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Horse Training Tips that I use on People and you can too (but don’t tell them!)

You may have read the story about how my horse Max and I found each other.  I give Max full credit for teaching me how to be a better person.  When I first got him, he was so incredibly stubborn. If he wanted to go somewhere, he would GO, and it didn’t matter if you were riding him at the time, or if you wanted to NOT go with him.  He was a very strong (fat) horse and was pretty uncontrollable.  He was also extremely food-motivated, so if you tried to bribe him with treats he would go from completely ignoring you to absolute mugging you for ALL the treats.
He kept getting worse so I started hiring different types of horse trainers to work with him.  They would all get frustrated (it seemed like Max did it to them on purpose) and get more and more forceful until Max had enough and then he would LEAVE the arena, by just running right through the gates and back to his field.  He became so good at this maneuver, rearing up in the air, jerking the lead rope out of people’s hands and then running away, that I could see exactly when he was about to do it.  I would warn the Trainers, but he always (every single time) was too fast for them.  Someone told me about “natural horsemanship” which is like horse psychology (being a horse whisperer) and I found some home learning programs and really dived into them.  In one exercise I had to fill out this huge psychological test for both Max and for me.  It was kind of like Meyers Briggs for horses but incredibly in depth.  I was surprised to find that Max and had the same personality/horsenality type!  I’m laughing as I write this because it really is true.  We are both stubborn, introverted, like to feel safe, don’t like surprises and like to be in charge.  The training program helped me change MY behavior so that Max would want to engage with me, and it taught me how to be a better partner and less of a bossy pants.  During this process, as my relationship with Max started feeling easy and magical, I noticed that ALL of my relationships were getting better.  I was listening more, asking questions, and really looking for common ground.  I was so much better with my organizing clients, instead of thinking that “MY” filing system was the best and everyone should be using it, I was looking at how to create lasting success and really connecting with people’s needs in a whole new way.
18 years later, not only do I have an incredibly deep partnership with the fabulous Max, I also have changed drastically from the Type A control freak I once was, to a more mellow, go-with-the-flow but still get it done type of person.  I develop true friendships with my clients and am able to (mostly) drop my ego and follow the basic horse whispering concepts I learned so long ago.  So here are a few for you to try in your own relationships.
Always start and end with the “Friendly game”. The Friendly game simply means that you want to empower the other person to feel safe and confident.   Even if you are asking them to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new, you want to start the process by making sure they know they can do it, you believe in them, and you’re there to help.  Then you end the session the same way, making sure they feel taken care of.  If you want your kids to help you clean the house, for example, if you start off by making it fun, and you end it by making it fun, they will be much more likely to help out willingly the next time.
Drop the reins sometimes.  When I first got Max, I wanted obedience!  I wanted to be the BOSS!  Max also wanted MY obedience, he wanted to be the boss!  One riding exercise we would practice would involve me dropping the reins and letting Max walk (and eventually trot, and then canter) wherever he wanted to in the arena.  My job was to just be a riding partner and let him be the leader.  It was so fun!  I learned that I could trust him and Max also learned that I could trust him.  Many times in my life when I am focused on a goal, I find that letting go of my idea and following someone else’s instead, whether its a client, an employee or one of my kids, makes the whole process turned out so much better.
Reward the slightest try.  This is a basic training tip that works so well!  I wanted to teach Max a trick of how to step up on a mounting block and then stand still with his feet up there.  I taught him one little step at a time, rewarding him with a treat every time he even attempted what I was asking.  In no time at all, he would stand up on the mounting block the minute I pointed at it. (the problem with having such a smart horse is that when I am riding him, and he decides its treat time, he will head towards the nearest platform and attempt to climb up on it.  This can be startling to me AND other people if I am not paying attention.)  Perhaps you would like other people in your house to be a little tidier.  If you ask your children to put their laundry in the hamper and they start doing it “sometimes”, reward that slight try!  Tell them how much you appreciate that they really listened to you and heard your request and it means a lot to you.  Ignore the times they don’t get the clothes in the hamper but continue to reward each try.  Eventually, they will realize that putting clothes in the hamper is something that makes them feel good and they’ll keep doing it.  (their future roommate and/or spouse will thank you one day).
Your Relationship, not the Task, is the important Priority

This was a hard one for me because I wanted to “complete the task” and “reach my goal”.  I wanted Max to learn what I wanted him to learn, and I wanted to do it TODAY.  And of course  I had a lesson plan and a checklist and I wanted to cross something off so it had to get done.  So Max would leave. When I stopped listening and started bossing, Max would LEAVE the area and go back to his field. If he had to run over, or go through another horse, a person, fence, or a gate, that was fine with him.  If it wasn’t a fun or rewarding activity, he was going back to his field.  As always, he was a great teacher and I had to learn that having a great partnership with him was the important thing, and I couldn’t sacrifice that in order to check off my list.  The same lesson applied to my other relationships too.  Sometimes I really want a person to do what I want them to do, I want my client to get that closet sorted out, my kids to clean their rooms, my husband to fix the kitchen light, etc.  The minute I make the task more important than the person, I have to really look at my priorities.  I don’t want my clients to feel pressured by me, my kids to feel judged, or my husband to feel nagged, I want all of these people to feel supported and appreciated by me so I need them to know their feelings are important.

