Word of the year

How a “Word of the Year” Can Move You Forward

I doubted that a “word of the year” could help me get organized.

Unless I cleaned up my life, though – literally – there was no way I was going to make progress on my financial or life goals.

I needed to clean up my files, which were disorganized and filled with decades-old paperwork that made no sense to hold onto.

My dining room table acted as the repository for unopened mail and other miscellaneous papers. For years, I’d walk by the piles of paper on the table and sigh, but rarely pared them down – and when I did, within a few weeks they’d magically reappear.

Can a word of the year help you organize your papers?

My closets? Ugh. The one in the front hallway felt like the cartoon version, where baseball bats and old boots fall out when the door opens.

All this clutter cost me time and mental energy. I couldn’t find things when I needed them and spent hours searching.  I wanted my home to feel calm, a place where I could reenergize, concentrate, and launch myself into productivity. 

Instead, I felt tired and often overwhelmed.

My Word of the Year: Clear

Someone on a FB group posted about a practice I had never heard of before: choosing a word of the year and making it a mantra to remind you to reach for your goals.

Some people use that word as their cellphone password, so they have to think about it several times a day.

Others put it on post-it notes displayed on their computer, their refrigerator, or bathroom mirror.

Word of the Year has power

Me? I was skeptical. I decided to give it a try, but didn’t believe much in the power of one word to change my life.

The word I chose as my guiding theme for the year was “clear.” If I could clear out the clutter and get organized – even at my age, when I’ve identified myself as a disorganized person for over 40 years – I believed I could forge a path forward. 

Can someone really change later in life? Can a word of the year help?

Starting Small

I started small, by clearing out the medicine cabinet in my bathroom, throwing away any cream or ointment neither my daughter nor I ever used. I wiped it down, put everything we needed back in, and basked in the glow of a clean, neatly organized cabinet.

A week or two later, I moved on to the linen closet, the top two shelves of which were jam packed with old cosmetics and other detritus. How have we collected so much unnecessary stuff?!? 

I threw or gave away two bags full of bath salts, crappy shampoo, and dried up nail polish. The face paint from a Halloween when my kids were little? Tossed. Same with the neon-pink spray-on hair color.

I then delegated any old, ripped towels to the rag bag, organized the rest, and cleared out the junk piled on the floor of the closet (the nebulizer my daughter, now 17, needed for a short period when she was a baby? Don’t need that anymore …).

It took me about an hour. After spending years pulling multiple things down whenever I was looking for something, and shaking my head and sighing whenever I opened the linen closet door – one hour cleared it out.

Word of the year led to a clean linen closet

Just one hour, and I felt so much better.


A Word of the Year Can Pull Others Into Helping You

Every day, I kept looking at that one word on my phone. Every day, it kept pushing me to do more.

I went on to clear out and organize areas in my preschool (located in the basement of my home) that had become cluttered, including storage shelves and a couple of closets.

Once I started, my daughter caught the bug. Without my asking her, she decided to clear out and organize the junk drawer. Over-stuffed for years, finding anything in that drawer proved nearly impossible.

With action, the people in your life will likely encourage you and help you move along (and if they don’t, you might need to make some new friends)!

My daughter dumped everything in the junk drawer onto the floor, put several items in a “give away” box and others in “throw away or recycle” boxes: batteries that no longer worked, shelf supports we’d never use again, broken flashlights, and more. 

Progress Feels Great

When she finished and I opened the drawer, I was amazed at how great it felt to know what was in there at a glance and to be able to put my hands on a battery or an extension cord whenever I needed one.

I hired my daughter and her friend to clean out the garage. Finally, we could walk in there and get to the bicycles without fording an obstacle course. I considered having a garage sale, but the payoff didn’t seem worth the effort. Craigslist “free” category? A godsend.

I already felt so much lighter, yet I continued to avoid the biggest mess of all – my papers.


Clearing the Way to Tackle Big Obstacles

Paperwork just kept flowing into my home, with very little flowing back out. I had two over-stuffed file cabinets holding documents dating back 30 years  or more.  I spent way too much time searching for the receipt when I needed to return something or the kids’ health forms required by school or summer camp.

Word of the year can help you tackle the big jobs


I just didn’t want to tackle it – the paper mountain seemed too high to climb. But that little word, “clear,” that I looked at every day kept pushing me along.

So I finally took action. I went through every piece of paper in my files and ended up shredding bags full of documents I’ll never need again.

Everything remaining went into clearly marked file folders.

For each piece of paper, I asked myself the following questions:

  • Do I need to keep this for tax or other purposes?
  • Is it a document that will require effort to replace or can I can easily find the information online? (I got rid of just about all paper bills, bank statements, and investment reports, as I can sign in to my accounts and download whatever I need).
  • Am I holding onto it for sentimental reasons? (I put things like my daughter’s “Student of the Quarter” certificate from fourth grade into a folder – one for each kid – and will give it to them so they can decide what to keep).

