We all have a lot to do.
In addition to running a massage practice, there’s still housekeeping, mowing the lawn, working out, calling the plumber, writing that article, paying that parking ticket, calling your mother, planning that trip, buying that present and keeping in touch with at least one friend, so you don’t feel like a loser.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention one other little task many of us do—have kids. Life can be pretty overwhelming, so how is it possible many people can handle it all and have a clutter-free environment?
Some of us are born with the gift of organization; fortunately, I am one of them. I am excellent at planning, always early, great at multitasking and I have an impeccable sense of direction. I love to organize and do it for a living. If you are like me, this article is not for you! However, if you are the opposite of me or know others who are, please read further.
Where does clutter come from?
We have clutter for many reasons, but most of it is ingrained in our culture. We’re told by people on television we need the newest and best things, including new televisions. We go to big-box stores and are told we need smoothie makers, giant bottles of aspirin and cases of cinnamon rolls. It all looks so good we just can’t help ourselves. It’s now the norm to have a garage so full the car doesn’t fit. It’s almost impossible to keep up with all our stuff, and it quickly becomes clutter.
Clutter can bring us down in more ways than we realize. It can pile up in our homes and in our minds and make it impossible to function. Clutter makes us slow, late, lost, broke and stressed. Many people live cluttered lives without giving it a second thought.
They feel it’s just part of who they are, and there’s no fighting it. They don’t realize what an effect it has on their careers as well as their personal lives.
One person who did not realize the effects of clutter was one of my first and favorite clients: “Doug,” a 17- year-old whose mother called me out of desperation. She told me he couldn’t study and his room was a disaster.
Sounds pretty normal, right?
But as I made my way into Doug’s bedroom, I was astounded. His 12-foot by 12-foot box of a room was full of furniture (in the middle of the room), trash and dirty clothes. It looked as if he was moving—in or out, I wasn’t sure. Half of the trash in the room was his brother’s, who recently went away to college.
The leftover toast, half-empty juice containers and pizza in the corner was Doug’s, but he wasn’t sure when it was from. I got to work immediately and made him help. He wasn’t too happy, since he had no idea I was coming and had other plans for his Saturday afternoon. My goal was to make this room into his space, which is why I had him work with me.
First, we picked up the obvious trash and rearranged the furniture. It was important to give him a quiet space to study, behind his closed door and away from his little sister. Old science projects blocked the door, so it could not be closed or opened. We had a lot of trashing to do! The desk was cleared and moved away from the closet, so his clothes could be accessed.
We worked for hours organizing boxes of computer equipment and leftover LEGO pieces and Star Wars action figures. To encourage him to use the laundry hamper and trash bin, the lids were removed and placed in prominent places in the room. It was important everything was easy and accessible.
By the end of the day, Doug was beaming with excitement at the thought of finally having space, and he wouldn’t even let his mother place a picture on the shelf. “It’ll clutter up my room,” he told her. It was the beginning of a new person.
One can defeat clutter by striving to complete two simple goals: increase productivity and let go.
Increasing productivity sounds like a terrible “work” term and not something we would think about at home—but think of it as working smarter, not longer. It seems this is a goal we should all want to accomplish. I don’t know anyone who wants to drag out cleaning or homework for as long as they possibly can.
Increasing productivity can lead to shorter work hours, less housework and more time to relax. Doug was able to increase his productivity at home and in school because he no longer wasted time searching for lost schoolwork.
Everything had a home, and he had a quiet place to study and a comfortable place to hang out in. His mother now says his grades are higher, he’s less grumpy and less stressed.
Letting go of things can be hard to accomplish. To do this, many of us have to make changes in the way we function everyday. Doug had to learn to let go of a lot. It took a while, but he got used to questioning the need for the random everyday items he normally kept. Here are a few steps to help increase productivity as well as to help let go.
- Make a “to do” The more tasks you write down, the less clutter you have in your head and the less you forget. It’s easy to follow and also satisfying to cross off completed tasks.
- Use a calendar to keep track of personal events as well as work On your computer calendar, set up reminders that alert you before important due dates.
- Batch your Group tasks together when possible. Reply to all e-mails in one sitting for example, and iron all your clothes for the week at once instead of getting the ironing board out several times.
- Go to the grocery store twice a week, not every
- Finish everything you start, as soon as This sounds hard, but it’s much easier than procrastinating, and better for your mind and career. Immediately complete the document your boss requests. Put your dirty clothes in the hamper. Wash each dish after you use it. If you try to finish everything you start immediately, there’s nothing to put on your to-do list. Also, if anything goes wrong or something unplanned happens, you have the time to fix it.
- Be here Don’t do work while watching your favorite TV show or talking on the phone. Not only will it take forever to finish what you’re doing, you’ll probably have to do it over. Give your work your full attention and you will have fewer mistakes.
- Before buying anything, question if it’s Is it mandatory you purchase a special new blender, or will your regular blender suffice? Do you need this new book, or do you still have a pile of unread books on your bedside table? This is a great way to stop accumulating, and it is also an eye-opening way to realize how much money you spend on clutter.
- Have a home for everything, and keep it If you can’t find a home for it, question whether or not you need it. If you were to take 10 minutes a day, five days a week looking for lost items, that would add up to 40 hours a year. That’s a full extra week of vacation! And don’t let yourself (or those around you) ruin all you’ve accomplished. By revisiting that closet or drawer once a month, you will avoid falling right back into chaos.
- Break up large If you need to organize your kitchen, do a little bit each day. Start by cleaning out one drawer or cabinet at a time. Organizing and cleaning is much less threatening if you look at it in small doses.
- Reward yourself. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself on completing your goals. Go to dinner, get a manicure, buy some new music (MP3s don’t take up much space) or take a bike ride.
Becoming clutter-free and getting organized is incredibly easy to put off. Where to start? If you find yourself procrastinating or completely overwhelmed, you might consider calling a professional organizer. These people thrive on creating order out of chaos, and they will help you accomplish your goals quickly.
A professional organizer can assist you with your business or home, helping you to decide what to keep, what to get rid of and how to deal with clutter. There are several different types of professional organizers available to suit your individual needs, and many are trained to work specifically with people who have Attention Deficit Disorder, the chronically disorganized, children and seniors.
There are countless organizers who specialize in office organization, time management, home staging, downsizing, feng shui and other specific areas.
Wouldn’t it be great to know where everything is and to spend your Saturday doing what you want to do instead of looking for stuff or performing endless cleanup?
Letting go can be difficult, but working smart and being clutter-free is well worth it. You’ll be more grounded and relaxed, have more professional opportunities and more time to spend on things that matter.
About the Author
Michelle Randel is a professional organizer. She has a bachelor’s degree in visual merchandising and more than 10 years of corporate retail experience organizing and creating store layouts and displays for such retailers as The Gap, Ann Taylor and Esprit. To find out more about professional organizers or to search for the right person to help you, contact the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) at www.napo.net.
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