Shawshanking My House

[Spoiler alert - if you haven't seen "The Shawshank Redemption, stop reading, and go watch it ... then come back and read this ...]

I'm Shawshanking my house.

Remember that scene at the end of "Shawshank Redemption," when we find out that Andy has been slowly digging out his tunnel with a teaspoon for years, and bringing a handful of dirt out in his jeans pocket every single day?

Well, I'm following the Shawshank Plan for my house right now.

I've been watching my friends with young adult kids downsize their houses and move into much smaller spaces. I'm not quite ready to do that yet; some of my kids are still in various stages of "launch," and I'm still figuring out where I'd actually like to be next. What I do know is that on that day when it all becomes crystal clear and I am ready to move – I want to actually be ready. I don't want the condition and contents of my house to hold me back when I'm ready to leap forward. But the thought of purging and downsizing a house I've lived in for 26 years (with three kids, a divorce, and multiple versions of "me" during that time) has seemed so daunting, that I haven't been able to even start the process.

Until now – with my new sticker chart and Shawshank's Andy Dufresne as my guru.

Every day, I set a timer and work on one small area for 15 minutes. One shelf. One corner. One box. Whatever. Most of the time I work for longer, and a few times it's been a little less, but it's always something. And when my timer goes off, or when I've worked past it but have decided to stop, I walk whatever I'm getting rid of out to the garbage, and/or take the donatable stuff to my neighbor's porch (she is on the board of a local non-profit that accepts clothing, books and household items for the community).

It seems like a drop in the bucket when I do it. That can be frustrating. But then I remind myself: what is a bucket full of water, if not a lot of drops added up together? And I think about Andy, his daily pocketful of dirt, and his escape to freedom.

Whether or not my Shawshank approach will get me entirely to my goal, I don't know. I'm sure that, like my friends, I'll still need to rent a dumpster and go on a mad tossing binge when I do sell and move. That's OK! The important thing is, I've started action on something that had seemed too overwhelming to even think about before. I've done it in a way that doesn't set off a fight-or-flight shutdown. I'm already seeing results that are very motivating and that help me on track. I have a system – my sticker chart – that reminds me to do the task and is a visual reminder of my consistent effort toward my goal over time. I've made the job lighter for my future self.

I also think that not only will Shawshanking my house help me be more ready for when I decide to move ... I can see that it will actually help me be more ready to make that huge decision in the first place.

That's a lot of result for one little handful of dirt a day.

Ruth Kunstadter, MA, BCC works with career changers and other individuals who want to connect to their purpose and potential, and to create more self-care, balance, and fulfillment in their personal and professional lives. Find out more about creating your best "what's next" at or by emailing Ruth at

#motivation #stickerchart #clearingout #kaizen #minihabits