might be more effective. If you see others stuck in denial, offer your compassion and understanding. Remember that people deal with grief and pain in different ways.

Catastrophizing and Shoulds in Organizing

Catastrophizing and Shoulds are other common cognitive distortions I hear from my clients, especially during the de-cluttering phase. Catastrophizing is believing that not only will bad things happen, but they will be of disastrous proportions. “Should”, “must”, and “ought” statements reflect our rules about how we need to behave. The problem is that these statements are often not evaluated to determine if we really believe in their value. “I should keep this because my mother gave it to me”. For me, that is not a good enough reason. If it adds value to my life in some way, then I will keep it. But keeping things because of the guilt that “should” statements create does not help anyone. I am pretty sure my mother would not want me to keep something out of guilt or because I don’t want to feel sad on her behalf for picking out something I do not want. Catastrophizing kicks in when we jump to the next level and not only should I keep her gift, but that it would be too unbearably painful for her or me to even consider getting rid of the gift. Or I should keep copies of my phone bills for one year because if I don’t, something terrible will happen and I will have to pay the phone company more money than I owe.

Thinking in these ways paralizes us in fear and guilt so that we avoid getting rid of things. Sometimes we become so entrenched in these beliefs that we avoid even having to make decisions because of the bad feelings that go along with them. Changing these thoughts into healthier ones allows us to make decisions that fit with our core values and goals.

What “should”s do you want to let go of?

What Do Cognitive Distortions Have To Do With Clutter?

Isn’t it fascinating the way the human brain works? I love trying to understand the way people think and how they get from point A to point Z in their brains; it’s like driving a car from one place to another. Most of the time people’s brains drive them safely to their distinations. Sometimes, however, cognitive distortions, or thinking errors, drive people into a ditch.

Cognitive distortions are faulty, irrational ways of thinking, and many are frequently demonstrated by people who need to de-clutter and even more so by people who hoard. The one I hear most often in coversations with my clients is black-and-white thinking. Examples include:

  • Thinking that it is a failure if they didn’t de-clutter the whole house
  • Believing they must not really care about the environment because they did not recycle every piece of paper
  • Not being able to let something go because they cannot find the perfect charity

We all display this and other cognitive distortions from time to time. The problem arises when we believe these un-helpful thoughts are true and we cannot move ourselves from them. I have a great bumper sticker from Northern Sun Enterprises that reads “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”.

So what can you do if you frequently drive into the black-and-white thinking ditch?

Step 1: Just notice it. Monitor your thinking and catch yourself thinking in this polarized fashion. Don’t judge yourself for it, just be aware that you are thinking that way.

Step 2: Try to discover if there were factors led to faulty thinking. Were you tired, hungry, or already upset about something else?

Step 3: What was the result? Did you end up content and closer to your goal? Or more likely, did you end up angry, sad, or anxious?

Step 4: Fight to stay out of the ditch! Challenge black-and-white thinking with rational and more helpful thinking. Ask yourself questions to see if your thinking is accurate. For the examples above:

  • Are you really a failure if you only got part of the house de-cluttered? In order to not be a failure (never mind successful) do you have to do everything 100%? Would you judge your friends by the same standard?
  • Can you care about the environment and not recycle? Are there other ways to show you care? Is recycling most things better than recycling none?
  • Who benefits by your generous donations if they never leave your house? Is it better to get donations to a charity that is good enough or to no charity at all?

What other questions do you ask yourself to help your thoughts stay on the road? Do you agree with the bumper sticker “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”?


References: Beck, A.T. (1976). Cognitive therapies and emotional disorders. New York: New American Library.
Burns, D.D. (1989). The feeling good handbook: Using the new mood therapy in everyday life. New York: William Morrow.



Who Says Organizing is Boring?

My daughter, that’s who. Here’s how it happened. I am not one who has an unlimited supply of topics to write about. When I need a blog topic, I often turn to expert talkers like my daughter. She suggested I write about why organizing is so boring. Once I got past the thought that she was trying to get a reaction from me, I really had to think about what she was telling me. I know there are people who do not enjoy it and people who are not good at it, but I never really thought about the possibility that some might find organizing boring. Clearly my daughter finds it boring. How is that possible? There is mental stimulation in trying to figure what to put where and in what container. There is emotional stimulation in encountering items that evoke memories of good and bad times. There is physical stimulation as you move things around an area. There is even a level of suspense. Will I be able to fit in my closet everything I want to keep? Will I have enough time to finish? Will this system work better for me than what I had?

