Each week, Nicola and Judith tackle one Business Challenge of the Week in their Own It!! podcast. This week, they’re discussing Clutter
Nicola: Judith, what’s our client challenge of the week, then?
Judith: I thought it would be a good idea to talk about clutter.
Nicola: Very good.
Judith: Because it does seem to be everybody’s challenge in the entire world except mine.
Nicola: I’m better at it, I’ve got to say, but I’ve got to work at it.
Judith: You know I’m very, very minimalist.
Judith: I don’t really have many things, but everybody, it seems to me, has got too much stuff. If you work at home, or actually if you don’t work at home … This is digital clutter, as well as every other sort of clutter. If we start with digital clutter, for instance, does your computer need a tidy up? Do you know Denise Duffield Thomas? I think you’ve interviewed her recently, haven’t you?
Nicola: She’s actually my Christmas Day or New Year guest, on the Business Success Factory podcast.
Judith: Marvellous. She’s got this thing going on right now called Yule Tidy. You know, like Yule Tide?
Nicola: Oh nice.
Judith: Yeah, very nice. If you have a look at her Facebook memes, one of the things was about tidying up your computer. Not just cleaning it, but putting everything in a file and getting rid of stuff you didn’t need, and moving off data you didn’t use and all that kind of thing. I thought that was quite a good idea. Some of my clients have got so much stuff they can’t think clearly, they can’t make a decision, they can’t see, they can’t breathe, they can’t move. Whilst they’re getting up the energy and the strategy to deal with the clutter they’ve got, more is coming in and the problem never gets better.
Judith: I don’t understand, Nicola, and help me understand. I don’t understand why people do this. I think it’s about feeling safe, I don’t know. Obviously it’s very easy for me, because I don’t have children and I think children bring a lot of clutter into people’s worlds. How do people get themselves into such a mess with digital and physical stuff.
Nicola: Well you’re talking to the woman who has learnt to overcome this. I mean I’ve just … I’m on a mission to not be dependent on any one computer. I’ve been busily moving everything into the cloud, either by … So old stuff goes into Dropbox and recent stuff and documents is in Google Drive.
Nicola: I’ve now got a discipline where I’m not allowed to save anything to my computer. It has to go into one or other of those places from the download thing. I am a bit compulsive about keeping stuff, but as long as it’s kept somewhere out of sight I don’t feel constrained by it.
On a physical level, I remember when the kids were young, I did get awfully overwhelmed sometimes by even simple things, like sorting out the washing. Until I learned the halving trick. Now this was … Martin … Not Martin Ebelis-
Judith: I know who you mean – do you mean Mark Forster?
Nicola: I did mean Mark Forster, bless him. He taught us the halving thing, which is when you’ve got a big pile of stuff to sort out, just only ever sort it into two piles. For example, with the kids washing, or with the washing in the house, I used to sort that into grown ups and children. Then I used to take the children’s pile and sort it into Phoebe and Nelson. Then I would take Nelson’s pile and sort it into underwear and outerwear. That enabled me then to sort the washing, take it all upstairs, and then put it straight into their drawers.
Nicola: Before that I used to look at the pile of washing and think, “Oh my god I can’t cope.”
Nicola: I have had clients who’ve come on coaching calls week after week and said, “I can’t do that until I sort this out.”
Judith: I know, I know. This is what I’m saying. I think that, this is why I brought it up, I think that clutter is the biggest barrier I see to anybody being able to do anything effectively.
Nicola: I totally agree. Although I am looking at my desk right now and it has got a pile of books, a picture, a telephone. Underneath my computer … It’s on a little stand so that it’s ergonomically better for me, but there is a bit of clutter appearing under there. But, I do regularly have a purge.
Judith: I think that’s the key. I think that most … What I’ve realised is most of my clients need some support for this, and the support might need to be emotional because people attach a lot of feelings to stuff.
Nicola: Oh, yes.
Judith: Either you swap it with a friend or you get a professional round, quite frankly, because I really think it’s a big threat … That overwhelm is a big threat to our clients being able to create a business.
