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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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« The Simple Truth About How Signals for Change Help You Let Go | 8 Helpful Tips for Letting Go More Easily »

7 Surprising Letting Go Lessons I Learned at Organizing Conference

This past week, hundreds of professional organizers and productivity consultants from around the world gathered in Ft. Worth, Texas for the annual National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) conference.  I’ve been in this industry for 26+ years, and while I haven’t gone to every meeting, I have attended many.  It’s always exciting to learn new things, keep a pulse on the industry, hang out face-to-face with wonderful colleagues, and make new friends. The learning sessions are terrific, yet it’s often the conversations between the courses that I enjoy most.

The essential education this year for me was around letting go. That theme and message continued to pop up in unexpected ways. The lessons I came away with are ones that I hope will be helpful for you too. After all, letting go can be quite challenging so adopting other strategies and perspectives can ease the process and our stress. My deepest gratitude to my NAPO, ICD and other colleagues for teaching, sharing, and exploring these letting go lessons with me.


7 Surprising Letting Go Lessons

1. You Thought You Had a Plan

When I travel, I like to organize and get my arrangements set ahead of time. While I can be spontaneous, I’m more of a planner. So months earlier I had arranged my hotel, flights, and ground transportation for the NAPO conference. At 5:50 am, and five minutes before I was leaving my house for the airport, I received a text from Southwest Air saying they had canceled my flight. After my initial shock and a few choice words, I took a deep breath and realized that Southwest makes it very easy to rebook your flight, so no need to panic. However, for some reason, all of Southwest’s trips for that day and the next four days were either canceled or sold out. I searched for a new flight on a different airline. Delta saved the day. Within 15 minutes I had booked a later trip. In turn, I arrived later than expected, but I did get to the conference.

Letting Go Lesson 1:

Let go of the plan and revise it when you need to.



2. Get Out Of Your Way

One of the first sessions I attended was about future thinking or foresight. The “Drivers of Change” brief generated by ASAE and available to NAPO members, delves into various trends that could have an influence on our business in the next ten to twenty years. We looked at some of the broad categories but spent most of our time discussing and brainstorming in small groups about specific topics that were especially relevant for our industry. While I found it fascinating, I also recognized how challenging it was to think that far ahead. As hard as it was to future think, putting my mind in that mode generated some exciting possibilities.

Letting Go Lesson 2:

Let go of difficult to open the door to possibilities. 



3. The Research Says

Another session I enjoyed was the one describing the survey the NAPO research committee conducted. The information was hot off the press and not ready to be fully shared. However, one stat was particularly fascinating and relevant to the work I do with my clients. When asked the people surveyed how they preferred to manage the belongings they no longer wanted, 75% of them preferred to donate the unwanted and 48% preferred to give them to friends or family.

Letting Go Lesson 3:

Letting go is easier when we give our belongings to people that will use and appreciate them.



4. Take A Walk On The Wild Side

Stockyards Rodeo - Ft. Worth, TXI loved the quiet one-on-one conversations with my colleagues that often happened during meals, like one of the planned evening dinners I had. When we arrived at the restaurant, they told us it would be a 45-60 minute wait since we didn’t have a reservation. Waiting didn’t bother us because the Stockyards were a lively neighborhood to explore. We meandered down the block looking at stores, taking in the sights and sounds, and happening upon the Coliseum, which housed a 100-year old rodeo. My friend, Lynne Poulton got very excited. After some recon, which included meeting a rodeo Hall-of-Famer who encouraged us to get tickets, we skipped dinner and spent the evening watching cowboys wrangle, rope, and ride. As they say in Texas, “Wee-haw!”  It was unexpected, impromptu fun and an evening I’ll never forget.

Letting Go Lesson 4:

Let go of supposed to in favor or flexibility as you might miss out on something truly spectacular.



5. Perfection Alert

Janice SimonProfessional organizer aka stand-up comedian, Janice Simon presented an excellent workshop about resiliency. I loved her premise that making regular deposits into your resiliency bank will better equip you to handle life’s storms. She also shared that when you are going through challenging times, it’s important to adjust your expectations. Ask questions like, “What really needs to be done?”  Or “What can be cut back?” A quote she shared from Donna Smallin resonated with me. Donna said, “Done is perfect.” 



Letting Go Lesson 5:

Let go of perfection, especially when done is good enough.



6. There Is Always Room To Grow

Alison Lush, Diane Thompson, Vickie Dellaquila, Carrie Cooper, Gayle GruenbergSessions featured workshops that addressed the chronically disorganized population. One of these courses was the panel of ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization) colleagues. They shared poignant stories about their clients and the process they went through to help them. The stories were emotional, and at points brought tears to my eyes. The creativity, compassion, generosity, helping spirit, and knowledge that these colleagues embodied are inspiring. What struck me most was they all went through as much learning and change as their clients did. In the process of working with their clients, these organizers learned to let go of their expectations, experiment with alternate organizing strategies, and trust in their clients’ wisdom and resourcefulness. As they let go, their clients stepped forward.

