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Ingrid Pope | 40 Outstanding Global Women 2023

Anna Kavelj Horizontal

The art of decluttering – how changing your mindset can make your relocation easier and more productive

Moving between assignments can be stressful in terms of the physical strain of packing up belongings and moving, and the paperwork involved in tax, immigration and finding somewhere new to live.

Then there is the question of finding schools, getting to know a new culture and workplace, and ensuring that your family are settled and thriving. HR managers are keenly aware that assignments have the potential to fail if a family does not manage to settle and integrate, even if the assignee themselves is enjoying their new role.

With a greater focus on mental health and employee wellbeing, HR managers and managers with global teams are looking for ways to support their staff in new roles. Coaching, mentoring and support can make a difference and prevent employees becoming overwhelmed by their move.

One way assignees can avoid becoming completely overwhelmed is to consider well in advance what they need to bring from home in order to settle in. This can be a challenge if they are moving with a family and need to find accommodation that can fulfil different needs.

In way of preparation, one option is to help them declutter their life to avoid relocation overwhelm. This can be both in terms of their physical space, and also in terms of the mental load they are carrying. Ingrid Pope is an expert on decluttering and managing admin more effectively, and she spoke to Relocate Global about how assignees can operate more effectively and creatively and how they can create a new living and working space.

“If we can remove that mental load we can start letting go of the stress. Think about what re-energises you – a walk in the park, a run, stepping away from the desk, having a chat with a friend.”

How does our environment affect our productivity?

After a 16-year career in corporate IT working within large multinational FMCG companies, Ingrid now works with successful leaders helping them create thinking space to focus on their priorities and reach their goals faster and more effectively.

“Clutter in every form buries us and affects every aspect of our lives,” she says. “The speed of the world and work environment, coupled with the use of technology in every step of what we do, leaves us struggling to keep up with our task lists, news feeds, thoughts and relationships.”

The first step towards a calmer, less cluttered life is to survey and take stock of the situation you are currently in. She says it is important for people to notice the environment they have created for themselves at home, so that when they relocate they can take the best aspects of that with them.

“Thinking of the workplace, assuming you are not going to be working from home, consider how and where do you work best,” she says. “What sort of space do you need in order to be creative and productive? What do you need to be really effective? Are you comfortable with the hot desk environment, or do you prefer to have your own desk and your own things around you?”

She recommends taking a moment to sit back and look at what you’ve created for yourself at home and at work.

“The very first step of in my decluttering method is to survey what you have currently. Look without judgement at the environment you have created. What works and what doesn’t?

“Also think about whether there is a particular time of day when you are more suited to certain types of activities? For example, you might be more creative in the evening or the morning. When you relocate, you will be in a different environment and a completely different space so think about what you want to recreate there.

“In the place you are living, what physical items do you need, if any, to feel at home. Do you want something to remind you of home? In terms of physical space, ask yourself whether you have a bedroom that makes you feel calm and where you can get a good quality amount of sleep? Sleep affects everything and is very important. If we declutter our bedroom if we feel like we have a calm space to sleep and we sleep better, we’re more refreshed. Our brain works better because sleep is hugely important to us – it’s our natural healer.”

Deciding what to take and what to leave behind when you relocate

The older we get, the more we accumulate, so Ingrid helps clients sort out what really matters, especially if they are having to move frequently or put their belongings into storage.

“People who move a lot quite often tend to have a more of an ability to just get rid of things that they do not need,” she says. “It is about noticing how you operate. Are you someone who likes to accumulate and keep and how does that work for you? Or are you someone who gets rid of items quite easily but how do you deal with those things that have a sentimental value?”

Gifts and heirlooms fall into that category and need special consideration.

“Do you have somewhere that’s home or are you a true nomad?” she says. “If you travel a lot is there somewhere that you call home that you know you’re going to want to return where those items might be? I’m certainly not wanting to encourage everybody to get rid of everything. My key message is to pay attention to the stuff you have and notice how it affects you. With all these items, all the stuff we have contributes to who we are today. At some point it will have affected us, but we may no longer need it.”

How do you preserve our mental energy when there are so many demands on our time?

As our lives speed up, we are under pressure to do more in less time, and this can take its toll on our mental health. Ingrid says the key is to stop for a minute and write down everything that you are preoccupied with.

“What are all the things that I’m currently carrying in my head? What are all my thoughts? Once you have recognised them, then you can categorise them. You could start with just writing everything down as it comes, then categorise them into work, personal etc and then you start to see a trend.

