Welcome to Episode #65. I’m your host, Kristi Angevine. Let's talk about clutter, shall we? Habits around clutter, possessions, and home organization are often a huge source of quiet stress. To help me with this conversation, today I consult with an expert on all of this, professional organizer and clutter coach, Amelia Pleasant. Amelia pulls back the curtain on what actually makes us feel frazzled when it comes to clutter in our homes and lives. Ready to learn what habits will help you when it comes to clutter? Let's dive in.
Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits that give more than they take. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do. And now, here's your host, Physician, and Master Certified Life Coach, Kristi Angevine.
Hello, hello, everybody. Clutter; let's be real, everyone has it. But why? What actually drives clutter? If you'd like to feel more intentional about your possessions and how you organize your physical space, you cannot overlook your mindset, and the beliefs you have but may not even realize you have. Amelia Pleasant is my guest today, and she elaborates on all of this.
Amelia is a life coach, a Fair Play Facilitator, a professional organizer, and a clutter coach who shares the importance of self-trust and keeping things simple. Amelia is active with the National Association of Black Professional Organizers, and Black Girls Who Organize. She also has an Advanced Certification in Feminist Coaching. She's the president of the Michigan chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals.
Now, how did I cross paths with a clutter coach and organizational expert? Well, Amelia and I met because we both certified in an advanced deep dive coaching program, which is this immersive training program that focuses on embodiment and somatic coaching practices. As faculty in the program, I had the special privilege of observing Amelia’s knack for listening to what goes unsaid, and seeing her bring so much curiosity and non-judgment as she helped her clients build the sense of deep self-trust.
And this is exactly what you're going to hear as she discusses things like the myths associated with a perfectly organized home, equitable division of household duties, the benefit of concrete, tiny steps, and how shame and self-trust play vital roles in our mental and physical clutter. I hope you enjoy.
Kristi Angevine: Well, I am so delighted to have you here today. So, I have on the podcast, Amelia Pleasant Kennedy. Amelia, for the people who don't already follow you, can you introduce yourself?
Amelia Pleasant Kennedy: I’m happy to be here. I am a clutter coach, which means I help women who are frazzled, busy, and overworked stop gripping so tightly to the standards and expectations that they've set for themselves, especially around all men’s schedules.
I am a wife, a mother; I have three children. And we live in an intentionally split household. So, I'm managing multiple households. I'm also a caregiver for my mother who's living with dementia. So, lots of moving parts, and I use organization to stay grounded.
Kristi: I know you have just hooked in almost my entire audience who has clutter or home organization or time organization as a persistent challenge in their life. Or if maybe they don't have clutter, they don't have clutter because they have created some very, either lovely or very rigid habits to reduce that. So, I know, everybody's going to love hearing from you.
I would like to ask, before we dive into some of these things that you help your clients with, what drew you to this particular area of coaching? I mean, why look at people's relationship with organization and home and clutter and time?
Amelia: So, I was at home for maybe 10 or 12 years. My husband and I, we've moved a lot and we've sort of always followed the adventure. And when it came time for me to do something more, do something new, I started in-home organization business. I quickly saw the layer of mental and emotional clutter behind the way that we keep our homes.
So, many of us think that it is the external objects that are really taking over our space, creating the overwhelm, creating the stress. But I had the opportunity to see that how much of it is coming from the inside. And I love helping women in particular, untangle the stories and long-held beliefs that they have around what it means to have a clean, tidy, organized home.
The beliefs that have been passed on to us about what it means to be a good partner, good parent, and that work/life integration that we're supposed to magically have happen, and if we don't somehow reach that, that we truly are at fault. I fully disagree with all of that. I think that there's no moral relationship. The way that we keep our homes is not a moral issue, at all.
Kristi: That touches on something that we were talking about before we pressed “record”. We think about some of the societal messaging that we get, or rules that we either inherited or we just sort of absorbed, from the indoctrination of being around families. Or just certain bubbles of culture in our training that we were with, it brings to mind just that idea that there could be this imbalance in the way that different genders think about how they approach their house.