Once the file cabinets were pared down and organized (all the remaining documents now fit easily into one), I needed a system for taking care of incoming paperwork. I was determined to permanently banish those piles on the dining room table.

So I put a basket on top of my file cabinet. When mail arrives, I immediately recycle all junk and anything else I don’t need, and put whatever needs attention in the basket, so I always know where to find it. Once I’ve taken care of each piece in the basket, I immediately either throw it away or file it.


A Word of the Year Isn’t Magic – But It Can Push You Towards Action

I still have a ways to go – my computer files are a mess! – but organizing my papers has opened up space for focusing on other things.

I don’t believe I could work productively on this blog if my papers still sucked my time and energy. And seeing that one word every day kept pushing me forward. It led to action.


Lessons I Learned From Having a Word of the Year

Can a word of the year help you? Here are some lessons I learned:

  • Choose the right word: Choose a word that represents something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but just haven’t been able to muster the time or energy to attack.
  • Keep the word front and present. Don’t write it in a journal then never look at it again. If you want the word to push you to change, it has to nudge you every day. Put a daily notification in your calendar, so it beeps or flashes at you first thing in the morning. Or program it in as your password. Do whatever works for you to keep it in the front of your mind.
  • Start with small steps. You can change your life, but you can rarely change it overnight. One small step at a time leads to big changes. Small steps clear the way so you eventually feel ready to tackle the big obstacle that now seems so impossible.

The year is young. Choose a word today, and follow where it leads you. No matter how old you are, your word of the year can keep you focused and push you to pursue your goals.

6 thoughts on “How a “Word of the Year” Can Move You Forward”

  1. HI Deb. I love your post.
    I was put on to ‘Word of the Year’ a few years ago and have done it either side of new years day every year since. Claudia Whitney issues out a free 5 day course (about 10 minutes every day) where you brain storm, come up with a list of words and whittle them down over the five days (using intuition rather than intellect) to arrive at your word for the year.
    The first 2 years i came up with the same word – Authentic. It was really powerful for me because at the time i was living through others expectations of me, as well as having feelings of inadequacy or fomo (hate that word) brought on by buying in to social media too much.
    I wrote a fairly basic post on it on my own blog, but really, just google Claudia and she may have the details there still. She also does a great guided meditation called ‘meeting your future self’ I think its called which is amazing and I cant recommend enough.

    Again – thanks for the post and for sharing how powerful having iour own word for the the year can be.

    (PS, you dont need to wait till 1 January to choose your word)

    1. Thanks, Shaun! Authenic is an awesome word of the year, and a struggle for many of us. I will definitely check out Claudia Whitney, thanks for the recommendation!

  2. LOVE this!! Totally agree your word “clear” is magical. Not only does it apply to stuff but also the mind. Clearing stuff leads to clarity in thinking. I know that feeling of looking at a neat drawer and feeling elated. It sounds weird but it’s true! I also agree with Karen that you are such a good writer and your point comes across so clearly that it’s a surprise that your closet isn’t as clear, ha! I don’t have a word yet but will give it some thought. How long did it take you to decide on your word? The first one that comes to my mind for me is “create”. I’ll let that marinate for a bit. Thanks for another great post Deb! And congrats on all the clearing you have accomplished so far. Keep at it!

    1. Thanks, Amelia! It didn’t take long to think up the word “clear.” It had been floating around in my mind for a long time, because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to move forward if I didn’t clear out all the junk in my way. It was the perfect word for 2019, and I feel like I accomplished a lot. My word for 2020 is related: systems. I need to systematize some tasks that I generally avoid because I know they’ll take a long time, and then they take longer because I’ve avoided them!

  3. Oh my god; another great post! The word clear is magical. (Much nicer than the word “clean”…its mundane almost-twin.) Being married to a person who saves everything “just in case,” I think I’ve overcorrected (what’s the opposite of “hoard?”) I’ve thrown away things, donated things, etc. that I now regret and wish I hadn’t. Your And so, here is yet another concept where balance is key (hmm…maybe my word should be “balance.”) Your checklist/questions seem perfect to me- and I appreciate that there are only a few of them! It’s funny; you’re such a clear, direct, precise, and laser-sharp thinker and writer. It surprised me to hear that you are a stuff-over-haver! Now your exterior life is mirroring your interior life more, it seems…(is that true?) I can’t wait to show your checklist/questions to my husband. His office…omg. (And yet, where is that prized 60s dress I got rid of…or that one-of-a-kind photo I threw away???)…Thank you, Deb, for another great post. Happy New Year! (Just saw the first episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s season 10…in which Larry gets annoyed with people for saying Happy New Year mid-January…Oh, Larry.)

    1. Thanks, Karen! I’ve always wanted to have the exterior and interior align – but for some reason, I was never able to keep up with all the “stuff.” Working hard at it, and the “word of the year” really has helped. Happy New Year to you too, Larry be damned.

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