DEFINE: A place for everything so everyone in the household knows where items live.
We live in a time of great excess. We have access to fast fashion, fast food, and fast everything. But studies show that all of our “stuff” is not making us any happier. How can we simplify and focus on what’s important? How can we let go of all the clutter and excess and find true happiness? In this interview series, we are talking to coaches, mental health experts, and authors who share insights, stories, and personal anecdotes about “How Simplifying and Decluttering Your Life Can Make Us Happier.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Barbara Brock.
There is no doubt Barbara has the “organization” gene in her DNA and is dedicated to bringing order and efficiency to everyone’s lives. Barbara is a successful home-staging owner, entrepreneur (she negotiated a lucrative deal for an executive “daily/monthly planner’” pre the Palm Pilot years) and past President of NAPO®-NY (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals™ — New York Chapter). Barbara Brock is the Founder & CEO of Beauty & The Box, a company dedicated to fusing beauty with organization for the traveling woman and at home. In setting out to design the perfect cosmetics organizing system, her philosophy was simple: “Be organized. Be beautiful”. So, it is mission accomplished!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?
After working in the Interior Design field for 15 years, I was not enjoying it. In 1999, a friend of mine introduced me to NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals™). I attended a meeting in New York City and have never looked back. I put my background in interior design, working with people and managing expectations to good use in working with clients.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Story 1. I was contacted by a client to help her prioritize and edit areas in her home. When I arrived, she taught me the word “ephemeral” which means “short lived”. To her, it meant keeping every paper and article because the shelf life of the periodical was short lived on the market. Sometimes the goal is not to throw everything out, but to understand what is rare and valuable in a person’s life and organize what they need. We proceeded to organize and load 8 tall file cabinets with her “ephemeral”.
Story 2. While attending a NAPO meeting in NY City in 2000, a 21-year-old Filipino woman arrived as a guest to our meeting. Her goal was to become an organizer, but she didn’t know anyone or have any experience. I was impressed with her drive and desire to be an organizer and hired her. When her VISA expired, she went back to the Philippines to become the number one Professional Organizer in Manila. Being a mentor has meant the world to me, to give to another human. Today, we mentor each other.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am working with a couple in New York City who have decided to live together. With my encouragement, they set a goal to surround themselves with items that have meaning to both parties and to have a home in which to create new memories. To combine both households, they are editing and prioritizing what is important. I call it RADICAL EDITING. What was important 5 or 10 years ago may not be that important if they truly want to create a life together. When there are items that have profound memories, but are not relevant to living day to day, these items can and ought to be stored. The goal is to set the stage for an easy, meaningful life together.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the topic of “How Simplifying and Decluttering Your Life Can Make You Happier”?
After 20 years of working with clients to declutter and develop new strategies in handling their possessions, I have concluded that organizing one’s home is necessary for living a stress-free life. I have seen the relief and freedom from stress that organization has given them. The more items we see causes clutter in the brain and brain overload causes stress and takes away our happiness. We accumulate “stuff” in life. We are not taught to edit our “stuff” but this can be learned. Sorting and editing our furnishings on a regular basis brings clarity, which in turn destresses us. Many times, I have seen clients realize they don’t need “stuff” to make them feel good. Clients often tell me having less makes them far more happier.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. We live in a time of excess. We have access to so much. But studies show that all of our “stuff” is not making us any happier. Can you articulate for our readers a few reasons why all of our possessions are not giving us happiness?
The U.S. is an entrepreneurship country. Entrepreneurship brings new ideas and things to the market. Therefore, we have become a compulsive consumer society. Remember the BEANIE BABY? That is a prime example of a creative idea that came to market. However, when we got the BEANIE BABY home, where did we put it? Everything should have a place. That is rule #1 in an organized home. Our home is alive with things we don’t need, but we give in to impulse buying. We must have it one minute and the next moment, it is tossed aside. Too much stuff does not cause us happiness; actually, the reverse is true. When we have too much stuff, it is harder to make decisions which causes stress which causes unhappiness.
Suggestion 1: Pick up and carry an item around in the store for a few minutes. You will find that you no longer have the same desire to own this item once you have held it even for a short time.
Suggestion 2: On Amazon, create a “List” to put items you may want, then come back to it later. This may cut down on impulse buying!
On a broader societal level, how do you think this excessiveness may be harming our communities and society?
