Financial Life Focus

How to clearly navigate your financial life

Clean Up Your Mess!

Finding Happiness Amidst the Rubble!

Can you remember the first time you heard someone (probably your mother) say this to you? Or for that matter, can you remember saying it to your own child?

"Clean up your room!"

"Clean up your mess!"

"Clean up your desk!"

I distinctly remember the last time a teacher said that to me. Taking the idea of going from "thought to action" a bit too seriously, Mrs. Showacker, my fourth grade teacher, held regular desk inspections. For some reason, desk cleaning was very important in the '60s.

Unlike Mrs. Showacker, however, myself and the rest of the fourth grade boys were much more concerned with sports, music, and musings about what happened in health class when the girls went in there alone.

Mrs. Showacker was at least 6'3"--not including the four-inch stiletto heels that served as an early warning system for her approach. I vividly remember one morning, hearing the clack, clack, clack of her heels and then, ugghh, silence, as she stopped far too close to me and my messy desk. She glared at me and then, horror of horrors, reached out with her long-taloned hand to open my desk, revealing the chaos within. In no uncertain terms, she instructed me to stand up and move to the side of the room. Then she picked up the desk - with the chair attached and all - and overturned the contents onto the floor. It was loud. It was scary. It was humiliating. When I recall this experience, it feels like yesterday.

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As awful as this experience was, however, it was the beginning of a new more orderly me. Fear and humiliation can be a great teacher and motivator, but I still prefer a gentler approach.

Looking back, I have experienced other moments where I had messes to clean and new habits to learn. Sometimes the lessons came with the help of others, sometimes born from an inner stirring that nudged me into something better. It takes constant vigilance to clean up all our messes.

What messes do you have in your life right now that need attention?

Here is an opportunity to turn over your own desk, with a much lower humiliation factor.
Consider the following:

1. Do you have credit card debt that needs eliminating?
2. Have your wants become needs?
3. Are you ignoring your financial health or your physical health?
4. Have you outlined clear and meaningful goals to guide your decision-making or are you flying by the seat of your pants?
5. Do your habits support your goals and dreams or do they divert you from your true success?

What steps can you take to help clean up your mess? I call it the 4-D Strategy
1. Define: define the problem or mess that needs addressing.
2. Dissect: dissect the issue into small components so you can understand it all clearly.
3. Direct: direct your attention to the fixes. What do you need to do today to improve the situation?
4. Deliver: deliver on your promise to correct the problem; don't give up until it's complete.

As adults, we are really good at telling our children, students, co-workers, colleagues and others to clean up their messes. Yet somehow, when it comes to our own internal orderliness, we tend to ignore or miss them due to our own blind spots.

These blind spots keep many of us from realizing our highest potential. So take a look at your desk, car trunk, garage, mental state, and personal money habits to see if there's some tidying up to do. Look at yourself and ask what you can do to correct something that isn't working or could be working better. It's definitely better to pro-actively clean up after yourself before somebody else commands you to -- or, worse yet, dumps your mess in front of a room of fourth graders.

Michael F. Kay, a Certified Financial Planner, practitioner and a CPA, is president of the firm Financial Life Focus.

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