“Survey where you are at right now,” she says. “Quite often we get to that slightly overwhelmed state, and we’re not completely sure anymore where we’re going, but we’re really busy all the time. If we can remove that mental load we can start letting go of the stress. Think about what re-energises you – a walk in the park, a run, stepping away from the desk, having a chat with a friend.”

The benefits of a digital and physical declutter

“The people that I work with report feeling light after engaging with their clutter and making choices about things they don’t need anymore,” she says.

In terms of physical declutter, there are lots of benefits when we remove stuff that impact us negatively. People perform better when they have a bigger view of the world.

“Where we see a bigger picture, we’re more creative.,” she says. “Whenever we talk about benefits of something, think through the cost of not doing it? Whenever we have a lot of distraction within our field of vision that’s going to play on our mind. Think about the quality of your focus. Could you be more focused, able to concentrate better if you removed some items that are distracting? I’m certainly not advocating absolute minimalism, but as an optimum goal to reach it’s about noticing what works for you and paying attention to that.”

What sort of emotional clutter tends to hold people back?

“The more I researched decluttering and psychology, the more I came to realise that there is an emotional layer that is complex and interlinked and not at all straightforward,” Ingrid explains. “We don’t consciously choose to hold on to things that make us feel bad. We don’t see them. We’re blind to them because they’ve always been there.

“Positivity is good for us on a variety of levels, so why do we surround ourselves with things that make us feel bad about ourselves? It’s not helpful to have stuff in our own homes that we feel bad about on some level or other. There’s enough stuff that we’re dealing with out in the outside world and our homes really need to be environments that where we can regenerate and re-energise.”

How to cope with the growing demands of technology

Technology quite often involves mental clutter, and there’s also an emotional element to it. Tech can make our lives easier but at some point we run out of bandwidth to deal with it all. Within a day you might have times when you have more headspace to engage with new tech than others. So leave it until you’ve got that headspace to deal with your life admin, she says.

“In terms of relocating think about how that country uses tech. In the UK, we’re really advanced with tech, and a lot of admin can be done digitally and works reasonably smoothly. When you move to a different country, admin that you thought you’d be able to do very easily on your phone might not work. Either it has to be done in person, or the app is not available on your phone in that country.”

While the technology that you are using at work might be familiar, that might not be the case for paying bills, organising insurance, shopping online or other administrative tasks that we take for granted we can do easily in the UK.

As for social media, some networks can be helpful and supportive, while others can be a distraction or an escape route. The important thing is to think about whether you are using social media in a way that is helpful and healthy.

“Social media quite often is tied in with emotional issues, so it is good to survey how you use social media and pay attention to your habits,” Ingrid explains.

 Managing your relationships effectively

“There are all types of emotional clutter that might hold us back: fear, imposter syndrome, overwhelm,” Ingrid says.

“Relationships are also a key part of our lives and no one exists in a silo. It can be particularly tricky to negotiate family, childcare and your relationship with your partner when you are going to an unfamiliar place and having to negotiates a new culture.

“Noticing these relationships and what other people want for us, looking at their agenda versus our agenda is really tricky to navigate,” she says.

“With emotions generally we will try and put them aside and not deal with them, because that’s our coping mechanism that we’ve learned. But when we get stressed or when we’re tired or our resources are a bit depleted, those emotions will come and seep into the system. We haven’t quite got the energy to keep them suppressed. So, it’s about looking at all that stuff that we’re carrying and facing it and working through it.”

A good approach if you are feeling nervous about the relocation process is to list every one of your concerns rather than having to carrying them around in your head.

“Will we find accommodation? Will my partner find a job? Will we have a school for the kids? List all these worries rather than letting them occupy your mind,” she says.

“Then look at the list and think about what can be resolved quite easily. Who can help with finding accommodation and schools? Is there a network of people we can turn to? Do we need more information or more data? There is also the balance between what we can control and what we cannot.”

She suggests that finding an impartial person to chat to, perhaps a coach or trusted work colleague, can help you look at your relocation in a more balanced and measured way.

“When you are in the midst of it there are times when it is hard to see clearly,” she says. “People who are a part of your life will have some sort of agenda for you. If you want to truly tap into actually what you really think and feel about this opportunity you need space to do that. You could ask if you might be able to work with a coach at work. A lot of companies nowadays offer coaching and support. That coach will hold that space for you to do that thinking and be really truthful with yourself.”

Overall, approaching a new assignment feeling lighter and more focused is likely to make the transition easier.

“Decluttering can be liberating because life is hard and the world is complex and becoming more so at increasing speed,” she says. “It can be easy to get lost in that.”


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