DOCoffee“Often when I am starting a new project, I clean up my desk and its surroundings”,
“My car is full of stuff. Every time I clean it it takes only a few days before it looks like before”
“I am unable to study with a lot of clutter around me”,
“My drawers are a mess and every time I open them, it bothers me, but I am too weak to clean them up”
“We cannot move, because just getting a handle of the garage would take years.”

Those are just a few comments I’ve heard about how clutter affects us. I know there are many creative types that thrive in chaos, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need some structure somewhere. When you are a painter you can only paint if your can find your tools, right?

Regardless of how much or how little we can live with clutter around us, we all have those moments when it bothers us in some way. Bothering means it is distracting, which in turn makes it more difficult to focus on what is important.

I think we all know how to avoid clutter. By creating good habits for example. If you don’t want a messy car, well, then never exit the car without taking all the stuff out that doesn’t belong there. If you don’t want a pile of papers on your desk, never put any paper on it. Don’t print anything. Deal with the mail immediately, throw away what can go and punch and file what needs filing immediately. And so on…

Too much coffee isn’t really healthy and I’d still be drinking gallons of it if I didn’t have a supply problem. In other words: Sometimes we are just not perfect. Clutter happens.

But what can we do to get a grip on it when we feel it’s about time to declutter? Two strategies have worked best for me:

1. Dedicate 10 Minutes

Going through a big pile of things is an uncomfortable undertaking. Usually the resistance to get rid of items is strong and the prospect of spending the entire Saturday to clean out the garage isn’t really motivating either. However, the image of a clean garage is, but starting is difficult. So just tell yourself to dedicate 10 minutes today. Set a timer and stop at exactly 10 minutes. Even if 10 minutes is a really short period of time you’ll get something done. Just enough to know where to continue tomorrow. When you keep doing this every day, at the end of a week you’ll have spent 70 minutes cleaning up. That is a lot of time to declutter. If you are not done just continue until you are. Ten minutes. That’s all that it takes.

2. Big Box

Getting started is one problem the other is deciding what needs to go and what stays. If you look at your closet and you need to decide for each single piece of clothing whether to throw it away or not you likely won’t get anywhere. After all most of these things you put there for a reason. The simple solution is to reverse the process. Take all your T-shirts and throw them into a big box. Then give yourself a deadline. Let’s say a week. During this week you can move as many things out of the box back into your closet as you want. However, what is still in the box after the deadline has to go. So you no longer have to decide what to get rid off (which is quite negative) but can decide what gets to stay (which is positive). By reversing the process it is much less effort to get rid of stuff.

How about you try these two strategies to declutter where it has the most effect on your peace of mind?

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This is Quick Tip No 46. Read all the other Darn Office Quick tips here. You can also find a list in the DO archive