Everything In Its Place: A Little at a Time
There are so many elements that we can’t control in our lives. And oftentimes, we get sucked into the endless waves of chaos that can take over our days. When I’m feeling out of sorts and pulled in one hundred directions, you can see it in my physical space. I come home from my workout class and immediately dump my bag on the floor – in no special area, just wherever it lands usually. And most times, I’m good about removing my sweaty clothes and hanging them up in the bathroom. Sometimes I don’t do that. Just imagine that smelly, wet surprise. Woof. Still not enough of a deterrent for me to be vigilant about taking care of things immediately. I’m not sure what led me down this path of “stuff everywhere always” but this is where I am.
Lots of research (that I’m not going to quote or exhaustively detail here) talks about how the state of our physical space can have a drastic effect on our mental space as well. When our surroundings feel organized and tidy – with everything in its place – we tend to be more calm, collected and in control mentally as well.
This phrase “everything in its place” has resonated deeply with me lately. So much so that I started googling the phrase in other languages with this lofty idea of getting it tattooed on my body. I have no tattoos currently. See, huge impact.
If you’re looking for more inspiration on the power of taking ownership of your physical environment, check out the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up from Marie Kondo, which is now also a series on Netflix as well (Tidying Up with Marie Kondo).
As you’ll learn from Marie’s methodology, it can be daunting to take a look at all the things that COULD be done. And we can totally bite off more than we can chew.
Therefore, I wondered if I started doing a couple of small things to organize my physical space, if I’d feel more grounded, mentally-focused and in control of other areas of my life. What could this look like on a daily basis?
Visibility is a HUGE component of habit-formation. If something is easily viewable, accessible and noticeable, you’re more likely to take action on it because it’s a very real, tangible cue that triggers something in your brain. See the foam roller? Foam roller sighted. Think: foam rolling is a good idea, I’ll do that. Or that’s the premise any way. Same goes for keeping a reusable water bottle on your desk. See the water? Water in sight. Think: drinking water is a good idea, cheers!
I’d like to take a second and acknowledge that I’ve always been a very visual person. If I don’t see it, I basically don’t know it exists. I’ve got foam rollers in every room of the house (at least the ones with carpet – having one in the bathroom doesn’t make much sense, or the kitchen now that I think about it). Go ahead, ask me how often I foam roll. Basically never! How weird! So I’m not entirely convinced this works for me even with all my visualness. Or maybe the problem is that I’ve inadvertently conditioned myself to ignore the visual cues because I’ve got too much stuff out already and I’m subconsciously overwhelmed and can’t make the connection to action because I’m inundated with crap everywhere, all the time. It’s a thought.
Do You See What I See?
Have you ever gone into your closet looking for something specifically and then you come across something else and you experience one of those, “Oh wow, I forgot I had this!” moments? I tend to just leave clothes out because if I can see a piece of that one shirt or those specific pair of blue pants (not the royal ones or the navy print ones, the other ones), then I know they are there and available to me should I choose to wear them.
While it’d be helpful to have a software program running in my brain cataloging all my clothes and putting together outfits like the one Cher had in Clueless, I just don’t think my brain needs to devote energy to that (but it would be super cool). That’s why I think I don’t put things away in the first place. When they go “away,” they’re lost to me forever. Which then makes me think that if I can’t recall what I own, then I probably have too much stuff anyway. Hmmm…
Clean Space, Clear Mind, Can’t Lose
Here’s my big takeaway: the more organized the space around you is to start with, the more impactful habit-forming visual cues can be.
I’m not going to instantly overhaul my life, my space, etc. (though we tried to do a huge clean-out on New Year’s day and wouldn’t you know that stuff is still everywhere).
Instead, I’m going to practice some little things daily. Notice I didn’t say that my New Years Resolution is to be less messy. Instead, I said practice. Daily. By focusing on small, simple, attainable actions, I know I can achieve progress daily and feel good about what I’m doing.
