There’s all sorts of advice out there which tells people to be kind to themselves. This advice also says to treat yourself the way you would a friend or to give yourself grace. I was sharing this information with a friend of mine who asked me what being kind to yourself really means. I told him what it means as it applies to organizing. Since I am a professional organizer, I can tell you about the ways you can be kind to yourself as you go about decluttering and organizing your home.
Let’s review these two expressions one at a time
Give Yourself Grace: this expression means that you should not expect yourself to be perfect. You are a human being and are therefore fallible. You will make mistakes. Do your best to avoid them but accept that if you have done everything you can, and something doesn’t work out quite the way you want it’s not because you are a bad person or that you have done something bad.
How does this apply to organizing? Well, perhaps you are trying a new strategy and working to have only one place in the house to keep your mail. You slipped up, and left a pile of mail (including an invoice) on the kitchen counter. Because you’re accustomed to seeing mail here, there, and everywhere you don’t notice this mail on the kitchen counter for several days. When you do notice it, you berate yourself and speak to yourself in negative and unhelpful way.
Give yourself grace and forgive yourself. I know this is easier said than done. All of us are our own worst critic. Think about the mistake you made. And ask yourself these questions:
What can you learn from it?
Is there anything you did correctly? Take note.
Where did you go wrong? Try not to over analyze this.
Think about what you can do to fix this.
Take a breath
Pick up the mail
Put it where you’ve decided is a better place to process the mail
Schedule time to pay the invoice
Treat Yourself the Way You Would a Friend
How do you treat your friends? Do you forgive them if they make a mistake? I think you probably do, I know I do.
It’s so much harder to forgive ourselves.
We have this negative chatter in our heads that likes to review all the mistakes we’ve made and to berate us. When these thoughts swirl in our heads, the only comments we hear are the negative ones.
Change the channel by taking this advice from the author of Chatter, Ethan Kross.
He advises us to talk to ourselves in the third person. Call yourself by your name.
He is not saying to forget about the mistake you have made instead he advocates that you have a conversation with yourself as if you were talking to a friend.
Be gentle. Acknowledge the fact that you are having difficulty changing your habits. Think about your options.
What can you do differently?
Do you need to enlist help?
Would writing down some reminders about the behavior you want to incorporate help you?
Let’s go back to the example of the mail and papers
You have decided the kitchen counter is not the place you want the mail and/or papers to land.
There’s a side table in the family room that has a great spot for a basket and a hanging file holder. It even has room underneath it for 2 waste baskets. You’re going to label one waste basket “shredding” and the other “recycling”.
You think this is the perfect place because you like to sit in the family room and watch (or listen) to television while you process your mail and papers.
Consider putting a large note to yourself prominently placed in the kitchen saying something like: “Don’t put the mail/papers down here. Take them to the family room.”
The truth about being kind to yourself
It is easy for someone to tell you to be kind to yourself and much harder to do. When a friend is talking to you about a mistake you made, they can review what happened with you, give advice, and then walk away.
You are always with yourself.
If you allow yourself to sit and only contemplate the negative behaviors, these thoughts fester and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But, if you tell yourself the truth, acknowledge the mistake, and then review the ways you can help yourself avoid making the same mistake, you are being kind to yourself by not allowing your thoughts to stay focused on the things you did wrong.
Avoid making excuses
Instead, enlist help. Ask family members to help you remember where to put the mail. Post reminders and actively talk to yourself out loud about the behavior you want to create. Remember to call yourself by name and talk to yourself as you would a friend.
It takes time to change a behavior, more time than we generally allow ourselves. When you forget and backslide into the unwanted behavior stop, tell yourself you can do better, and move on.
You know that scolding, berating, and putting yourself down do not work. If you are a parent, ask yourself how well this works with your children. Even better, ask yourself what example you are setting for them if you are constantly scolding yourself?
My mother always said, “you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar”. Speak to yourself nicely without making excuses and allow yourself to try again.
Celebrate every time you do the behavior you are trying to make habitual.
If we go back to the example of the mail and papers, celebrate when there are no papers floating around on other surfaces.
The truth is being kind to yourself is one of the hardest things you can do. It is possible to learn this skill. Practice talking to yourself out loud. Leave reminders about the behaviors you want to change so that it is easier. Remember that no one is perfect. Celebrate your successes and challenge yourself to change the channel when the negative voice inside your head starts to pester you. You can do this!
If you want some help to create an organizing or decluttering strategy for your home reach out to me. I am happy to provide ideas.
Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer® ,a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC and co-owner of Release●Repurpose●Reorganize, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia.
What a great post! I especially liked “Celebrate every time you do the behavior you are trying to make habitual.” I like keeping a record of how many days I do something new. It can be a check or star on your calendar. If you miss a day, acknowledge that there was a reason for that and pick it back up again.
Thank you, Jonda! Checking it off when you do the behavior you are trying to build is a great way to build consistency.
I love that idea of talking to yourself in the third person. It can immediately reveal how you are talking to yourself. I think I am much harder on myself than I am on others. I love the whole vibe of this post, and the idea that we need to extend grace to ourselves. Otherwise, we’ll never have the will to try again when things inevitably go off the rails. Life isn’t all or nothing, it is a series of tiny choices, and we can always make a different choice next time!
Thank you, Seana. It’s only natural that things go sideways every now and then. We can move on if and when we give ourselves grace to be human.
Diane- I LOVE this beautiful post to remind us to be kind to ourselves! No berating. No negative self-talk. Instead, offer kindness, consideration, support, and encouragement to ourselves as we would to a friend. The post speaks to adopting a growth mindset, which acknowledges our humanness, including we will fail and make mistakes. Don’t let those stop us or be consumed by negativity. As an alternate, use the missteps as ways to examine, get curious, reset, and open the door for growth.
“Chatter” was a favorite book I read last year. I appreciate the reminder to talk to yourself by name. I like to do that both to “be gentle” and also to cheer myself on when I’m dragging my feet about something and need a boost.
Thank you, Linda. I think we forget that we expect so much more from ourselves than is realistic. I’m so happy to know you liked this post!
Thanks – this was very helpful, as I tend to be much harder on myself than I am on others.
I’m happy to hear this was helpful, Janet.
Being kind to ourselves is hard for everyone to some degree. We may not beat ourselves up on the same things, though. It is such an important topic. Thank you for the reminder and solutions to stop hurting ourselves.
I loved this. My best friend and I joke that if you combine the two of us, we have the self-esteem of one really health person; I give myself grace for everything and she does it for nothing, so I remind her that she needs to talk to herself the way she talks to me. There’s something so beautiful and evocative in the wording of “giving yourself grace” that calms the soul and the buzzing mind. I don’t understand why people are so hard on themselves; and it’s always the wrong (by which I mean, *good*) people who are tough on themselves. Big meanies always treat themselves well!
I need to add “Chatter” to my to-be-read list! Thanks for such a warm, wise post.
Thank you, Julie. You’re going to enjoy “Chatter”. There’s lots of truly actionable advice in this book.