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How Spring Cleaning Can Inspire a Career Move

Dusting off old items may offer clues to forgotten passions and skills you can rekindle in a new job

By Nancy Collamer

Ahh … spring is in the air. Time to crack open the windows, grab the power washer and dive into the annual ritual of spring cleaning. It’s a thankless task. So this year, why not try something new and spring clean your career at the same time?

Now before you accuse me of being “Nancy the Neat Freak,” let me explain the method behind my madness or, more precisely, the wisdom behind my Windex.

As a career coach, when I help clients figure out new directions, I pepper them with questions about their interests, passions and hobbies. What’s given you the greatest satisfaction over your lifetime? Which causes have mattered to you the most? But remembering all of that information, especially for people on the other side of 50, can be a bit of a challenge.

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The Connection Between Cleaning and Careers

That’s why I recommend using house cleaning to help dust off your mental cobwebs and jog your memory. The result could lead you to take a thrilling, if unexpected, step in your own career.

There’s no doubt that our homes are a physical representation of the things that are (or were) meaningful in our lives. From the boxes of long-forgotten trophies tucked away in the basement to the photos gracing our walls to performance reviews from former bosses, what we own, treasure and display speak volumes about our priorities.

By taking the time to notice and appreciate them, you’ll gain a better understanding of the interests, skills and values that are worth cultivating in your work. Then you’ll be better positioned to explore new career options with clarity, conviction and confidence.

(MORE: The Art of Shedding Possessions)

3 House-Cleaning Areas That May Spark Career Ideas

Where can you find the clues in your clutter? Here are three places to look:

1. Closets, basement and garage These out-of-the-way spaces are typically crammed with hidden treasures: abandoned crafts projects, boxes of vinyl records and worn-out sports equipment. As you sort through these items, contemplate what they say about your interests, hobbies and long-forgotten dreams.

While organizing my basement last week, I found a dusty box of old art supplies. Seeing them reminded me how important creativity is to me and brought back youthful memories of the arts-oriented camp where I loved painting and making jewelry, hobbies I’ve long since abandoned.

Does this mean I’ll now pursue a career in the fine arts? Definitely not. But seeing my supplies was a great reminder how important it is to me that I work in environments conducive to creative thinking. (Note to self, if I ever decide to search for a job: Yes, to universities; no, to stuffy corporations.)

This spring-cleaning moment also brought back how much I appreciate working in light, bright and attractive spaces, the kinds of places where I painted and made jewelry. It also made me recall how downright miserable I was in an earlier job, stuck at a desk in a windowless cubicle. Never again!


2. Files from previous jobs and searches Spend some time reading your old performance evaluations and resumés.

What were your favorite projects? Which jobs did you excel at and enjoy most? What do these documents say about your skills, strengths and areas of expertise?

Reading through them will remind you of your work accomplishments, information you can then use to strengthen your current resumé and your LinkedIn profile. You may also find that they’ll trigger ideas for what you should do next in your career.

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3. Shelves, bookcases and media center Take stock of the knickknacks, books and photos gracing your shelves. What do they say about your interests and hobbies? Are they emblematic of your love for travel … or history … or animals? If so, maybe it’s time to explore ways you can profit from those passions.

While dusting your books, spend some time browsing through those old yearbooks, scrapbooks and diaries. The trips down memory lane can remind you of long-forgotten interests and childhood dreams.

One client of mine looked through her scrapbooks and recalled how much she once loved playing piano. As a result, she now earns a living as a piano teacher.

When cleaning your media center, think about your TV viewing habits. Do you prefer Downton Abbey or Real Housewives of New Jersey? Discovery Channel or ESPN? The answer could spur you to forge a path to your next career or business opportunity. Maybe all those hours spent watching basketball on ESPN means its time to enroll in a class on sports management.

You never know where career inspiration might come from. Just last week I met a man who is now training as a gunsmith — a person who designs, builds and repairs firearms – after learning about that career path from watching the History Channel.

So dig out that dustcloth, grab those garbage bags and treat yourself to a day of de-cluttering. The clues to your next career move are there, just waiting for you to find them.

Photograph of Nancy Collamer
Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a semi-retirement coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. You can now download her free workbook called 25 Ways to Help You Identify Your Ideal Second Act on her website at (and you'll also receive her free bi-monthly newsletter). Read More
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