1. ONE THING AT A TIME.
Do you have one of those brains that goes naturally in twenty-seven directions at once? If so, you may be great at multitasking but susceptible to getting overwhelmed in response to a mess. Instead of focusing on the vase you're about to put back on the shelf, you glance vacantly around at the scummy goldfish bowl, the papers piled on the desk, the kitty litter on the carpet, everywhere and anywhere except at the object in your hands. Because your brain does this, even a small amount of clutter can make you feel as helpless as the princess contemplating the enormous pile of straw that Rumpelstiltskin demanded she spin into gold. The result is paralysis.
This can go on for hours--unless a perceptive person walks over and touches your arm, directs your attention to the vase in your hands, and murmurs a single sentence: One Thing at a time. When this happens, your thoughts stop crisscrossing, your body shifts back into action, and progress resumes. The vase goes onto the mantelpiece, your hands reach for the next item, and soon the clutter has disappeared. These five magic little words have the power to release you from even the most profound state of lethargy, overwhelm, or confusion and get you moving again.
Are you too exhausted after a long day's work to deal with the mountain of mail on your counter? Is your basement crammed with items left behind by someone you horribly miss? Do you have absolutely no idea what to do with the stacks of magazines you never have time to read? Does the sight of your dirty dishes make you nauseous? Do you shuffle through papers three or four at a time but never seem to get anywhere with them? The solution to each of these problems is the same: One Thing at a time.
As a professional organizer, I've used these words to help clientsagain and again. Janine was feeling hopeless. She spent much of our first hour talking about how she would never be able to deal with the enormous piles of wrinkled clothes in her bedroom, the sight of which caused her to feel even more depressed. With my encouragement, she finally set to work, but every now and then she would stop and commiserate. Each time she did this, I would repeat the same phrase: "One Thing at a time," and she would get moving again. Eventually her bedroom became clutter-free, which inspired her to go on to other projects.
Hal had problems staying focused. An entrepreneur whose brain was swimming with brilliant new ideas, he attempted to de-clutter his office by rushing around from one pile to another, shuffling through papers and throwing them back down without deciding what to do with any of them. As we continued to work together, Hal began to understand how fruitless this was. As a remedy, he gave me permission to say, "One Thing at a time" each time he started to go off track before completing a project. Eventually he began to say these words to himself. Although Janine and Hal had different problems, the solution for both of them was the same: One Thing at a time.
This solution is deceptively simple. The technique of repeating a certain, well-chosen phrase to calm the nerves and focus the mind has worked for millions of people throughout history. Practitioners of most of the world's great religions have used this "mantra" technique for centuries, and people in twelve-step groups find strength in the motto "One day at a time." Whatever clutter-reducing task you're attempting, One Thing at a time will help you to stay on track until the job is done.
Write the words on a Post-It or placard and display it wherever you need the reminder. More than any other words in this book, they merit this special status. Make One Thing at a time your motto on your journey toward clutter-free living and you'll be amply rewarded.
ONE THING AT A TIME. Copyright © 2004 by Cindy Glovinsky. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.