Nicola: I totally agree and I totally also agree with the feelings. I went on that Rich Schefren weekend, one of the things that came out of it for me very strongly was that humans are meaning making machines. We attach meaning to all sorts of things where there isn’t any. That meaning always comes from things that have happened to us in our past. Where I look at books … I still struggle with books, right? I’ve got a big cupboard full of books. I have got rid of all the rubbish, like the novels and things, the detective novels we’re both so fond of.
Nicola: I’ve kept every single success, wealth creation, personal development, business success book, and I paid Phoebe to sort them all out and put them into sections for me. It made me feel overwhelmed looking at them … They’re all in a cupboard, but they were all jumbled up. I paid Phoebe five pounds an hour to sort them all out for me. It took her a whole afternoon, but she was able to do it because she was able to say, “Is this business, wealth creation, or success?”
Judith: Let me ask you a question, Nicola.
Judith: Let me ask you a question. Why do you still buy physical books?
Nicola: I actually prefer, still, reading physical books. I’ve got a Kindle app on my iPad and I am, occasionally when the instant gratification thing comes upon me where I want a book right now, I will do it but I always regret it. Because I always think nobody else is ever going to read that book and in a way I think I’m storing up a library of success and wealth creation for my kids. When I go, hopefully I’ll leave them some money, and perhaps a property, but also I want to leave them the books. Because the books are the things that changed my life most dramatically.
Judith: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nicola: They’ll probably never read them, Judith. But at least they’ll have the choice. Whereas if they’re on the kindle they have no choice.
Judith: Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you can leave them a Kindle.
Nicola: Yeah but it’s not the same.
Judith: It is the same, darling, it is the same. Because what’s important to both of us is the knowledge inside. Darling here’s a tip. Just think, it’s a shame to … You’re not going to die for another fifty years, it’s a shame that-
Nicola: I could die tomorrow, love.
Judith: Give some of them away now, honestly. Pay it forward. Keep the ones you are going to read again or the ones that are really important. Now Jane, my aromatherapist, has got a good thing. She does a cull; you go along the shelves and you go, “I’m going to get rid of one in ten,” or one in five, or one in twenty, or one in two, it doesn’t matter. You just decide that number, and you pay them forward. You give them away to other people. Or you could sell them. You can raffle them, you can use them. I send them to clients you see, so when they’re talking to me about some particular dilemma I go, “Oh just let me reach for a chubby bag and post this one to you.” When somebody sends me a book and I’ve read it, or haven’t read it, I pay it forward.
Nicola: I just recently … Phoebe’s just been talking to me recently because she’s saving half of her income from the pub. She’s built up quite a big stash of cash and it’s only going to get larger. I said to her, “Are you ready to read Rich Dad, Poor Dad now?” And she said, “Yes I think I am.” Because I’ve been trying to get them to read it since they were about fourteen. And I went to my cupboard and I’ve got every bloody Rich Dad book in the world but not the first one, so I’ve obviously sent that or given it away to someone and they’ve never probably read it and now I don’t have it for my daughter and I have to order it again.
Judith: That’s how clutter works. It works because ‘I’m Saving It In Case’.
Nicola: “I might need it one day.”
Nicola: And I’ve attached lots of meaning to these books, haven’t I? Whereas they’re just books.
Nicola: Emotional meaning. Which is effecting behaviour.
Judith: I am very happy for you to keep any that you will read again.
Nicola: Well I never read books twice.
Judith: I rest my case.
Nicola: I can’t watch films twice either.
Judith: Oh I can. I can re-read … There’s a book that I particularly love by Bill Bryson that I will re-read every holiday and I did watch Love, Actually again this week. I can read and watch things again.
Nicola: I was going to say Love, Actually is one film I could watch over and over again-
Judith: There you go.
Nicola: It’s brilliant.
Judith: Topic of the week, clutter. You’ve got to find strategies to move it on otherwise it closes in on you. You can’t breathe, you can’t think, you can’t take a decision-
Nicola: It is claustrophobic.
Judith: Yeah, absolutely.
Nicola: It does stop you taking action when you’ve got in your head I’ve got to do that first before I can do this.
Judith: Yeah. It shuts down all our abilities to do anything efficiently or clearly. We’ve got this thing, it’s like a … It’s like something on our back that’s getting bigger and heavier all the time, I’ve got to do something about that, I’ve got to do something about that. It’s really debilitating.
