When Organizing Isn't Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life

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9781400157877: When Organizing Isn't Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life
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Are you eager to make a change but unsure what's next?

Organizing works when you know where you're going but don't know how to get there. But sometimes organizing isn't enough. When you're eager to make a change in your life but are unsure of your new destination, you need to SHED.

Expert organizer and New York Times bestselling author Julie Morgenstern has developed the four-step SHED plan to help you get unstuck from the defunct, obsolete objects and obligations preventing you from living a richer, more meaningful life. SHED picks up where other organizing processes leave off-helping you purge the physical and behavioral clutter holding you back so you can finally create real change in your life.

But it's not just about throwing things away! The SHED process is more about what comes before and after you heave the clutter so that the changes you make really stick in the long term. The SHED plan involves four key steps:

-Separate the treasures-What is truly worth hanging on to?

-Heave the trash-What's weighing you down?

-Embrace your identity-Who are you without all your stuff?

-Drive yourself forward-Which direction connects to your genuine self?
Whether you're facing a move, a promotion, an empty nest, a marriage, divorce, or retirement, When Organizing Isn't Enough provides a practical, transformative plan for positively managing change in every aspect of your life.

Note: To access the free online SHED test, visit http://www.juliemorgenstern.com/shed.

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About the Author:

Julie Morgenstern is an accomplished speaker, the bestselling author of Time Management from the Inside Out, and the founder and owner of Julie Morgenstern's Professional Organizers.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1
What Is SHED?

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.

—Henry David Thoreau

As an organizing and time management guru, my work over the past twenty years has been dedicated to delivering practical and insightful solutions that transform the way people and companies function. My “inside-out” philosophy lies at the heart of my mission—building systems around the unique personality, style, and goals of each individual and company so that they can make their greatest contributions to the world.

Organizing is the process of arranging your home, office, and schedule so that it reflects and encourages who you are, what you want, and where you are going. Simply put, organizing is about designing systems that improve your efficiency and enable you to achieve your goals.

But what happens when organizing isn’t enough?

Dear Julie,

I am stuck, paralyzed, before my own future. I’ve been opening doors and closing them, unable to confront the task that awaits me—getting my so-called empty nest ready to sell.

Brooke, 53, public relations consultant

I’m unhappy in my job, but am stumped whether to stay or go. I’ve been spinning my wheels for years and I have no idea where to go from here.

Greg, 36, financial analyst

On the outside, my life looks good—nice house, great family, good job. I look so accomplished. But it’s an empty shell. I’ve felt my whole life that there is something unexpressed in me.

Olivia, 47, real estate agent

I read your organizing books, and they make utter sense, but change is hard. I can’t seem to part with my old ways.

Adam, 62, architect

Organizing works when you know where you are going but don’t know how to get there. But when you are feeling stuck in your life, when you are in transition and unsure of where you’re going next . . . organizing is not enough.

Here’s a little more from Brooke’s letter to me:

Before spring vacation I had made a list of things to do based on putting the house on the market this spring. It included shopping for improvements—French doors to separate the front hall from my computer room—and lots of sorting tasks to pare down the nineteen years’ worth of stuff that is stored all over this big house.

But at the end of spring break the only task I had accomplished was loading and using Turbo Tax! I still can’t believe that with nothing to do I was unable to face that list. Spring vacation is my get-it-done time. I clean, I sort, I organize. What is wrong with me?!


When I read Brooke’s note it seemed clear to me that the issue she was struggling with was not how to get organized. She sounded like a “get-it-done” person who was good at making lists and tackling her to-dos (“I clean, I sort, I organize”). Our follow-up conversation confirmed my hunches:

A public relations professional and a divorced single mom, Brooke, 53, woke up one morning to find herself an empty nester. “With no actual kids under my roof, everyone—including me—thinks I ought to consider moving on,” she said. “Plus, it is ridiculous. I have over 2,600 square feet of house, and I spend most of it camped out on my bed, surrounded by novels, magazines, and crossword puzzles, happily munching on my dinner like a kid in a tent.” Brooke was wrestling with a major change.

Brooke’s house was not messy or disorganized—it was a lovingly designed and arranged work of art, a symbol of love and family. She felt attached to it, although she knew that attachment was weighing her down. She had always known her children would grow up, go to college, find jobs, and live on their own, but the moment had arrived all too soon, and she felt unprepared. She was not quite sure where she would go from here. She didn’t need a better system; she needed something more. In Brooke’s state of paralysis, simply getting organized wasn’t the solution.

