lessons

The Emotional Roller Coaster of Tidying Up

Photo by tu tu on Unsplash

Photo by tu tu on Unsplash

Marie Kondo has spread spring cleaning fever across the nation with her Netflix show Tidying Up. If you’ve been watching and think you might want to venture on your tidying up journey, maybe my experience will inspire you to take the plunge. I read Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up a few years ago and followed through with her KonMarie method to declutter my life.  

Don’t let the title fool you - there is no magic trick it; the process is tedious, emotionally draining and physically exhausting. But the result is absolutely magical. The KonMarie method helps you declutter with mindfulness and intention, and it might just be the most rewarding project you’ll ever set your mind to.

How do people become collectors?

As the daughter of an immigrant mom from the old country, I inherited a tendency to hang on to things. Growing up, everyone in my family had their own collections - I collected stickers and stationary;  my older siblings saved stamps and coins, my dad had his books. At the dinner table, we did not waste a drop of food and ate leftovers for weeks. We complied treasures at yard sales every weekend, and never threw functional things away, because “you never know if you’ll need it.”

Not only do I hold onto practical items, but I’m also sentimental - and not just for heirlooms from childhood or memorabilia. I’ll attach sentimental value to a shopping list from my adult life 10 years ago because it reminds me what I bought when I was living in that brownstone apartment in downtown Portland. If I don’t keep it, how else will I remember those days?

If your stuff is piling up and you don’t know where anything is, it’s probably contributing to your stress. But anyone who gets attached to things knows that their stuff is more than that. Stuff symbolizes important times, events, rites of passage, and sometimes it just brings us comfort.

When life forces you to make a change

My first indication that I had a problem was my fridge. You open my freezer at your own risk (of avalanche). The wake-up call was when my boyfriend cleaned out my fridge and found enough expired condiments and rotting food to fill a black 55 gallon garbage bag. Seeing it all in the bag was a shock!

I had become my mother.

I was actually upset with him for throwing away ancient freezer-burned food. I was strangely attached to it, because I bought it at some point for a reason, and I felt connected to it. And I felt embarrassed. A whole slew of emotions come out when you’re confronted with your own hoarding tendencies.  But I understood that my attachment to 3 year old frozen veggie dogs was ridiculous - and that was my turning point. Once the food was in the bag, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I wanted to face my clutter demons all over the house.

At the time I read Kondo’s book, I was moving from an 1100 sq ft apartment with storage where I lived on my own, to an 800 sq ft space with no storage that I’d be sharing with my boyfriend.  I had no choice but to downsize, which was a great motivator. If you’re about to embark on the great tidying, it helps telling yourself you have to downsize as you go through your stuff - even if you don’t. Someday you might, and if you have too much stuff, it’ll just be more work for you, later.

The Joy of Giving

Parting with my stuff was hard, but what made saying goodbye easier was knowing that my things would be more appreciated elsewhere. On the day I moved, I had a giveaway “free-sale” and got to see my old stuff spark joy in others. My Anatomy and Physiology textbook was going to a college student who would continue to use it. Craft supplies went to a kindergarten teacher and a mother of young kids. Tennis rackets were going to a couple of best friends in high school. My old pottery work that I wasn’t too proud of was going to be treasured in someone else’s kitchen. My stuff was doing a lot more good with others than in dark corners of my closets.

This brought me joy.

The decluttering process

The KonMarie method guides you step by step on how to part ways with different types of items, starting with clothes. Clothes can be overwhelming to sort at first, but become easier the more you do it. I had collected so many items in my 20s that I kept into my 30s -  vintage dresses alone made a mound that took up my whole queen bed.

It took me weeks to sort through clothes, and it was tedious at first. The difficulty came from the feeling that by getting rid of things from my past, I’m dismissing my former self. But the beauty of this method is that you get to honor those items by parting with them lovingly, thanking them for their service. While this may sound corny, showing gratitude was crucial for sentimental folks like myself who get attached to things.

I kept only items that “sparked joy” that I wanted to bring with me to the future. I got rid of about 75% of my clothes and have no regrets. Now I know where all my clothes are, and I wear only things that fit well and represent who I am now and who I want to be. While it’s not perfect, I take pride in the organization that I’ve kept up. That’s part of the magic: once you’ve started a system that makes your life easier, you never go back to keeping things in unruly piles.

