Spring Clean Your Life - Part 1: Declutter + Find focus

Oh hey, we’re nearly one month into Spring, and we’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front as we’ve been doing our own spring clean in the lead up to our relocation. It’s all in the name of our big move - yes, that’s right we’re moving, but more on that come October!

So what that’s meant is that we’ve been very gradually working up to our Spring Clean Your Life series. Today we’re kicking things off with decluttering and finding a focus.

Why rocks matter when it comes to spring cleaning your life

There’s a classic tale in Stephen Covey’s book First Things First [1] where a lecturer pulls out some large rocks and a vessel during a class. He fills the vessel with these big rocks, asks the class as to whether the vessel is full (the answer being yes as it seems that no more big rocks can fit into that vessel). The lecturer then pulls out smaller rocks that fill the crevices in between the big rocks. The story repeats with progressively smaller rocks, until sand is used to fill every crevice, followed by water, and the vessel is then ‘full’. 

We can look at this tale from two differing perspectives. The first – and some will be inclined to interpret it this way – is that no matter how busy you think you are you can somehow squeeze in something else and maximise the minutes available to you.

While that may sound like a way to maximise your time, one important question to ask is how long this approach can be sustained for. What impact would having every minute scheduled such that unpredictable events (e.g. traffic jams, waiting in queues, accidents) cause immense stress because there’s no buffer or ‘wiggle room’? Will it impact on your ability to cope with yet another stressor? Will it impact on your mood? Will it impact on how you interact with others? Will it impact on your relationships?

The second point of view is that little rocks can take over every aspect of our lives, and if the big rocks don’t make it in first they won’t fit in as an afterthought. Let’s see how this may play out in real life:

Jenny wants to spend some quality time on holiday with her girlfriends. As Jenny and her friends live in different countries this is the first time in five years that they will be together in the same place and Jenny is determined that the holiday should be absolutely perfect. Armed with reams of research courtesy of Instagram she has a set idea of exactly how the holiday should look, right down to the colour of the umbrella in her cocktail and the view from her hammock. She then starts to meticulously plan every single detail of the trip so that it will match her vision.
Things start to unravel when the exact villa that she wants isn’t available, the weather isn’t perfect the entire trip, the day trips that she wants to organise are all booked out, and her mood quickly unravels as her ideal holiday is ‘ruined’. This means that her interactions with her friends become less enjoyable and it has a flow on effect on her enjoyment of the overall holiday.

Since Jenny gets caught up in the little rocks (itineraries, weather, villa) she loses sight of the bigger picture (big rocks) and purpose of the holiday which is spending quality time with her good friends.

Does this sound familiar? Do you find that the little rocks have taken over and blocked your vision of what the big rocks are? Perhaps it's time to declutter so that you can find focus in life and rediscover your big rocks. Read on to find out more.

Emptying the vessel and adding big rocks

So, how do we declutter our lives so that we can focus on the big rocks rather than the little rocks? We’ve put together ways to help you tip out your vessel and refill from the big rocks up.  


1. understand Why the big rocks get lost amongst the little rocks

If you’ve lost your way when it comes to your big rocks, spend some time addressing why this is the case. For example, you may get derailed because you’re living your life to meet others’ expectations, you’re living a life that looks good in others’ eyes but isn’t actually aligned with what’s important to you, or perhaps your life has just been so busy filling up with little rocks that it’s hard to even see the big rocks in the first place. To help you learn more, we’ve outlined Reasons Why We Lose Direction in Life.


2. Make life meaningful for you

Try the 100th birthday test to find out what your big rocks are and to examine whether you’re living a life that’s meaningful to you. One variation of this is the 'deathbed test', but we thought we’d take a more upbeat spin and look at celebrating your 100th birthday. Essentially, say you hit this major milestone and reflect on your life. What would you like it to have stood for? Find out more in our previous post on Find Your Direction


3. Pick through the little rocks to uncover what'S in the way of the big rocks

Pick through those little rocks by looking at how you spend your day - perhaps even taking stock every few hours to see where your time has been spent. Is it that even though you want to spend time with your partner you get sucked into the vortex that is social media, checking your phone for ‘just one second’ but ending up losing an hour or two? Or, like Jenny, your goal is to plan an enjoyable holiday but your perfectionism gets in the way. By identifying what your little rocks are you can keep an eye out for them and divert your efforts when you find that you're investing in the little rocks at the expense of the bigger rocks.


4. Set goals that align with your big rocks

You may know what your big rocks are, but are you setting goals that align with them, or are your little rocks in direct opposition to your big rocks? There’s a difference between values and goals, so to help you work out how to translate your values into your goals check out this post on how to Set Goals. Gain Direction.


5. Tap into what makes you happy

When adding smaller rocks to your vessel, make sure they tap into what makes you happy by playing to your (character) strengths.  Building a satisfying, meaningful, and fulfilled life can be achieved by engaging your character strengths and virtues, and you can read more in our previous post Playing to Your Strengths: VIA Character Strengths and Virtues. You may also wish to take a closer look at our post on The 3 Types of Happiness. Yes, life can get busy and your vessel can tend to fill up with little rocks, but if some of these little rocks provide you with happiness it makes for a far easier path.

The five tips we've covered here will hopefully help you to declutter and find focus in what you do moving forward. Stay tuned for the next part in our Spring Clean Your Life series! 


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[1] Covey, S.R., Merrill, A.R., & Merrill, R.R. (1994). First things first: To live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. New York: Simon & Schuster.