I suspect some of you don’t need a study to convince you, but it has been confirmed: clutter causes stress. And, as the article “The Unbearable Heaviness of Clutter” author, Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi, points out, “Procrastination is closely tied to clutter, because sorting through and tossing items is a task that many people find unpleasant and avoid.” But, I’m here to tell you, clearing out the clutter is worth it. Your mental wellbeing could depend on it. So, let’s get a game plan together. No procrastinating on this truly rewarding work.
It All Piles Up
Look around you. If you are like many of my clients, you’ve got several piles of stuff dotting your visual landscape. Maybe a pile of magazines. Perhaps a stack of checks to process. Mail to open. Children’s schoolwork to scan through. My advice is to avoid the piles. Make a decision and take action on items when you come across them the first time. Put the bills in a bill pay folder. Put actionable items in an action folder. Have a date behind it, i.e. “I’ll process bills on Thursday” or “I’ll renew my license on Friday.” The key here is to avoid big piles of: “I’ll get to that stuff tomorrow, or soon, or maybe really someday.”
Take Advantage of Modern Advances
Gone are the days of those tree-killing, multi-page account statements you’re likely to need just once or twice a year, if that. Sign up for the e-statements! They’re almost always available and easy to access after the fact, when you really do need them. And, jump on the autopay option whenever it makes sense. This takes a bill out of the mail, or at least directs it straight to the shred bin when it comes in.
Give Business Cards the Business
Another common sighting when I do client visits – stashes of business cards. Open the desk drawer: a little stack banded together. Look to the right of the computer monitor: a little pile hanging out. Here’s the thing, we have too many electronic options to keep business cards laying around. I like to scan my cards into Evernote. I file them by category. For example, I have a file for home repairs and a file for my business, with subfiles for clients. CardCam is another application specifically designed to capture business cards for electronic storage. And certainly, when it makes sense for me, I add relevant information from business cards directly into my phone contacts.
The Technology Graveyard
Do you have a drawer or shelf full of old USB cords? Old chargers? Old phones? Laptops? It happens to the best of us. If you are uncomfortable deleting your personal information, look into the many services out there for removing data. Or, set aside 30 minutes to review the steps for removal and do it yourself. Many companies now recycle old electronics. You can often even get a little credit for the trade-in. Clear out this clutter and free up the space.
The Best of Intentions: Magazines and Other Publications
People Magazine is one of my guilty pleasures. I love to read it on trips, when visiting the nail salon, etc. I also love my Consumer Reports. Both of these publications have a shelf life. They become old news fast. (Who stays together in Hollywood!?) I maintain a basket of magazines but I regularly clean out the old stuff. We may have the best of intentions but we’re not going to read everything we set out to read. Don’t let your hope-to-reads become clutter. Take action when you come across books and magazines. If you don’t expect to read it in the next couple of weeks, toss it or donate it.
A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words
Who doesn’t love having pictures of loved ones to look at during the day? But even here we can find clutter. When the photo frames start to get in your way of working, or when you find the displayed images have just become part of the landscape, it is likely time to pare down. Set out what is pleasing for you to see, and actually enjoy, during the day. Remove the excess photos.
Trinkets and Trash
I get it. Some of you are awesome salespeople and you have shelves of awards to prove it. And, I know most all of us have attended a conference or trade show where we’ve acquired some branded tchotchke. Take a look around, have those awards just become part of your surroundings? Are there possibly just a few that make sense to keep? Do you have drawers full of branded stress balls and coffee cups? Take a few minutes to clear out what you don’t really need. Donate some of those branded items, or put them in the breakroom for others to take home to kids, etc.
Petrified Post-it Notes
Have you ever stuck something on a Post-it Note on your computer screen? Ever left it there for weeks? Sticky notes are a great option when you need to remember something you fear you may forget. For example, you might put a note by the coffee maker to make an important call first thing in the morning, or you might stick a note out to give a pet a non-routine pill. Sometimes, however, we end up with Post-its hanging around way past their window of usefulness, becoming, again, part of the landscape. Take a look around your desk. Are there reminders that just no longer make sense? Are there passwords or directions you could now store electronically? These little notes can add up to big clutter. Use them as they were designed, to serve as a temporary reminder of something or to convey a short, one-time communication, or the like.
Feeling a little overwhelmed after reading this? Don’t try to do everything at once. It is fine to designate one area or category to start with. The key is to start. And, keep in mind, just being aware of the pitfalls above can help you as you move forward. Start to work on the clutter today and see for yourself how a tidy space reduces anxiety.
Sara Genrich is an Organization and Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop. She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.