I noticed a huge spike in the number of visitors to this blog on January 1st. My guess is that there are lots of people who have a clutter problem in their home, made a New Year's resolution to get rid of it this year, and stumbled upon my blog while searching for resources to help them clean up their home.
Do New Year's resolutions (NYRs) "work"? Well, truth be told, most people give up on them by March, maybe even February. My friend Tania wrote a great post on her own blog on "New Years Resolutions and Lame Excuses", expressing the frustrations of seeing her gym clog up with the NYR people. (And I'm borrowing her "NYR" abbreviation here -- thanks, Tania!)
Now I'm certainly not here to discourage people. Plenty of people have been able to set a goal and achieve it, whether they started on January 1st or some other date of the year, and whether or not it was getting rid of overwhelming clutter in their homes. So what made them different from the people who didn't meet their NYRs? I suppose the obvious answer is "Well, they just didn't give up!", but that seems a little too simple to me. A buzz phrase like "Be motivated!" is easier said than done.
So for what it's worth, here's my advice on how to actually see your NYRs through to completion. Yes, I know that some of this is going to sound trite, or "obvious", or "common sense". Yes, I know that you've probably read a lot of these points elsewhere before, whether it was on somebody else's blog or at some "goal-setting workshop" seminar. But maybe that's because there's really some truth to it.
- Write it out. This goes for the next two items, at the very least. You may say, "Oh no, I don't have to write it out. I've got it." No, write it down. That means turning away from a screen for 5 minutes, grabbing a pen and a piece of paper, not opening a new window and typing. "Uh, well, my handwriting sucks." Well gee, maybe that's because you don't write enough. Hey, maybe improving your handwriting -- to the level of legibility -- should be one of your goals this year. Look, you don't have to write an essay, here. Just half of a page may do. If you can't even do something as mundane as that, then what makes you think you can accomplish the goal you have in mind? When you write something out, you're not only being more affirmative with yourself, but you also won't fall into the trap of rewording the goal in your mind as the year goes on. And these next two things are the things you'll write down:
- Have your goal(s) be specific and objectively observable/measurable. That's because if your goal is really vague, then you're not really going to know if and when you've met it, let alone if you're headed in the right direction. I know lots of people for example make a resolution "To lose weight". Or rather, since most goal-setting programs will tell you to reword things in the grammatically positive: "To be thin". OK, but what does that mean? Do you know how much weight you want to lose? When to lose it by? Those are things that you can actually measure along the way. Have you checked with a doctor or some other health professional (read: not some random free BMI website that you found) to make sure you're not being too unrealistic or risky, like thinking you can lose 50 pounds in a week?
Regarding clutter, the same goes for resolutions like "To get my house clean". That's great. But again, be more specific with yourself. Maybe there's one specific room that needs the most attention. Maybe getting all non-furniture items off of the floor in one room would be an amazing enough goal itself. But I'll talk more about individual tasks in the third point.
- WHY do you want this? No, really: why? As silly as it sounds, you'd be surprised how easy it can be to get so caught up in tasks that you overlook why you're doing them in the first place. Then you can fall into the trap where you find yourself doing tasks just for the sake of doing them. Think of the great things you'll gain by meeting the goal. Then think of some more. Write them down (yes, short-hand and sentence fragments are OK, just get them out of your head and on to paper, where you can look at them). This not only helps you keep things going in the right direction, but also gives you the drive in the first place. Maybe you want your home to be clutter-free because you want to be able to have friends over the house. And you don't want to have to keep on tripping over stuff. You're sick of not knowing where things are. You know there are buried treasures underneath all of those papers that can get you money on Craigslist. You know that you deserve to have a home that you can be happy about having. Whatever the reasons, write them down. It shouldn't take too long.
- Break your goal down into smaller goals. Another problem with a vaguely-stated goal is that it can sound really huge. It's generally easier to do a dozen small tasks than it is to do one giant, intimidating task. So break down your goal into parts. For example, maybe "Clean my house" breaks down into: 1) get all the papers off the floor in the bedroom, 2) clean my shower, 3) go through the things in this stack of boxes, etc.
If you're a real ADHD type, maybe you can break them up in some way that isn't necessarily sequential. For example, break things down into 20 different parts that are pretty much independent of each other, so that you can pick different ones to work in different orders on a whim. Of course, still have something like "Complete 3 of these tasks by the end of the month, then 5 more next month, etc." as your goals.
- Similarly, break it down into time segments. Instead of having one goal for this calendar year, you can break down down month by month, or into quarters (that means four 3-month periods, for those of you who suck at math). It's good to have at least some kinds of deadlines other than December 31st. This makes it less likely for you to blow things off. You know that terribly cliche job interview question of "Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?" Well, try that with "3 months", "6 months", "9 months" and "1 year".
- Get some resources. Maybe you know some people who have the same things you want to achieve, and they'd be willing to give you some advice or guidance. Maybe you need to get a book or two on the topic, or find places where you can take lessons on something. Chances are good that other people have done whatever it is you want, or at least something very comparatively similar. Make use of that information. But only really listen to the ones who have results to show, not some random stranger from the internet.
- Make the work desirable. Now here's something that they usually don't tell you at all of these fluffy goal-setting seminars. If you view the upcoming work ahead as being an inconvenient pain in the ass, then you're probably not going to really work at it. Make the work an indulgence, not an act of self-loathing discipline. This does NOT mean you have to be self-deceiving. I'm not telling you to get on the treadmill until your heart is about to burst, and try to tell yourself that you love it. You can however think of going to the gym as the time when you get to get out of the house and away from most of the people you have to deal with, and a time that you can listen to your favorite music without interruptions. Maybe there's a similar way to take an activity you need to do, and view the same exact activity as the opportunity to simultaneously do something you enjoy. As I've said here in the past, this blog helped me finally get off my ass and clean my house because cleaning something meant having something to blog about, and a good excuse to be my usual witty wise-ass self to the public by writing things like this.
- Plan it out. Schedule time to work on it. I'm not saying you have to schedule things down to the nearest hour, although I'm sure that approach works for some people. But at least start getting some of the specific tasks planned out by setting aside days and at least rough blocks of time for doing what you have to do. Don't find yourself stuck in March saying, "Gee, I really oughtta start doing this sometime."
- Document progress. This is vital for two reasons. First of all, you can't recognize progress if you don't have an earlier point of reference. Maybe this will be "before" and "after" photos. Maybe if your goal is to get thinner, this means recording your weight every week. The other reason to do this is because it motivates you more. You can look back and see that what you're doing is "working", because you're doing better than you were doing before. This also goes back to the point about specific goals: if you try to oversimplify your body as either "fat" or "skinny", or your home as either "cluttered" or "clean", then invariably you're going to see that things aren't perfect, and thus mistakenly think that you're still in the former category, and thus think that you're not making any progress. You're not going to accomplish everything in one day.
Again, I know a lot of these may sound lame, but I think these are the sorts of things that separate a person who makes New Years Resolutions and meets them, from the majority of people who make them and never go anywhere beyond that. Which one are you?