In today’s episode Janine Adams talks about how physicians and other healthcare professionals can learn to let go of guilt and the need for perfectionism and get to good enough in the realm of home organization, simplification and living.
“Knowing why you want to create more order in your home and let go of excess, that can really help inform your decisions and help you get started. If you don’t know why you’re doing it, it can feel like an exercise in frustration.” – Janine Adams, CPO
This conversation is about physicians and clutter, why it happens, how common it is, and how you can get relief from all that clutter and get a fresh start. Certified Professional Organizer Janine Adams is the owner of Peace of Mind Organizing in St. Louis. In 17 years as a professional organizer, she’s helped hundreds of clients let go of excess and gain the freedom of living with less. Does that sound appealing to you? In episode 148, Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer talks with Janine Adams about how physicians and other healthcare professionals can learn to let go of guilt and the need for perfectionism and get to good enough in the realm of home organization, simplification and living.
Janine Adams writes about organizing on her business website’s blog and also has a popular genealogy blog called Organize Your Family History. With life coach Shannon Wilkinson, she co-hosts the podcast Getting to Good Enough, about letting go of perfectionism so you can do more of what you love. She’s been featured in radio, TV, newspapers and magazines and is a regular contributor to Secrets of Getting Organized Magazine from Better Homes and Gardens.
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Please enjoy the full transcript below
Janine: Knowing why you want to create more order in your home, let go of excess, that can really help inform your decisions and help you get started. If you don’t know why you’re doing it, it can feel like an exercise in frustration.
Jill: Hi, everyone. Thanks for being here on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. We are so glad you joined us for this conversation today. I’m Jill Farmer, lead coach at DocWorking. Today, this broadcast is brought to you by DocWorking THRIVE. Our subscription, coaching, and peer community group just for physicians. Go to docworking.com today to find out how you can thrive in 2022.
I am really excited today to be talking to Janine Adams. She is a professional organizer, extraordinaire, the owner of Peace of Mind organizing, and she’s helped hundreds of clients let go of excess and gain the freedom of living with less. She writes about organizing on her business website’s blog, and she has a popular on the side genealogy blog called Organize Your Family History, and she also co-hosts a fantastic podcast, Getting to Good Enough, about letting go of perfectionism. So, for physicians, perfectionism Janine is something that comes up a lot, and manifests itself often in the struggle with having a lot of stuff and clutter at home in a way that weighs people down, and makes them feel overwhelmed. Have you seen that in your life and business as well?
Janine: Oh, yes, certainly. Perfectionism gets in the way of so much, but in my little sphere of organizing, certainly, getting started decluttering, perfectionism can absolutely get in the way. Also, figuring out how to organize what you decide to keep, perfectionism can get in the way. Over researching including being afraid to make a mistake, that’s huge. I always tell people, “There’s no right way to do any of this stuff.” It’s really, generally speaking, pretty low stakes. Compared to what physicians do on a daily basis, their stakes are high. Letting go of your extra food storage containers, not that big a deal.
Jill: Yeah. I was very shocked. When I first started coaching physicians now back, well, over a decade ago, I would say, 75% of the physicians that came to me for coaching, after the first or second session say, “You know what I really need help with is. I have so much stuff in my attic, garage, basement, closet, our house, kitchen, and I’m being overrun with stuff, and I’m so embarrassed that I’m saving lives at work, and I can’t get my act together to get organized or to get rid of stuff at home, and it’s impacting my relationships. It’s not modeling the lifestyle and the home that I want for my kids, I’m embarrassed to have other people come over,” and it was really weighing heavily on them.
In my regular practice, where I had coached people who were not physicians, it came up occasionally. But it definitely noticed there was a higher number of physicians, who came to me with that too much stuff at home, and feeling overwhelmed, and wanting to tackle that. I have a couple of theories about why that is, but I’m curious, if you have any theories about why we would see that in a higher percentage of physicians.
Janine: That’s really interesting, isn’t it? As you were talking, I was thinking, “Why would this be?” I would imagine that physicians in their work lives really do benefit from being perfectionists to a great extent, you want to make the right decisions and give the right advice. And also, the way our system works, as I understand it, when you’re a resident, you’re not making a lot of money. So, there’s a little bit of a scarcity mentality for your belongings. Then once you are making a lot more money, you might have a little bit more abundance in terms of acquiring things, yet, combine that with the scarcity of having lived without stuff that makes it hard to let go. Then factoring all the decisions that physicians are making through the course of their day, going home and deciding about stuff in the kitchen might not be their idea of a good time. Does that resonate with you? I’m interested in yours.
