We moved into our house about three years ago. Right away we unpacked everything in our master bedroom. Within the first week we put away the clothes and the furniture was in place.
But in a corner of our neatly arranged bedroom we still had one lonely box of stuff. Every now and then I moved it to a different corner to make it less visible or when I needed to vacuum, but three years later it was still on the floor.
This box represents a problem I’ve dealt with most of my life — procrastination. I put things off constantly: big things, little things, pretty much anything I don’t absolutely have to do. I procrastinate until either the task just doesn’t get done or it becomes so painful that I have no choice but to do it.
My box of stuff fell into that first category but was slowly creeping into the second because it was sitting on my bedroom floor, a room that was pretty tidy except for that box. It was out in the open, in plain sight, taunting me.
Most people see procrastination as laziness or a lack of motivation, but that isn’t necessarily the case. According to researchers, procrastination is about “managing negative emotions.” We prioritize feeling better now over confronting tasks that make us feel bad, even if there’s a payoff in the future.
That made perfect sense to me. I knew the reason I wasn’t unpacking my box was because I was stuck in a state of avoidance. I’d convinced myself that unpacking it was going to be time-consuming and painful.
So I decided to examine the real reasons behind my unpacked-box problem. Let’s get into it.
Related Post: What to Do With Sentimental Clutter
1. It’ll Take Too Long
Whenever I think about unpacking the box I always assume it’s going to take forever. To be honest I don’t even remember exactly what’s in the box. I know I have some extra toothbrushes and travel-sized toothpaste, but I also think there may be some sentimental items in there. This is a minefield for me. Sentimental items suck me in turning a relatively simple job into an all day event. I just can’t seem to keep myself from walking down memory lane.
I’m just not willing to dedicate a lot of time to going through my stuff, especially if I can’t predict how much time it will take. Better to let it be than spend hours on this.
2. There are More Important Things to Do
The other part of the time excuse is when I point to all the other “more important things” I could be doing instead of emptying that box. There are things that really need to get done like laundry, cleaning, [insert other lame excuse here]. These are the everyday things that tend to pile up if you don’t take care of them, right?
And since I’ve already decided this box thing is going to take all day it would be irresponsible of me to dedicate that much time when I’d be neglecting my responsibilities, which I have no problem blowing off for almost any other reason including scrolling through Instagram or watching my favorite Youtuber.
3. Figuring Out Where to Put It (The Domino Effect)
The toothbrushes and the travel-sized toothpaste will need a new home. And most likely I’ll need to put that in the bathroom. So now it turns out I’ll have to reorganize a different room in my house to make space for the stuff in the box. This adds more work to something I already don’t want to do.
And since I know I have more in that box than bathroom supplies this seemingly small task will now have me running around the house scrambling to find places for everything else. Dealing with a small box is one thing, but when I have to rethink other areas of my home the task seems much more overwhelming.
Procrastinators tend to be perfectionists. I feel that if things can’t be put away in exactly the right spot then it’s best to just leave it until I can reorganize my entire home to make room for it all. Or if I do need to purge, then I have to figure out the perfect person or charity that will be able to appreciate my used stuff. The need for perfection is a big issue for a lot of people but procrastinators take it to a whole new level.
These are some of the mental gymnastics I go through to explain away my unpacked box. It takes time to convince yourself that your procrastination is totally justified. If only we could apply that mental energy to actually getting things done…
So I decided to put my assumptions to the test. I kept track of exactly how long it took to empty the box. Most of the items were out and put away in two 30-minute sessions. The one sentimental item (yes, only one) took about 45 minutes to go through.
The rest of the stuff needs to be listed on Ebay or given away. I’m not going to lie, the box is being put into a sell/give away pile. But at least it’s not sitting on my bedroom floor anymore. Baby steps.
What I Learned
Keeping track of my time and breaking the task up into different sessions made this less intimidating. Sometimes when tackling your stuff seems overwhelming, challenging your assumptions can get you unstuck and keep you moving forward. So after 3 years and a little under two hours the box is finally unpacked.
Procrastination is something we all deal with and it makes sense that we put things off to feel better in the present. Unfortunately, procrastinating doesn’t make the things we have to do any less real. Feeling better now can eventually lead to feeling a whole lot worse in the future.
I’m feeling so accomplished after finally getting rid of my box of shame, I’m now inspired to tackle the unpacked boxes in the basement. Wish me luck.
Do you have unpacked boxes or hot spots in your home? Try dedicating a fixed amount of time everyday to working on it, maybe just 15 to 20 minutes. You’d be surprised at how this can add up over time. If you try it and want to share your results, leave a comment below.
Until next time, happy decluttering!
Joy G Mason says
This was SO spot on! My ADD gets the best of me and I can’t focus on one task for very long. Just doing 20-minute stints of going through piles of stuff really helped me to walk down memory lane, recycle, and find a new home for paperwork I saved. I also realized that by getting rid of clothes I would probably never wear again would help those who actually need those clothes! Thanks for a great post!
Great first post!