Here is a photo of me “asking” Max to walk across a wooden bridge. I have an oh-so-fashionable fanny pack on, filled with Max’s favorite treats which is his big reward at the end.  I am holding a stick with a string attached, which is NOT a whip, but rather something to wave behind him to put a little pressure on. (Punishment and fear tactics don’t work on horses, or people).  If I smacked Max with the stick, he would leave the area.  He would leave the area VERY FAST.  So I am rewarding the slightest try.  Will he put one hoof on the bridge?  Yes?  Great!  Thanks, buddy, let’s walk away and eat grass for a minute.  Then we come back. Will he put two hooves on the bridge?  Yes?  Great!  Let’s pause and have a head rub for a minute.

So how does this work with people? If I have a client who REALLY is motivated to go through some old papers but is dreading the bad memories that will come up (from a divorce, loss of a loved one, etc.) I use the same principles.  Can we get through one box? Great!  Now let’s go declutter some clothes, a kitchen cabinet, books, or whatever is easy.  Let’s talk and laugh and share stories while we do it.  Can we come back and do another box today? Yes?  That’s great!  The goal is NOT TO FINISH THE TASK but instead to gain self-confidence and mutual trust through the process!  We will complete the task eventually but build a foundation of trust and helping someone empower themselves to work through fear is so much more important than one simple task. )

Be interesting and be fun
This was a hard one for me because I’m not one of those creative, fun, extroverted people that will break into song at the drop of a hat.  I was at a horse training clinic one time and the Instructor said: “Raise your hand if your horse is hard to catch.”  I raised my hand, as did many of the people in the class.  The Instructor then said to all of us, “If your horse doesn’t meet you at the gate, and actually runs away from you, that means HE DOESN”T LIKE YOU!  You are probably boring.”   i was CRUSHED!  What an awful thing to say to people!  And I was paying her to say it because I was paying for that stupid class!  She went on to tell us that horses are curious and want to learn new things, they are attracted to laughter, they are playful creatures.  But sometimes people just want to get on them, ride them in a circle and then put them back in their stall and why should they want to sign up for that? I realized she was right and that I would try to always do fun and interesting things with Max.  Since I made that change, Max has never run away from me, and he will meet me at the gate (unless there’s fresh hay, he’s not walking away from that for anyone).   If you are dreading cleaning out the garage, think about how you can make it more fun.  You can play music, you can make into a game, set a timer, reward yourself with a treat every 15 minutes, have short-term milestones (I am going to go through these 5 boxes in 10 minutes), etc.  If you have people helping you, you can have dance contests or races with your helpers “Who can be the first one to put 5 things in the trash?”, reward helpers with candy or something every 15 minutes, or set a timer.  There are so many ways you can make an organizing project be fun and interesting.  I love to listen to audiobooks while I organize a space and that makes it fun for me.
Now you are ready to train a horse, clean out a garage, improve your relationships, you are AMAZING, I knew you could do it!  (see what I did there, that was the Friendly Game!)
(thank you to Pat and Linda Parelli from Parelli Natural Horsemanship for all you have taught about horses, and myself).

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Storage Units: How to Use Them, How to NOT use them

