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Intentions vs. Goals: A Fresh Perspective

I began my career as an organizer in early 2004. I loved the work. It was invigorating, and I never felt more connected to my soul’s purpose than when helping someone to overcome a block or fear at home.

My first year I helped people with a range of solutions – from home office systems to clearing space before a baby – with each client driven by their own personal goal or deadline for getting a job done. Then the new year rolled around, and I noticed that people’s home organization goals, when set as a resolution, often came with an extra dose of pressure to get things done.

Setting goals – in particular resolutions at the new year – is part of our global culture. It’s fun to do! But at the end of the day, when it comes to putting forth changes to embrace in the year ahead, I find what works better than setting a goal, is setting an intention.

What's an Intention?

A few of the letters I used to write with my resolutions and goals.

In my mind an intention is an aim to move towards something. Unlike a goal, it often has no deadline. It’s about the journey to get there, not the result. If I set the intention to, say, improve my work-life balance in 2015, or turn a spare room into a home office, then I have the entire year to work towards that intention.

From the moment I set this intention anything I do next is an improvement, a step towards a new result. If I fall short, it’s ok, because I haven’t set up an unrealistic expectation for myself.

I’ve embraced this thinking because over the years my relationship to being able to keep goals has changed. Years ago I was in the habit of writing a notecard to myself in late December, to be opened one year later for a self check-in. Inside would be a list of both large and small desires for my new year. Even back then I wavered over terms (am I setting a goal or a resolution?) and was careful never to date anything. I guess I didn’t want the pressure.

When I look back at these lists I can see that I accomplished many of these items (I can do a yoga headstand now!) but others went undone. When we remove expectations from our wishes we are free to enjoy the journey, no matter how long it takes.

So, in the interest of helping you to work on intentions (and not necessarily your goals!) for your home this year here are my top 4 tips for how to get started, and how to stay moving. Change is good. And not trying to control that change, just letting it roll, is even better.

Tip #1: How to Choose Your Intentions

Blog_Intentions vs Goals_List

Start off by thinking freely about any project you’d like to complete this year, or perhaps something you’d like to learn. Cast a wide net and try not to think about deadlines, just wishes. You can tear this piece of paper up when you are done, run it through the shredder. No one needs to see it, so dream big. I call these intention projects.

Unsure if what you are writing down is an intention or a goal? Try using words where deadlines and pressure are removed. Let’s say you want to rid your guest room of boxes so that guests, when they visit, can rest more comfortably. This is an intention. No deadlines and no pressure. It would be nice to get this done by February when mom comes to visit for the kids’ school break (this is a goal), but if it isn’t fully complete by then, that’s ok.

Remember to breathe as you are writing this list, take all the time you need to think things through.

Tip #2: How to Prioritize Your Intentions

Now that you have your list let’s talk about a simple way to prioritize your intention projects. One technique we use with our clients is to have them imagine that they have left their home for a few hours. When they re-enter through the front door they see that something inside has changed, that something has shifted for the good. They can feel a sigh of relief in their body, like a weight has been lifted. Some area of the home (a room, project or area) is working much better than before.

This is one way to find your starting intention project. Try this out, and then start to re-number your list to reflect your priorities, what you’d like to see changed first when you walk through your front door.

Tip #3: How to Keep Moving


With your intentions set, it’s time to get started! These intentions are meant to always be in the back of your mind. When you come across a related moment or a task, you can quickly think back to your intentions and act on them. Here are a few tips to keep your list of intentions fresh in your mind, so throughout the year, you’ll have them whenever you’re ready:

  1. Place your list somewhere you’ll see it daily. Even better, decorate your list, put it on letterhead, or frame it. Make it something beautiful and special, not just a to do list on a busy bulletin board.
  2. At the beginning of every season (or week, month, as often as you’d like!) spend a little time to re-read your intentions. Often the reminder is enough to keep you going.
  3. Every time you read your list, go through and re-prioritize your intentions. Remind yourself why you set them and take note of what has changed.
  4. Tell a friend or family member, someone that you trust, about your intentions. It’s helpful to have someone to gently remind you about your projects, to ask you how they’re going, and offer encouragement.
  5. Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small! Remember that with an intention, every little step is a step in the right direction.

Tip #4: Have fun!

As you work through your intentions remember to have fun! If you create change based on what your heart wants, you’ll get rewarding results. And keep in mind that any changes you make at home will open up space for the people and the things that you love.

What are your Intention Projects for 2015? Share in our comments below.

Photo Credit: Maeve Richmond

Maeve Richmond is the founder and head coach of Maeve's Method, a home organization system based in New York City. She specializes in parents & kids, couples, small space solutions, space planning and decorative elements for the home. Contact her at or @MaeveRichmond.

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