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« Significance & Stuff | Internal Clutter »
Tuesday
May202014

Ask the Expert: Erin Rooney Doland

Our “Ask the Expert” interview series connects you with dynamic industry thought leaders. This year we’ve spoken with author Francine Jay about letting go, author Todd Henry about next steps, psychologist, Dr. Debbie Grove about change, and author Joshua Becker about fresh starts. For May, I’m excited to have with us organization expert and author, Erin Doland to share her insights about clutter.

Erin’s book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week, shares a plan for quickly clearing your clutter and simplifying your life. As someone that was challenged by clutter, Erin shares from the perspective of someone that gained new skills, cleared her clutter and became more organized. My gratitude goes to Erin for joining us. I know you’re going to appreciate her unique perspective about clutter. Before we begin, here’s more about her.

 

Erin Rooney Doland is Editor-in-Chief of Unclutterer.com, a website providing daily articles on home and office organization, and author of the book Unclutter Your Life in One Week. You can connect with Erin on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda SamuelsAs an organization consultant, author, blogger, and speaker, you specialize in inspiring others to live an uncluttered life. What suggestions do you have for those that feel overwhelmed by clutter?

Erin Rooney Doland:  Remember that being organized and living without clutter are skills, just like the skills involved in playing a sport. Sure, some people are naturally gifted, but being 6’7” doesn’t guarantee someone will play in the NBA. It takes practice to learn any skill and to maintain it. Just because life is chaotic now doesn’t mean it’s always going to be that way. With regular practice, you’ll eventually find order and you’ll discover the skills that work best with your personality and preferences.

 

Linda:  In your book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week, you define an unclutterer as “Someone who choses to get rid of the distractions that get in the way of a remarkable life.” What are your favorite strategies for identifying and uncluttering distractions?

Erin:  You need to define what a remarkable life is for YOU. What does it look like? How does it feel? There are many ways to discover your definition of a remarkable life – chart it out, draw it out, create a vision board, meditate on it, talk it out with a family or friend, write it down. Once you know where you want to go, it’s a lot easier to get there.

 

Linda:  Some of us tend to accumulate more than we release. What makes it so challenging to let go?

Erin:  There are as many reasons as to why we want to keep things, as there are items to keep. These multitude of reasons cross our minds whenever it comes time to part with something. We “just in case” and “should” ourselves into holding onto all our stuff. It’s a very natural human instinct that almost all of us possess. It’s not bad or good, it just is. Problems only arise when keeping things distract us from the life we desire.

 

Linda:  What is your most surprising discovery about clutter?

Erin:  I’m continually surprised by how an individual’s value of an object changes with time. One day, a pair of earrings can be your go-to piece of jewelry. You’re a little heartbroken if one earring goes missing from the pair. Two years later, the same pair of earrings is taking up space in your jewelry box and you wouldn’t even remember it was in there. The object hasn’t changed, but how you value it has. Changing perceptions is vital to the uncluttering process and how this value change comes about is fascinating to me. Ultimately, someone has to choose the life they desire over their stuff if they want to be uncluttered, but how they get there is different for everyone.

 

Linda:  What has been your biggest personal challenge around clutter?

Erin:  My challenges are constantly changing, but right now a lack of energy is my biggest challenge with clutter. I have an infant and a very active four year old. It has been five months since I’ve had a solid night’s sleep. What little energy I have is going toward the basic routines that have to be accomplished for our family to function. I see clutter coming back into our lives and I just keep reminding myself that when we all start sleeping better and our energy levels return, so will the order. Until then, I’m trying not to freak out about my crazy pile of filing and all the other distractions.

 

Erin, you’re in good company with other parents of young children and how sleep, or lack their of influences energy, functioning, and clutter levels. This circles back to your idea about living a remarkable life, which involves knowing your priorities. Your clarity is evident that sleep, basic routines, and raising the kids trump filing papers. Clutter has an ebb and flow. How we handle or reconcile those variations vary for each of us.

Please join Erin and me as we continue the conversation. Share your ideas about clutter, living a remarkable life, and discoveries. What are your thoughts?

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Reader Comments (14)

Thank you for this terrific interview, Linda. Several points resonated with me. First the need to define what a remarkable life means to you. It's so important to be clear about what you, the individual value and the feeling you want to achieve in your home. Then removing the items that don't belong can become a little easier. I also liked the way Erin recognized that priorities shift as the circumstances in your life change. Knowing that you can get back to an orderly or uncluttered existence once you adjust to the change in your life is critical.

May 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Quintana

Thank you for sharing new perspectives on clutter. I appreciate that time affects our attachment to paper and stuff. As time passes, most people detach. It's those that remain attached that have an even greater challenge to letting go. It's often because of a responsibility about that item that keeps them attached, sort of as a protector of a memory or a person.

I also appreciate reminding us that organizing is a skill. A willing student of new strategies makes the best client for me.

May 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

I am really struck by Erin's observation about how the value we assign to objects changes over time. That is so true. I'd further add that personal value can be completely different from monetary value, which is one of the things that makes parting with physical belongings complicated. With this in mind, I encourage people to only keep what is providing them value TODAY, regardless of what they spent on it or who it came from.

