mindful habits

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.


A Case for Social Inclusion

Photo by  James Baldwin  on  Unsplash

Photo by James Baldwin on Unsplash

Don’t go through life alone 

In previous posts, I’ve talked about the importance of friendships. When we’re going through a hard time, we fare better with a friend’s support because we have access to a larger pool of physical and psychological resources. Just knowing that someone cares for you, thinks about you, and is willing to do tangible things to help you can make you feel ten feet tall. Someone has your back; you don’t have to fight the fight alone.

This is not just with friends.

Being seen and standing with

Given the political climate, there has been more seeing and standing with each other against the “isms” of society. We may personally know someone who is oppressed or the sheer knowledge that injustice is happening to another human being is enough to make us take a stand. This is not okay. We may be standing with strangers but that doesn’t matter. It is our way of saying they matter, and they are one of us and we’re one of them.

Social inclusion is key to our sense of well-being. Let me tell you how.

A ball experiment

In a social experiment involving sets of three subjects, they were initially asked to take a life satisfaction survey. Questions included items such as, “How would you rate your quality of life? How satisfied are you with your current relationships? How do you like your job? How hopeful are you about your future?” and the like.

They were then taken into separate rooms and two of the subjects were given the same instructions: pass the ball equally back and forth to each other and then eventually at the exclusion of an identified third. This third subject, however, was told that the ball would be equally passed between the three of them.

They did as told.

At first, it was pretty uneventful. It was an equal ball opportunity; no hard feelings. Over time, it became apparent that for one reason or another, the third person was being left out. This person signaled, reached up but was only passed the ball occasionally. At the end of the back and forth passing which lasted no more than a few minutes, they were told to re-take the same life satisfaction questionnaire. Can you guess how their answers differed?

Experiment results

The two people who felt included and were simply following instructions rated similar results as before. If they felt that life was good; life was still good. If life sucked; the experiment didn’t change their perspective much. The third person, however, had a more pessimistic view of looking at the world compared to just moments before: their quality of life decreased, they felt like their dreams weren’t going to come true, they were less satisfied with their jobs, etc.

All this from passing a ball back and forth with complete strangers. Do these results surprise you?

Social exclusion in your life

When was the last time you found yourself in a situation where you felt “other?” What was that like? What thoughts went through your mind? How did that impact your mood? What did you do afterwards? I can imagine this all depends on how important the social gathering, the relevance of those people in your life, how frequently this has been happening, and how you interpreted their cold shoulders. We’ve all been there; it’s hard to not be picked, seen and included.

You can pretend that it didn’t bother you, but it did. You can hide that it hurts, but it still hurts.

Extending the invitation

Knowing how that feels, what if you can make your community a little more inviting? Who’s in your circle and how are you including them? How can you extend your circle to bring in others? These do not have to be over the top gestures. Small things matter.

For example, when was the last time you were in a conversation in a group and you noticed someone on the outskirts and you simply left them there? You were not intentionally being rude but you also didn’t make any effort to include them. What if you locked eyes with that person from time to time? What if you asked them a question and brought them into the conversation? What if a smile made the other’s world a less lonely place?

In case you feel “other”

If you feel “other” and you’re having a hard time integrating into your community, we’re here for you. Here at People Bloom, we’re all about helping you grow your tribe: the people who will be there for you when we’re no longer in your life. I help couples connect and cancer patients heal. Bob helps teens and young adults find their way through their home, school, work and social life. We hope to meet 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 guilty as charged when it comes to remembering how she has left someone on the outskirts. She’s going to change that in the next two weeks.

Reining in my Runaway Thoughts

ave_mario/stock.adobe.com

ave_mario/stock.adobe.com

What do I do with the 60,000 thoughts I have in a day?

Thoughts are poppin' up faster than I have time to type them. What am I having for lunch? Am I hungry? What's going on tomorrow? Where would I squeeze that in? What's the weather like outside? The job of the mind is the generate thoughts and I have A LOT of them! If I follow these string of words everywhere they lead me, I'd be all over the place!

As a psychotherapist with a developing mindfulness practice, I am continuously wrestling with the need to come back to the here and now, because my mind is everywhere but here.

Here are some habits I've picked up along the way to help bring me back to now... I'd touch and sniff most flowers that happen upon my path, or listen in on the crinkling sound of a leaf against my shoe. I'd be curious about the aroma of yummy goodness coming out of a Thai restaurant. I'd come back to noticing my breath, which I thankfully carry around unconsciously, all the time. I'd take a moment to observe what's happening outside of me and how that's affecting what's happening inside of me, and vice versa. All the while, I'd take note of my mind drifting off and invite my mind to come back to this moment that I don't want to miss. 

How do you come back to the present? I'd love to hear!