How to Simplify Life and Clear the Clutter

What would you take if you had only minutes to get out of your house? Next to people, pets and important papers, how would you decide what you couldn’t live without?

Laura Benjamin's cat

(Photo: Snickers cat hiding out under clothes that are no longer)

A reader said, “Recently, I began to realize that my possessions mean nothing to me — and am considering getting rid of all of them. Furniture, tools, musical instruments, books — even (sadly) pets. Everything I’ve been keeping…holding on to.

After this extended period of unemployment/underemployment, I learned something that people have said — that I’VE said — but it’s become viscerally clear: Nothing matters but the love of those around you. And self respect.

It really took losing things I thought important…a job…income…connections with coworkers, colleagues and the community-at-large…and realizing I didn’t need other things that clutter my life.

This is life’s importance at the most genetic/fundamental levels. And you have to lose, strip, give away everything to understand it, I think. Perhaps during your loss (home), you’ve experienced something similar.”

When all that’s left is what matters most, you get clear on priorities.


You don’t need to get rid of everything to simplify life or place value on what’s most important. That’s one heckuva way to get more closet space!

But you can, gradually….

  • Make a list of what you’d hate to live without
  • Try to fit your most important things in one suitcase (people and pets excluded!)
  • Put a red sticky dot on things to give away
  • Hire a professional organizer
  • Dedicate a shelf in your garage for potential cast-off’s
  • Write down what’s in each room of your house (this will create an inventory and clarify what is excess)
  • Schedule a junk hauling guy and work to meet that pickup deadline
  • Ask your adult kids what they’d like to have and give it to them now
  • Select one item each day to get rid of – no free passes allowed!

“It’s in the act of deciding what to remove that you place value on what’s left behind.” – Coco Chanel

Question: Are you in the act of deciding what to remove? Please share your tips in the comments.

Related Article:

7 Things You Can Learn About Habits and Goals

13 Truths to Help You Take Charge

I hiked up a hill where the end of the trail was uncertain. Willow brush grew all around, making it hard to see where we were going.


My guide had been there before and was yards ahead of me. Yours truly has short little legs, so I struggled to keep up. “Hey”, I shouted. “Slow down. How much farther ‘till the end? Are we there yet?”

He yelled back, “We’re on the right path. Hang in there, it won’t be much longer. Are ya with me?”

Good grief! I felt like I was flying blind. The mountain was steep. My legs were sore. And since it was impossible to look over the willow tops, there really was no end in sight.

“Are ya with me?” he yelled. Sheesh! What choice did I have?

So up we went. I had to simmer down and trust my guide that the trek would be worth it. And it was. We’d come through the brush like mice in a maze but there was a big old piece of cheese waiting at the top. The view was spectacular.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” -Confucius

I know you’re struggling up your own personal hill. (I said hill, not hell.) It’s probably hard to see where you’re going and picture the top of the trail.

Perhaps you’re ready to start a new phase of life and don’t know the best time to launch. Maybe you’re gritting your teeth, wondering how much longer to tolerate a difficult situation. Some lose trust. Some want a different guide!

Whatever your circumstances, take charge of something – even if it’s only one short leg of your “trip”.

Also consider this:

  1. Follow your instincts. You know best how to serve the people who matter.
  2. Discover your mission. What cause are you fighting for?
  3. Have faith. Now may not be the right time, but it will come.
  4. Do one thing each day to make forward progress.
  5. Use this time to build resources, gain advice, map strategy.
  6. Don’t judge success or failure by one sliver in time.
  7. Know that fear may be part of the package, but so is the joy.
  8. Build on what brings you confidence.
  9. Explore what you’re capable of.
  10. Expect uncertainty. It is a time of transition.
  11. Decide. Choose a first step, then commit to take the second.
  12. Remember, the path you take will also leave a trail for others.
  13. And when in doubt, look up.

My Mom gave me a rock as a gift. (She’s frugal that way.) The front says, “Turn me over…”


and the back says, “Thanks”.


When she first gave it to me, I stood there flipping that darned rock over and over trying to figure it out. I thought I’d find a punchline on the backside. I had expectations of something significant. I just didn’t “get it”. But there really wasn’t a point to get.

Don’t do what I did. Avoid investing time in a game that leaves you wondering, “Where’s the punchline? Is that all there is?” Your future has to make sense. It’s a bonus if you matter to others, but your life should definitely be meaningful to you.