Nicola: Did you see the thing going past on Facebook this week about creativity? It had an artist sitting in the middle of the most messy, filthy, cluttered studio I’ve ever come across and it was from an article that apparently proves that creative people need clutter and mess around them to fuel their creativity. I totally disagree. I can only create when things are tidy and clean and empty.
Judith: I did see it, and I had exactly the same reaction as you. I don’t know a person more creative in their thinking than me and I don’t have an ounce of clutter anywhere. End of.
Nicola: It ties into that thing about if you want good things to come into your life you have to make space for them.
Judith: I like that thing.
Nicola: You do, you have to make space for it.
Judith: I think one tip, and you can do this with email clutter and you can do it with physical clutter, is if you bring something new in something else has to go.
Nicola: Yeah and don’t-
Judith: With Christmas coming up too, people are going to bring all this shit into their houses for Christmas without clearing the unwanted shit from Christmases previous.
Nicola: I think what we’re going to do now is we’re going to declare this podcast explicit, so that we can actually use whatever language we like because we’re already verging on-
Judith: Sorry, Nicola. I shouldn’t have said “shit” is that what you’re saying?
Nicola: Well you know, some people do … I think we should just go for it and label this podcast explicit. Then we won’t upset anyone.
Judith: Okay. All right. I won’t take that as carte blanche to be rude. There’s no need to be rude. But you know, I honestly think that clutter is the s-word.
Nicola: I do. Yes. I totally agree with you. On the email front, the new Gmail thing where it sorts things into tabs is anathema for internet marketers like myself, but it is a wonderful way of keeping all the rubbish out of your main inbox. You can just go in to your social and your promotions and your updates. Obviously I don’t do this with Judith or my emails! I drag us into the primary tab first and make sure that it says “Do you want this to happen next time,” and I say yes I want all this to go into the primary tab. Then you can just go into all the other tabs and you can just click to select them all and delete them. It’s a marvellous, marvellous feeling.
Judith: Well you can ring fence the five thousand you haven’t read in a file marked December 2014 and if you ever need to go in there and look in it, great, but if it’s there this time next year delete with impunity.
Nicola: Yeah, that’s a great tip. The other one is the one … Again, I think it was Mark Forrester that taught us this one, where you take everything if you really can’t bring yourself to throw things away, just put everything, all the clutter into a cardboard box, label it the date, the month and the year and put it into your garage, and if you haven’t opened it in a year you can happily throw it away next year without even looking in it.
Judith: That is a marvellous clutter-clearing tip. Yes. Rubbish sacks in the garage, labelled up with the date, and if you haven’t been in it for six months take it to the charity shop.
Nicola: Yes. I’m reminded of our five skips when we left the Acacia. You try clutter-clearing out a twelve bedroom hotel, that’s quite a job.
Judith: I do think actually I’ve got a lot of middle age plans and I know I did this to my parents as well, when people move down from a big house to a smaller house when they’re retiring, it is quite difficult for them to let go of a lifetime’s full of possessions, so you end up, as the children helping with that, often taking a lot of that home, only to throw that out later. It can be a two-stage thing.
Nicola: Moving the problem on, that’s called.
Judith: It’s the feelings again, isn’t it? It’s the feelings. My best friend’s lost her father recently, and is filling up her flat, which was already deeply overcrowded with lots more stuff.
Nicola: Yeah. My friend Kim’s just moved from Shoreham Beach and they’re in between houses, so they’ve moved into her partner’s luxury pad on the Mariner. She said it’s like living in a boutique hotel. Her children are suffering quite strongly from the dislocation feeling, even though they both live in London and have their own clutter around them.
Nicola: It’s a challenging one, but one that’s got to be overcome if one wants to be successful.
Judith: I definitely think moving house is a great opportunity. My brother recently built his own house and in so doing moved from one house to another to another to another, and each of those opportunities was a chance to get rid of more stuff.
Nicola: See I’m a great believer in the take it all with you, and as you unpack, it throw it away.
Judith: No. My brother … I think my brother … He’s just like me. His favourite place is the refuse tip.
Nicola: Oh, weekly trips.
We’ll come to an end on this one.
Judith: All right.
Nicola: That’s quite enough on the subject of clutter! But I think it’s been helpful.