Storage Units are great for holding onto items TEMPORARILY!  Storage Units are not great for long-term storage because they are EXPENSIVE!
I tell people that having Storage is like paying rent for people you don’t really like. If someone you LOVE needs a place to stay, you would make room for them at your place or help them find a place to go.  You would visit them and spend time with them. But when you take items you think are very important to you, stick them in storage somewhere and never look at them again as years go by, how much do you really need, want, or love those things?
Storage Success Stories:
Doug and Liza sold their big house and moved to a small apartment while their new condo was being renovated. They put a bunch of art, collectibles, and memorabilia into storage for one year.  They spent about $1800 for that unit.
Elizabeth went off to college and her Mom sold the house.  Her Mom put a bunch of items, furniture, memorabilia, household goods and things like that into storage for Elizabeth so that she would have it all when she got her own apartment. The storage unit cost $5,400 for 3 years.   When Elizabeth got out of college and got her first apartment, she hardly had to buy anything new.
Storage Sad Stories:
Sarah cleaned out her Mom’s house and put a lot of furniture, art and family china into storage, intending to sell it someday.  Time went by and she continued to pay $300 a month for the storage unit. She didn’t even remember what was in there until she finally hired me to help her clean it out.  Unfortunately, at that point she had spent $32,400 (that’s $300 per month for 9 years) storing her Mom’s things, and none of it was very valuable anymore.  She ended up donating it all just so she could get rid of the storage unit ASAP.
Betty had to clean out her house in order to sell it but didn’t want to get rid of many items.  Her son finally just put a bunch of things into storage and figured they would “go through it a little at a time.”  Time went by and before they knew it Betty had paid $12,000 for a storage unit she had never been to once.  As usual, no one could remember what was in there.  Betty’s son hired an Auction House to sell the contents.  They Auction brought in $3,200 and his Mom received $1,500 of that money.
How to Make your Storage Unit a Success Story
Rule #1:  Make a detailed list of everything in your Storage Unit.  If things are in boxes, you can number the boxes and list the Contents somewhere else.
Rule #2:  Take photos and measurements of big items like furniture.  That way if you decide to sell something that’s in storage, or move it to another location, you will already know exactly what it looks like and if it will fit into your new plan.
Rule #3:  Have a plan and do the Math.  If you can buy a new sofa for $1500, it doesn’t make sense to store an old sofa for 2 years, because you will have spent more money than if you bought it new.  When you rent a Storage Unit, have a plan, a timeline, and a budget.  If you are going to “go through” the items in Storage (which most people don’t do because it is REALLY not fun to sit in a chilly steel box and go through stuff that you will regret you kept all this time), then put those Sessions on your schedule, in your
Calendar and have a plan.
Rule #4:   Understand the physical demands of moving things around.  Hauling boxes of books, furniture, and knickknacks in and out of vehicles and storage units is hard physical work.  Be prepared to do it yourself or have some strong labor to help you.

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The Big Lies we all tell about our Clutter

Lie #1:  “I’m going to get this fixed.”
The best way to deal with this is to break this down.  Its a broken clock that is your grandmother’s?  Okay, here are the steps to get this done.
  1. Decide on a budget or getting the clock fixed.
  2. Google local clock repair shops and pick the top two or three. (1 hour)
  3. Call each one and make an appointment (30 minutes)
  4. Put the appointments in your calendar. (5 min)
  5. Put the clock in a box and put it in your car. (20 min)
  6. Go to each appointment.  (4 hours)
  7. Decide who will fix your clock. (10 minutes)
  8. Take your clock to them. (1 hour)
  9. Pick up the repaired clock (1 hour)
  10. Decide where your clock is going to live in your house (or in storage). (10 minutes)
You can see that this whole process can take about 10 hours of your life and hundreds of dollars.  Multiply this “reason” times all of the broken items you have that you “plan” to get fixed.  That probably adds up to a lot of hours and money.  Is it worth it?
Lie #2:  “I have to keep this.” 
Who is the ultimate authority of this item?  Who is the decision maker here?  The CDA? (Chief Decluttering Authority). Who is responsible for storing, cleaning, maintaining, insuring and taking care of this item? Is it you?  Okay then.  You don’t have to keep it, but you do have to give yourself permission to let it go.
Lie #3: “This is worth a lot of money.”
This may be true, but usually, people have no idea what their things are worth right NOW.  What they really are thinking is, “I paid a lot of money for that item when I bought it.” or “It was very valuable at one point.”  That’s true about a lot of things. Televisions used to be a major purchase and were very expensive, now you can buy a big one for $200.  Beautiful antique furniture, handpainted china, fine linens and collectibles like Hummel figurines were very expensive to purchase new and were passed down through generations. The truth is, and I have had this discussion with so many clients, things are only worth what someone will pay for them right now, today.   Try selling a piano and you will see what I mean.  Some things you can’t even give away or you have to pay someone to come haul it away. If you aren’t sure what something is worth it, have it appraised professionally, talk to a reseller or estate sale/auction person, or look online at what items have sold for.  On eBay you can search on Closed Auctions to see what the final price is.  It doesn’t matter as much what items are selling for, if no one is bidding then the price is too high.
If you don’t want or enjoy the item anymore, and it is worth a lot of money, you could sell it and buy something you really like instead. Or you could donate it and take a tax credit. But keeping something just because it was once valuable isn’t a very good excuse.
Lie #4: “I bought this because I was going to do…and someday I still will.” 
I was going to learn to knit so someone gave me a beginners knitting kit, with yarn, knitting needles, books, etc. I stuck it in a drawer for years. I moved 3 times, I packed it, moved it, and unpacked it every time.  Every time I would come across it I would say to myself, Oh Yes, someday I’m going to learn to knit.  Finally, during my 4th move, I came across that stuff and was suddenly struck by how silly I was to carry that around for the past 10 years!  I am not going to ever learn to knit and if I really want to I can buy a new kit, or ask for it as a birthday present or something.  For 10 years, I selfishly held onto something that many of my friends or clients would have been glad to have because they really DO knit and would have made something lovely out of that beautiful yarn. So I finally gave it away and felt silly for waiting so long. Many people do this, and I can tell you it feels much better to pass on things I’m not using to people who will use and appreciate it.  Plus I don’t want to keep things that don’t bring me joy right now, that stuff was just bringing me stress as something I was procrastinating about. 

