The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 22, 2009

Linda Cannon: Self-help book surprisingly helpful

I don’t usually read self-help books, but I read this one accidentally.

“Throw out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life” by Gail Blanke sounded like an organizational tome, and that is the sort of thing I would read. Once I started reading it, it only took a minute to realize it was really a self-help book, but by then it was too late. She had captured my interest.

The idea behind the book is that once you begin to remove the physical clutter from your life, you will begin the process of letting go of the mental and emotional clutter as well. Turns out they’re really intertwined.

Of course, I guess I really know that, as do we all. After all, monks and cloistered nuns aren’t exactly surrounded by material goods, and there’s a reason for that.

The first section of the book deals, ostensibly, with the physical objects that are cluttering your life. It quickly becomes apparent that at least some of those objects are part of our emotional baggage as well.

For example, besides being useless clutter, a T-shirt from an enforced company outing (disguised as a “team-building” exercise) that makes you just a little bit resentful or angry every time you come across it in a drawer is doing more harm than just taking up space.

Throughout the first section of the book, Blanke walks you through each room of your home and suggests what to get rid of and how to get rid of it.

Not everything has to be thrown away, of course. You can sell your castoffs or donate them to charity if they are suitable for those ends. If not, the trash can awaits.

In the second section, it’s on to the office, whether that’s at home or work. She particularly suggests “Clarifying Your Brand” at this point. If you collect at work whatever objects you might be inclined to collect, then rather than being known as “the guy who gets things done” or “the woman who comes up with the great ideas” you may become known as “the hot dog guy” or “the teapot lady.”

If that’s your goal, more power to you, but I suspect that most of us would rather be known for something else. At least at work.

This is all really a wind up for the third section: “Attacking the Mental Mess.” By this time, the plan is that you’ve gotten rid of at least fifty items (and, by the way, she counts like items as one, so you can’t get off easy by throwing away fifty ratty dish towels — that’s one) and that should have prepared you to move onto the nonphysical stuff that is really causing the problems in your life.

It’s not just rah-rah stuff. Blanke gives concrete steps and examples along the way, just as she did during the first sections about throwing away tangible objects.

Each of us can probably relate more to some of these than others, and I’m not outing myself about which of these rang my bell. The final chapters are “Letting Go of Feeling Inadequate, Irrelevant, and Just Plain Not Good Enough”; “Letting go of the Type of Person You Think You Are (or Aren’t)”; “Letting Go of the Regrets and Mistakes of the Past”; “Letting Go of Being Right About How Wrong Everybody and Everything Is”; “Letting Go of the Need to Have Everyone Like You”; “Letting Go of Thinking the Worst”; “Letting Go of Waiting for the Right Moment”; “Letting Go of Needing to Feel Secure;” and “Letting Go of Thinking That You Have to Do Everything Yourself.”

The last section is a rather rah-rah section on moving forward with your life after getting rid of the junk, both physical and mental, that you’ve been accumulating. But, Blanke is a motivational consultant and speaker, after all, so that’s to be expected.

To sum up, as I mentioned, I’m not one for self-help books, but I think this one could probably help most people and might well obviate the need for a number of other self-help titles if enthusiastically embraced. It also makes for an entertaining read. Thumbs up!