So go get yourself a rock and a felt pen. Try out the joke on your spouse, a neighbor or co-workers. Now that YOU know, let’s see how long it takes them to “get it!”

Is it too late to be what you might have been

Anything frustrating you? I recently asked readers what issues they face. (I want to write about what’s useful for you.) Here’s what they said …

photo by Laura Benjamin, Colorado motivational speaker, coach, facilitator

How do I:

  • make a life or career transition?
  • move into consulting or part-time work?
  • better manage time? (I’m juggling too much at once – overwhelmed)
  • handle email overload?
  • get rid of “stuff”, simplify and downsize?
  • find purpose in life and work?
  • handle financial struggles?
  • adapt to a changing market?
  • market a small business?
  • cope with a tyrant boss?
  • stay motivated at work?
  • deal with clients/customers who don’t value your work?

Are you worried about any of these same issues?

Then stay tuned! Starting next week and over the next few months, we’ll tackle each of these concerns – without naming names of course.

And it’s never too late to email me about a challenge you’re facing. I keep it confidential, but please do share this post on your favorite social site.

After all, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” (George Eliot)

7 Things You Can Learn About Habits and Goals

I believe you learn the most during times when you are tested. Trial by fire can definitely inspire new habits and goals that less “adventurous” times may not. Here are mine:

my weight loss

1. Support your goal with a significant purpose. I recently lost 15 lbs. in three months – a lot for short little me. Certainly looking and feeling better were good reasons to reduced the carbs and sugar in my diet and increase vegetables. But the bigger purpose was wanting to avoid diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Put a compelling “why” behind your goal and it will keep you on track.

2. Create milestones. I wanted to reach 5 lb. mini-goals before a certain holiday. Rather than keep it open-ended (I’ll get there when I get there), I had smaller, achievable goals to shoot for. Then I’d set my sights on 5 more pounds before the next holiday. Somehow, tying it to the date of a holiday was more definitive and motivating.

3. Focus on things you CAN control. Losing our home and everything we owned in the wildfire was totally out of my control. However, some things I did have control over: being organized to get through the insurance claim, how the new house would be built, the work/activities I’d take on during that year, the attitude I’d choose and what kind of example I’d be for my children during difficult times. Researchers have found that intrinsic motivation – autonomy, mastery and purpose – lead to better results. (Watch this TED talk by Dan Pink on motivation)

4. Establish a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). I listed the things I do on a regular basis that don’t generate direct results. Busy-work, administrivia and social media are a few. Now, I dedicate a smaller percentage of my time/energy (say 5-10%) to those things and then I stop. Just like Twitter limits a post to 140 characters, limiting the resources devoted to low priority tasks by default gives me more energy to focus on bigger goals.

5. Decide to make each interaction/experience a positive one. Set the intention up front to get a positive outcome. I use two methods: 1. I ask myself “How do you want this to end?” That clarifies the results I want to achieve. 2. Then I imagine what would it be like if this was the last time I’d see this person, due to illness, death, etc. It helps me appreciate the time I have with people since we may not get a “do over”.

6. Try to be useful. The book, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype by Jay Baer, may be written for business, but I’ve found the concept very useful (ha!) in my personal life too. Use information and helpfulness in relationships at home, work and in the community to create a more positive, productive interaction and environment.

7. Use the magic of compounding. Supposedly, Albert Einstein called this the 8th wonder of the world. A small “investment” generates earnings which, reinvested, allows interest to build upon interest. The sooner you start, the more time this concept has to work and the bigger the payoff. Momentum builds. Habits form.

Question: Have any of these ideas already worked for you? Any others? Please share in the comments section.

6 Ways to Face Fear and Create Courage

I think we create courage only after we’ve been intimate with fear.

Have you ever felt fear?

I’ll bet you have.

CourageDoesNotAlwaysRoarIt can come from many directions: fear for the safety of our loved ones, fear of loss (job, spouse, health, home, reputation), fear of success or failure, fear of a change we’re unprepared for.

I don’t see myself as a courageous person. I just try to put one foot in front of the other and move forward in a positive direction. I try to do what needs to be done.

