November Newsletter

What better time of year to talk about simplifying your life than the holidays - a time of year notorious for stress levels to reach (and exceed!) their limits!  I will discuss simple steps to get your holiday checklists in order.  And don’t miss the interview with Ellen Coleman, a renowned hypnotherapist.  We discuss the subconscious reasons that lead to disorganization and clutter.  

Simply yours,



Tips to Simplify Your Holiday Shopping

Let’s start with the end in mind.  What is the reason to give a gift?  To show someone you care for them.  Period.  It’s a way to transform an intangible - your feelings - into a tangible expression.  Here are a few of my guidelines to be sure that my gifts align with my ultimate purpose of showing someone I care:

  1. Set your budget (because it is not about the quantity of money you spend, but the quality of the gift).
  2. Make a list of who in your life will receive a gift from you.
  3. Brainstorm ideas for each person BEFORE  you go to any stores!
  4. Consider experiential gifts.  For instance, for my family I like to pay for all of us to go to a play together or take everyone to dinner.  As a bonus, it only takes me a few minutes to order tickets and I have half of my list done!  My fiance and I love to travel so often times it’s agreeing that we will go on a short trip together.
  5. Now if you choose to not go the experiential route and buy actual gifts, always keep the genuine interests of the person in mind.  
  6. Now time to wrap it up!  It’s time to have a serious conversation about wrapping paper.  Working with clients, I have seen enough wrapping paper to wrap a small country!  I seriously recommend buying a standard wrapping paper you use for everything.  Personally, I buy a big roll of butcher paper.  It is cheap, much more environmentally friendly, and I can customize each gift with beautiful ribbons.  You can even create a custom look so everyone always knows that the gift is from you (think of the Tiffany’s blue box with the white ribbon).  

Interview with Ellen Coleman
While I work on organizing the outer lives of clients, it’s impossible to neglect the inner reasons that lead so many people down the path of disorganization and clutter.  Our outer lives are the external manifestations of our internal thoughts and feelings.  To find out more about how our thoughts and feelings can effect our lives, I went to an expert!  I had the honor of speaking with Ellen R. Coleman, a former university professor and a certified clinical hypnotherapist. She currently is in private practice at Mindworks Hypnotherapy in West Los Angeles, CA

AH: As a hypnotherapist what are some of the psychological reasons that prevent people from getting rid of clutter?  

EC: Many people who tend to get overwhelmed with clutter are people who typically lack good organizational and time management skills.  Others who clutter are struggling to deal with aspects of their life that are out of control.  And while cluttering can actually add to the disorganization and lack of control, it often feels as if they are gaining a sense of control by alleviating internal anxiety about unresolved issues they are hiding, from others and themselves as well. By cluttering, they are “getting things  out in the open”.  Subconsciously, they express symbolically in their external behavior what they are unable to deal with internally, and this may alleviate some anxiety.  But in the long run, without resolving the issues, as clutter builds up and creates problems in their relationships (e.g. by angering a spouse), their activities (e.g. having no room to exercise or entertain) and their self-image( e.g. feeling messy, being a slob), the effort to feel less anxious has exactly the opposite effect.   

There are other very different reasons for pack rat behavior.  Collecting stuff can be a way of attempting to gain security by bringing back and vivifying memories from periods of the past that were going much better than the present.  Feeling vulnerable and insecure, such people surround themselves with things that have positive associations with better times. And they keep collecting such objects in an effort to alleviate the current emotional pain that, unresolved, grows stronger and more stressful. 

People who are under a lot of stress are likely to have a very difficult time using their imagination and using their memories so that these objects they collect become tools for triggering the good memories. In contrast, getting rid of things from their past can cause these individuals to experience grief.  It’s as if they are losing cherished parts of themselves, aspects of their positive identity.  So simply throwing things out is not a viable solution.

Irrational hoarding, which is gathering up and keeping more and more of something than can reasonably be used, is often an attempt to experience a sense of abundance.  Having lived through earlier times of lack or deprivation, the individual is trying subconsciously to deal with the residual fear or anxiety and ward off the recurrence of those lean times.  