Letting Go Lesson 6:

Let go of being the expert and make space for the wisdom of others to emerge.



7.  Lean In To That Scary Stuff

The last session I attended presented by Nettie Owens was an inspiring (and way too short) workshop about reinventing your business. One of the questions she asked was, “What are you holding on to that is no longer serving you?” She then had us write on an index card, “What do I need to let go of?” along with our response below. I wrote, “doubt.”  Then she asked us to tear up the card, which we obediently did. Once torn, she implored us to toss the pieces up in the air (think confetti flying). Being the organizers that we were, this made us viscerally uncomfortable. We didn’t want to make a mess that someone had to clean up. Understanding our demographic, Nettie acknowledged our challenge and insisted that we do it anyway. After a short deliberation, I took the plunge and threw my pieces as high into the air as I could. What a liberating feeling! As I tossed the papers, I felt my doubt dispersing too.

Letting Go Lesson 7:

Let go of the stuff that’s holding you back.


As I continue to think about my time away, I know that more letting go lessons will surface. However, in the effort to follow Donna’s advice of “Done is perfect,” I’m going to wrap things up here. Did any of these letting go lessons resonate with you? Have you experienced a different letting go lesson? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I invite you to join the conversation.






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Reader Comments (10)

How wonderful it was to see so many familiar faces, talk all things organizing, and have a lot of fun. I love how you focused in on lessons about letting go. The one that is resonating the most is letting go of "supposed to." I struggle with this one, because I am a big Upholder. However, I know that quite often, it is the unplanned and unexpected that makes the best memory, so I need to keep reminding myself of this. In our case, we were in an Uber on a way to a restaurant we thought would be good. Our Uber driver told me where we should really go was the Velvet Taco (as we were driving by). I said, "Well hey, just drop us here then." She did, and the tacos were AMAZING.

April 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

Seana- It was fantastic spending time with you at the conference. And thank you for getting "us organizer bloggers" together for photos and conversation. I am so grateful for the coordination you did. Today is a big catch up day, and I'm looking forward to reading your post about the conference. Wow! You posted yours so quickly! Impressive. I love how you recognize your "supposed to" tendencies and reminded yourself to let go a bit. As a result, it sounds like you had one delicious dinner. Sounded fantastic!

I look forward to seeing you again soon via our blogs or elsewhere.

April 8, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I love all of these lessons you learned at conference. Your flight being canceled at the last minute must have been so stressful! All of these letting go tips are very important in life for both organizers and our clients. Thanks for sharing these! I hope to make it to conference next year!

April 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Haworth

@Nancy- I'm so glad these resonated with you for yourself and our clients. You're right that there was some momentary stress when Southwest canceled my flight. But instead of going too far down that road, I breathed, reset, and went into a proactive mode. Before long, I had my new plan in place. From there I did my best to enjoy the "revised" journey.

I hope you come to the conference next year too. It would be so much fun to meet you in person.

April 8, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Great learning moments. It's so hard for people to let go of things they have a strong attachment to. My favorite #5. "Let go of perfection, especially when done is good enough."

April 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Schiesl

@Janet- It was great seeing you in Texas! Virtual is fine, but there's nothing quite like face-to-face. It IS hard for people to let go. As you said, this is especially challenging when we're emotionally attached. The bonds we form to our stuff, our beliefs, and is intense. #5 is a great reminder. When Janice shared that one my brain went, "ding, ding, ding!" I needed to hear that one.

April 9, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

You definitely got your money's worth out of that conference - what a wealth of insight you came away with - and that's just what you included in your post! Thank you for taking the time to share it and inspire us.

April 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

@Janet B.- You're right in that I received good learning in exchange for the investment made. And you're right, there was so much more, but to keep the post a reasonable length, I edited it to include only these seven points. Sharing it with all of you was a good way for me to assimilate my takeaways

I'm sure you saw Seana's post. She did an awesome job sharing her conference highlights. I loved reading what she wrote.

April 9, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I've had a flight canceled after I was checked in -- ugh! (I'm thinking of the great American Airlines computer system outage of 2013, which many of us experienced on our way to conference in New Orleans), and also arrived much later than planned. Kudos to you for rolling with the punches and also being open to so many other unforeseen opportunities!

April 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterHazel Thornton

@Hazel- Oh wow! So you know how much fun getting your flight canceled can be. I don't recall personally experiencing any travel issue for the 2013 NAPO conference in New Orleans, but I do remember that the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night. We had to leave our rooms in a sleepy stupor, climb down many flights of stairs, and remain outside in our PJs for quite a while. I guess that one was memorable in a few ways. Thanks for your encouraging words.

April 10, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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