How’s your de-cluttering going? The theory of micro-goals

How’s your de-cluttering going? The theory of micro-goals

micro goalsI’ve always called it “eating the elephant one bite at a time,” but modern culture has now given it a name: Micro goals (as opposed to macro goals).

Of course, it means the same thing: Break any big and daunting task or project into a lot of little achievable or bite-sized pieces. I talked about this in terms of New Year’s resolutions. Today I’m applying it to de-cluttering my office and house, but it can apply to any large task in your life.

Last month, I was on an anti-clutter rampage in my house. The result was awesome, but it’s far from finished. The holidays, a houseful of family and a bout with a nasty virus got in the way and even created a bit of re-clutter. Is my lack of progress and inability to complete the task making me crazy? Not at all. Is it making me give up on the project entirely? No way!

That’s because today I will clean out one drawer of my desk. Tomorrow, I’ll sort through the shoes in my closet. The next day, maybe another desk drawer. It’s the slow and intentional progress that keeps me going. Those are bite-sized pieces give me a sense of achievement every day as I progress toward the macro goal of de-cluttering my entire house.

Will I have a completely clutter free house this month? Definitely not. Will it happen next month? Maybe, but realistically, the project probably won’t be complete until spring. Then I won’t have to do spring cleaning because it will already be done.

My she-ro, anti-cluttering guru The Fly Lady, calls these “baby steps.” She recommends dividing tasks up into 15-minute segments. Instead of deciding to clean your entire garage, for example, clean off the top of the workbench. Set a timer for 15 minutes (Thanks, Alexa!) and stop when the timer alerts you. Go on to read your book, take a soak in the bathtub or do something else. It will still be there tomorrow, waiting for you to devote another 15 minutes.

A perfect example: My Dearly Beloved decided to clean out the garage right before everyone arrived for the holidays. He pulled everything off the shelves in the utility room, scattered them everywhere and immediately became overwhelmed. A month later, the stuff is still scattered all over the garage. There is no room for cars. The 15-minute rule begins today, even if I’m down there alone.

For the exact same reason, Dearly Beloved’s home office is still stacked high with boxes and old files 19 months after his retirement. He promised to clean it up as a Christmas gift to me. My mistake? I didn’t ask him what year this gift would be presented.

He really doesn’t like to go in there because of the stress-inducing chaos. I don’t go in there at all. Our solution: Keep the door shut so visitors don’t get assaulted by the chaos the moment they walk in the front door.

I suggest that you start by taking a few minutes to write out your daily 15-minute goals. Remember: These aren’t cast in stone. Life will sometimes get in the way and you have to attend an emergency meeting or your kid is sick or an unexpected visitor arrives. Give yourself a break. If you don’t want to do 15 minutes a day, try 15 minutes every other day. You’ll get the hang of it.

If there is a hard deadline, “back time” your list so you’ll know how many micro-goals you need to complete in time to meet the deadline. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that waiting until the last minute almost never works out and results in a huge amount of stress.

Stress? You all know that clutter creates stress. Just take a look at the photo with the article. How does it make you feel?

This “new theory” of micro goals isn’t just about de-cluttering. It can apply to anything in your life: that project at work, learning a new language or planning a wonder-full vacation.

Give it a try and let me know how it’s going. In the meantime, I’m completely focused on cleaning out my desk drawer for the next 15 minutes. Don’t call me.

2 thoughts on “How’s your de-cluttering going? The theory of micro-goals

  1. Your email is comforting. I always thought you were perfect, Kathleen. That pic could be from my house, exactly. Maybe there is hope for me then.

    Thank you!


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