“Life is really simple,” said Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, “but we insist on making it complicated.”
It’s difficult to begin the week if I am surrounded by a desk filled with clutter. When my space is cluttered, my thoughts become cluttered.
“Clutter is stress,” explains Barbara Reich, a professional organizer. “It nags at you, drags you down psychologically, slows you down physically.” Clutter unnecessarily complicates your life.
We keep things until they no longer serve a purpose, but what if we need it later on? Reich understands the comfort our things can provide, but when they pile up, they burden us with anxiety.
Ask yourself these questions when you find yourself surrounded by clutter:
- Have I used it or worn it in the past year?
- Is it justifying the space it’s taking up in my home or office?
- Is it beautiful or does it serve a practical need?
If not, those things that become “clutter” need a new home – in a space that no longer belongs to you. So, where should you put the things that are cluttering up your life? You can:
GIFT IT. Pass it on to a family member or someone who wants it. Post a description of it as a give-away under the FREE section of items listed “for sale” on Craigslist. Many groups sponsor “give and share” events where members trade items they no longer want but do not want to throw away.
SELL IT. Make a profit. Sell it at a garage sale, consignment shop, eBay, Craigslist. (I love Craigslist because I can find local buyers and make a greater profit.) Sell used books on Amazon, Alibris, or AbeBooks. I purchased and sold every textbook required for graduate school on Amazon at costs far below the retail prices.
DONATE IT. Many local charities such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army welcome gently used items. Do not donate it unless it is clean or unless it works. Charitable organizations lose millions of dollars every year disposing items they can’t sell (i.e.: soiled mattresses, broken furniture and electronics, etc.). Most charitable organizations will provide you with an IRS tax receipt for your contributions.
TRASH IT. Before you toss your clutterables into the trash can, think green and recycle. According to the EPA, about 70% of the heavy metals in landfills come from discarded electronics. Staples and Best Buy recycle computers, cell phones, and office equipment at no charge.
Paper clutter is the primary culprit that creates the most office chaos. Many offices keep all of their records on electronic file to reduce the paper pandemonium. If you must create files for your paper, Reich encourages you to create file categories such as medical, insurance, and tax receipts. “People like to make a separate file for every single thing,” she insists, “but documents are more likely to get filed if you’re not hunting for microcategories.”
I always spend the last 15 minutes of every day putting everything away – especially paper. If I don’t need it, I throw it out. If it has an address on it, I shred it. If I need the information this week, I put it in a file, label the file, and put it in a tray on my desk. If I need the information later, I label it and put the file in the file cabinet.
As a goals and planning strategist, I believe it is important to have personal vision and mission statements. I also have a personal purpose statement aligned with my core values. As I build my calendar for the week, I ask myself: “Is this activity or task aligned with my goals?” This question keeps me focused and helps me make the best use of my time. The same principle applies to paper. As I look to incoming mail, flyers, magazines, etc., I ask, “Does this information align with my goals?”
For example, does the information on the paper pertain to a group or event that I want to attend? If it contains important information about an event, I add the information to my calendar – and I throw the flyer out after the event. If I don’t need or want the information, I get rid of it.
Plan thoughtfully and deliberately. I build in two time slots each week into my calendar to read magazines and flyers. I stack the magazines and flyers in a basket near my desk. I save the information I need, file important articles, and throw the rest of them in my recycle bin.
Reich adds, “Think about the life you actually lead, not the imaginary life you’ll live in the future.” Your time is precious – and so is your space. When you clear the clutter around you, you make room for those priorities that are important to you.
What clutter around you needs to be cleared?
Find tips from Organize Your Day & Increase Your Productivity to make the most of your valuable time.
Get crystal-clear about your direction with these tips from How to Write SMART Personal Goals.