Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Rose Lounsbury.
When I started my simplicity coaching business five years ago, one of my first speaking gigs involved talking to Girl Scouts about home organization. I developed a presentation called “How to Be An Organized Kid,” where I taught the two steps of being organized:
- Step 1 – Minimize!
- Step 2 – Organize!
I remember those cute little Girl Scouts, stepping along in place with me as we shouted out the steps.
As I’ve transitioned from focusing on decluttering my home to decluttering my life overall (including such slippery concepts as my time), it makes sense that I tried to fall back on my familiar 2-step system:
Step 1 – Minimize!
Step 2 – Organize!
The problem? This doesn’t work as well with time as it does with a cluttered closet.
I’ve always tried to organize my time. I’ve been a keeper of planners, both digital and paper, my entire life. I can’t go to bed without writing out a to-do list for the next day. I’ve read time management books and consumed copious podcasts on productivity. Heck, I’ve even taught classes on time management!
Why then, do I continue to struggle in this area? Why do I feel like every day is a battle with a never-ending to-do list that, like a zombie army, seems to regenerate each time I kill off one member?
This bothered me so much that I stopped teaching time management classes. It’s no fun to stand in front of a room and tell people how to manage their time when you feel like you’re barely holding it together.
But like many problems, this one unraveled itself in the shower. As I contemplated how many more minutes I could legitimately stand under the hot water before getting my kids up the other morning, I realized…
My old system of Step 1: MINIMIZE, followed by Step 2: ORGANIZE, was missing a key 3rd step: LET GO.
I never included this step when I taught the Girl Scouts because it wasn’t something I struggled with regarding my stuff. I could let go of stuff pretty easily. Old college newspaper articles I wrote? Don’t need ‘em. Too-tight jeans? Into the donation bag. Toys my kids have outgrown? Goodbye.
But when it comes to my time and commitments… ah, there’s the rub! It’s much harder for me to let go of things I want to do. And here’s why…
For most of my life, I’ve defined myself not by what I own, but by what I accomplish.
When I was a kid, I remember adults asking me that familiar question: What do you want to be when you grow up? It seemed like “becoming something” was the most important thing I had to figure out to enter the adult world. And I did.
I went to college and became a teacher. A respectable profession. It allowed me to easily answer the adult version of that childhood question, now asked over cocktails at fundraising events and in the present tense: So… what do you do?
I’ve always pinned my self-worth on doing and thus the more I do, the better I am.
There’s just one slight problem with that…
It’s not true.
My self-worth is not determined by what I do any more than by what I own.
I’ve just had 38 years of practice looking at it that way.
So… how does this relate to those Girl Scouts? I can still see them, stamping their feet and shouting:
Step 1: Minimize!
Step 2: Organize!
I wish I could go back in time and teach them what they really needed to know:
Step 3: LET GO
Because here’s what I’ve learned…
I can minimize my commitments. I can say no, I can say I’m too busy, I can flat-out refuse.
I can organize my time. Give me planners, apps, notebooks, sticky notes, and synced calendars galore.
But unless I learn to LET GO of the belief that what I do is equal to who I am, none of that matters.
So my task is not to say no more often. And it’s not to organize my time with color codes and time blocks and pinged reminders.
My task is to realize that who I am is irrelevant to all of that.
Who I am has always been worthy and valuable and important and no amount of to-do list crossing off can touch it. It’s the unshakable, never-changing, underlying part of me.
And the only thing worth crossing off my to-do list each day is to simply remember that.
Rose Lounsbury is a minimalism and simplicity coach, speaker, and author of the Amazon bestselling Less: Minimalism for Real. Rose spends her days speaking, writing, coaching her clients and online students to stuff-free freedom. Rose’s advice has been featured in USA Today, and she’s been a guest on Good Day Columbus, NPR, Good Morning Cincinnati, and Living Dayton. You can find her online at RoseLounsbury.com.