When I was rowing across oceans, my least favourite job – worse even than scrubbing algae off the deck, or checking for decomposing flying fish underneath the sea anchor, or scrubbing out the bedpan – was scraping barnacles off the bottom of the boat. I would have to don mask and snorkel, take scraper in hand, and hop over the side of the boat, trying not to think about the two-mile-deep water below me, or any of the scary creatures that might be living in it. Then I would spend about 20 minutes repeatedly diving beneath the boat, scraping away at the barnacles, sending them drifting down into the depths.

I felt terribly guilty about evicting the barnacles from my hull, but there wasn’t much choice. If I had left them to grow, they would have created more and more drag, slowing my progress towards my destination. Even worse, the ones growing on and around the rudder could affect my ability to steer, throwing me off course.

Gooseneck barnacles

Over the last few months my keynote speech about COURAGE, based on last year’s blog series, has been proving particularly popular. When I talk about “U is for Uncluttering“, I use the image of barnacles growing on my boat.

Because that’s what our clutter does. The toxic relationships, the unnecessary busy-work, the excess possessions, and especially the unhelpful beliefs that we might hold about ourselves – if we don’t deal with them, they grow and grow, slowing us down and throwing us off course.

So get out there with your scraper, and get to work. It can be an unpleasant task, but afterwards you will feel so much more shipshape, and your boat will glide more swiftly through the waters of life towards your goal.

Tips on how to do that here.

If you’d like to have a visual reminder, I’ve created a one-page pdf that outlines the Seven Steps to All-Conquering Courage, including U for Uncluttering. You can download it here.


Other Stuff:

Ready to scrape barnacles, Christmas Day 2005
Ready to scrape barnacles, Christmas Day 2005

A huge hello to any new subscribers joining us today from the Kaiser Permanente conference in San Diego last week. It was a real pleasure to meet you, and the California sunshine made a nice change too! Hello too to the AXA folks that I met the week before at the National Space Centre in Leicester. Welcome!

SPEAKING IN LONDON – FEB 29th. I’m not doing many public events at the moment, but I do have a very special one coming up at the end of this month, on Leap Year’s Day, in London. It’s a fast-fire format, with 5 x 15min talks. I’m particularly looking forward to meeting Andrew Solomon, who did one of the funniest, most poignant TED talks that I’ve seen. If you’re in London and would like to come, check out the details here. And you can book tickets here.

PASSION PROJECTS: You might also enjoy checking out a couple of pieces I’ve done for The Guardian US recently as part of their season for side-hustlers – an article on staying motivated when the currents of life threaten to take you off course, and a podcast with Get-It-Done-Guy Stever Robbins on how to stay motivated with your passion project.



  • I have come to the conclusion that, for me, clutter represents my inabilty/unwillingness to make a decision. Once I make a decision about a life circumstance, it becomes monumentally apparent that I either need to eliminate an idea/belief/theory or fully accept it. As always, love reading your blog and your insight.


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