And you are phrasing it as “the equitable division of household chores” and of domestic duties, for lack of a better word. Can you talk about that a little bit? Because many of the listeners to the podcast are women, but there are men listening as well, and I think this affects both genders.
Amelia: It absolutely does. What we don't often realize exactly is that we receive messages from our family members or larger community. And as a member of the professional organizing community, I know that we promote it as well; that one person typically is the default, primary responsible parent, or caretaker of the home.
Historically, it's fallen on the shoulders of women. We've been raised to believe that we need to anticipate other people's needs. This creates a burden, a mental load, sort of a soundtrack that is always running through our mind as we move throughout our day. What it does in turn, is it shortchanges the men, our partners in our lives, because they don't see, it’s not visible, all that is happening behind the scenes, all that we're carrying in our minds.
And when we bring those tasks that go unseen, when we bring them into the light and we begin to have a conversation it creates an awareness, an invitation, for compassion around the “why” of the things that we do in our household. Such as, write thank you notes, or have birthday parties, or call grandma on her birthday, or take care of the plants. Whatever it might be, why these things are meaningful to each individual in the home. It's not just something that we have to do, but we believe that there's a reason or an intention behind it.
Of course, there's always room to get curious about whether we're following those societal messages, or whether they truly are tasks or responsibilities that benefit our family structure for the way it exists today.
Kristi: That just brings to mind the idea that if we might like some things, like we might like writing the notes, the thank you notes, and we like the result of those notes, and might like our reasons for liking those. And that can make that whole experience amazing, no matter who takes it on.
Or, if we really don't necessarily like writing them, but we're doing them because we think we should and nobody else is taking them on, it would be so much easier to walk around feeling so much resent, based on conversations that haven't been explicitly had with a partner.
Amelia: Yes, we think we know one another, I think, a little better than we actually do. So, having a conversation around the ‘why’ behind care tasks in the home makes all the difference because it brings it into the light and it just creates a neutral playing field for, is this important? Why? Let's keep doing it or let's drop it all together.
Kristi: Yeah, I think it's just that idea of transparency. And when you bring into mind, “Gosh, maybe I don't know my partner as well as I think I do,” so there's room to be genuinely curious and talk about things. It just brings so much ease and levity.
Amelia: Yes, it lightens the mental load as well, because it's no longer hidden in the back of our mind, that running soundtrack of, “Did I empty out the coffee filter? My kids need new shoes. Is their backpack packed for tomorrow? Are the forms filled out?” It creates a sharing of responsibilities that benefits both partners.
Kristi: Yeah, so you're not walking around… There's a couple of my clients that come to mind instantly, who talk about walking around carrying that mental load of all these things that “need to get done”, that they want to get done, but they feel like perhaps their partner just doesn't realize need to get done, or things like that. And they're like, “If I don't, no one will.” And yet, there may not even be a conversation about it. So, that's the opportunity to make that transparent doesn't happen.
Amelia: Correct, and that's where the visibility creates value. You have to make them see that mental soundtrack, because it really, in the professional world, it distracts women for the work, the paid work, that they may be doing outside of their homes. Because that soundtrack is running in the background creating mental clutter, keeping them from focusing on the task at hand in their professional lives.
Kristi: Totally. So, let's talk specifically about clutter. When I was looking at your website… And for the listeners who are here, you and I overlapped paths, because we did a similar deep dive coaching training. And that's how I got to know a little bit about you. Then I started following the work that you do in terms of your coaching.
And when I was looking at your website, one of the things that really stuck out at me is that… It was just very small. I don't remember where I saw it, but it said that decluttering happens one decision at a time. And that stuck with me so much because there's so much power in a decision. But then you went on to say these other little truth bombs. They were like, start small. I think I’m getting this right, “Start small, start simple, start today.”
That could sum up the majority of what I try to convey to my clients when it comes to their habits. Habit change happens one decision at a time. Taking one small, tiny step, and how they accumulate. Can you talk about, for your work with clutter, how one decision is super powerful. And then also, talk about how it's really important to start small and to start simply?