With all that stimulation and suspense, how could organizing be boring? I asked my daughter this and she offered this profound response “It just is”. I guess when you’re young some things are that simple.

For the rest of us, maybe “boring” is code for other feelings that we want to avoid. There might be fear of failing to complete the organizing challenge, or fear of not completing it to perfection. Maybe the fear is that the organization won’t last. There might be an avoidance of the feelings that are invoked when going through memorabilia. Maybe the avoidance is of what you tell yourself about the level of disorganization that has existed. Do you tell yourself you are stupid, incompetent, or lazy?

If any of those are true for you, there is an option other than avoiding. Usually the anticipation, dread, and fear are worse that the actual event. And if you want to lose the boredom factor, make it fun. You may not be able to change much about the organizing task itself, but you can make just about anything fun. Turning it into a game, playing music, rewarding your self for small steps, and inviting a friend to help or keep you company are all easy ways to make organizing more fun.  What are your creative ways to keep organizing from being boring?


I am so intrigued by regret. Wikipedia defines regret as “a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors”. That doesn’t sound so bad. Why then do so many of us take action or choose inaction to avoid the feeling of regret?

I think what intrigues me about regret is how often I see it in my work as a professional organizer. I have clients who make purchases because they don’t want to miss a great deal. That is avoiding regret. I have other clients who hang onto things even when they have no space because they might need it someday. That too is avoiding regret.

I wonder… if we spent less time and energy avoiding regret and allowed ourselves to feel the feeling… would it be as bad as we imagine? We can learn from regret and become wiser and stronger. Maybe it is when we allow regret to turn into shame that we set ourselves to let the avoidance of regret make decisions for us. Shame is when the feeling bad about a decision or an indecision turns into a statement about our worth. I shouldn’t have passed up the great deal at the thrift store so I regret that. Because I made that bad choice, I am stupid. I donated the extra set of dishes I had and now a friend could really use them. I regret not being able to help my friend. That’s not so bad. But if I decide that my actions mean I am a bad friend, that feels terrible. I am going to learn my lesson and keep everything so I won’t feel terrible again. Problem solved. What happens then when my house is so full that I can’t find the extra dishes for my friend? I guess I fool myself into thinking that I am not a bad friend just because I can’t find something.

What if, instead of learning to save everything, I learn that there is more than one way to be a good friend? What if I feel sad that I gave away dishes my friend could have used, and then turn my attention to being an emotional support to my friend? What if I experience the feeling of regret and realize that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined? If that was the case, I would feel freer to make decisions that reflect my values and goals. Isn’t that what we all want?


Procrastination IV

We left off with developing strategies to handle the thoughts/cognitions causes of procrastination. This month we will devise some strategies to handle the behaviors and practical causes:

1. Interruptions – First, allow more time than you think you need to complete the task. Minimize interruptions by turning off visual and audio alerts on electronic devises. Make sure you have eaten and are hydrated. Purge your working memory by writing down everything you can think of – things you have to do, ideas you want to remember, and random thoughts. Finally, keep paper handy so you can write down anything that pops into your head while you are working on your task.

2. Disorganization – Clear the area where you will be working. Don’t worry about getting everything put away unless it will take less than 5 minutes. Make a list of all the supplies you need for your task, and then gather them into the location where you will be working.  

3. Lack of Information – Make a list of all the information you need and then one by one figure out how to get the information. Do you need to look in a filing cabinet? Search the internet? Ask someone else? If you are not sure how to get the information, how can you find out how to get the information?

4. Not Enough Time – Break the task down into small parts. There might be researching, shopping for supplies, or doing a small part of a larger job, such as cleaning out a drawer for the larger job of cleaning out a desk. If there still is not enough time, put each part on your calendar for a later date.

5. It Isn’t Due for a While – Break the task into parts and schedule each. Schedule some type of reward for yourself after completing each part on time. Also, you can schedule the parts of the task immediately before a scheduled event you enjoy so that you can’t start the enjoyable activity until the part of the task is completed.

6. You Want to Do it Perfectly – Recognize that you will never achieve perfection and determine what is “good enough”. If you procrastinate long enough you will rush to get it done and you will do a sub-par job. Telling yourself that it was only because you did it at the last minute or in a hurry is really a cop out. Free yourself by getting it done imperfectly instead of having it hanging out there waiting to be done.

What other strategies do you use?