In my experience, people who are ready to get organized always have a clear vision of their destination—they have their eyes on a bigger goal. They want to save their job or start a business, strengthen their marriage or take better care of their children. In other words, no matter how high the piles, or packed the schedule, breakthrough comes when someone sees something that they desperately want on the other side of the clutter. By the time a client calls for my services, he or she already knows where they are going, is clear on their goals, and just needs help laying out a path to get there.

But when you don’t know exactly where you are going or what you want (even though where you are isn’t working), organizing isn’t enough.

When you need or want to change something about your life, when you are going through a transition and are struggling to relinquish something that represents the past, you don’t need to get organized—you need to SHED.

What Is SHED?

SHED is a transformative process for letting go of things that represent the past so you can grow and move forward. The four steps of SHED (Separate the Treasures, Heave the Trash, Embrace Your Identity, Drive Yourself Forward) provide a framework for proactively managing change, transition, and the feeling of being stuck and unsure. By releasing the defunct, extraneous, and burdensome objects and obligations that are weighing you down, you create the space to discover what’s next and gather the energy and courage to move forward. By understanding and releasing your emotional attachments to tangible areas (like your space and time), SHED enables you to release intangible burdens including unhealthy beliefs and limiting thoughts.

SHED is not only about throwing things away (though that is a piece). SHEDing converts the process of letting go into an opportunity for self-discovery and healthy growth. It is a catalyst and companion on the journey to living a richer, more connected life. The ultimate payoff ? Clarity, lightness of being, authenticity, and living as your most genuine, fully engaged self.

Is SHED for You?

SHED can be used by anyone who is feeling stuck in their lives. This book helps people gracefully and optimistically manage all kinds of change, including those prompted by:

  • Natural life transitions: moving, retiring, graduating, marriage, promotion, new baby, empty nest, new business

  • Sudden shift in life circumstances: job loss, company merger/management change, health crisis, divorce, threat of eviction, unexpected gain (financial windfall, new relationship)

  • Internal drive for self-fulfillment and improvement: a desire for improved relationships with others, oneself, and the world

This book treats all change as an opportunity to grow. It provides a framework to positively manage change and converts the transition process— usually considered the most intolerable part of change—into a vital, vibrant adventure. SHED can be used to help you gain clarity no matter what stage of a transition you are in, although there are typically three points along the change continuum that trigger the process. You could be feeling ready to SHED if:

  • You’re on the brink of change—having thought about it for years—and now you’re ready to take action

  • You’ve already made a change but are still feeling stuck in the past

  • You’re being forced to make a change, whether you like it or not, and are feeling resistant

Let me give you a few examples.

I’ve been brewing about making a change for years

Caroline, 41, had worked in investment banking for years and did not want for money, comfort, or prestige. Yet, despite her outward success, something wasn’t quite right; she was unhappy. On the fast track to becoming a senior managing partner, Caroline was extremely organized, productive, and efficient in her behind-the-scenes job crunching numbers, prepping deals, and crafting mergers. But something about the work had always felt hollow and mechanical; there was a social part of her personality that craved deeper, more sustainable relationships with clients and peers. Caroline’s unhappiness intensified over eighteen months and she finally decided to make a change. She stepped off the fast track and accepted a new position in training and development, a more visible role within the company. Leaving the comfort and safety of her behind-the-scenes role was scary, but she felt incomplete and knew she couldn’t stay where she was a moment longer.

I’ve already made a change but am still feeling stuck in the past

Jay, 32, grew up in the foster care system, and had battled physical chaos in his life for as long as he could remember. Having switched homes many times throughout his childhood, he never successfully set up a space for himself. He’d gone on to college (where he lived in the dorms) and then postcollege to a house share with some friends. No place ever really felt like home. In every abode, his room was cluttered and stifling. He moved into his first real, grown-up apartment four years ago—a contemporary one-bedroom flat with a brand-new kitchen, beautiful wood floors, and renovated bath. Yet he’d never fully unpacked, and when I first met him, he was still living out of boxes and bags. “The one thing every single living thing on this earth has is a home,” Jay told me. “A place it calls its nest, its cave, its hole. These little animals go through the hassle of moving rocks and clearing out the dirt to make a space their own. When you don’t have that element in your life, you feel lost.”

Jay had a dog-eared copy of my book Organizing from the Inside Out, spine broken, facedown on his coffee table, peeking out from under a mountain of clutter. He’d been studying the book for years, and loved everything it said, but was unable to sustain any order he created or to make any progress. The stifling state of his home kept him feeling isolated and lonely; unable to fully engage in life. He wasn’t able to invite friends or dates over, and his creativity was stalled.

