Thursday, April 19, 2012

Don't use stuff to remind you of what's on your to-do list. (Decluttering tip #12)

Question: When is a to-do list not a to-do list?

Answer: When it's a postcard.

When I finally took a bulldozer to my desk I found this postcard. In the past I kept things like this just because they were pretty. Now I've learned not to keep things just because I like the way they look nice (wait, that's another blog post. darn.)

Then I asked myself, why am I keeping this?

The answer: it reminded me that I needed to send a letter to the person who wrote me a card. And then -- amazing! -- I realized that if I actually would use a to-do list, I wouldn't have to hang on to it.

In the book Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding the authors mention that some hoarders keep certain items (like bills, reminder notices, ads) as a way of reminding themselves of something they need to do. The reasoning behind this is that if you keep the bill you will see it, and then you will remember to pay it. This becomes a problem for hoarders because they have so much stuff that they can't find the item in question and then they forget to do what they were supposed to do with the item.

The real problem is that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They lose the bill in the hoard and then they forget to pay the bill. The next month's bill comes in with a late fee and they panic, feel guilty and angry, and are afraid of missing the next bill payment. So they hang on to the bill so that they won't miss the next payment. The bill gets lost in the hoard. And on, and on, and on.

I am not getting caught in another hoarding habit. If you can learn to use a planner (hey, I'm still working on this myself) then there are probably a number of items that you can get rid of because you don't need them around to be your reminders. Are you holding on to anything just because it reminds you of something you need to do?

The postcard is going in the paper recycling. And the task is going in my planner.

Now to actually write that letter.


  1. I think the most important habit is, "Do not watch TV until the jobs are finished." It is all too easy to think you are tired and need a break from all your worries, and then sit down to watch TV. Television program makers spend a fortune making sure you can not stop watching their shows. Then you do not get up after the rest. Consequently the jobs do not get finished. And so forth. I am trying really hard to get things finished, and so have lists in many places, but watching TV is the killer that gets in my way.

    1. That's a really good point. I definitely have trouble even looking at my to-do list after work let alone accomplishing anything on it. We don't watch much TV but there must be something else I can offer myself as a reward/incentive to look at the list and get it done. Great suggestion, and thanks for being living proof that it does work! I've doubted that it was humanly possible sometimes ;o)

  2. Spot on. So much clutter started life as a reminder of 'stuff to do'. And a 'to do' list is the antidote.

    I help people all over the world declutter and create homes they love ( and I train people not just to write a 'to do' list but to create a schedule. Write your 'things to do' into a diary or on a calendar so you don't just list them, you decide when you're going to do them. And then put the related item away.

    Scheduling is such a stress-buster. Because you know when you're going to do stuff, you don't have to worry about it and can enjoy downtime without feeling guilty that there's something else you should be doing.

    Thanks for this courageous blog.

    Everyone falls into the leaving-reminders-lying-around trap, by the way, not just hoarders, so don't feel too bad about it. Well done for getting on top of it.

    1. Rachel, thanks for stopping by! I'm flattered that a professional organizer is enjoying my blog.

      I really like your idea of scheduling. I've tried it though but haven't managed to stick with it. If you have any ideas I would love to hear them! Or if you'd be interested in writing a guest post on the subject, I'd welcome it!

      Thanks for stopping by. I'm enjoying your site and just downloaded your guide. Looking forward to what I can learn from you!

  3. I totally get this. You could have been writing a post about me. I think if it's not in front of me, on top of my desk, in my purse, on the stack on the end table, etc. I'll forget to do it. Except that the stacks get miles high, I lose whatever it is I was saving, and I end up drowning in a pile of clutter. I bought myself a small spiral notebook to keep my lists in. It fits in my purse and goes with me everywhere. I find that if I make a list on my iPhone, I don't keep track of it. I like the little notebook.

    1. Oh yes, I tried the iphone lists and calendars, the reminders, even the home routines app, and it made no difference! There's just something super satisfying about crossing things off on a paper list.

      Now, if you have any suggestions on how to get yourself to look at the list and act on it, I could really use those (and probably so could a lot of other people! Would you be interested in doing a guest post?). I write a lot down and don't seem to do much of it!

  4. I've found the iPad reminders thing, which has tick boxes next to items on the list, to be the best way of recording tasks for me... I found I got frustrated with bits of paper/notebooks as it was just something else to recycle.
    But I suppose the point is that we all need to find what works for us!

  5. Oh wow I do that too! I like your posts a lot. Do you mind if I link to you on my hoardy blog?


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