May 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

Love the ways you've expanded on and continued the conversation! Great having you here with us!

@Diane- Yes! Identifying priorities for living a "remarkable life" does make the keeping and letting go process clearer. And with that, adopting an openness for flexibility as we transition and change is also key.

@Ellen- It IS fascinating how time plays a role in our attachment to things. It can work in both directions by either strengthening our attachment or decreasing it. Many factors and circumstances that are at play.

@Seana- Love the distinction you make between personal and monetary value, both of which can complicate our letting go. However, as you said, if you focus on the today's meaning and value, rather than the history, it might make decision-making easier.

May 20, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

@Seana -- So true! I like to remind my clients (and myself!) about the sunk cost fallacy. An object you purchase has monetary value only at the point of purchase. After that, it's value is $0, unless YOU give it value in the present. And, at least for me, most of my "valuables" aren't all that valuable. In most cases, I value my time, energy, and/or space more than the inanimate object. Think of your clutter like a bad book: you bought it, but that doesn't mean you have to read all of it. You value the space on your bookshelf more than that awful book, so you donate it to your library for their annual sale instead of keeping it. And, instead of finishing reading it, you read a new book you love. You value your space and time more than that horrendous novel, even though there was a point when that book had a price tag on it.

May 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterErin Doland

Unclutterer was one of the firsts blogs I found about organizing and clutter when I started blogging more than two years ago. Is such a source of inspiration and information. It's great "hearing Erin's voice" knowing her a little and having the opportunity to thank her for writing those posts. I'll add her book to my BTR (Books To Read) list.
Same as Seana, individual's value and the way it changes is something to think about. It could be like the stock market one day the value is up, one day is down, one day crash down, one day skyrocket.

May 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNacho Eguiarte

@Erin- Thank you for elaborating on the present value of our possessions. Love your "bad book" line of thinking and the perspective about valuing our time, energy and space more than inanimate objects.

@Nacho- How wonderful to make this connection with your first organizing inspiration blog . . . Erin's uncluttered.com! Appreciate your perspective about the value of our personal belongings relating to the ups and downs of the stock market.

May 20, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Congratulations to Erin for her baby, and for being able to keep her priorities straight even without much sleep! Thank you for the great interview, Linda!
I love how Erin points out how by defining what a "remarkable life" means to us will help us prioritize what to address when uncluttering our lives from the distractions that hold us to achieve it.

May 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHelena Alkhas

thanks for another wonderful interview. What Erin said about placing the value on the item AFTER the purchase is so important to the work that we do. it is so important for us as professionals to continue to remind our clients that our time, space and yes, even energy, have value and in most cases, more than the item we are debating about. brava Linda and Erin. I love how you took the concepts we work with day in and day out and put a fresh spin on them.

May 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie Josel

So great to "see" you here!

@Helena- As you and Erin said, knowing what our priorities are and what's most important helps with decision-making, focus, and minimizing distractions.

@Leslie- Happy to share another wonderful person for the Ask the Expert series. You're so right that "value" comes in many forms…not just from our physical possessions, but the less tangible entities too (time, space, energy.)

May 20, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

"Time" is the operative word for just about everything. Time can 'manage' us, time can 'heal' us, and time can also 'change' us. With the passage of time, we all evolve, and so our priorities shift along with us too. Likewise, our "clutter" changes and so does its significance in our lives.

The process of letting go changes because our perspective changes and probably will continue to change our entire lives. Or not, which is why our work with our clients is so valuable. We encourage our client's possessions and lifestyle to align but often this is the ultimate struggle. As Erin describes perfectly, like a bad book you don't want to read anymore, it's OK to let it go. I also personally related to Erin's claim that "two years later, the same pair of earrings is taking up space in your jewelry box and you wouldn’t even remember it was in there. The object hasn’t changed, but how you value it has." Great gems here. Thank you Linda for sharing another expert.

May 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Borg

Nancy- As you've so beautifully described, time has strong influences on us in both short and long term ways. A healer, a decider, a perspective shifter, and knowledge builder. And so true that with our possessions, time alters the value our things have to us as we change and grow.

Always wonderful to have you with us. And…Happy Birthday!

May 24, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

What resonates for me: (1) The words "practice" and "skills ." It is not easy, for each of us, during times of big changes in life, which gets more complicated the older we get. It is not easy, most of the time for people who never learned the skills, or didn't or couldn't practice. I appreciated Erin 's resilience and pragmatism, as she keeps "reminding" herself that this will change again soon when things settle a bit. And (2) Define your remarkable life first. How many don't stop the busyness long enough to consider the answer. No wonder our lives get cluttered with obligations, should's, people who are not good for us, and the physical clutter, too. How would we know where or not they might belong in our life, if we haven't slowed down enough to decide? Thanks to you both.

May 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSue west

Oh Sue! You always get right to the essence of the ideas and with such clarity. I love it! Thank you for circling back with the reminder to slow down, take time to reevaluate what's most important, allow room for change and transition, and be open to acquiring and practicing new skills. Doable, yes. Simple, no.

May 28, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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