Reckoning with your past and present

Sorting through old papers was emotionally draining, but the epiphanies I had as a result were truly life changing. I attach so much importance to papers. I used to keep all my homework, notes and essays from college. School papers represented what I learned -  ideas that changed me and helped me grow as a person. Would throwing away these things be a denial of my own identity? And was it even my identity now that 15 years have passed? Am I the person I hoped to become 15 years ago? These thoughts fully spiraled into an identity crisis as I sat on my bedroom floor buried in piles of paper, overwhelmed and emotionally distraught. When I watch the Netflix show and see people go through similar struggles while sorting, I realize how universal this feeling is.

When you find things from your past, you’re forced to reckon with who you were, who you are now, and all the ways you’ve changed. Going through it was an important ritual for me in order to accept my current life and let go of the past. It was time to forward. What I discovered was this: I can get rid of things and still know who I am, and accept how I’ve changed from who I used to be. If you watch the show, you see that other people find self acceptance through this process. The work is brutal, but they come through this process better in the end: free of things that used to hold them back.

How I parted with sentimental items: the power of one

I used to keep brochures from a good play, invitations to friends’ weddings, academic journals from interesting college classes. Written documents represented my life and I honored those times through keepsakes that spark nostalgia, but not necessarily joy. Ultimately, it’s not sustainable to keep everything as a memento.

I took the time to glance at each document and process how it made me feel. I chose the one item that represented each time in my life, or each person I wanted to remember best. I only kept one example of an essay from each important class, one love letter from each relationship, one birthday card from a good friend. I took pictures of documents and journaled how it felt to read old letters. I extracted the memories from items, without having to keep them - and said goodbye.

In the end I consolidated 4 banker boxes of paper to just one box of items I cherish most. I’m thankful to have gone through this, because now when I look at that box, I no longer feel the overwhelm, guilt and avoidance I used to feel. Prized possession are inside. There is something cathartic and therapeutic about going through old stuff. Once you do it, you’ll get it out of your system and feel better - like a good cry.

Loving your space and mental clarity

We moved to our first home since my tidying days, which meant that I got to bring only things we love into our permanent space. We’ve curated our things and keep only our most valued and precious items that spark joy. My partner’s favorite photos from art school and only my presentable pottery pieces are displayed. We feel at peace when we spend time in our home together. We have our spaces for doing art, for relaxation, for working. My mind is less cluttered as a result of a cleaner house. We can concentrate, relax, and breathe in our space, and this has done wonders for our mental health and our relationship.

If you’re feeling the burden of too much stuff, Kondo’s book is a good place to start. It could plant the seed for a magical transformation in your life.  

And, if you feel like your emotional life is too cluttered, call our therapy office. Our therapists will be glad to help.


Karen Lenz People Bloom Counseling Redmond Executive Assistant.png

Karen Lenz is the Office Whiz Extraordinaire at People Bloom Counseling. She writes blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. She is thankful to get to share her experiences with you. Her Tuesday evening plans involve doing laundry, an activity she now enjoys because every shirt has its place, and every sock has its partner. She hopes you can find your joy in decluttering too.



Goal Setting in 2019: Increasing your Motivation for Change

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

It’s the first week of New Year’s and a lot of people like you are thinking about New Year’s resolutions, goal setting, and life hacking in 2019. There’s something about a new year that hits the restart button for us. It’s 1st quarter again, the challenges of 2018 are behind us, and the hope for a new beginning ahead.

Last year, I rained on your New Year’s parade by reminding you of the realities of setting new year’s resolutions. This year I’ll share with you my struggles, how I keep at it, and urge you to move towards your goals for a better health, relationship, and life.

My burden to bear

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when my shoulder pain started. Has it been there for six or nine months? Mostly definitely after the two fender benders. Being in front of the computer most days doesn’t help. Leaning towards my clients during emotionally intense moments doesn’t either. I wake up everyday sensing the pain in my right shoulder. I make every effort to sleep only on my back. Nonetheless, I couldn’t lift my arm in the morning without significant strain.

Not a very good patient

You see, I get PT and massage every two weeks. The problem is, I don’t always follow through with recommendations. PT exercises will only take 10-15 min to complete each day, but I’m not a very good patient.*

*took a break to do one of six exercises

They’re not fun, quite boring actually, and I need to rest in between exercises before starting over. Sometimes I go off to do something else in between, leaving the TheraBands wedged between closed doors. It wasn’t until I tried to go to the bathroom and wondered why the door was shut did I realize, “Oh, PT exercises…”

The costs of staying the same

Aside from the significant pain I feel when I first open my eyes, I feel like a crab fumbling around as I dress myself. I need help getting the bed ready for house guests because my arm tires easily from pulling and lifting. I feel the strain when I do meal prep, carry heavy things, and reach for longer than 10 seconds. During yoga, I couldn’t lower myself all the way down from plank pose without my knees also coming down. I hesitate starting Orangetheory not knowing if my body will get upset with me the next day.

