Tidy up with purpose and not out of compulsion

We often tidy up because we are fed up with the way things are and we need to make a change. But we’d better approach our home and belongings with a sense of purpose.

A few weeks ago, on a Tuesday evening, I placed my dinner on the table and set up my tablet to watch an episode or two on Netflix. I had a new series suggestion, Tidying up with Marie Kondo. “Oh, no, no, no,” I thought to myself. “I can’t watch this, or I’ll turn into the tidying monster again.”

The perfectionist at home

When I lived by myself, everything had a specific place, and things were, almost always, in their exact place. I had a shelf for all my spices, and they were all arranged in rows, with the labels facing precisely forward. When friends came to visit, they marveled at my tidy, organized closets, cupboards, and shelves. They also thought I was a little crazy.

But more importantly, when something wasn’t in its right place, it made me stressed. I couldn’t let it go, and it gave me an unpleasant, gnawing feeling, like it was pulling me to fix it. And, inevitably, fix it I did. Every evening, I was organizing my clothes or cleaning the kitchen counters.

I was operating from the flawed belief that once everything is tidied up perfectly, I will finally be content and at ease. But that never actually happened. When I was done cleaning or organizing for the day, I tried not to look around for fear that I’d see something which had to be “fixed.” Because I was compulsively reacting to things that bothered me, I had to immediately eliminate the thing making me uneasy. There was no space to step back and let it go.

My spices were way more organized than this.
Image credits: Pixabay (CC0 license)

Exposure therapy

When my husband (then boyfriend) moved in with me, I experienced mild shock for a few months. I knew I couldn’t ask him to live by my unreasonable standards because I realized they weren’t helpful. But the fact that things were not in the way I liked them really bothered me.

I now understand that I was basically going through exposure therapy. I was being faced with the things that caused me stress, and little by little, their strength over me subsided. I didn’t have to fix things right away because even if things were not perfect, that was okay. Nowadays we have a reasonably tidy home, unbearably messy according to my previous standards but reasonably organized according to my current ones.

I still sometimes get annoyed by a messy pile of boxes or clothes, but I no longer react to the compulsive pull to fix it immediately. Instead, I can say, “Hey, I don’t like that pile over there, can you please take care of it?” and sooner or later, he’ll do it. Or, if it’s something I need to take care of it, I’ll set aside time on my calendar when I can tackle the issue.

The intentional approach to tidying & organizing

The goal is not to feed the compulsory need to tidy up immediately. Instead, the idea is to reflect purposefully on what we’d like and how we can make that happen.

I appreciate that about Marie Kondo’s method: she encourages people to think about what they want to keep and what they don’t, how they want to make use of their space and how they want their home to feel. It’s not about being super strict and keeping everything perfect all the time; rather, it’s about treating our home and our possessions with intention.

In the end, I am watching Tidying up with Marie Kondo. It has inspired me to clean out/organize a couple of areas of our home, but the effect has been very different from before. Instead of turning into the “fixing monster,” I’m much gentler to our home and to myself. My guiding goal is to make the space more pleasant, cozy, and usable instead of needing to eliminate and make it good enough, as though it wasn’t good enough already. And, most of all, I am grateful for such a wonderful home.

What do you think about tidying up? Do you have a tidying monster within, or are you quite content with how things are? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

The Joy of the Annual Review

One of my favorite events of the year just took place: Are you thinking of New Year’s Eve? Well, you almost got it…

My eternal love goes to the Annual Review. This is the wonderful time of year when I look back on the year that just passed and then look forward to the year that is to come. It’s a time for reflection on the recent past and crafting of the future.

The structure of the Annual Review

The Annual Review consists of three main parts:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What would I like for next year?

Reflect on the past year

I make a list for each point. Often we forget many of the things we did over the course of a year, so I remind myself of what has happened over the past 12 months. I look through my calendar and at the outputs of my Monthly Reviews. I also look at my list of goals for 2018 which resulted from my previous Annual Review.

For instance, some things that went well for me this year were:

  • Publication of my first paper (yay!)
  • Completed a Dutch course
  • Completed three strength training programs
  • Completed my 2019 Reading Challenge
  • Got engaged (yay!!!)

There are also things that didn’t go so well for me, for example:

  • Didn’t meditate consistently every day (went off track sometimes)
  • Got stressed and didn’t see things in perspective at times

I should note that I add to both lists as I think of stuff. It’s helpful to first think about things that went well and then about things that didn’t go so well, but it’s also fine to add things to either list as they come up in your mind. After all, it’s an organic process.

Reflection is just like fireworks: glamorous and awesome.
Photo by
Javon Swaby from Pexels

Plan the upcoming year

Then, I move on to planning the upcoming year. Again, I look at the calendar and think about what I will do when, approximately, and how the year would unfold. Most importantly, I think about what I’d like to focus on at different times throughout the year (e.g., different work projects, quality time with family, skill development, or travel).

I make a list of the things I’d like to accomplish during the upcoming year. My list for 2019 contains, among others:

  • Write a paper for my second project (now completed)
  • Begin third project (new)
  • Give bootcamp on Personal Organization
  • Play the piano at least 3 times per week
  • Meditate every day, even if only for 1 minute
  • Get married!

Review your list once a month

Once you make your list, make sure you review it often, around once per month. I do this as a part of my Monthly Review, but you could also do it if you put your list above your desk or on your fridge door. In this way, you will come back to the goals you set for yourself, and they will actually be useful.

