Jen Slaski Halligan titled her workshop at the Story Circle Network Conference I attended last month “Prune & Bloom: How to Create Space for What Matters Most.” From the brief description of it I expected tips on how to write a novel in only ten uninterrupted minutes a day. Or perhaps, I thought, she’ll show me how to declutter my writing environment so I can write away the hours with fewer distractions.
That is not what happened. Halligan instead inspired us with her holistic approach to finding peace and balance in our writing and non-writing lives alike, by identifying what brings us contentment and a sense of well-being. She also had plenty of helpful tips for how to do this. I have started incorporating some of them into my writing world. I do feel a bit more in charge of the chaos that doubles as my writing area.
The Physics Of Chaos
Perhaps the most helpful tip she gave came when she informed me all of life contains the physics principle called entropy. The definition of is entropy is:
The measure of a system’s thermal energy per unit temperature that is unavailable for doing useful work. Because work is obtained from ordered molecular motion, the amount of entropy is also a measure of the molecular disorder, or randomness, of a system.
In simpler words – it’s not a genetic defect if we can’t get and stay organized because the universe is always moving toward not being orderly. Rather than a “one and done” task, Halligan believes decluttering is a practice. That is a word of grace for my many failed attempts to organize my life and keep it that way. The universe is literally pulling the other way.
History of Prune and Bloom
With that out of the way, Halligan went on to make several suggestions I believe anyone would find helpful. She launched Prune and Bloom March 17, 2017, the anniversary of her father’s death. “He always encouraged me to do this so I wanted to honor his memory by officially starting on that date.”
However, she was helping people organize their thinking, homes and offices on a part time basis for several years before she launched the company. She claims it actually began in college. “When I got stressed about an upcoming test or something, I would take a break and organize my dorm room. That always helped me calm down and then be better able to focus.”
As a writer I can relate to that! When I had children living at home they knew I was approaching a deadline because suddenly I started cleaning the house. She moved from organizing her dorm room to helping friends with what she calls “closet cleansing.” Friends would ask her to come help them get their closets under control.
Learning By Doing
However, it was her father’s struggles with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease – a terminal neurological disease) that really put her on the path toward starting Prune and Bloom. She focuses on helping identify what is no longer helpful and let it go, so there is room to bloom for what does matter. The concept started when her parents moved from Ohio to Texas to be near her as her father’s disease progressed and her parents needed help. That move led to her making trips to Ohio to begin the daunting task of preparing their home to eventually be sold.
“My parents weren’t hoarders, but people can accumulate a lot of things in the course of over forty years of marriage. Many of them are sentimental and represent good memories. So they are reluctant to part with them. That was my first experience with how difficult it can be to let go.“
As she began to get more involved in helping her family and friends tackle the hard work of decluttering their physical, mental, and emotional lives, she developed her holistic approach to the challenge. “I start by having people do a Life Scape about what brings them energy, joy and contentment and what is distracting or draining them. Focusing first on sorting through things and deciding what to keep and what to let go is more of a mechanical, space-oriented and left-brain approach. Instead, I first help people decide how to feel at home in their lives by journaling, using prompts I provide. This is more of a reflective, heart-oriented and right-brain approach. By doing some of each, people achieve a greater sense of clarity and balance.”
Pursuing A Dream
After twenty years in the corporate world, Halligan was ready to make a change. Before her father died he always encouraged her to pursue the decluttering work she was doing on a part time basis.
She says she can really empathize with people who feel overwhelmed by clutter because she’s walked in their shoes. “I learned so much from the experience of preparing my parents home for sale. We ended up doing an auction and did not get even close to what we were expecting from the sale of nearly everything in the house. We were very disappointed, but it was an important lesson.
I suggest that rather than sell precious things for far less than their worth, clients identify a person or a cause that would benefit from receiving the items. That way they will feel generous, rather than disappointed. It shifts a person’s mindset from “letting go” to “passing it along.” Neurologically speaking, our brains are wired to resist letting go of things, but being generous actually increases oxytocin in our brains; the same ‘feel good’ chemical our bodies generate when we are experiencing gratitude.” Not surprisingly, her charity of choice is the ALS Foundation.
Three Steps To Less Chaos And More Control
Halligan uses a three-step process for clients of her Prune and Bloom business. First, she spends time in person or on the phone getting acquainted and helping clients identify what might be keeping them from moving forward in their lives.
Next she sets a date to spend six or more hours helping the client begin the decluttering process, functioning as part decluttering muse and part life coach. “We discuss and work through why it’s hard to let go of certain things and identify places where they might give the item away.”
The third step is a follow-up call or visit a few days later to see how the process is going and provide them with a Bloom-print for moving forward. “Whatever the area of life they feel most stuck in, be it things, thoughts or time, we break the challenge down to tangible and manageable steps and focus just on what’s next. Then they can build gradual momentum and confidence as they get a sense of how they’ve moved from where they were toward where they want to be.”
In a handout she distributed at her conference workshop she shares tips she learned from Dr. Robin Zasio, a psychologist from the A&E show Hoarders, on how to avoid accumulating the items that eventually become clutter:
- One in, out. Anytime you add a new thing, remove an existing similar object.
- No homeless items. Everything has to have a place to be.
- How & when. Identify when and how you will use everything you decide to keep.
- No duplicates. Resist the ‘just in case’ mentality.
- Don’t buy broke. If it needs repairs, you don’t need it.
A personal trick I learned that I’m fond of because the first letters of the phrase spell the state in which I grew up: Only Handle It Once. Do not pick up an object or piece of paper until you know where it is going to live if it stays in your home.
What tips have you learned for staying of the clutter in your life?