Wendell Berry, author of Farming: A Hand Book, said, “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”
Clutter builds up and creates its own unique chaos without our notice – until it becomes unbearable. When your space is cluttered, it leads to cluttered thinking.
“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.
And nothing complicates cluttered thinking like a clutter of paper.
When I left my position as an instructional coach in an urban school district, I launched a new career as a professional speaker. As a goal-setting strategist and leadership consultant, I show others how to define their purpose and create attainable goals. I provided personal coaching to those who wanted to transform their dream into a plan of action with tools from my goal-setting book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide.
One summer, I decided to organize my most important resources. I had six file cabinets packed with three decades of teaching, writing, speaking, and presentation materials. I spent a month walking in circles – picking up files, sorting the files into stacks, moving the files into different stacks, and returning them to the file cabinets. I was completely overwhelmed.
I finally accepted the fact that this job was bigger than I was. I needed a fresh set of eyes to help me sort through the files. I contacted Amy Lockwood Thomas, a professional organizer and owner of A Home for Everything.
“Life is messy sometimes,” insists Amy. She encourages you to let go of what you no longer need. “Only things you love and enjoy deserve space in your home.”
Amy’s strongest gift as a professional organizer is in her ability to ask great questions:
- Have I used it in the past year?
- Does it justify the space it’s taking up in my home or office?
- Is it beautiful or does it serve a practical need?
- Do I need one copy of a document or do I need multiple copies?
- Do I want to hold on to an item or paper because I need it – or is it a keepsake?
I cleared out five of the six cabinets – but I could not let go of youth leadership and adult training materials. I moved the materials I loved into a file closest to my desk and my purpose became clear: I prepare youth to be leaders and adults to be mentors and role models.
So, where do you put things that clutter 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, or Craigslist. Sell used textbooks on Amazon. I purchased and sold every textbook required for graduate school on Amazon at costs far below the retail prices. You can also sell used books on Alibris or AbeBooks.
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. Most charitable organizations 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 creates the most office chaos. As a 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 pilfer through paper, I ask myself, “Does this information align with my goals and purpose?” If not, I get rid of it. If I’m not sure, I find a home for it in an appropriate file.
While I was throwing out unwanted paper, I found an old 5-subject notebook. I almost tossed it – until I realized I could use it to keep my purpose and goals aligned:
- “Today” tab – My “to-do” list of things I want to do today. I prioritize the top three things I want do every day and I do these things first. Uncompleted tasks are moved to the next day.
- “Week” tab – Tasks that I want to accomplish this week.
- “Month” tab – Tasks that are important priorities this month.
- “Year” tab – These priorities stem from my “bucket list” or list of lifetime goals.
- “Ideas” tab – Random thoughts and ideas that need a “parking lot.” They may not be priorities today, but these ideas may fuel future tasks.
Your time is precious – and so is your space. When you clear clutter around you, you make room for those priorities that are important to you. And your priorities become clear.
How can your goals help you reduce clutter?
Find tips from Organize Your Day & Increase Your Productivity to make the most of your valuable time.
Get more tips here to Declutter & Simplify Your Week.
Get crystal-clear about your direction with these tips from How to Write SMART Personal Goals.