What I’ve tried

So I’ve read everything under the sun about setting SMARTER goals*, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Time-stamped, Exciting and Relevant. I even note PT exercises on my quarterly planner as a recurring goal. I tried to carry a TheraBand with me to work so I can do these exercises where I spend the most time, only to bring it home, untouched. I tried to set aside time in the morning before breakfast or right when I come home, but when that time passes, I’d tell myself, “I guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow...”

The worst of it was when I tried to tie it to something that I routinely do, like, “If I don’t do my exercises, then I can’t floss either.” Yes, very strange indeed. Other people might have flossing as one of their goals; for me, I can’t go to bed without flossing. It just feels wrong. And yet, I did it one time because that was how much I didn’t want to do my exercises. I swiftly separated the associations between these two activities.

It just wasn’t working.

Why this matters

I don’t have an epic tale to tell you, one filled with a triumphant overcome, of a body free of pain and discomfort. What I will tell you is a daily reminder of why it’s important to do my exercises and why it matters that I experience less pain.

I want to spend less time commuting to this or that appointment. I want to be able to carry a Camelbak with 2 liters of water and to do so with ease when I hike in New Zealand next month. I want to start Orangetheory and see that my body is capable of healing from what has developed into more of a chronic problem. I want to put my arm around my husband’s waist like he does mine when we’re walking side-by-side.

The truth of the matter is, this shoulder pain has really limited me and I don’t want to live like this.

What’s working

I no longer set a definite time for when I need to do my exercises. My TheraBands are readily available and you don’t know this but I actually completed all my exercises for the day in between writing this blog. Every time I pass up an opportunity to do my exercises, I ask myself, “Why not now?” and use that minute to do a prep. I vary the order of the exercises so they feel fresh to me. Over time, I notice less pain, greater range of motion and that encourages me to keep going.

I still fall back into my old ways but I know it’s never too late to pick it back up. And, I don’t have to wait until it’s the beginning of a new year, the beginning of a new quarter, or the beginning of a new anything to do so. It can happen right here, right now.

But, that’s me. So, what about you?

Let’s talk change

I’d encourage you to reflect on the following questions** as you set goals for 2019:

  1. Why do you want to make this change?

  2. Are you capable of this change?

  3. How might this benefit you?

  4. Why does this change matter to you?

Can you remember why you’d be willing to disrupt your routine to make this change, even when it’s inconvenient, boring, uncomfortable, or even painful? What are the costs of things staying exactly the same? What might you gain if you put one foot in front of the other? If you give up soon after the new year’s, who is there to support you to get you back on track?

When you ponder these questions and answer truthfully, it’ll firm up your “why” for making this change. When you’re invested in the process and the outcome, it’ll increase your motivation to see your goals to the end. But don’t stop there: While you can read and think about goal setting all day long, the most important step is still taking actions towards the things that matter to you. As you eat, live and breathe the change you want for your life, ask yourself, “How do I like this new normal?”

You can always tweak and adjust as you go.

Change is slow

No one likes to take it slow. Everyone, to some degree, want things to happen yesterday, with lasting effects and little effort. Sorry to break it to you, but Rebecca Solnit, an American writer, says it best -

“Even earthquakes are the consequences of tensions built up over long spans of time, imperceptibly, incrementally. You don’t notice the buildup, just the release. You see a sick person, an old person, a dying person, the sight sinks in, and somewhere down the road you change your life. In movies and novels, people change suddenly and permanently, which is convenient and dramatic but not much like life, where you gain distance on something, relapse, resolve, try again, and move along in stops, starts, and stutters. Change is mostly slow.”

If you want to make sustainable changes that will last throughout the year, we’re here to help. We’ll be truly human, seeing you through your “stops, starts and stutters” without judgment, while moving you closer to the life you want to live. Give us a call today.

* Borrowed from The Full Focus Planner
** Borrowed from Motivational Interviewing


People-Bloom-Counseling-Redmond-Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. A day after writing this blog, she went to her first Orangetheory class. For the next few days, she walked around the office like a crab. She will go back. “You’re not out of shape,” says Jake who checked her in, “We just need to get you feeling stronger.” So it is.


Speaking up for Yourself as a Breast Cancer Patient

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

October is breast cancer awareness month. While there’s often a lot of noise around screening and prevention, I want to talk about finding your voice when you’re at your oncology appointments. I work with a lot of breast cancer patients who wished they had requested this or asked that question during a medical visit, but it didn’t occur to them until after the fact or they may have felt unsure of themselves. And it’s difficult to broach that topic now that the appointment is over. 