In finally finding his own place, Jay had hoped to put down roots and create a nurturing place of his own. But some old belief system was holding him back. “As I compromised with this problem and learned to live with it, it’s gotten worse and worse,” Jay said.

I wasn’t ready for this change

Max, 60, was a devoted department head and beloved faculty member for more than thirty years, when the health care crisis forced him to consider an early retirement. One afternoon, the university suddenly announced that, for faculty fifty-five and over, the only way to save their health care coverage was to take an early retirement the following year. His first reaction was outrage. How could the employer he’d been so loyal to act with such callous indifference? Yet after the initial rage subsided, in quiet moments of reflection he could detect the tiniest impulse of excitement from deep within himself. His whole career he’d had the persistent feeling that there was something else he was meant to do. He hadn’t known what, nor had he ever taken the time to determine what that might be. He’d simply waited for a sign. He’d always maintained a love-hate relationship with the bureaucracy of education. Years had passed. Max felt that perhaps this forced retirement was the sign he needed.

Everyone going through any sort of transition is encountering an opportunity to SHED. The impulse to leave the obsolete or broken or irrelevant behind in order to pursue something new is universal. If your current situation sounds similar to one of the above, or if you are going through any kind of career, relationship, or lifestyle change, it’s likely that you, too, are a candidate for SHED.

SHED Is Not a De-cluttering Crusade

Readers of my earlier books—Organizing from the Inside Out, Time Management from the Inside Out, and Never Check E-Mail in the Morning—are familiar with my belief that organizing is not about getting rid of things. Organizing is about identifying what’s important to you and giving yourself access to it. While streamlining your belongings can sometimes be a by-product of getting organized, it’s certainly not required. No matter how much you own, if you can find what you need when you need it, and are comfortable in your space, then you are organized. Similarly, no matter how full your schedule, if your days feel efficient and productive; if you are able to keep track of everything you need to do and accomplish what you’d planned, then you are organized.

Yet conventional wisdom constantly confuses “organizing” and “decluttering.” Most people believe organizing = throwing things out. Decluttering is a very different process, with a very different purpose. Getting rid of things will not get you organized. But it will get you unstuck when you are feeling stagnant in your life and craving a positive change. Organizing is what you do to settle down. Decluttering is what you do to grow. Each process is important, and it’s essential to know the difference—because we need different things at different times in our lives.

Our popular culture feeds into our misperceptions—with a large portion of the organizing makeovers on television and in print focused on how to get rid of things. Equally misleading is the common belief that decluttering is something you need to be “forced” to do through some sort of tough love. You know the crusade-like messages I’m talking about—available in full supply from genuinely well-meaning friends, family, professionals, and even from inside your own head: “Don’t think, don’t hesitate, put it in the garbage! Just say no! It’s time to move on! What good is it doing you?! Throw it all away!” People who are coerced into throwing things away will comply in the moment, but they will feel sick to their stomach the entire time and will quickly refill their barren spaces, ending up right back where they started. Cavalierly tossing things from your home, office, or schedule (due to shame or pressure) never provides a lasting solution.

The unique promise of this book is that it will help you clear the clutter for good, by taking a very different approach to the process. SHED goes far beyond just “throwing things away” and helps you avoid the most common pitfalls of decluttering. How?

  1. By ensuring you are doing it for the right reason—“to get unstuck” rather than to get organized

  2. By teaching you what you do before and after getting rid of things to make sure your efforts last

  3. By changing your view of clutter from “just junk” to what I call a Point of Entry—an opportunity for real transformation

SHED takes an activity usually approached like ripping off a Band-Aid and converts it into a positive, nurturing experience that you will savor. The objects or activities in your life (however stagnant or obsolete they may be today) served you at some point . . . or you wouldn’t have them in the first place. And they still have some meaning . . . or you wouldn’t be holding on to them. Studying the clutter and understanding its value to you before you toss it creates an opportunity for self-discovery, transformation, and a more meaningful and liberating change. And in this sense SHED is a uniquely personal process.

So, do you need to get organized or to SHED? There are times we clearly need one or the other,...

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780743250900: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck

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ISBN 10:  0743250907 ISBN 13:  9780743250900
Publisher: Touchstone, 2009

9780743250894: When Organizing Isn't Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life

Touchs..., 2008

9780739498262: When Organizing Isn't Enough: Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life

Simon ..., 2008

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