Amelia: Absolutely. Most of us are stuck in overwhelm, and feeling like we have no idea where to start. And as a professional organizer, when I come into your home, we actually just start with the items that are directly in front of us, or the specific project that you have at hand.
It really is setting a small area that you want to make progress or change on, and just picking up the first item and asking yourself: Does this earn its keep in my home? So, it's got to earn its spot in your space as much as you give to it when finding a future home for it.
What we don't realize is that we're making so many decisions on a daily basis, that the reason that we're stuck in overwhelm is because we're just exhausted from decision-making fatigue. And one more decision feels like a very heavy weight.
So, the reason you start small is exactly that, living in the success mindset of just one decision a day, a handful of decisions a day. Whatever it might be, pick something that is manageable, because at that point you have to actually sort of warm up your decision-making mechanism, when it comes to clutter and making more space for yourself.
Once you do and see the progress that you're making, even if it's just with a few items, that's where the motivation and the excitement, the anticipation, starts to set in.
Kristi: That’s such a powerful point to make. That when you can reduce the amount of energy that's required by making a small, realistic decision about one thing, then as you get going, you can build, sort of naturally help yourself build a feeling of momentum that comes from, as we know, how you're thinking about what you're doing. And I think that's so powerful.
Because many of the people who listen to this podcast, I'm sure many of your clients as well, have a sort of habit of having a perfectionistic, rather rigid, and all-or-none, lens through which they view the world. And so, the idea of starting small is so far away from their goal that they’re like, “Why even bother? Why start small? How lame that I should start with one item. I need to clean my whole office, where's that going to get me?”
And we know that that will keep you right where you are, if not worse. Because you'll feel terrible about the fact that you don't take any action, and just turns into this self-flogging cycle of badness.
Amelia: Yes. And that's what my industry sells, without knowing it. This idea of domestic perfection, and thought, that if we somehow reach a completely organized and clutter-free space, that all of the other tensions within the household will fall away. If I can be ultimately productive, my schedule running smoothly, everything have a home, then the disagreements with my partner, or my kids throwing a tantrum, that will disappear because we will have reached this space of bliss.
That's a myth, and it really is just taking one project at a time and making those small habit changes that improve one area of your life. Because once you realize that you have the skills, they often offer that, everyone listening is much more organized than they think, than you give yourself credit for. Making one small habit change will have that ripple effect outwards.
And when you feel that success, then you can get curious about the shame and the judgment that may automatically sort of pipe up, and say, “No, no, I'm going to stick with the self-compassion for what I have accomplished here today.”
Kristi: I want to put a quick pin so that we don't forget to come back to this topic of shame and judgment, in this conversation around home clutter and home organization, because I think it's such a powerful one. But I want to make sure that everybody…
I want to really emphasize something you said that's so important. And that is the fact of having everything in your home have a place, or even just 50% of the things in your home having a place. Just that circumstance, we sometimes think in our minds, “Once that's there, then I will feel…” whatever. And I think that's so alluring, right?
Because we may have had the experience of, we went to someone's house, and it just felt so peaceful and calm. And it maybe was a little bit cozy and not everything was perfect, but enough of the things were in their place that we go, “Ah, this feels great.” We come back to our own houses, and we don't feel that way.
So, it's easy to connect no clutter, feelings of nirvana in my life, and imagine that we won't have all the ordinary things that happen in life happen because things are tidy. And to associate things being cluttered with the problems. I wondering if you would, before we go, the human judgment part, just talk on that phenomenon where people really do, they get their sock drawer organized.
I was recently organizing some drawers in our bathrooms here, where I had little containers, and the toothpaste went here, and extra toothbrushes went there and the travel things went here and then the rubber bands went here. And that transient sense of bliss when things do have a place.
Can you talk to that fact that that connection can be there, like organization equals serenity in my mood, but that is just transient? And it's actually not the organization that causes that, but it's what we're thinking about the organization.