But there have been times, let me tell you, when I’ve been frozen in fear. I had to work hard to find the courage to take that next step. I discovered a few strategies that helped me pull through – some of them I’m using right now as we rebuild after the fire.

Maybe these ideas will help you too:

1. Consider the alternative. What are the other options available to you? Giving up and letting someone else carry the ball is one. Retreating back to your safe zone is another. Do either of those choices sound attractive? Will you be happy with yourself if you allow it to happen? Will it improve your condition or that of the people you care about?

2. Look to someone you admire. They’ve been through it. They haven’t gotten to where they are now without some sort of struggle. I guarantee it. Maybe it’s time you have a heart-to-heart talk with them. See if they’ll describe the tough times and how they survived. They probably won’t say anything you haven’t heard before, but just hearing their story may encourage you. If they can do it, you can muddle through too.

3. Imagine yourself wading through the mess and reaching one small goal. Taken alone it might not seem like much, but in looking back, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve gotten through. Visioning is powerful. The ability to see ourselves succeeding builds self-confidence and helps us muster up the courage to take that first step.

4. Document your accomplishments. I keep a “Breadcrumbs Book” where I’ve listed all the milestones from this past year. It helps when I’m tempted to let myself get overwhelmed at what still lies ahead. I can look back in my book and see how progress unfolded.

5. Rally the troops. There are more people rooting for you than you can imagine. Reach out to a few of your best advocates, closest family and friends. Ask them for help or just a listening ear when you need it. Sometimes, just talking it through is enough to relieve some pressure and get a few new ideas on how to cope. Holding it all inside won’t do you any good.

6. Value the pluses of patience. When we lost the house, advisers said, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” I didn’t really understand the depth of that wisdom when I first heard it. But I know now that patience has been one of the biggest benefits of facing fear. Solutions don’t come quickly. I’ve had to learn to trust in the process and God to help us get to the other side.

I’m not blowing smoke at you. These past few years have been the hardest of my life. I’ve had to accept my challenges, consciously choose a positive path and try to create something good from each one of them. I believe that making the decision to improve your condition, even in some small way, is the best way to face fear.

Courage is indeed the quiet voice at the end of the day that says, “I will try again tomorrow.”

How have you persevered? What’s helped you put one foot in front of the other? Please share your suggestions in comments below.

When Was the Last Time You Did Something New?

When my eldest son got his first job and began to make money, he opened up a bank account. Then he asked me how to write out a check.

He owed me money, so this was one skill I wanted him to get right!

“You put the date up here on this line,” I said. “Then where it says ‘Pay to the Order Of’ you write my name.”

So he wrote it up, ripped it out and handed it to me.

And on the “Pay to the Order Of” line he had written…



Of course, then he had to cross that out and write my REAL name.

You should have seen the look the bank teller gave me when I went to cash it.

I can’t remember the first time I wrote a check. It’s now such a normal activity, I don’t even think twice about it. (Unless there’s no money in the account.)

I do remember the last time I did something for the very first time, however.

I was nervous. I worried about how I’d feel if I failed. I didn’t want to look stupid in front of my friends.

How about you?

When we ask someone to do something for the very first time, it’s tempting to expect them to get it quickly. Often we hurry them through the process and “fill in the empty spaces” for them. Because it’s a no-brainer for us, we expect it to be easy for them.

Here are five things to remember next time you ask someone to change:

1. Do they know how? You’ve given them the “what to do”, but do they also know the “how to do it”? You may have to spell it out. Not everyone has the confidence to risk failure and it could keep them from trying.

2. Don’t expect them to go from 0 to 100. Sometimes we expect them to reach the goal in one giant leap. Most of us learn new things in increments, one step at a time. Define degrees of success.

3. Expect a relapse. Everyone stumbles and reverts back to a “safe zone” of what’s comfortable and habitual. Don’t give up on them just because they have a setback.

4. Recognize and reward. They’re not all the way there just yet, but find ways to celebrate forward movement. We all need encouragement along the way.

5. Ask for a self-assessment. You may have ideas about how well they’re doing, but be sure to ask them for an update. Let them tell you how they feel about their progress. Ask them to quantify it on a scale from 1 to 10.

My son now writes checks like a big dog! He’s graduated from college, bought a house, holds down a job and takes good care of his wife and son.

But he still calls me “Mom”!

5 Ways to Cope with Catastrophe or Change

Something bad has happened.