Not all attempts to compensate involve material deprivation.  Quite often it is a spiritual lack, be it of love, affection, faith, understanding.  In part, because contemporary western society tends to be much more materialistic, the ability to feel and express these spiritual gifts has not evolved in many of us.  For people lacking spiritually, it’s only real if they can see it, smell it, touch it, wear it, drive it, or in some other way manipulate it.  If they are not able to interact with it through their senses, it is too elusive, too subtle, it’s not really with them.  Thus, material acquisitions stand in for the love or friendship or compassion that’s missing.  Such individuals surround themselves with objects to allay feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, and loneliness.   In direct contrast, there are those who use their cluttering to stake out their boundaries.  They surround themselves with objects to serve as a protective barrier to keep people away. It is a barrier to the intimacy they fear. This behavior is prevalent among adults who suffered childhood abuse, especially physical and sexual, when boundaries were violated repeatedly.  

AH: Tell me if you had a client that showed these symptoms,  what are some of the different methods you would use with her/him?

EC: Before using hypnosis, I  engage them in a form of cognitive therapy to identify both the events that trigger the behavior and the underlying issues that cause the behavior.  Through a series of pointed questions, I first get them to review the history of the pack rat behavior: when did it begin, what was going on in their lives at the time, and what now precedes their going out and getting more unnecessary stuff.  Was it having a fight with their husband, being side-swiped on the freeway, failing an exam?  What negative thoughts are going on in their mind and in what parts of their body do they feel tension or stress? 

Next, we work on discovering where in their lives they feel unfulfilled; what they feel their life lacks; what’s causing a sense of loss, and how they would like their lives to be different.  Are they attempting to compensate for the absence of someone or something they long for, but feel they can not have? 

In hypnosis, I access and infIuence the client’s subconscious mind where almost 90% of the total mind power resides and positive change originates.  I  use de-sensitization techniques to reduce and hopefully eliminate the experience of anxiety that typically results from the triggering events we’ve identified.  Using creative visualization, they learn to reframe those experiences as opportunities for taking control.  They receive and accept my suggestions for replacing the negative behavior with positive behavior and empowering feelings because these suggestions support their strong desire to improve their lives.  Hypnosis is not mind control.  No one can use hypnosis to get another to do anything they do not want to do.  It’s simply a technique for removing obstacles to their success.

I use direct commands and guided imagery. I implant into their subconscious mind other suggestions that improve their self-image, self-respect, and sense of control by creating associations with those positive experiences from their past when they enjoyed success, fulfillment of goals, the freedom to do the things they wanted to do.  Using those associations, they vividly imagine themselves attaining what they lack and long for. They learn to bring up and feel the positive feelings that accompany those gains.  

In so doing, they are creating a mental blueprint their subconscious uses to develop the healthy attitudes and beliefs that motivate them to make the positive behavioral changes in their everyday lives.

Finally, I  create and implement a systematic reinforcement strategy that enables  them to begin clearing areas of clutter and ridding themselves of unnecessary stuff, starting with the least threatening and moving through to the most threatening.

AH: What are some steps people can do to begin to move forward if clutter and disorganization are preventing them from leading the life they want?

EC:  For three consecutive days, start with a few minutes of deep focused breathing.  Breath slowly in through the nose, up from the diaphragm, holding the breath at the top for a count of three, before slowly exhaling through the mouth, as if blowing out candles on a birthday cake.  Always keep your attention on the breath.  This dissolves distracting thoughts and keeps you in the moment, your most resourceful state.

After the breathing, for no more than five minutes, visualize three objects that you would be most willing to give to a friend, donate to a charity, or throw out.  Then, one by one, imagine yourself taking each of the necessary steps to give your friend the object, or donate it to Good Will, or throw it out in the trash. Be as specific as you can.

While imagining taking those steps, see yourself smiling, holding your head high, walking proud, speaking positively, feeling strong and happy. 

On the fourth day, make arrangements to take one of those actions.  Each succeeding day, until you are able to take the chosen action, visualize yourself doing it.  On the day you take the action, reward yourself with something fun.

Another tool would be to set and abide by the following rule: Never bring into your space any new, non-essential item unless you have gotten rid of at least one item you already have.

Finally, start developing your own positive reinforcers.  When the urge to go out and get something new and non-essential arises, do something else instead that feels good or gives you pleasure.  Don’t reach for a cigarette or a candy bar.  Listen to some music, take a cat nap, do some breathing and stretching, fix yourself a healthy snack, take a bubble bath, phone a friend, ride your bike or take a walk.  Write in your journal or blog.

Network with other clutterers online. Replace the negative behavior with something positive.  Each time you succeed, you raise the likelihood that the next time you will succeed again, and more easily.

For a complimentary consultation on how you can stop hoarding and regain your life, contact Ellen R. Coleman, C.Ht. at 310 478-3377.  Check out her website at