Amelia: 100%. So, science shows us that less visual clutter, our brain likes order. More organization will lower your cortisol levels. It will translate to less stress. However, that permanent change results from mindset work, because the laundry will always come back around. The toothpaste in that drawer will always run out, and the hair ties will spill over to the container next to it.
But it's grounding yourself in both, the skills of ‘okay, I can put this back to a somewhat tidy and organized manner.’ And reminding oneself, that it's how I'm thinking about what I own and how tidy my space is, that is creating the feelings that I'm having moment to moment. And that I'm in control of how I see my space and the feelings that I'm creating. That it's not necessarily the tidiness itself.
Because what can happen is we get into a cycle of needing to clean, needing to organize, perfectionism setting in. We're busying ourselves thinking that the action will create the feeling. Which, in turn, it's really about our thinking, and how much acceptance we are, in our space, and where we are at the current moment.
Kristi: As I have these conversations with interviewees on the podcast, I can sometimes imagine some of my clients walking or being on call listening to things or to some of my colleagues. And a couple come to mind right now, who I know are really amazing experts at using some of this work against themselves.
It will show up, or they will say, “Okay, so you mean if my mindset is the actual permanent solution, in terms of the most sustainable way that I'm going to feel the way I want to feel about my time and my space and my household organization, then maybe that just means I'm thinking about it wrong. And I should look at the disarray and all the visual stimuli that I'm associating with my ‘disorganization’,” I'm using air quotes for people who can't see me, the disorganization. “And I should just be able to think thoughts like, ‘this is beautiful. And if I could, then I'd feel better.’
Can you speak to how that sneaky little self-judgment part can come up?
Amelia: Yes. I think it's always about finding a balance. Because, of course, we can change our thinking, we can change our actions, but we want to find something that is in alignment with where we truly want to be each day. So yes, tidying, organizing, creating a space of calm, is possible for each and every one of us. As well as giving oneself, I think, peace and permission to recognize the place that you are in your life here, today. So, looking at all the other happenings.
As a caregiver, I know my attention needs to go to my mother at certain moments in time, so of course, my house is going to fall into a bit of disarray. My kids are going to need me, my partner's going to need me, and it's really finding a balance for time and intention to give yourself permission to recognize that clutter happens. And I can make decisions or change my habits to create a more clutter-free space.
Kristi: That message is just so powerful. That there can be balance between the where I intentionally put my attention, even when that's away from the organization and I, on purpose, allow there to be a certain degree of whatever you define as disorganized. Or certain degree of clutter, a certain degree of the laundry piles up in this room, that room, and in this room. And my thoughts about it don't make me wrong for having made that choice.
Amelia: Exactly. And that's why the state of your home is not a moral failing, because you're always exactly right where you need to be and making choices that serve you and your family best, at any given moment. And so, it's seeing that and seeing where you're turning your time and attention, and allowing yourself to do so. Or make the decision to improve a habit one simple step at a time.
Kristi: Which is so perfect segue back to shame and judgment. So, when it comes to clutter, what I've personally experienced and what I see many of my clients experience when they bring clutter up, they bring it up with a lot of disclaimers of, “You know, this is kind of silly to bring this up, because I know other people have bigger problems in the world, but I have all this clutter. And I have so much shame about it, I don't even want to tell people. I don't know where to start. I don't know what to do.”
And so, I'm wondering if you could speak to that shame and judgment piece that is connected to clutter?
Amelia: First, I will say we all have it, and that is where my work really originated. I recognized that it is not the number of items that you have in your house but our thoughts about them, that create the shame and the judgment.
And so, every single home that I walk into as a professional organizer, no matter the number of items, it's the point where someone is choosing to be vulnerable enough to say that, “I'm ready to make progress, or make change, with the number of items.” The number of items is neutral. If they've come in, they're your responsibility. And now, whenever you decide that you're ready, you can make decisions about those objects and where they'll end up in the future.
But every single one of us carries around a bit of shame and judgment, because we're raised to believe that we're responsible for it all. And somehow, we've done something wrong if it's not as tidy or organized or perfect as we think that it should be, or we see in other people's homes or the media.