Jill: 100%. Yeah, I hadn’t really thought about just the nature of medical education and the scarcity mentality that then gets flipped for a lot of physicians anyway in terms of earning potential and how that plays into an interesting push pull dynamic. That was really good. Then, yeah, decision fatigue is a big factor. I think for a lot of folks making a lot, a lot, a lot of decisions to come home and then it’s like, “Now, let’s make a bunch of decisions about things that aren’t so interesting like storage, extra Tupperware, or toys that the kids haven’t played with.” Then you marry that with those perfectionistic tendencies and that creates, again, not for everybody, but for a fairly high percentage of folks, the consequence of having too much stuff at home to the point where it starts to really have a negative impact on their lives.
Let’s talk a little bit about that. So, somebody might say, “Well, what’s the difference between somebody who doesn’t mind having stuff around?” The place where it starts to get dysfunctional and maybe what are some of the consequences or results you see when it’s tipped over into that dysfunctional space.
Janine: Well, it can certainly have a huge impact on your time. If you can’t easily get dressed, because your clothes are all over the place or your closet is so full you can’t find the thing that you want to wear to work, it can get hard to get out of the house. Starting your day off poorly, you’re getting to work already frazzled, that’s not great. All the way down the line, having so much stuff that you can’t easily function on a day-to-day basis, it makes life hard. That’s the opposite of what we want. Physicians work so hard in their profession and they don’t have a lot of time at home. That’s my observation. Not as much time at home as maybe they would like. If their life at home is a struggle, because of having too much stuff, that just makes me sad, right?
Jill: Yeah, a lot of physicians end up practicing medicine away from maybe where their family of origin is just by the nature of the beast. That’s where they end up working. Not always, but in a lot of cases. People will tell stories about how they really want to spend time with family, but it’s overwhelming to get the guest bedrooms cleaned out, or the space ready, or it’s embarrassing because there’s just so much junk piled up. It does start to have a ripple effect on, as you mentioned, the day-to-day stuff, but then sometimes on some other values driven things that are important to us, and the consequences start to feel really heavy and overwhelming.
We’ve done a good job, I think, of creating the case for why this can happen. If somebody is identifying with this and saying, “Oh, my gosh, they’re talking exactly about me, or my spouse, or somebody I know really well.” What can be a place where somebody could start to make a shift if they’re feeling overwhelmed and if the perfectionism tendencies keep them from actually making any progress on getting rid of stuff?
Janine: Well, in creating a podcast about letting go of perfectionism, the thing that comes up over and over with my co-host and me is getting in touch with what’s important to you. Knowing why you want to create more order in your home, let go of excess, that can really help inform your decisions and help you get started. If you don’t know why you’re doing it, it can feel like an exercise in frustration or it can just feel unmotivated. But knowing whether it’s that you want to have an easier day or whether it’s that you want to model for your kids how to make decisions about living with less, or perhaps, it might be even in an environmental ethos. They’re all sorts of reasons that would be important to you. I love your idea of being able to host your family when they come to visit. That’s huge. Getting in touch with that, that’s a great first step.
Then the other big thing is, trying to break it down into little teeny tiny tasks, because it’s so overwhelming. If you’re suffering from decision fatigue, if you take a look around a cluttered house, it could look like a million decisions. But if you take a look at your shoes, maybe depending on the person that might be a lot too, or your gadget drawer in your kitchen, and really narrowing it down to a small task that you can actually succeed in doing, that can be really helpful.
Jill: Yeah, that’s really, really good advice. I’ve heard you say before, sometimes, it can be helpful to go to one area of the storage section of your house to be able to start in storage, because then a lot of times that’s the stuff that has gotten the least attention and really has the least value, because it’s just there, but when we clear that out, it makes space for stuff that we do want to keep and now we have a place to put it. Am I correctly reflecting your theory on that?
Janine: You are. Especially, if we’re doing a whole house, I love starting in the basement for that very reason. It’s usually easy to let go of stuff in the basement. Then we’re creating space for this stuff from upstairs. But it also works on a smaller level. If you’re thinking it’s time to declutter and organize my kitchen, and your kitchen counters are cluttered and so often is the case, don’t start with the kitchen counters. Start with the cupboards. Because then you’re creating space to put away that stuff that’s on the counters, which is usually the stuff you’re actually using. Take out the old vitamins, put in the current vitamins. Store the stuff you’re really using, that sort of thing.
Jill: Yeah, I love that. That’s really a great place to start. I used to say to a lot of physicians in relation to conversations around perfectionism, “Don’t try to be perfect, just be good enough.” I found that to be a bridge too far for people who have the rigor of medical education, the pressure of the importance of keeping people alive and those kinds of things. I think a physician coaching colleague of ours, who has done a lot of great work in our DocWorking Thrive program and interviewed a lot of great people for the podcast, Dr. Gabriella Dennery says, “I like to think of it instead of perfectionism as excellence and excellence to me has a connection to what matters to me, to that value based motivation.” I think you were talking about earlier. Why does it matter to you to clean out this area?