Storing Kids Clothes Quote

Store children’s seasonal clothing and shoes in stackable storage containers or boxes labeled with the season, gender, and size rather than by child’s name: for example, “Summer – Girl’s Size 10-12.” That way, you’ll know what’s in the box without having to open it. Organize boxes by season or gender.
    – D. Smallin, Organizing Plain & Simple

Kid Wrangling: Earning electronics

This is something very simple that I did with my sons. We had a house rule that the kids could not do anything electronic, like watch TV or play video games, unless they asked a parent first.  (We preferred them to read, play or go outside, so we tried to discourage brainless tv watching).  The 2nd part of the rule was, the kids weren’t allowed to ask us unless their rooms were picked up.  Not cleaned exactly, but nothing on the floor that wasn’t supposed to be there.
This rule was great because it eliminated the need for us to ever nag them about tidying their rooms. We knew that eventually they would want to watch t.v., and they knew the answer was an automatic No unless their rooms were clean.
Now a word to the wise. If you have a Jeremy, a smart but rebellious child, he will test this rule to the utmost.  Jeremy decided, when he was about 8 years old, that he would rather NEVER watch television again, rather than clean up his room. He lasted for two weeks and finallly he dramatically announced, “FINE, YOU WIN!!! I CAN”T STAND IT ANYMORE!” And he went to tidy his room. But it was such a mess by then that it was completely overwhelming so we did it together. I thought it was fun. I think he’s still mad about it though.
A genius rule that my sister SaraJane had for her son was that he was only allowed to play video games before she woke up on the weekends.  Once she woke up it was chore time.  This ensured that he and his friends would play very very quietly and not wake up Mom for as long as possible. Sneaky!

Getting Your House Ready to Sell – Declutter your Outside too

You walk up to your front door every day and probably don’t even notice your yard anymore.  If you plan to sell your house, you may be primarily focused on the inside, going through closets, decluttering, packing some things.  But don’t forget the outside of your house may need some decluttering and freshening up as well.
Here’s an easy checklist to help get your Yard looking its best:
Get rid of clutter like anything that is broken, in poor repair, or not serving a purpose.
Make sure there is a place for kids or pet toys, garden tools, hoses and other items that may look too busy.
Check your mailbox, does it need to be replaced, or get a fresh coat of paint
Is your house number easy to find, and read?  Is it well-lit?
Look at your trash cans and recycling bins. Are they broken or cracked? Do they have lids? Do you need to call your trash company for replacements?
Look behind your sheds and garages for forgotten trash, old fencing, broken pots, old bricks or cinderblocks and recycle or trash these items.
What about your porch, walkways, and stairs?  Do they need a good sweeping, scrubbing or power wash? Is everything in good repair?
You definitely want your front yard to invite potential Buyers inside. Just looking at your house with fresh ideas will give you a whole new perspective.

Can’t let Your Clutter Go? Here are some unusual Questions to ask Yourself about your “Stuff”:

Am I wearing or using this item, right now, on a regular basis?

Does this item make me feel a positive emotion?  Do I feel happy, grateful, motivated or peaceful about it?

Do I have multiples of this item, that I probably won’t use in the next few years?

Does this item remind me of something I don’t like to think about?

Does this item make me feel lazy, guilty, or overwhelmed?

Do I pick up and move this item around without using it or loving it?

Does this item serve the purpose of the room that it is located in?

Do I love, need, or use something that is more important than this item?

Is this item worthy of the space, importance, and care that I am giving it?

Adopt this one habit from nature lovers and eliminate clutter forever

If you are a hiker or nature lover, you are probably familiar with this philosophy.  My sons’ learned it at summer camp.  They all went to Calleva, a non-profit outdoor adventure camp where the Instructors really teach the kids how to love and respect nature.  I LOVED the Leave No Trace idea when the boys told me about it.  It makes a lot of sense, to honor the beauty of nature by making sure no one can tell you were ever there.  Packing out all trash, sweeping up signs of your campsite, sticking to trails rather than tromping through meadows.  My sons’ were able to practice this while they were backpacking, kayaking, and caving throughout Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
When they told me what they had learned, I wasted NO TIME adopting the Leave No Trace policy at our own house.  What a great idea!  And it was something that their adored Camp Instructors had come up with, instead of something I was trying to get them to do.  It also made a lot of sense as a general rule for living.  Basically just clean up after yourself.
But “Leave No Trace” sounds a lot cooler!