Kristi: Yes, hopefully, that will poke some holes, and anybody who's listening, if they have a sense of, ‘I need to shrink and be quiet about my clutter’ and they have that sense of shame and judgment, hopefully that will just eliminate that as best as possible.
So, one of the things that I think is so fascinating about the work that you do, when it comes to mindset meets the practicality of organizing a home, and I think a lot of people don't think about self-trust when it comes to organizing.
How they're often… I'm looking over here and I'm organizing the pile of books that is behind the Zoom thing that you cannot see.” A lot of people don't think, “Oh, there's something to do with self-trust and my thoughts about myself that are influencing how I feel about my house and influencing the state of organization itself.”
Can you sort of talk about the connection that you make and how you help your clients with that?
Amelia: For sure. One of the most common refrains that people say is, “I just might need it one day.” So, we keep things because they're useful and necessary. We keep things because they tell a story about who we are at any given moment in time. And they tell others the same story, which projects a version or a vision of ourselves out to the world.
When we go through the process of decluttering, making decisions, we look at any underlying fear, or any stories attached to particular belongings. And we get curious about those threads that tie us to the objects. Where the trust and the self-trust come in, is about knowing two things:
One, there's no one-size-fits-all way to organize. Whatever you figure out for your home and your system, is the right way. You can trust that what makes sense for your brain is the absolute best way to organize that group of items. Or put them away or leave them out for everyone to see if you're a visual person and need that reminder.
The other thing is trusting that if you do let something go, that you are a resourceful human who can find a way to get another version of that item. Let's say it's an appliance, right? You let it go. And you're thinking, “Oh, I might need it again one day. I don't want to invest the money in the future.”
But just saying, “Oh, I trust that if I need a blender, I can borrow it from a friend. I have the resources to go out and purchase it again. I can figure out another way to create my smoothie,” or my vegetables, or whatever it might be.
It's developing a sense that I am an excellent problem solver whether or not I own this item. And I can trust that I can handle any emotion that might come up as I make decisions about what to keep or what to let go. That I am strong enough emotionally to go through any sort of grief process or longing, sense of regret, that might come up if I don't have this item in my possession any longer.
Kristi: Yeah, this reminds me of talking with Rachel Hart about her coaching on alcohol. We talked about how it ultimately, in almost every single scenario, it's never about the alcohol, it's never about the action. So, it's never actually about the clutter. It's never about the organization, never about the item, it's about five layers back.
What are your thoughts, typically about yourself or the world, that are influencing downstream, whatever action it is bringing you to a clutter coach? It's what's behind that.
And I think it just seems so much more highly effective to be able to understand that that's what you're getting at the heart at when you're helping somebody with their clutter. It's not just, “Let me help you find the right types of boxes and organize the feng-shui of your room so you can put some stuff away.” It's not just that, it's something else.
Amelia: Yes, it is primarily about the story, and who we were at the moment that that object came into our lives. One category that I help clients with a lot is inherited clutter, which are other people's belongings.
So, items that you may have received because someone passed away, or you had to move quickly and take on responsibility for someone else's belongings. There are so many layers of story there to untangle as we go through that process, and say that it's okay to have the memory, to have the feeling, and the story. But we don't need the object to continue to share that memory or hold on to it.
Kristi: That’s such a great point, Amelia, because I know so many people listening to this that's the exact thing. They're like, “Well, sure, I can get rid of the beat-up toys. My kids, who are teenagers, no longer use those toys, no problem. But when it comes to those heirloom items, or the things that I haven't really gone through, now that's another story.” I'm so glad that you mentioned that.
Amelia: Yes. And then people come to the calls, and they share their beautiful, beautiful stories. And I point out, “Oh, where's that object?” And they're like, “Oh, it's in the basement,” or in the attic. And I'm like, “It's not here in front of you, now. Yet, you're recounting the beautiful story, recounting the beautiful memory.” You don't necessarily need the object on site to have that experience.
Kristi: I’m just thinking about, “Wow, the actual molecules, arranged in a certain way, that are the old alarm clock from 1902, those don't have to be there for that narrative to be there.”
