She’d say, “Take it easy. With baby steps.”

• Pick an area that needs de-cluttering. The corner of a room. Your home office. A closet.
• Discard or put away two items. Then stop.
• Discard or put away two items every day from now on (okay, take the weekend off, or at least Sunday).
• If you’re on a roll one day and feel like doing more and have the time, go ahead until you want to stop.
• BUT, the next day, discard or put away two more items. No resting on your laurels.
• Repeat until done.

Then you can pick another area to work on.

To keep the clutter permanently gone from the areas you’ve worked on, be sure to discard or put away any items that have accumulated in that spot before you go to bed every night. After a while this will become such a habit that you won’t be able to go to bed without having everything put away.

This is how I do it. I have two hot spots. Home office and kitchen. I make sure all surfaces are clear before I head off to bed every night. The rest of the house I keep up with as I use the space—the closet, for example, or the table next to my chair.

I hope this will help anyone who has trouble with excess clutter. Let me know how it goes if you use this system. And if you have any other tips, please leave a comment.

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Why is it so hard to change our behavior when we want desperately to do so? Most people will say it’s a lack of willpower.

But new studies show that’s not it. Rather it’s not having habits and routines in place to keep you on track. This is probably why programs such as Weight Watchers™ work well for so many people. You start a new habit—calculating what you eat every day and how many points. You’re paying attention. You probably now eat only at certain times, including snacks. You’re not buying the food that tempts you—no ice cream in the freezer to call to you at 2 a.m. Plus you’ve joined a group of others who have the same goal—studies have shown this is very helpful. Hang out with the people who are achieving what you want to achieve, or have already achieved it. Peer pressure does work.

But there’s more. Advance planning for everything on your goals list will help your chances of success. Don’t just plan to exercise more. Pick a certain time every day to do it. You want to de-clutter? Again, pick a time of day (a mere 15 minutes a day will accomplish a lot in one month) and do it then. In three weeks, if you do it every day, the new habit is ingrained and you will no longer have to think about it (how often do you think about brushing your teeth or drinking your morning cuppa?).

Put your day on autopilot, and all the things you want to accomplish, unless catastrophe strikes, should get done. This planning in advance has to be realistic. You cannot plan to finish something that usually takes an hour in half an hour. This is where prioritizing comes in, too. It’s always best to do the most important things first and leave the less important things for later.  If the important things take more time than planned or you are interrupted, at least you got those done. Remember to throw in some stuff you love to do throughout the day. Put them on your schedule along with everything else.

Make it a habit to start your day with something you really enjoy, and end your day the same way. You will hear people say it’s best to exercise first thing (and for some people, it might be true). But if you hate exercising, you will soon not look forward to getting up in the morning. Instead, start with something you like—have breakfast with your spouse, read the paper or a book, watch the morning news on TV, read some email, whatever. Then do your exercises. Try alternating the hard stuff with things you love.

Also try this: Count up all the things you do every day that are already habits. You probably get up at the same time every day. What actions do you take after that? Could be you brush your teeth, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, drink coffee or tea, take some vitamins, grab whatever you need to take to work, get in the car, drive to work or drop off the kids then drive to work, and then list what you do when you get there. Do you greet the same person by the front door every day? Do you put away your purse and/or briefcase in the same spot? Do you hang up your coat, roll up your sleeves, sit down, turn on your computer? You see how many things you do just in the first hour or so of rising? This goes on all day long, and the things go in reverse when you head home.

Imagine if you scheduled the rest of your day in a similar manner. Put yourself on autopilot. Then, if you usually avoid something that needs to be done, do it right away, with as little thought as possible. But on the other hand, if there’s something you would like to do but don’t want to do (eat another cookie, or smoke a cigarette are two good examples), put it off for a minute or so. You might get distracted and forget about it, at least for a while. Then try that again—keep putting it off.

To recap: Decide in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goals. This removes the mental effort of making decisions. Your intentions have to be very clear, and you need to be sure you can accomplish your goal. It’s all in the details. And if there’s a habit you want to break, put off doing it as long as you can. Distract yourself. This would be a good time to do something else pleasurable. So, allow some time for spontaneity in your schedule. Because when you fine-tune these habits, it will be very easy to get back on track after a short break.

Try it and see!