The first time I did an Annual Review (in 2014), I made a to do list for 2015, and guess when I looked at it? At my 2015 Annual Review. Needless to say, that wasn’t super useful. While I had accomplished many of the items on it, I had completely forgotten about others. That’s why I recommend checking the list more often.

Reflect and plan based on priorities

As a part of my Annual Review, I consider my priorities. I reflect on the extent to which I’ve acted according to my priorities during the past year. In thinking about the upcoming year, I consider what actions I can introduce or adapt to in order to better fit my priorities.

By breaking things down like this, you get much more concrete insights because the priorities are the different categories, or themes, of your life. If you wonder, “What would I like to improve next year?” this question may be too vague to prompt any meaningful insight. But if you ask, “How would I like to connect with my family more next year?” you may get much more specific, and thus useful, answers.

Concluding remarks

Reflect together with a friend

As an extra bonus, ask a close friend or significant other to join you in your Annual Review quest. While I’ve done this by myself in the past, this year I did it together with my fiancee. This turned out to be a lot of fun! We asked each other questions and in many ways enriched each other’s reflection and idea generation. It was very pleasant and eye-opening to reflect on the past year together with someone else.

Resources

I’m very grateful for information on the Annual Review by James Clear and Chris Guillebeau. Check out how they do their annual reviews for some slightly different implementations. James also includes a section called “What have I learned [from the past year]?” and Chris shares a cool spreadsheet where he tracks his progress towards his goals as the year progresses.

Until next year, my dear Annual Review…

And this is it for the annual review. While I wish I could do it more often because I enjoy this time of reflection so much, the annual review takes place once per year by definition. In the meantime, I’ll have to satisfy myself with mediocre Weekly Reviews and slightly special Monthly Reviews… *sigh*

If you have no idea what I’m talking about or would like to know more, you can check out my description of my Review System.

So, did you try to Annual Review? What insights did you reach? What are you planning for next year? And, most importantly, did you enjoy it?
Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

How to Be Organized and Spontaneous

Make room for spontaneity. And also: how freedom radiates from your calendar.

Yesterday, I gave a workshop at Donders Discussions about priorities and personal organization. I received lots of positive feedback as well as one of the most common questions: How can you be spontaneous if you plan out your time?

It certainly seems like a contradiction. How can we be spontaneous and follow a schedule at the same time?

When somebody is being spontaneous, she is being free, playful, unburdened by the world’s troubles and expectations. It’s a break from the constant cycle of working, doing, and pleasing. It’s refreshing.

Perhaps even more importantly, being spontaneous reminds us that we are in control. The idea is that if we are spontaneous, we can do whatever we want to whenever we want to. Our to-do lists and calendar appointments often feel oppressive, as though we’re subdued by outside forces, and we can only just bear the pressure. At the first moment when we can break loose, we leap into the air and do something spontaneous.

A way to bring some balance is to schedule time to be spontaneous. It sounds strange, but it’s crucial if you’re trying to be organized. What I’ve seen happen again and again is that people fill up all of their waking hours with work, errands, and things that are good for them. Unfortunately, then there’s no time left to let their soul dance. This leads to rebelling against the system they’ve established and giving it up altogether. Now, this is not helpful. The best system is the one that makes you more productive and does not feel oppressive but rather is sustainable. Such a system must include time when you can let go.

I usually keep 30-60 minutes every evening for doing whatever I feel like at that time. I make sure I’m done with all the tasks and activities for the day about an hour before I go to bed, and then I have time to do whatever I feel like. That usually turns into reading a book, watching a show, or talking to my boyfriend. In this way, I make sure I can let go for some time every day.

On the weekend, I make sure I have a longer block of time, such as an afternoon and/or evening, for doing whatever I want. Usually that turns into going for a hike, reading a book, watching a movie, or hanging out with friends. I had high hopes for this unstructured time: I imagined I would paint or go to concerts. But I realized that less glamorous activities such as hiking or reading a book make me immensely happy. This is just me. It’s important to figure out what makes you happy and what you like to do in your free time.

Remember: schedule free time.

Image from Chris Ford (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This is only one aspect of the problem, however. The main issue is that we see our tasks and appointments as oppressive, which creates the need to rebel against them. For example, if we are privileged enough, we have chosen the job we’re currently doing. We have chosen to buy groceries and cook dinner. We have chosen to have a family to take care of. These are not things that have been forced upon us; for the most part, they are the result of our own choices.

This is why priorities are so helpful. By setting and reviewing your priorities, you can remind yourself of the things you’ve chosen as important for yourself. For instance, when my work gets difficult or stressful, I go back and remind myself why I wanted to do this job in the first place. If I am tired and don’t want to cook dinner, I remind myself that I want to feel good and take care of my body.

Remembering our ‘why’ makes us feel like a powerful agent again instead of a helpless victim thrown about by circumstances and external expectations. For the most part, our tasks and activities are a result of our choices and thus should reflect our priorities. If not, we need to make a change.

Once you see your to-do list and calendar as reflections of your priorities and not as things you simply have to do, spontaneity begins to lose its appeal. If you’re already doing things you want to do during most of your day, you don’t need to break free and be spontaneous in order to feel like you have a choice in your life. You know you have a choice, and this is reflected in your daily activities.

In fact, you don’t want to break free anymore. Because what you put on your calendar is a reflection of your freedom to choose. Your freedom radiates from your calendar.

What do you think? Will you schedule free time now? I do you want free time to be completely free and unscheduled? Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.