As we're talking about being intentional about how we approach ourselves, how we approach our homes, I'm curious, do you have any or have you, over the years, cultivated any favorite intentional thoughts or beliefs about your home space that really serve you well? That we could steal from you, that we could like lean on you?
I'm imagining some of these are probably just sort of internalized, they may not be explicit thoughts. But for the rest of us, it could be something that we could work towards. Does anything come to mind?
Amelia: The one that comes to mind, is that my home is always with me. I have moved a number of places. I live, right now, in an intentionally split household, between two cities, for my son and his professional soccer journey. But I love this thought, “That I create my home, wherever I am.” It's not the space. It's not the objects. It is me that creates the restorative living environment that I have. It is my intentional way of being. My purposeful presence with my loved ones that creates my home.
Kristi: That’s just an amazing thought that I'm going to just completely steal it from you, and I’m going to use it for myself. I think my listeners are going to love it. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. That was a really good one.
Amelia: Yeah, it creates a little separation between the objects and yourself.
Kristi: Totally. As we're wrapping up, before we make sure people know where to find you, is there anything that we've missed? Anything that you think is kind of an important piece when it comes to mindset, deliberate habits, and our home and our space and our clutter?
Amelia: Yes, I will just reiterate that you, everyone listening, is more organized than they think. And I say that because so many of us, that internal critic, sort of judges how productive we've been on a particular day or how our space looks, I always direct clients to look for what's working. There are an infinite number of ways throughout your day that organization shows up. Look for those and notice what's working. And live in that successful mindset of how things are really, truly, working in your favor, first.
Kristi: That’s so powerful. Because many people will think, “Well, if I'm not hard on myself, I'm going to just stop making any progress. I'll stop improving, so I won't get to my goals.” In fact, it may have worked at one season of your life, being very hard on yourself.
But there's oftentimes an underbelly when it's a chronic, habitual way of looking at what's not working, what's in the way, what I haven't done. But that success mindset that you mentioned is actually the most effective way to meet goals that you haven't yet gotten to.
Can you tell the listeners how they can find you? How they can listen to your podcast? How they can work with you? What are all the ways…
Amelia: You can connect with me on Instagram, @APleasantSolution. My podcast name is A Pleasant Solution: Embracing an Organized Life. And my website is, apleasantsolution.com
Kristi: That’s so good. I have the same name for all of my things, as well. This is great. You can find Amelia at A Pleasant Solution, in all the places.
Amelia: Yes, I believe in simple living, everything straightforward, simple; no need to make it complicated.
Kristi: Amazing. Well, I just want to tell you, thank you for taking time out of what I know is a life where you've got other things going on with your split household and travels, and taking time to have a conversation that my listeners I know will find so, so valuable. So, thank you.
If what you're hearing on the podcast really resonates, you're ready to make a real and lasting change in your life and start applying what you're learning, why wait? Why not start being more intentional with this one precious life today?
To get started with private coaching, where you get my expert guidance to help you understand why you think, feel, and act as you do so you can exit the hamster wheel of anxiety, self-criticism, guilt over not doing enough, constantly feeling triggered, so that you can stop living on default and start being truly intentional, you can learn more at HabitsOnPurpose.com/consult.
Or if having a community and working alongside other women physicians lights you up, you'll want to get on the waitlist for my CME Small Group Coaching Program. And you can learn all the details at HabitsOnPurpose.com/HOPP.
Last of all, if you're interested in Internal Family Systems work and want to just dip your toe in with a single coaching session, I've got you covered. Internal Family Systems sees the mind as being made up of different parts. So, say you're at a meeting and you're asked your opinion. One part of you may have lots to say, while another part of you may worry about how to say it and what other people will think when you do. And so, in the moment you might feel conflicted.
Similar to understanding a family dynamic, when you better understand how different family members interact, Internal Family Systems is a model for understanding how your internal parts interact. And right now, you can still sign up for a single session with me, using Internal Family Systems-informed coaching, when you go to HabitsOnPurpose.com/IFS. I'll talk to you next week.
Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit HabitsOnPurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.