SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life
A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck
Julie Morgenstern has made a career out of helping her clients get organized. But in the process, she discovered something surprising: for many of her clients, organizing isn’t enough. For those who are eager to make a change in their lives—a new job, a new relationship, a new stage in life—they need to get rid of the old before they can organize the new. They need to SHED their stuff before they can change their lives! So Julie created the SHED process—a four-step plan to get rid of the physical, mental, and schedule clutter that holds back so many of us. But SHEDing isn’t just about throwing things away! Julie teaches that its just as important to focus on what comes before and after you heave the clutter, so that the changes you make really stick in the long term.
Whether you’re facing a move, a promotion, an empty nest, a marriage, divorce, or retirement, SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life provides a practical, transformative plan for positively managing change in every aspect of your life.
What People Are Saying
Excerpt from SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life
What Is SHED?
—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?
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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
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?
- By ensuring you are doing it for the right reason—“to get unstuck” rather than to get organized
- By teaching you what you do before and after getting rid of things to make sure your efforts last
- By changing your view of clutter from “just junk” to what I call a Point of Entry—an opportunity for real transformation
How SHED Works
SHED involves four steps for methodically releasing the objects and activities that represent the past so you can mobilize in the face of change. By breaking the process down into practical, nameable steps, you can move forward at a pace that is most comfortable for you; kind of like driving a car, you can speed up or slow down whenever you want.
This book is organized into five parts. This first section, called Getting Unstuck, helps you prepare to SHED by defining the process, and then walking you through two important steps, Name Your Theme and Inventory What’s Weighing You Down, which help you prepare for a successful SHED. Name Your Theme will help you articulate your vision for the future, no matter how vague it feels right now, and Inventory What’s Weighing You Down will help you find the best opportunities to begin.
The next four parts of the book are designed to take you through each step of the process:
- Step 1:Separate the treasures. Slow down and take time to understand the emotional attachment you have to the clutter. Then identify and unearth the gems that energize you and have true value for the next chapter of your life.
- Step 2:Heave the trash. Once you have selected the items worth saving, completely relinquish that which represents the past by letting go of everything that is no longer relevant. This includes a radical release of any activity or object that depletes you rather than energizes you, and creates a large opening of time and energy.
- Step 3:Embrace your identity. Recognize that you are who you are without your stuff. This is your opportunity to reconnect to your most authentic self and pull your identity from within.
- Step 4:Drive yourself forward. Experiment with filling your space and schedule with activities, experiences, and items related to your theme for the future, until you settle on the ones that feel right for you.
The four steps of SHED enable you to manage your way through change optimistically so that your transition is mindful, complete, and rewarding. In my experience helping clients through change, I’ve found that most of us blindly find our way through transitions, as we are driven by fear, confusion, and guesswork. Working without a framework, people often default to one or two parts of the process, while skipping other steps entirely. When you miss a step, or go through them out of order, you miss the opportunity to use each transition as a way to grow and nurture your most authentic self.