Motivation is another huge piece of habit-forming so I’m going to make it easy on myself and start with a space that already has a strong pull for me – the kitchen. I know that I will enjoy my time in the kitchen even more when I maintain it as a clean, functional space to create delicious food.
Here are a couple of little things that I’m going to practice in my kitchen on a daily basis that I feel have a huge likelihood of success because I’m tying them to something important to me: the kitchen = delicious food = happy.
Notice the phrasing of the following statements starting with “I will…” which denotes an intention. This is followed by a concrete set of actions “when this happens…this next thing will happen.” This syntax is a recipe for habit success.
I will close the kitchen cabinet after I get what I need out of it – I am a chronic cabinet-door-leaver-opener. Guaranteed, if you come over to our place for dinner, 1000 percent you’ve seen what my cabinets contain because I just leave those gates wide open. And I’m not entirely sure why. Does anyone else do this? I think it’s because I open the cabinet to get something out, and then it seems like a hassle to close it maybe? I’m not sure if it’s laziness or really just quite practical because I’m probably headed right back into that cabinet in the near future – right? Even now, I’m looking over at my kitchen and not one but TWO cabinet doors are open. What’s up with this? I want to be a cabinet-door-closer so I am going to practice closing my cabinets every time I’m in the kitchen. And as a level of accountability, I’ve created a tally chart on the fridge where I can mark down when cabinets aren’t closed and for each mark, it’s on me to do the dishes.
I will “Clean as I go” by washing the utensils, pots, pans, etc. immediately after I’ve used them – I’m not the best about this but have been known to do it on occasions such as when creating bigger meals with lots of components. Usually when I cook, I want to eat it immediately. When it’s hot. So the dish-doing gets sidelined. Recently, though, I’ve started making and drinking celery juice first thing in the morning. And without really giving it much thought, I just started cleaning the blender immediately after use. It just feels like cleaning is part of this whole new celery juice habit. Get out blender. Add celery and water. Blend. Strain into drinking glass. Clean blender. The “habit” feels completed in its entirety only when the blender is clean. Because then and only then, is the process set up and ready for me to do the next day. Boom, nothing’s going to stop me from making and having my juice daily. Since “Clean as I Go” can be a huge undertaking cooking-wide, I’m going to start with three little things to practice daily (and you may think these are like, duh, things but for me, it’s all about progress…):
o I will clean the coffee pot and dispose of the used beans after I’ve poured my last cup – making coffee the next morning will be a breeze
o I will refill the water pitcher when I empty it before putting it back in the fridge – having constantly fresh, filtered water will make it easier to drink more water
o I will put away the scale and flour and rinse the spoon and put it in the dishwasher after feeding my bread starter – less bread ick will get all over the kitchen (and my boyfriend will be happier not cleaning the gunk out of the sink)
I will make sure the kitchen counter is completely cleared off with nothing on it every night before going to bed – Last but not least, I think this one will be hugely helpful. It’s one of those things I didn’t realize bothered me until I let it bother me: there is always stuff on the kitchen counter. And not just kitchen stuff. But like other stuff stuff. Random crap and odd things that just make their way onto this large, flat surface throughout the day. When there’s a bunch of junk just hanging around, cooking becomes more encumbered. I make bread weekly and use a ton of the counter-space for this process. So as an accountability method (for me and my boyfriend), if and only if we completely clear off and wipe down the counter 3-nights in a row – per another tally chart – will I make us a new loaf of bread. Now that’s some serious motivation!
And this is where I start! Once I feel like I’ve made progress on these small things and they become more routine for me, I can add some new things to try in other spaces. And then, once my physical space feels more tidy and organized, maybe I can start including new visual cues for other habits.
Putting it into practice
I would love to hear about any little things that you’re practicing daily! Come share on Instagram or shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you find yourself needing more dedicated time on any given day to organize your physical-space, try to Give it 15. Simply set a timer for 15 minutes, dedicate yourself to one task (folding laundry, resetting the living room back to how it was before you “lived” in it, filing papers, etc.) and focus your energy on that one thing. Success!