Going On Clutter Patrol

Life is made up of all sorts of clutter.

Some of it looks like the piles of clothing in the closet that you’ve set aside to give to the Vietnam Veterans of America, or to another similar organization.

Some looks like the magazines you subscribe to but never read.

And some looks like what’s in that storage unit you rented ages ago.  You know, the one filled with what you cleaned out of the house last time you decluttered, but didn’t have the heart to get rid of.

But that’s not the clutter I’m talking about here.

Thinking about financial securityI’m talking about the clutter (in your mind or your surroundings) that’s really holding you back from getting control of your finances and your future.  Here are a few things it wouldn’t hurt to get rid of:

1.    Your dream catcher:  “I bought that because someone told me it would attract good dreams and keep the nightmares away.”  Unless you’re part of the Ojibwa Nation, and your parents hung the protective charm over your crib as a child, get rid of that and every other supernatural trinket that keeps you thinking that life is magically going to change.  It is going to change, but only if you get serious about taking the steps that will get you to a clearly defined place you want to go.

2.    Your belief:  “I’m already in my 50s and haven’t done much of anything to save, so I’m sure it’s too late.  Why bother?”  Wrong.  No matter when you start, every dollar you set aside improves your chances of a solid roof over your head and food in the fridge in your later years.  And savings have a magnetic quality; they somehow attract more.

3.    Your house:  “My kids might need a place to live some day, so I’m holding on to this house that’s twice as large as I need.”  Okay, so it’s a lousy time to sell real estate.  But it’s also a fabulous time to buy real estate.  So if your place is sellable, and you can downsize to what you really need and want—and still have money left over to put towards your nest egg—why not?  Besides, you’re much more valuable to your kids if you’re in a secure and stable financial place.  Especially if you can afford to help them where it’s really going to make a difference in their lives.

4.    Your job:  “I’ve always worked 9-5, so there’s no way I could ever start a successful second income generator.”  Frankly, unless you’re in one of the few exceptional jobs that offer true job-security, it’s time to examine what you do well that could have value to others … and research how to get an online business going on the side.  The start-up costs are low and the potential gains are high.  But be sure you’re following someone honorable and realistic, like Sandi Krakowski at A Real Change.

5.    Your negative friends:  “I love some of my friends dearly, but …”  Nothing will hold you back more effectively than a bunch of people around you saying you should feel lucky to be doing as well as you are.  Or telling you that to wish for anything better is silly.  Most likely, they’re trying to be sure they have someone to commiserate with … and will miss you when you move on.  And move on you should!  My post about The Company You Keep explains why.

6.    Your 8th-grade report card:  “I’ve never been good at math, so I really can’t get a handle on my finances.”  Hogwash.  Since society tells us that girls aren’t good at numbers, we buy into the myth before high school and stop studying it.  But none of that counts anyway, because all we really need in order to get control of our finances we learned by the 5th or 6th grade.  So toss that useless piece of information out of your brain.

7.    Your false gurus:  “I’m saving that because it’s going to be important when I start getting my act together.”  Maybe it’s emails you get regularly and never read, or experts’ newsletters and PDFs you’re storing on your hard drive that are going to help you get your life in order … but that date back to 2007 and you’ve never read.  Pick one or two people who you believe can truly help you and who don’t flood your inbox.  Cancel all other subscriptions.  And zap all the stuff that’s sitting there, waiting to be read, and silently sucking the energy out of you instead.

8.    Your head trash:  “Every time I try to think about my future, I panic and can’t think straight.”  Sounds like a case of head chatter.  Two ways to stop that:  (1) get honest about your numbers; and (2) get a pad of paper, make an appointment with yourself for early each morning, and write madly for 15 minutes about whatever comes to mind.  Write as fast as you can, about absolutely anything:  yesterday, today, tomorrow, fears, hopes, things that anger you, favorite childhood memories.  Anything.  Pen on paper.  Sloppy, unedited, just let it flow.  No one needs to see it.  But you’ll find your mind quieting after a couple of weeks, and you’ll see things much more clearly.  (Besides, it feels so good!)

Dealing with these things won’t guarantee that your nest egg will start growing all by itself.  But it will give you a leg up on tackling your finances in 2011 by first clearing the slate.  And that’s a good thing.

(By the way, I had to deal with my own version of all of them.)

  • Amity Hook-Sopko

    Such logical, common sense advice! But common sense is not so common in our culture today. Thanks for living a big life and sharing your lessons with the rest of us:)

    • Well, Amity, I guess some of us are tasked with keeping things moving forward by making the simpler, more logical life choices! 😉 I know that’s part of why you are so effective with Sandi, shoring up the “process” part and releasing her from having to focus on whatever she hands over to you. She knows it will be handled thoughtfully and well!

  • What great insights and tips for us to reflect on 2010 and move forward to 2011 with less clutter and excuses. Most of us live life not taking control of all those issues you mentioned. So we pile up more and more ‘trash’ in our heads. No wonder so many are suffering from ‘stress’ of every area of life.

    • You’re right, Claudia. It’s crazy how so many create stress in their lives just with the choices they make. But I think that most of the time they don’t realize the impact of their decisions, and technology makes it even easier for more clutter to sneak into our lives. I know I had to address EVERY item in that article myself, as I was “reinventing myself” a few years ago. Hope you found something useful!

  • Sharon, as always, your articles challenge me to take action! I recently cleaned up my email inbox, canceling about 2 dozen subscriptions and just that one action alone has reduced the clutter that causes stress! I’ve down-sized and I’m actually having fun watching my debt load gradually decrease… and now I’m focusing on the savings end. Where I’m weak is tracking… so I’m very glad to have found your handy action guide (which I still need to implement!) – THANKS, Sharon – your advice is invaluable!

    • Susan, what motivates me to keep writing and mentoring is the incredible feeling that comes from having your financial life in balance. That “peace of mind” is like a big, juicy secret I have to tell everyone! So glad to see you’re on your way there!

  • Sharon,

    This is such great information. The steps are easy to implement and I am going to use them in my personal and business life, too. Thank you for sharing your journey with us and helping us to achieve our personal financial balance, even after the age of 50!


    • Carla, for so many of us, this journey only starts at around 50. That’s when we realize that maybe we’ve had our eye on the wrong ball and it’s time to do some course correction! With another 30 or 40 years ahead of us, getting things in balance takes on even greater importance.

  • Great stuff Sharon. I’m particularly partial to #4 — start a business. Sandi at A Real Change has a good bead on that, but I think more people would relate to a business that is not just on-line. The “cottage industry” of small businesses is alive and well these days, and many of them turn into real, profitable companies before you know it. I hope your readers will consider finding a mentor for “off-line” second income too! Cheers! David

    • I agree wholeheartedly, David. I’ve built and turned around small offline businesses all my career. Truth is, there’s no difference between the two, except that you use a slightly different marketing channel: the internet.

  • Rwm

    Very good. Short, to the point, and spoken like a true personal experience.

    • Thanks! As you know better than anyone, it DOES reflect my personal experience. You’ve had the “pleasure” of watching me work my way through each step over the years! And I thank you for your support in that.

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