A lot of people know instinctively that they need to declutter and get organized - but they’re not sure what that might look like for them. I asked one of the most organized people I know - my mentor and friend, professional coach Katherine Golub - to share what this looks like for her, why she recommends it to her clients, and insight into habit building. Thank you Katherine! ~Anna
As a professional coach, you write a lot about the importance of decluttering and disorganization. What do you think is so powerful about this for people who want to get in touch with their life purpose?
I work with a lot of different types of clients but the biggest category of clients who comes to see me are folks who know they aren’t satisfied with their work, know that they want something else, other work that’s meaningful and fulfilling, and aren’t clear on what that is. One of the things that holds people back is that they’re disconnected from their own creativity. They’ve got a creative block. So, when a client comes to me in that situation, decluttering is very helpful because it can make more space for creative flow.
I teach a lot of my clients how to set goals, keep track of their goals, move forward on their goals. And, our space is a metaphor for what’s going on in our heads. So, if we feel scattered, mentally or emotionally, then often there’s [a need for] decluttering or physical organization of our space.
Would you be willing to share a big aha moment from your own experiences with decluttering and getting organized?
I remember being in 5th or 6th grade and thinking I need to learn how to get more organized because there was a rotten piece of fruit in my backpack. So I was already aware that that was a problem, so I guess I just started to get organized. I remember in high school, learning to keep track of all of my to-dos in my weekly planner and that was really important. So I’ve been learning how to organize since I was really little.
The other thing is that I moved back and forth to Mexico many times in the first 4 1/2 years of my son’s life. I initially drove down there, so I had to move back and forth with suitcases. And that was fine for me, and I learned that I liked it.
My most recent shift was when I got Marie Kondo’s book a few years ago and [it happened to be] a massive transition point in my life. And [I wanted] new fresh energy. It was spring, around April, and so I got the book and I went through my apartment and I didn’t really have a lot to get rid of anyway but…I like living by the principle of only having things I love, only things that spark joy.
How often would you say you declutter your space? What does that look like for you?
I live in an apartment with five walk-in closets and an un-finished basement downstairs, so whenever I have something that really doesn’t spark joy or if I have extras, and I can’t recycle it immediately, it goes on a shelf in one of the closets and when the shelf is full I just bring it to the Survival Center. Maybe once a year, twice a year.
How else do you feel the benefits of your uncluttered, organized life?
I’m an incredibly focused person, and I think that having a clean, organized space helps me stay focused. Although [also] my focus helps me stay organized. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s become habitual. It’s a matter of self-respect too. I’m totally into discomfort when it’s necessary for change, but it would take a lot more time if I wasn’t organized.
What are do you love about your space?
I really like my living room - I like the color. I like that my son is now vacuuming the floor. And I like that everything in here makes me feel good. There’s nothing in here that doesn’t reflect something that’s important to me. And I like my books. The energy in here is just…good. It’s my home.
A lot of people come to me with little faith in their ability to keep up with organizing systems. I know you’re quite well-versed about habit-building. What advice would you give to someone who is intimidated by the idea of “getting into the habit” of something?
The first thing is to understand the difference between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset” - and understand what is an ability. People who don’t have faith in their ability to learn how to do it are likely to have a fixed mindset when it comes to organization. A fixed mindset is the belief that an ability is innate or inherent - that they’re things that we’re born with. In other words, “I struggled with this all my life, I was born this way, I can’t learn.” A growth mindset says, “Any ability is learnable. Any skill or strength is something you can learn with the same amount of effort.”
So say that two different people come into the world with slightly different temperaments. I’m not an expert on ADHD, but for example I could imagine that someone struggling with organization could be more on the spectrum toward ADHD or ADD. And [fixed mindset would say] “This is inherently the way my brain is, therefore I can’t learn it.” Even if they temperamentally have a more challenging time with organization, organization is still an ability that they can learn. Anyone can learn to get organized. It take them a little bit more effort, they may need to want it more than someone who grew up in a very organized household and therefore it comes completely naturally, but just because you never learned it and you’re 50, that just means that you didn’t learn it for those 50 years. But now in your 50th year, you can learn it. And it might sound disingenuous coming from someone like me whose never really struggled with it but that’s also coming from experience in working with clients who struggled with organization until they were 50 and learned how, and made it habitual, and it feels easy.
Then, the key to habit change is to practice. if you think of the ability to stay organized as a muscle that you strengthen, if you don’t go to the gym, then your muscles won’t be as strong. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have strong muscles, but you need to practice, and it’s an ongoing practice. And [you need to practice] with self awareness. Not just doing the activity, but taking a few moments - whether that’s seconds, or minutes - to practice self awareness helps to lay down new neurological patterns in the brain that make it ultimately an automatic behavior.
Who do you work with and how should they reach out to you?
My clients are purpose driven professionals who are not quite satisfied in the work that they do and long for work that’s meaningful and fulfilling, and they don’t feel clear or confident about how to get there. This includes people who are contemplating a career transition, leading an organization or running a business. And for both private coaching and group coaching there’s lots of information on all of the coaching I offer on my website. I also offer a free one-hour Discovery Session for folks who are potentially interested in coaching and want to get clear on their next steps forward.