Episode 85: Q&A – How I  Became Tidy

You’re listening to The Work Of Becoming podcast! My name is Dr. Karin Nordin. I am your host as well as a behavior change expert and self-proclaimed tornado girl. I spent years of my life struggling to change before I finally got my PhD and learned the psychological tools that I needed to actually make those changes happen. Now, I’m bringing you five-minute sneak peeks of how I’m applying the real science of self-help to my life. Let’s get started!

Okay, everybody! Today we are gonna talk about a question that was submitted by one of you, which was:

“Can you talk a little bit more about how you became tidy? I’ve been working on this and would appreciate any tips, tricks, techniques, etcetera.”

Just as a quick reminder, if you have questions that you want me to address on the podcast, every five episodes I do a Q&A episode, and I answer a question from one of you. So, if you go in the show notes, there’s a little form you can fill out, and you can submit a question and, potentially, I will answer it.

So, I spent all of 2022 working on becoming tidy. That was one of my resolutions for the year, and if you go to the “Tidy” highlight on my Instagram profile, you can see I cataloged the journey quite a bit there. But I will, first of all, start by talking about how people approach learning to become tidy in the first place.

So, I actually get this question all the time: “Do you have any tips or tricks to become tidy?” For a long time (for actually most of my life) I was searching for tips and tricks, and I would get courses from these anti-clutter people. I read Marie Kondo. I tried different calendars. I was following other people’s tools, techniques, tips, etcetera. I was following someone else’s method for becoming tidy, and it never, ever, ever worked for me. That was always really frustrating because I’m like surely someone out there has to understand how to teach becoming tidy.

But then when I decided to set it as a resolution, I thought to myself, “How would I approach this with a client?” If a one-on-one client came to me and said, “I really want to, in the Alliance Coaching program, change my behavior so that I become tidy, what would be the first thing that I would do?” The first thing that I would do is I would look at the antecedents to the behavior. So, if the behavior is making a mess, what comes before that? What is my unique cause of messiness? What prevents me specifically from becoming tidy?

This is actually not something that I objectively could figure out on my own because we don’t have the ability to be completely objective about our own lives and behavior, which is one of the reasons why coaching is so helpful. And so, I sat down with my partner, Jon, and I was like, “You see me, you interact with me, you live with me. What is it that you see that is my unique kind of struggle that prevents me from being the tidy person that I want to be?” And he said two things. He said stress and he said rushing, which is absolutely the case.

So, for example, I will get up in the morning. If I wake up late, then I’m kind of rushing to get ready for work, rushing to start the day, and so, I will go make breakfast, and I will leave everything out on the counter because I don’t have time and I actually need to get back to work. Versus if I wake up and I actually have time to cook breakfast, then I’m much more likely to put everything away in the dishwasher where it belongs. I know, logically, that it only takes two seconds, but the perception in my brain at that time is that I don’t have two seconds because I am in a rush.

So, there’s a mindset component. There’s a time management component. And then the other component he said was stress. He was like, “I can literally tell how much stress you’re experiencing at work or in your life based on how messy the house is because when you’re not stressed, when you are in your slow, calm, peaceful state, our house is tidy, you have the energy to pick up after yourself and wipe the counters and do your end-of-the-day reset and all of that kind of stuff.”

And so, the point I really want to make here is that tidiness itself is probably not actually your problem. Your problem is a mindset problem. Your problem is a time management problem. Your problem is a stress management problem. Your problem is broader overwhelm in your life in general. I don’t know exactly what your problem is, but it may be one of those sort of larger behavior change rocks, and the way that I became tidy was actually using the same techniques that we teach in coaching to manage my stress better, to manage my time better — so we teach time blocking in coaching, and when I’m being diligent about time blocking and following my time-blocked schedule, I’m awesome, and I’m consistently tidy — time management, stress management, and just slowing down, having routines that feel empowering enough that I have time to do everything that I want to do and having tidiness be a priority in that list of things.

I hope that helps a little bit. I think way too many people are so zoned in on specific behaviors like, “Oh, I want to empty the dishwasher every night,” or, “Oh, I want to do these three reset habits every day,” that they don’t zoom out and go backwards and ask themselves, “How can I prevent the mess in the first place, and how can I change my mindset or my behavior so that it’s not that I have to be a tidier person, it’s that everything is tidier to begin with because I am less messy.”

If this episode resonated with you, definitely let me know on Instagram. Otherwise I will talk to you in the next episode!

PS: if you are on a journey to become a better you, and you want to learn the tools and techniques that will actually help change your life, make sure you check out my Change Academy Membership. Each month, we do a 1.5-hour workshop on a different psychological topic, but we also provide resources like journal prompts, worksheets, and trackers. We host community events and more. If you’re struggling to close the gap between knowing what to do and actually doing it, this membership was built for you. Go to www.karinn4.sg-host.com/change-academy to learn more!


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Hi, I'm Karin

I’m a funfetti flavor super-fan, a loving dog mom, a PhD expert in mindset and behavior change… and I’m here to help make personal development and transformation a process that’s actually fun.


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