You might not have seen it coming, but it’s here and you’ve got to cope. I’m not going to trivialize anyone’s struggles by comparing your situation to mine. I have friends who would gladly swap their circumstances for a burned out house in a heartbeat! But here’s what I’m learning as I navigate my way through a change I didn’t ask for:

1. Name your fears. You might not be living a worst case scenario, but it could be mighty close to that. It might loom large in your mind, consuming much of your focus and energy. You can think up all kinds of negatives if you draw your present circumstances out to their possible conclusions. The best way to face reality is to write them down. Chances are that the worst will not happen. It’s just as likely things will get better. It’s possible you’ll be surprised by something good in the end.

2. Plan for a new reality. Name one positive outcome you’d like to see happen and hold it in front of you like a beacon. Let it guide you to focus on something of substance. The 80/20 rule states that 20% of our effort generates 80% of the outcome. A small percentage of focus creates the majority of results. It doesn’t require massive amounts of energy – just leverage your strengths. Become like a laser. Shine the spotlight on one success you’d like to target.

3. List the benefits. There will be some. Not every situation results in positives but most will. Make a list. A good way to state them is, “If it hadn’t been for ‘X’, then ‘Y’ wouldn’t have happened. After my house burned down, we discovered my well had been drilled right next to my leach field, the septic tank was leaking and our gas line ran from a connection in my neighbor’s front yard with no easement agreement! New construction took care of all those code problems.

4. Break free from the spin cycle. Do you notice a new habit you’ve formed since the “incident”? Are you procrastinating? Have you isolated yourself? Do you avoid certain places or faces? Have you developed a behavior that doubles as comfort food? (It brings temporary solace, but isn’t healthy in the long run.) Perhaps you’ve buried yourself in a blanket to avoid risks and threats. End that habit and replace it with a new one – a better one.

5. Mind the way you model for others. You might not think of yourself as a role model, but you are. There are co-workers, neighbors, friends and family watching how you handle yourself. They’re not looking for ways to “catch” you, but are definitely paying attention. They wonder, “How would I handle this, if I were in her shoes?” It’s understandable to have a “moment” or two. It’s also inspiring to show grace under pressure and give those around you courage to face their own fears and frustrations. You have no idea how highly people think of you!

You CAN cope. Take it one step at a time. Break this thing down into bits and focus on one issue a day, or a week. Remember what you’ve learned from previous encounters with trouble and trauma? You will get through this and come out on the other side a much stronger, resilient, compassionate person. You will be changed for the better!

What have you learned from previous encounters with trouble and trauma? How did you get through it? (Tell us in the comments below)

Lead With Your Strengths for Personal Success

Nathan Newbrough, President and CEO of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic spoke at a luncheon I attended last week. He talked about how the Philharmonic has risen from the ashes over the past few years. They have been through some rough times.

In the past, they’d created a performance schedule based on what they thought audiences wanted. Under his leadership, however, they chose to feature arrangements they excelled at. They decided to lead with their strengths. Happily, audiences and ticket sales responded, leading to sell-out performances.

It was a gutsy move. Not everyone would have taken that leap of faith. Most do surveys, market research and focus groups to find out what people want, then fashion a brand, products or services around that.

It’s the courageous person who knows what they do best and will lead with it.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

How does this apply to the average person who isn’t always sure what direction to take?

First, we’ve got to make the effort to discover our strengths. I took the StrengthsFinder and learned I possess Maximizer, Empathy, Strategic, Relator and Developer strengths. I get no benefits from recommending you buy the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0. Use the code in the back to take the online assessment and discover what stuff you’re made of.

Next, seek out opportunities to leverage your gifts. Once you know you want a blue Toyota (for example), you’ll be likely to see blue Toyotas all over the place. Put yourself in roles that maximize your talents, whether at work, at home, in church or school. Ask people you respect how they recommend you leverage your strengths.

Think of these assets as a vehicle that drives you to new levels of excellence and personal satisfaction. It doesn’t mean you ignore other responsibilities, but when possible, you play the game with your strongest hand.

Most of us move through life with no formal plan. This approach can help you build some strategy into creating a clear purpose. And like the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, perhaps you too will soon be performing for sell-out crowds!

Please share in comments on the blog. What results have you gotten from leading with your strengths?