Your closet may be a mess, but what does your life look like?

It may be time to shed your objects and obligations with an eye toward something greater than just throwing things out.  You can learn to simplify your space and your life, focusing on what you need to move forward.

That’s the theme of Julie Morgenstern’s book, When Organizing Isn’t Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life.

If you’ve frequently found that it’s hard to let go of things – books, records, clothes, jobs, homes, and much more – it’s often because you’re stuck in your tracks, says Morgenstern. “No one lets go of anything without reaching for something else.”

So the first step in eliminating your life’s clutter, the things that hold you back and don’t bring you joy or happiness, is to consider where you want to be going. It might be a career change, self-discovery, self-expression, making connections, health, calmness, creativity, or many other things. Identifying the over-arching theme or idea should involve an honest assessment of what you really want next, not what you think you should want, explains Morgenstern.

“Have the courage to get quiet with yourself and see what unexpressed aspects of your personality you can pull out to give voice to. What dreams have you so far been unable to pursue due to life choices and circumstances? What challenges you in a joyful way?” she asks in her book.

The next step is to understand what’s cluttering up your days and nights. Morgenstern says clutter is any obsolete object, space, commitment or behavior that weighs you down. Got any of those? If so, shedding those things is essential to allowing you to make room for change.

What does “SHED” mean?  Morgenstern defines it this way:

There are really three natural areas from which you can shed, she says: Your physical space (houses, rooms, collections); your schedule (obligations and commitments) and bad habits (distractions).

Keepers – in your space or your daily schedule – give your energy, inspire, are useful for the next phase of your life; remind you of a relationship, event, or a particular time; symbolize life lessons; or support your vision for the future, says Morgenstern.

That’s all easy to say, but what does it take to actually SHED your stuff? Morgenstern says you need five attributes (and she even provides a self-assessment quiz you can use to test yourself):

  1. Drive or determination:  Do you have the patience, optimism and work ethic to see things through to the end, or are you easily defeated?
  2. Organization:  Are you in danger of being derailed from your vision by your disorganized ways?
  3. Self-confidence:  Do you trust your point of view and are you willing to engage with the world fearlessly?
  4. Healthy habits:  What do you think you’d be capable of doing – physically, mentally, and emotionally – if you were in peak form?
  5. Attention: How would life be different if you stayed focused on your goals and never gave in to excessive worry, anger or unhealthy relationships?

Developing those abilities takes time. “SHED is an evolution,” she says. But you can speed up the process by understanding what it is you love to do and what qualities you cherish. What fascinates you? What do you notice in the world? What catches your eye?  The process is basically all about planning for positive change.

If you like the feeling of being fearless, you might want to take rock climbing lessons. If caring is your thing, you could volunteer at a cancer center.  If you’re interested in self-discovery, perhaps you’d like to try picking up a dream deferred.  It will take some introspection to identify what may be missing in your life.

Morgenstern warns that the SHED process isn’t a one-time thing. “It’s something you can naturally keep coming back to, to keep renewing your life and staying fully engaged.”

“SHED is cyclical. Just when you think you’ve reached the end, a new opportunity to SHED presents itself. And you keep getting more excited, and freer, and more fully engaged in life. Each time you begin to feel complacent in your life, you will use this technique to reinvigorate yourself.” Consider this book a terrific long-term life tool.


Learn more: When Organizing Isn’t Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life, by Julie Morgenstern, Simon & Shuster, 2008.

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