Julie Morgenstern

Is your house clogged with old paperwork, clothes you never wear and gadgets you don’t use? Then you might have a problem that’s bigger than the clutter: You could be stuck.

Organizing and time management expert Julie Morgenstern, author of “SHED Your Stuff: Change Your Life,” helps clients get rid of things that are weighing them down so they can move forward. SpareFoot chatted with Morgenstern to find out how you can get unstuck.

Can you talk about the four-step process you call SHED? What is it?

SHEDing is a process for decluttering your life—not to get organized, but to make room for change. Decluttering, finding what is obsolete in your life and your space and your schedule and your habits and releasing it becomes a catalyst for moving forward in a nurturing, positive, celebratory way.

Letting go of anything is the hardest thing for anybody to do. The process focuses on what you do before and after getting rid of things, rather than just on the step of getting rid of, and that’s what really makes it doable.

What are the four steps of the process?

The basic four steps are:

  1. Separate the treasures. You identify what gems are worth holding onto as you move forward into the next chapter in your life.
  2. Heave the rest. Don’t separate everything and then leave it in your front hall for the next eight months. Don’t say no to a committee and then say, “Well, I’ll come to half the meetings.” This step creates a big opening, which is the space we’re looking for. But you’re going to experience what I call the wall of panic, which is, “Who am I without my stuff?” or “Who am I without the volunteer work I’ve done or that job I’ve had?” That’s where you realize you’ve attached your identity to what you just got rid of.
  3. Embrace your identify from within. Really recognize you are who you are regardless of what you own, regardless of what’s on your schedule. You are you.
  4. Drive yourself forward. Start experimenting and exploring with this new chapter of your life in a really proactive way.

You worked with a client who got fired from a stressful corporate job, then went through this process. Can you talk about what she learned?

I told her to go through her home room by room and identify everything that was stagnant, and we analyzed it. Way at the top of a closet, there was a sewing machine. It turned out that everything that was stagnant—that sewing machine, all her colorful clothes she hadn’t touched in years–was her creative side. We reactivated all that stuff, and she started her own business and lost about 60 pounds. It was unbelievable what happened.

Julie Morgenstern and Sherri Shepherd

Julie Morgenstern with “The View” co-host Sherri Shepherd.

How do people deal with the emotions that must come up while sorting through stuff?

Nobody lets go of anything without reaching for something else. The problem is when you’re stuck, you kind of don’t know what you’re reaching for—it’s not clear. So, there’s a little pre-work; I call it naming your theme. What’s the theme of the next chapter of your life? What do you want to experience next or express next in yourself? The one client wanted to express her creativity. That then led to a lot of the clarity: Which of these treasures will support creativity, and which will not?

What if someone just can’t decide whether to keep or toss something?

Sometimes emotional attachment starts to take over—what about this dresser from my childhood? Ask yourself what is worth more to me—this object or the space, time and energy—to pursue my theme? Sometimes it’s this object, other times you’re so excited about the theme that out it goes.

What if someone is just completely overwhelmed by a house full of clutter. What should they do first?

One, name your theme. Don’t try to touch anything without that. Two, go room by room and inventory what is weighing you down—anything that just feels stuck, stagnant barely used, piled up.

Name an area that’s stuck, like a drawer, and decide what percentage is obsolete. Let’s say 90 percent of the drawer is obsolete or 50 percent of the stuff in my kitchen cabinets is obsolete—you never use it. Ask yourself how much space is the stuff that’s obsolete taking up: a lot or a little? And what is your level of emotional attachment to the stuff?

Then you basically just start shedding things that free up the biggest amount of space that you have the least emotional attachment to. The good news is you just need to get unstuck–you don’t have to do everything. If you do one area, it will create some motion. If you do two, it will create a little more.

If you’re standing in a house packed to the gills, just get your theme and do the inventory and just start with one area, and you’ll get the payoff right away. It’s a very powerful process.

Top photo courtesy of Julie Morgenstern Enterprises; bottom photo © Charles L. Ng / TimeOnFilm.com

Allie Johnson