If you are like most people, you likely procrastinate some things to a certain degree. For many of us, doing this or that can be challenging, annoying, unpleasant. Yet we know it has to be done and get it done, after a reasonable time has been spent putting it off and doing things that might need doing as well, but not necessarily right now.
The act of procrastination has several functions: of course, it keeps you from doing what you don’t like, but it also builds that internal pressure you need to finally tackle the action at hand. Time might be running out, or your family might end up making more comments about it. Once your guilt pressure cooker is fully charged, you are ready to dive into that undesirable task, and more often than not you will find that it wasn’t quite as tedious as you initially thought.
And then – next time around – you still go into that same ridiculous circle of procrastination before acting. Like the true creature of habit that you are.
Procrastination, however, has an evil twin, and its name is Displacement Activity. Where procrastination focuses on putting off the task at hand and we are aware of what we are doing, Displacement Activity has a similar effect on the intended task, but unfortunately we actually believe that we are on track, and dealing with what we are really putting off.
Look at it like this: when it comes to decluttering, procrastination is all about NOT taking care of the clutter itself, putting up obstacles that allow you to wait just a little longer. Displacement activity is about ACTIVELY doing something else, that might even turn out to be detrimental to the decluttering effort.
While many people believe they are decluttering, what they are really doing is shuffling things around. You might call this ‘organising’ if the light is just right, but more often than not it’s not even that, it’s just repositioning in another place. That does not take away the fact that these items may be as utterly undesirable, useless, broken or in your way as they were before.
There are very few things you can do with clutter to make it a useful part of your home again. While you can mend a broken chair, or sort books properly into a shelf, the time it takes get started, and the time it takes to get it done is in no way proportionate to the time any given item has been weighing on your mind and/or has been obstructing your life by its sheer presence.
The process of going through these displacement activities can be satisfying, but once it’s done the itch/sadness/underlying issue returns because what you thought of as ‘decluttering’ turns out to only be something to keep your mind occupied. Ultimately, the activity only serves to cover up for the fact that what you are doing is unproductive and not what you REALLY have to do.
What DO you really have to do? Mainly it’s down to making decisions. Many people find it challenging to make decisions, and once they have decided that they are challenged (oh, the irony), they cannot or will not take any more decisions, leading to a vicious circle of indecisiveness. And that ultimately leads to the genesis of Procrastination and Displacement Activity.
There is a simple lesson to take away from this article: in order to be successful in decluttering your life and home, you have to learn to be comfortable with making decisions.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My mission: help clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.