Healthcare is changing

Gone are the days where doctors have all the authority and knowledge and patients come in and are told what’s wrong with them and how to fix it. Granted, I’m not saying don’t trust your medical team; they still have a lot to offer during a time of medical uncertainty. But, with the blessing and curse of search engines, you can easily look up symptoms, possible diagnosis, treatment and side effects, and seek medical consultation to confirm or deny your findings. While this might lead to misdiagnosis or unnecessary anxiety, now more than ever, patients are more likely to present at their doctor’s office looking more like this: “You recommended six rounds of chemo, but a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that women like me with early-stage breast cancer may not need chemo after all. What’s that about?”

Collaborative healthcare

The field of medicine has been calling it “collaborative healthcare.” As the name suggests, every time you go into your doctor’s office, it is really meant to be a collaboration, a partnership to a healthier you. You’re the one who has been living in your body for the past however many years; you’re the one who knows your medical history or have the means to find out whether there has been a history of cancer on either side of your family.

As a patient, you have something to offer too.

The thing is, when you feel heard, understood and your questions answered, you’re more invested in your treatment, and you’re more likely to follow recommendations that make sense to you. While you might not be thrilled about treatment itself, you can look forward to seeing your medical team because you know they care about you and have your best interest at heart.

Current reality

The reality is that there’s still a power differential between the provider and the patient. Your oncologist did go to med school and further specialized in cancer. Your degree was in business; not oncology. There is a firehose of information shared during appointments and on handouts, not to mention the emotional turmoil of needing to go through treatment. As a cancer patient, you are at a more vulnerable place. Rather than being told you need to jump and how high, this is a crucial time to find your voice and feel empowered about your own care. It is after all your body.

A push for self-advocacy

Because you’re such an important part of the treatment process, I strongly encourage you to advocate for yourself. If you’re not in a place to do so, bring a friend or a family member with you who could. The following are examples of ways to help you find your voice as you interact with your oncology team:

  1. Do a little research, if that could help you – Emphasis on “a little”. Google does not replace medical school and decades of experience, but credible websites can help to learn a little about what might be going on with you. I say this with the caveat: for some people, knowledge is power. For others, knowledge is anxiety. Still for the rest, knowledge is power up to a certain extent, then it turns into anxiety. So, do what helps you.

  2. Know your rights as a patient – This is the two page handout I call snooze reading. You can pick one up at any healthcare provider’s office and it shows you your rights as a patient seeking medical care. To name a few, you have the right, according to your local health department, to say yes to treatment, to say no to treatment, to change providers, to have access to records, to file a complaint, etc. You have more rights than you know. While you might fear ramifications for some of these actions, the stress of not being in charge of your own care could be worse.

  3. Read your reports – It’s a lot of medical terminology, I know. Unless you’re also in the medical field, it can read like french. That’s the beauty of Google, you can search for terms, struggle to know what it really means, then proceed to 3) and 4). I know an oncologist who thanks his patients for reading their reports, because many people don’t.

  4. Come with questions – You do have questions, even if you’re afraid of the answers. Your $135 visit with your surgeon is the best time to ask them. I know of a patient who goes to her appointments with her list of 20 questions. And, she brings her partner to catch the answers that goes over her head. Better to ask a silly question than to wish you had asked it after the fact.

  5. Ask follow-up questions – Even for the over-prepared, there’s bound to be questions that are left unanswered. Secure message your doctor’s office in between appointments; you don’t have to wait until your next visit, unless your appointment is soon and you’d prefer a face-to-face.

  6. Ask yourself, “What do I need or want?” – Being diagnosed and treated for cancer is a very uneasy time. Your world has just been overhauled. It’s okay to ask for what would put you at greater ease. Could a warm robe bring comfort during your next check up? A blanket during your four-hour chemo? Do you want to bring your special stuffed animal to every radiation treatment? Request a certain radio station during your MRI?

  7. Ask for what you need or want – As you come upon your preferences along the way, share them. Make it happen. I know someone who asked for a surgical pen so she could go home and mark on her husband. Cancer is hard enough; let’s bring some lightheartedness into the mix.

Cancer has a way of prompting us to re-evaluate life, which could include finding your voice. You’ll never have as much medical attention given you than when you’re in active treatment. While it’s not necessarily the attention you’d like, let it be a time when you can focus on you.


People-Bloom-Counseling-Redmond-Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. She’s a big proponent of standing up to your medical provider, even if it’s uncomfortable in the moment. After all, when you’re already diagnosed and treated for cancer, what do you have to lose? Please take care of you.