By the time we hit 50, most of us have developed some kind of management system for our lives. We had to. How else could we balance school, work, play dates, doctor appointments, walking the dog, making dinner, shopping for groceries, washing laundry, paying bills and working out and still find time for family and friends? If we didn't have some kind of organizational skills, nothing would ever get done.
When I turned 50 a few years ago, I was overwhelmed by the stuff that had accumulated over the years, and I realized that it wasn't just physical clutter but mental clutter, as well. I looked around at everything and started to feel paralyzed and stuck. The more clutter there was, the more stuck I felt, and it was stopping me from moving forward.
That's when I heard Julie Morgenstern on the radio. Julie is a bestselling author, an internationally known organization consultant and time-management expert.
Julie was talking about transitions, feeling stuck, managing change, and decluttering your life to make room for your future. She said that you shouldn't even try organizing anything until you have gone through a process called "shedding." Organizing is great and useful, she said, but to assume you can just tidy up what you have without thinking about why you have it and what you really want is setting yourself up for failure. It just won't work.
I met with Julie to interview her for my book, "The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More." Her advice was life changing.
How Can We Get Ready for the Rest of Our Lives?
Julie gave me a straightforward process to objectively evaluate where we are in our lives, and decide where we want to be next. There are several steps:
- Your "I'm really 50?" moment: When Julie entered her 50s, she had a profound and cathartic experience. She realized that she was past the mid-point, and her life wasn't going to go on forever. The experience was deep and powerful and brought out many different feelings. Julie decided that this was also the time in her life to explore the new and potentially wonderful opportunities that were ahead.
- Your children are leaving home: If your life has been organized around your family, you might feel lost when your children become independent, and then even more so when they eventually move out of your home. This can be a difficult transition for many people over 50, especially women. Some welcome this new phase of life, but others seek to fill the void, often with more stuff.
- Your career is shifting: Perhaps you've been laid off due to downsizing. Or you're changing jobs, going back to work, or doing something completely different. Perhaps you're happily planning your retirement but are aware that your life will change significantly once you do. Anytime you change roles, your identity can feel threatened, which can disrupt your view of yourself.
- Your marriage is ending, or just beginning: If you've been married for many years, or even a few, a shift in this area of your life has profound implications. Even if it is something you wanted, it still can create big changes in your life and sense of self, as does starting a new life with a new person.
- Your spouse or another family member becomes ill, disabled or passes on: Illness and death are natural occurrences in life, especially as we get older, but we are never fully prepared. If a spouse dies, your life is irrevocably changed on many levels, and this kind of change can stop you from creating your new life. Caring for an ill spouse or parent can also affect your ability to start the next chapter in your life.
- Objects: It could be the boxes that you haven't opened since you moved five years ago, the jewelry you no longer wear, the old business cards in your handbag or the stacks of magazines and books that you will never look at again. If seeing them brings you down, get rid of them.
- Obligations: Obsolete roles and responsibilities can be the hardest to get rid of because they often involve other people -- like boards, committees and clubs. You need to be sensitive to others when shedding, but you can't let others' needs dictate your decision.
- Habits: If you are a perfectionist, a chronic procrastinator or a workaholic, you are doing yourself a great disservice. These habits waste time and energy and are stressful and draining. People who have these habits often waste additional time by beating themselves up about having them.
- People: People can be just as de-energizing and draining as piles of newspapers and magazines. If there's someone in your life who drags you down whenever you see her, whines and complains about life, only talks about herself and never asks how you are doing, maybe it's time to reconsider the relationship. It's not easy to completely remove people from your life, so perhaps you can think about redefining the relationship. You want to be kind, but you must also be honest with yourself about which relationships nourish you, and which deplete you. If releasing someone completely isn't an option, then figure out ways to limit the amount of time you spend together.
- Find the treasures and keep them. A treasure is a useful object, activity, skill, habit or person that fits in with your personal theme. You may hold on to only about 20 percent of what you have when you go through the process, and that's why they are called treasures.
- Get rid of the stuff that no longer fits in your life. Once you've gone through the process of choosing what stays, you have to get rid of the rest. Say goodbye and let it go. Decide what you will give away, sell, recycle or donate, then get it out of your space. Don't let bags of stuff sit in the hallway or closet. If stuff is physically around, then you haven't been successful in getting rid of it.
- Move forward. You've created a theme, you've gotten rid of those things that no longer fit in your life, kept those that do, and you're ready to move forward. You can now use your space, time and energy for people, activities, objects and experiences that will move you closer to your vision and your personal theme.
This Is a Continual Process and a Way of Life.
When you organize a space -- your hall closet, for example -- there's a starting point and an ending point. When you go through a shedding process, there is often no obvious ending point. How do you know when the transition is complete? If you no longer feel stuck, you can safely say that you've done it. Don't be afraid of setbacks. When you're in your 50s, it's very tempting to shrink back into your familiar clutter. So many things can happen all at once -- aging parents, illness, divorce, job setbacks or changes, new opportunities -- it's easy to get overwhelmed all over again. Focus on how far you've come, and always keep your eye on your theme. If you find yourself slipping back into some of your old habits, or if piles of clutter start building up, just do it all over again.
Once you have a clear picture of what your future will be and you systematically get rid of the clutter that's keeping you from getting there, you'll be ready for just about anything.
Staying connected is a powerful tool! Friend me on Facebook, and tweet me on Twitter (BGrufferman). For more ideas on living your best life after 50, go to www.bestofeverythingafter50.com.