How to Clear the Clutter that’s Slowing You Down

Don’t let disorder derail your day.

by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)

One of the most overlooked drains on our productivity is clutter. We actively turn a blind eye to it!

If you spend just 10 minutes every day dealing with clutter, it adds up. Over the course of a year, that’s over sixty hours. I usually hear this expressed as 2.5 days. I prefer to think of it as 1.5 weeks of precious time that you could spend working instead of looking for batteries to the remote.

Either way, it would be great to have that time back, wouldn’t it?

And it’s not just time. When you don’t know what you have, you buy more when you don’t need it. The extras that you don’t need take up space you don’t have.

If you cleared up the clutter, you’d know what you have on hand. You’d have space to work and to relax. You’d be able to find things again when you need them (without buying more at the last minute).

Clearing clutter and getting organized seems so daunting a challenge, but it doesn’t need to be.

Here are seven ways you can clear the clutter that’s slowing you down:

  1. Make sure everything has a proper place. First and foremost, make sure this is a problem you can solve. Clutter is what happens when things aren’t in their proper place. Everything should have a proper place—its home within your home. If not, the clutter is destined to wander endlessly around your home.
  2. Never leave a room without one thing that doesn’t belong there. If you’re at home, look around. Odds are, there is something there—within arm’s reach—that doesn’t belong there. When you get up, take it with you. You don’t have to put it away, but put it someplace closer to its proper place.
  3. Divide and conquer. Sometimes, we have more space than we need. Are your drawers a ghastly tangle of office supplies, cables, adapters, and gizmos? Pick up a few clear containers to subdivide the space. Not only will this keep your drawers more organized, but you can pull out task-specific containers (for example, all your scanning supplies) while you’re working on a project.
  4. Create a ticker file. Do you have odd papers, cards, and flyers laying about so that you don’t lose them before you need them again? You may need to set up a ticker file (aka a 43 folders system). This lets you set papers aside until the exact day you need them. It’s like having a personal time machine! (Which, sadly, only works one way.)
  5. Go paperless. The simplest paper to file is the one that never darkens your doorstep. Sign up for online billing and statements for every service you can. Then have a system in place to keep digital clutter from forming.
  6. Go digital. When I got my first apartment, I rushed out and bought a media organizer for my tapes, CDs, and DVDs. Now, my physical media fits in a shoebox. Digital music, movies, and books don’t take up space, so they won’t contribute to the clutter in your home. Plus, the space you save can be used for items you can’t take digital.
  7. Set a two-minute timer. “Hey, Siri… set a two-minute timer.” Go. For two minutes, clean. Straighten. Put things away. When the timer goes off, you have permission to stop. If you want to do more, go do something on your today list that isn’t cleaning, then set another two-minute timer.

Once you get an area cleared, lock it down. It can be a workspace for projects you’re actively working on (including uncluttering another area), but it is now a Clutter-Free Zone. Draw a line in the sand. Gradually expand that line.

One final benefit: when you put things away, it gives you a sense of closure.

There’s no more open loop, making you think you’re not done yet. The back of your brain doesn’t have to keep asking, “Wait—why are the scissors still on the desk? What do I need to be doing? What have I forgotten!?”

Nothing. You can put the scissors away. You’re done. You’ve finished a task. Enjoy the dopamine and move on to the next one.

Question: Where do you have the hardest time keeping clutter at bay? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.