I think that can be somewhat motivating for physicians to recognize. Maybe good enough is perfect and a great motivator for you. But if it’s not, notice where you’re telling yourself, “Well, I have the stacks of five things here by the door that I did manage to collect and put in containers to give away. But now, I’m trying to find the perfect place for my old clothes to go and for these toys to go.” So, what would still feel excellent to you? To have that space freed up? I don’t know. What are your thoughts on that way of framing it?
Janine: Well, it’s interesting. I haven’t thought of it in those terms, it’s really making my wheels turn. Of course, my podcast is called Getting to Good Enough. I’m all about good enough. Excellence, if it works, if it’s motivating, that’s fantastic and that’s what matters. It seems to me that’s putting a fairly high bar though with some areas of our home which could be pretty mundane. Like, “Do we really need an excellent basement storage room?” Maybe. Maybe that’s what works for that person. But I would also encourage people to think about what good enough is to them. Good enough isn’t a static thing. Something that’s good enough for me and frankly my standards are pretty low in my own home, it might be very different from one of my clients. They may want extra and that’s good. I think it’s important to recognize that it’s really an individual standard that matters.
Jill: Yeah. I think I should pay attention to it. If the default for a lot of people is perfectionism and so then it’s demotivating when you don’t think you can get everything perfect, so, if we can dare to take a deep breath and say, “Okay, if perfectionism is at 100%, what does 75% look like or 80% look like? Is that good enough?” By the way, often that is still excellent because if I have had to look at piles of crap by my front entryway for a year and a half, and then I walk in, I feel a sense of openness because it’s cleared up. That’s excellent news, right? [laughs]
Janine: Excellent. Yes, so true.
Jill: That’s even beyond good enough. There’s a way to look at it that I think can be really meaningful for people who are saying, “Okay, this is right. I do want that peace and freedom of more space and functionality in my life.” Any other ideas that will be helpful for them to move forward in that direction?
Janine: Sure. I think letting go of self-recrimination or feelings of inadequacy around the situation can be really helpful. If our homes get cluttered, especially when we’re high-achieving individuals, I think it can feel really bad. I know that everyone feels like, “I should be able to do this myself.” It’s not brain surgery. I should be able to get organized. But for some people, it’s really difficult, or if you’ve been living with it for so long, you can’t see the solutions. But bringing in a smart friend, who can non-judgmentally help you, can be really helpful, or a professional organizer for that matter. But my college roommate is a physician in South Carolina, and she just flew me in a couple months ago to help her organize her kitchen. She’s one of the most organized and smart people I know. She just needed help and I was thrilled to do it.
There’s no problem in reaching out for help. It’s not a bad thing to reach out for help, especially since physicians are so smart. They have to be where they are. And don’t feel let down if your house got away from you.
Jill: Absolutely, not. I can’t say that enough. I try to say it all the time when somebody does come to me with this. A lot of times there’s this like, “I need to tell you,” as if they’ve just admitted that they committed some terrible crime. I was like, “Yep, I hear it.” Most of the time, at least three quarters of the time, if not more. Maybe some of those folks just have more priorities they want to talk about, but it’s probably there as well. Time and time again, I hear from people, “Oh, it feels really normal.” I was speaking at a group of probably 500 physicians on the East Coast two plus years ago, because it was right before COVID. I asked the room how many people would say that the house being overwhelmed with clutter or disorganization is something that is hard or frustrating? The hands slowly went up.
But by the time they were all up, definitely a vast majority of the room had raised their hands. I just want to say a little something about hiring a professional organizer, because I’ve known Janine for a long time. Her stuff is brilliant. She gives great meaningful advice on how to try to do this on your own. Many of my physician clients through the years have done their hard work and tried to clear space out. I said, “This is an option. So, hiring Janine, or someone else, and having her bring a team in, gives you so much time back. Because they can do in a day, or two, or a few days, often what might take months or even years.” To be able to start from that clean slate space is really inspiring in my experience and my clients have really said, “Gosh, I wish I would have done it earlier.”
Janine: Well, I appreciate that very much and you’re right. Once you get back to ground zero, you can maintain it more likely. Then a professional organizer will help you set up systems that are easy for you to maintain. But also taking the pressure off yourself by bringing in help, I think it’s really helpful. Years ago, you said something that I think about all the time, which is that, “We don’t expect ourselves to fix our car. We take our car when it’s broken to the mechanic and pay in.” It’s not a bad reflection on us. We’re hiring an organizer, or personal trainer, any other kind of service professional is the same sort of thing.