Not buying excessively but choosing what we buy more carefully is a good goal. As it stands, we do not have the technology to break down our garbage. Our landfills are multiplying. Hopefully we will have technology in the future to handle more breakdown of our junk because earth has a finite footprint and thus far, we have not solved the problem of our discarded stuff.
The irony of struggling with happiness in modern times is glaring. In many places in the world today, we have more than ever before in history. Yet despite this, so many people are unhappy. Why is simplifying a solution? How would simplifying help people to access happiness?
I’m not a sociologist, but I think too many hobbies and too many things to do is stressful. We end up procrastinating or doing nothing because we must make a choice. Simplifying our choices leaves us time to experience and enjoy the things we really want to do.
Can you share some insights from your own experience? Where in your life have you transformed yourself from not having enough to finally experiencing enough? For example, many people feel they don’t have enough money. Yet, people define abundance differently, and often, those with the least money can feel the most abundant. Where in your health, wealth, or relationships have you transformed your life?
I went to a life coach in 1994. He broke down my life into 3 areas: Professional, Financial and Personal. Simplifying and categorizing my life in these 3 areas has made it easier to make decisions. Another clarifying thought was “to follow the sun”. Which for me has meant “Follow what makes you happy”. That thought has directed me in every decision I have made since.
For example, I was in Interior Design, but that wasn’t making me happy. When I was introduced to Professional Organizing and wanted to work in this profession, I wasn’t clear as to how to go about it. I started reading books, talking to people to learn their experience and working with other professional organizers. I heard the quote: “teach what you want to know.” I began to hold seminars for people who wanted organization in their lives but couldn’t afford to have a one-on-one session. This taught me to ask questions to clients before diving right in, how to define my role, what the client’s role was and to set time limits when organizing.
Then, I looked at my own life and asked: What areas could I improve on? I started with my clothes. I developed the theory of 3 — one foundation color and 2 accents. Identifying what colors I looked best in helped me in choosing what to buy, coordinating my outfits and keeping an organized closet. Furthermore, I looked at the color wheel and hung my clothes according to colors. This enabled me to see immediately what I have (or do not have). When I go to a store, it is easier to visualize what’s in my closet and decide if I need something new.
These examples show how organizing my professional and personal ‘things’ has impacted me and helped me to have time to create a happier life.
People, places, and things shape our lives. For example, your friends generate conversations that influence you. Where you live impacts what you eat and how you spend your time. The “things” in your life, like phones, technology, or books impact your recreation. Can you tell us a little about how people, places, and things in your own life impact your experience of “experiencing enough?”
As I approach an older age, I’ve asked myself who is important, what is important and where is important. Everything I read about maintaining one’s health indicates that friendships above all else increase our life span. I believe to have a friend; you must be a friend and one must put the effort in to maintain friendships. The satisfaction I have achieved from having friends, deciding on where I want to live and how I want to live has answered the question — have I experienced enough.
What advice would you give to younger people about “experiencing enough?”
I would counsel younger people to explore their self, life, accolades, and failures to get to the answer “Have I experienced enough”? Experiencing enough is satisfying yourself that you have enough possessions and sense of self.
In your 20’s, experiment, explore, push the envelope, get hired, get fired, see how you cope.
In your 30’s, you begin to get a sense of yourself, whether with someone or alone.
In your 40’s, you begin to decide on what’s important to you.
In your 50’s, you begin the best decade — confidence, a settlement of what you value, where you are and a feeling of “experiencing enough”.
This is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and research, can you share your “five ways we can simplify and declutter our lives to make us happier?”
MIND SET: Decide to have an organized home.
PRIORITIZE: Your household– clothes, entertainment, sports, creative endeavors, music, etc.
DEFINE: A place for everything so everyone in the household knows where items live.
EDIT: One drawer a week or month. And then, edit often to remain organized.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Edit a drawer once a month. Sorting through your things frequently helps you to remember what you have and what’s important in your life.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Web site: https://www.barbarabrock.com/
Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!
About The Interviewer: For 30 years, Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world. Drew is the CEO of Wasabi Publicity, Inc., a full-service PR agency lauded by PR Week and Good Morning America. Wasabi Publicity, Inc. is a global marketing company that supports industry leaders, change agents, unconventional thinkers, companies and organizations that strive to make a difference. Whether it’s branding, traditional PR or social media marketing, every campaign is instilled with passion, creativity and brilliance to powerfully tell their clients’ story and amplify their intentions in the world. Schedule a free consultation at WasabiPublicity.com/Choosing-Publicity.