It’s a fact: People have never had this much “stuff” before. If you’ve ever lived in a house built before 1940, you know how little the closet space was – people just didn’t have many things.
What are the reasons we accumulate stuff? Today, stuff is so cheap, plentiful, available, even unavoidable, that it’s normal to have clutter. Don’t beat yourself up for having too much stuff, because that doesn’t motivate you to get rid of it or start to practice simple, easy habits for dealing with it.
If paper clutter is piled up and spilling over, remember that printouts take up more room on paper than they do on your hard drive or a floppy disk. Many of those resources could be easier to look up on the Internet than finding them in some paper pile. Researchers find that people don’t ever look at 80 percent of the paper accumulated after it’s filed, stacked or piled up. Be frugal and judicious about what you print out, what you subscribe to, and be ruthless about recycling everything you can before you accept or open it, especially mail. The same can be said of e-mail. Use your e-mail software program’s auto-preview feature.
What is the price for continuing to maintain clutter? Clutter reduces focus, energy, effectiveness, efficiency and a professional or “together” image. It leads to feeling overwhelmed, it negatively affects relationships with others, it’s extra baggage you don’t need, it may badly impact your credit report if bills are paid late, and you may miss out on fun. You also feel embarrassment, shame and guilt – whew – that’s no party!
Becoming fully aware of the effects of clutter is an important step in motivating you; but keeping your eye on what freedom from clutter will be like is like inspirational rocket fuel. You’ll be more productive, have more peace of mind, enjoy a tidy space that makes work and life easier, be able to find things quickly, be able to easily focus on what needs to get done, and feel comfortable inviting co-workers into your office and friends and family into your home.
Being organized is just a simple habit. It doesn’t take much time or effort to be organized. Is it worth 10 minutes a day? That’s all it takes to prevent clutter from taking over your daily life. Every day, devote 10 minutes at a consistent time – before or after a TV show, during commercials, before bed, just when you get home from work, etc. – to put items away, deal with pending items and read stuff you’ve been meaning to get to. Or, do it two or three times a day for three or four minutes each time, and make it a habit. This is a powerful tool to conquer clutter before it accumulates.
Another very simple, no-brainer habit to get into is putting things away as soon as you’re done with them. Everything should have a location or “home,” and that’s where it belongs. Stock multiples of the same item in different places for convenience sake; scissors, pads of paper, pens, telephones, important phone numbers, business cards, even cash, for instance.
Create staging areas for items in transit from one location to another, such as the bottom and top of the stairs, by the back door or outside of a room. The idea here is as you pass by, you take the items and put them away. It won’t take anymore than 90 seconds to put those things in their “homes.”
“One thing in, one thing out” is a quick method for preventing crammed closets, bulging file cabinets, overstuffed drawers, spilling-over bookcases, even jammed pantries. When you put something away, remove an item that is never used, not appreciated or expired, and move it out of your life. “One in, six out” is great practice to incorporate if you haven’t done this in a while.
Break down projects: We are often overwhelmed when facing massive clutter – it’s just too much! Make a list of the areas that bother you the most, and break those areas down into tasks.
Then, schedule short blocks of time: Schedule a half an hour to 45 minutes, and that’s all! Put the clean-up schedule in your calendar on a certain day at a specific time, and commit to following through. If you get carried away and work for longer, great! Use a timer if you have other appointments or tasks to do to avoid working for longer than your schedule permits. Before you’re done, schedule the next time and date you’ll work on the tasks again. The progress you see will motivate you to continue, as will recognizing the cost for continuing to harbor the clutter.
For the future, curb the impulse to buy or bring in: This is a biggie! Before you purchase new clutter, think about a few things first. Do you really need it? Will you really use it? Do you already have it? Do you have room for it? Do you really love it? Resist the impulse to buy, accept or keep things that aren’t a definite YES as they’ll only contribute to clutter and stress. Keep your space streamlined and you’ll feel better about yourself, your space and your ability to accomplish whatever you intend to.
About the author:
Kerul Kassel is the best-selling author of “Stop Procrastinating Now” and the upcoming “Productive Procrastination.” As the founder of New Leaf Systems – a consulting firm dedicated to creating higher-performance outcomes and business profitability – her clients have included corporate organizations such as NASA, Sony, Hilton and Volvo. For more information, e-mail Kerul@newleafsystems.com.