Jill: Yeah, it really is. It can be just wildly helpful and it brings a lot of peace and freedom to focus your energy. Especially now, with the pandemic for the last two years, every physician I know is overwhelmed, and tired, and exhausted, and for a variety of different reasons in almost every discipline. To give yourself permission to not have one more thing weighing on you when you get home and to have that space be about recharging, and doing things that light you up and that refill your tank, I think is more important than ever right now for physicians. However, you give yourself permission to do that. Either hiring in help or asking a friend to come support, or making a plan of a roadmap of ridiculously easy timeframes or containers as you talked about, identifying for yourself why it would feel really good to release yourself from the stuff that’s making day-to-day life hard. I think the timing is actually really good for this now.
Janine: Yes, I would agree with you. Then embracing the idea of living with less and what it would be like to have more space and less stuff. I’ve been doing this for 16 years. The longer I do it, the more I feel that having less stuff gives you more freedom. The older I get, the more I value freedom. I think that really just thinking about, or sitting with the idea even before you get started on the decluttering process, of what it would feel to look around and see less. I’m looking at your backdrop, Jill, and I don’t see a lot of stuff. I find it so soothing and lovely. If that appeals to you, you can get there, but you’re going to have to make a few decisions to get there.
Jill: Absolutely. To recognize, for some people, and I think this is important to say, we come at this process with some imprints. Sometimes, some generational imprints about maybe parents, or grandparents, or others who lived through the depression gave us these messages about getting rid of stuff or keeping it around for a rainy day. I think that’s another reason why bringing in someone else, the professional or someone else, who just doesn’t have as hard of a time getting rid of stuff or can make easier decisions, is really integral to this process. If you’ve noticed that you’ve tried to get rid of stuff for five, 10, 20 years and nothing has really changed, that’s a good indicator for yourself that there’s probably a pattern or an imprint of some thinking that is going to maybe get in your way of succeeding on this on your own and it’s important for you to partner up with somebody else to make a difference.
Janine: Yes, I think that’s a very good point. One that we overlook, cut yourself some slack here. This is part of what you grew up with. Embracing new ideas can be really challenging sometimes. One thing that I’ve noticed that helps clients let go of stuff is when they think about those unwanted items in their homes being able to be used by others. We can help other people so much by donating our unwanted stuff that’s literally in our way in our homes. It’s this wonderful double benefit. We get the benefit of more space, and where we can easily put our hands on the things that are important to us, and other people who may not have the ability to purchase new stuff that they would really value, have a chance to get it. Oftentimes, just reminding clients of that, is enough to let them say, of course, “Yeah, let’s get this out here.”
Jill: That’s true. In many parts of the United States, we’re seeing an influx of Afghan refugees right now. So, I had the chance to have somebody reach out and say, “We have these people with specific things needed for their apartment.” To go downstairs to our storage area about some stuff that we were thinking about going through anyway and to deliver it to somebody and to know it was going to be used immediately to help them set up their space. I know you have some background in immigration and refugee replacement as well. So, that’s just one example of many ways. Shelters for battered women. They’re all kinds of places where your stuff gets used as an integral part of somebody else’s life being improved.
Janine: Right. Rather than lurking in your basement. Your example of helping Afghan refugees literally gave me goosebumps. I think that that’s just a great example. Right now, the need is high and, in your case, specifically knowing what people need, that’s amazing. That’s really helpful.
Jill: Yeah, for sure. Final thoughts on perfectionism. I know, it’s one of your missions in life to help people think a little bit differently about the rigidity, and the pain and suffering that comes from trying to be perfect before we let our listeners go today.
Janine: My personal mantra, it’s on my bulletin board is, “Let it be easy.” I feel when we are struggling with perfectionism, we’re doing the opposite of that. If you can embrace “good enough”, or “excellence”, or whatever works for you, and keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be hard. Just let it be easy. I think that that can help a lot.
Jill: Absolutely. What a beautiful place to remind us of how to frame that. Thank you so much Janine for joining us today. It was a delight to have this conversation. For our listeners, how can they find out where you are and learn more from you?
Janine: Well, if you’re interested in my organizing services, you can go to my website peaceofmindorganizing.com. The best way to reach out to me is through that. Then if you’re interested in our podcast, Getting to Good Enough, which is about letting go of perfectionism so you can do more of what you love, we’re gettingtogoodenough.com and also, we’re on all the podcasts sites.
Jill: Thank you so much. And thanks to all of you for joining in on this conversation. As always, give us a five-star rating if you are getting something meaningful out of this. That really helps us to bring this content to more listeners. Again, if you are ready to thrive, and you could use some coaching support, and what physicians couldn’t right now, as well as peer community courses to help you strengthen your leadership and communication skills, DocWorking THRIVE is for you. Go to docworking.com today to get more info. Until next time, I’m Jill Farmer.
Amanda: I’m Amanda Taran, producer of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Thank you so much for listening. Please don’t forget to like and subscribe and head over to docworking.com to see all we have to offer.