Our lives tend to accumulate clutter in every corner: on our desks, in our drawers, on our shelves at home, in our closets, on our computer — you name it, and clutter finds a way to fill every available space.
But having a simple, uncluttered life is possible, with some very simple methods.
Devote a little of your time to tossing clutter from your life, and keeping things relatively clutter-free, and you’ll be rewarded with much more pleasing living spaces, with a less stressful life, and with better organization and productivity. Clutter weighs us down, distracts us, brings chaos into our lives.
- Your desk
If your desk is covered in paper and other clutter, clear it off to create a pleasing work environment. The steps here are the basic decluttering steps we’ll follow for many of the other steps below:
- Clear everything off: Take everything off your desk and put it in a pile on the floor. Clear out the drawers too, if you have time. The only things that should be on your desk now are the computer, phone and other similar equipment.
- Clean: Wipe down your desk, and clean your drawers if you’re decluttering them too. It’s good to start with clean surfaces.
- Sort: OK, here’s the meat of the process: sort through your stuff, one pile at a time. Toss out or route as much as possible, so that what you’re left with is a relatively small amount of stuff. If you won’t be using it again in the near future, or if you can access it on the computer, toss it out.
- Designate homes: Now you get to place everything back in your desk. Set up a simple alphabetical filing system, with one folder for each project or client. Have drawers for your office supplies and other stuff. With less stuff to organize, it shouldn’t be too hard. Be sure to have a place designated for everything, and keep things in those places. Sometimes it helps to label, so you don’t forget.
- Leave flat surfaces clear: Don’t put stuff on top of your desk. Have an inbox for all incoming papers, and then sort them each day and either toss, delegate, do them immediately, or file all documents, so nothing remains on top of your desk. The only thing that should be on your desk is your computer, phone, inbox, perhaps a family photo, and the documents you’re working on right now.
If you decluttered your files in the above step, you can skip this, although you should declutter not only your work files but your home files as well. Keep a simple alphabetical system, and try to fit everything in one drawer. It’s good to take out all your files, and purge what you don’t need. Many times that can be half of your files or more. Get rid of as much as possible — most times, we keep copies of stuff we’ll never need again. When you’re done purging, you should have a minimum of files, and it shouldn’t be hard to keep organized.
In today’s digital world, there are tons of ways that information comes into our lives — and it can be overwhelming. It’s information clutter — we get too much of it. Instead, set certain times of the day when you check email, your RSS feeds, Facebook, or various forums or other things you read daily. Reduce the number of things you read each day — purge anything that doesn’t give you value, reduce your consumption of news and television, get rid of magazine subscriptions. Keep information to a bare minimum, and only check it at certain times of the day instead of letting it rule your life.
Purge your computer files, getting rid of stuff you don’t need. Clear your desktop of icons — they slow your computer down, create visual clutter, and are an inefficient way to access files, programs or folders. Set up hotkeys with AutoHotKey or similar programs. With online search tools (such as that in Gmail) and programs such as Google Desktop, you don’t need to keep your files in a complex array of directories and subdirectories — just archive, and search later. Purge old, unneeded files at least every month or two.
Use the same method for your closets as you did with your desk: clear everything out, clean it out, sort (and toss or donate as much as possible), and designate homes for what you decided to keep. Keep only what you love and use often. I recommend keeping your closet floor clear — it makes everything look nicer. If tackling the entire closet is too intimidating, it can be helpful to just tackle one area of your closet a day, until it’s done. It’s also useful to go through your wardrobe, and donate everything you haven’t worn in 6 months — it greatly simplifies your closet.
Are the rooms in your house too cluttered? A few rules about simplifying a room: first, start with anything that’s stacked on the floors; then work to the flat surfaces (tables, shelves, countertops, the tops of dressers, etc.) and clear them completely if possible; then do the larger stuff like furniture and other things that clutter the room; and finally tackle drawers and cabinets and closets. As much as possible, keep floors clear and all flat surfaces. Sort through everything in piles as in the first step above, tossing and donating as much as possible. Organize everything else in drawers and closets and cabinets, out of sight but still neat and uncluttered. Tackle one room at a time, going for a clean, uncluttered, simple, minimalist look in all cases. It can be helpful to continually edit a room once you’re done decluttering — you can always find little ways to make a room simpler.
The way to declutter a drawer is the same as outlined above: empty everything out, clean the drawer, sort through the pile of stuff from the drawer (purging as much as possible) and organizing the few things left. Keep like things together — a drawer for office supplies should only be for office supplies. Avoid having a junk drawer — everything should have a designated place. Go through one drawer at a time — don’t jump from one drawer to another.
Aside from physical clutter, our lives are often way too cluttered by the things we need to do — at work, at home, in our civic or religious lives, with our hobbies, with friends and family, etc. Go through each area of your life, and write down every commitment you have — from things you’ve volunteered or agreed to do on a regular basis, to meetings and sports games and other things you do every month or week. It can be overwhelming.
Now examine each one, and decide if it truly gives you joy and value in your life, and whether it’s worth the time you commit to it. It can be useful to just choose a few of the commitments that your really love doing. Get rid of all the rest. Just call people and tell them your schedule is too busy, and you have to decline. Learn to say no! One by one, eliminate the commitments in your life that don’t give you value, and you’ll have more time to do the stuff that’s really important to you — stuff for yourself, or your loved ones.
It is extremely useful to examine your daily and weekly routines. Often, we don’t have any set routines, and we tackle our chores, regular tasks, and obligations haphazardly. This leads to chaotic days and weeks, and often a drop in productivity. It’s better to batch like tasks together — do all your errands at once, for example, or all your laundry at once instead of throughout the week. Write down all of your weekly and daily obligations, chores, tasks, etc. and plan out a weekly and daily routine. Post it up where you can see it and try to follow it, at least for a week. It could bring some calmness and simplicity to your life that hadn’t been there before. Be sure to schedule time for decluttering in your weekly routine!
Once you’ve purged clutter from your life, it will inevitably start to creep back in. To keep from having a cluttered life again, you need to set up systems that will keep the clutter to a minimum. Examine how you do things, how things come into your life, and see if you can create a simple system for everything: chores, laundry, paperwork, email, RSS feeds, yardwork, errands, work projects, filing. And then write down your systems, step by step, and try to follow them. If your systems are set up right, you will continually purge clutter you don’t need. For example, a system for paperwork might look like this:
- All incoming papers go in inbox.
- At the end of each day, inbox is processed.
- Rules for processing: toss, route, file, do, or write on to-do list to do later and put it in “action file”.
- Process to empty, leaving no papers in inbox or on desk. Clear desk of any working papers.
|Written for Dumblittleman.com on 07/07/2007 by Leo Babauta and republished on 4/5/11. Leo offers advice on living life productively simple at his famous Zen Habits blog.||Photo Credit: dickuhne|