Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How to Declutter Your Life For Fun, Sanity, and Profit

For the last six months clutter has been my enemy number one. The accumulation of crap junk things in my life sapped my sanity and productivity. The effort is slow, but progressing. Each step taken improves my peace of mind and reduces stress.

No one will accuse me of a clutter-free life. The goal is to reduce a little bit of clutter each day. Yesterday I took a huge step. At the office there is a side storage room that leads to the basement. The closet/hall is lined with shelves of old tax journals, tax code, and other junk accumulated over 27 years of business. The storage space is less cluttered today.

There were some real beauties in there: two complete volumes of the tax code with regulation and explanation from 1988 and 1992, a Wisconsin unemployment handbook from 1994, binders, Who's Who for 1996, practice builder sales literature from who knows when, and an old Section 105 administration guide.

The shelves under all that weight were stressed to the max and an accident waiting to happen. The shelves no longer groan. All paper is in the shredding room and the binders were either recycled or burned. Office paper is cross-cut shred and ends up a fibrous mass good for bedding my animals at home. The office feels better for the effort. The shredding room should return to normal in a few days.

My desk and office floor were recently covered from end to end with stacks of papers and works in progress. My office is still cluttered and requires more drastic action, but in the last several months I have been complimented with comments like, "Keith, I can see your floor," and ""You have a desk!"

Yes, most of my floor is clear. Most. You can actually see bits and pieces of my desktop most days. Vigilance is required daily. The clutter bomb is always waiting to reassert itself.

If you desire your life back (as I did), peace of mind, less stress, and a better quality of life, declutter. Here are a few tips I used to declutter:
  • Think Small Clutter takes a lifetime to build, it will take less time to dispose of, but it will take time. Dealing with a lifetime of clutter is overwhelming. Start with one room or closet and get the low hanging fruit first. Worn out clothes should be sent to recycling or the thrift shop, depending on condition. Old magazines and junk mail are easy choices for most of us.
  • One Thing a Day Schedules are tight. If you don't have hours, or even an hour or fifteen minutes, commit to one thing a day. Get rid of one thing, one piece of clutter, and don't replace it.
  • Focus on the Important My desk and floor required immediate attention. Perfection never entered the equation. My focus was to get papers off the floor and clean my desk so the desktop could be seen. Sometimes decluttering life means ending procrastination. A lot of little jobs can reduce productivity when working the big jobs. I like to take one-half day a week and dig into all the little projects that accumulated and clean them up.
  • Electronic Clutter In my line of work electronic clutter is an issue. I turn my email off for most of the day. I deal with email, correspondence, and phone calls at selected times. This allows for greater productivity. Since I get more work done this way, it frees up time for things I prefer to do. Take steps to reduce email. Make good use of the junk mail folder. Turn off the interruptions of cell phones and other devices that sap your lifeblood.
  • Tough Decisions A large number of items are difficult to throw out. My back issues (20 years worth) of Science News and science fiction magazines fall into this category for me. I never know when I might need to review a copy of the June 23rd 1987 issue of Science News or when I might want to reread a short story from the January 1993 issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. There are even tougher issues to decide when throwing stuff out. I give myself permission to keep things for later consideration. But seriously, those issues of Asimov's would get great use at the local jail. Someday. Someday.
  • Enjoy the Moment There is no feeling like the feeling of freedom. As you clear out a little each day the cumulative effect becomes real. The open space feels super. Cleaning the house is easier and unrealized stress is reduced. Enjoy each room or closet as you free it from the albatross of decades of stuff.
Decluttering your life can save you money. You will come to appreciate an uncluttered environment and will reconsider purchases that only reclutter your life. Many of the things you no longer want/need can be sold on eBay or rummage sales for some extra cash. This extra money can reduce or eliminate debt, the biggest clutter and stress in a large number of lives.

Now you can breathe.

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