Do you have trouble focusing on basic tasks? Do you sit down to pay bills and wind up sorting the mail, or balancing your checkbook (do you even have a checkbook?) Do you want to make that special dinner tonight, but you can’t find the recipe? Do you need the warranty to return your broken smart phone, but you don’t know which drawer or pile you put it in? These are all problems that will go away if you learn to keep your home, office, and car clutter-free.
Though there is seemingly less paperwork nowadays, it can still be overwhelming if you don’t stay on top of it. We are all guilty of picking up the mail and putting it on the counter or desk with the honest intention of “dealing with it later”. But later never comes and before long, the pile is spilling over onto the floor and important documents disappear into the junk mail.
QUIT ADDING TO THE PILE
The first thing to do is so obvious, most people miss it. Quit adding to the pile. When the mail comes in, don’t just add it to the top of the pile – look at each piece and if it is trash – don’t keep it! Throw it away. IMMEDIATELY! If you aren’t interested in the timeshare condominium today, through away the invitation now – don’t hold on to it. You will not be interested in it tomorrow, either. And if you are, not to worry – you will receive another offer. And how many credit card offers do you really plan to apply for? Most of us need another credit card like we need a hole in the head! So when you pick up the mail, don’t put it in the pile to take care of tomorrow. Today is the day to deal with it. Throw it away or deal with it immediately. A rule of thumb is to handle a piece of paper only once – difficult, but not impossible! If it really is something you will need in the future (like those car insurance cards that always come two months early) put it in a holding tray, revisit the tray once a week, and don’t let it overflow.
TACKLE THE BACKLOG
Once you have quit adding to the piles, it is time to tackle the backlog. Most people put this off because it is too overwhelming. There is just too much. We are a society of consumers who buy stuff because we are told we need it, but how much of the stuff we have do we really need? And what about that cute little gizmo that Aunt Harriett gave you for your 18th birthday? Get rid of it! After you send the thank you note, it is yours to do with as you please. She’ll never know!
If you have allowed clutter to take over many places in your life, it can be daunting to take that first step toward gaining control. Don’t avoid addressing clutter because there seems to be too much. Just like you began to de-clutter by discontinuing clutter-building habits, you can tackle the built-up piles one small item at a time. If you don’t have an afternoon to tackle it all, start looking through jumbled recipes while dinner is on the stove. Continue to clear clutter in your bathroom while you brush your teeth. Instead of starting another game on your phone while you sit in the drive-through line, collect car clutter and sort it into destinations: things to be trashed, coffee mugs for the dishwasher, and oil-change receipts to be filed. Consider ways you can become open to gaining control over clutter in your life, and you will begin to gain control in concentration and focus as well.
Paperwork deserves special attention because it is often the most overwhelming, and the most important – but in reality it can be the easiest to deal with. Get a two drawer file cabinet and a box of folders. If the paper really is important, put in in a file folder, label the file, and put the file in the file cabinet. File everything alphabetically. You can create a file list if that will help you remember how you filed your important papers. (Even better, you can scan the paper onto your computer and file it electronically. This way you totally get rid of the paper. If you choose the electronic method, be sure to back up your hard drive regularly.) Now every important paper is at your fingertips!
Now, what about your closet? There’s that suit you haven’t been able to wear for two years because you still need to lose 20 pounds before it is comfortable. Get rid of it! When you lose the 20 pounds, reward yourself with a NEW suit! In the meantime, free up some space in your closet by keeping only the clothes you wear. One rule of thumb is if you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it! Have shoes that need repair? Socks with holes in them? Fix them or get rid of them! Check all of your junk drawers, too – do you have pencils without erasers, pens that ran dry, magic markers from 5 years ago? Get rid of them! If you have items that can be used by those less fortunate than you, be realistic. Starting a “Good Will pile” that never goes anywhere won’t help them and defeats your purpose. Do this only if you have a friend helping you who will take the Good Will pile away at the end of your re-organization session.
GET STARTED – THE REWARDS ARE GREAT!
Once you have a system in place, it is easy to maintain. The hardest part is getting started. But the rewards are great! You will have desk top that is usable, a closet that is neat and an environment that is free of clutter. When you sit down at your desk to pay bills or write a letter, or finish up some work, you can get right to it without having to clear a space on the desk or in your mind. Even better, the next time your smart phone quits being so smart, you will have saved yourself that frantic search for the warranty because the warranty will be right where it is supposed to be – in a file marked “Warranty – Phone”!
Organization and structure don’t need to threaten your identity or sense of creativity. De-cluttering your life does not equate to giving up your free spirit or your flexibility. Rather, it presents you with a clean slate; a fresh starting point. It doesn’t mean you have to change that you are, or become an anal-retentive organization king/queen, or lose your unique personality. In fact, addressing these small, seemingly insignificant habits leaves you with more time and energy to devote to the things in your life that really matter to you!