In February, time management guru Paul Burton explained here why clearing peripheral clutter improves your focus. Brilliant! We all need that. So, we dutifully scooped the piles off our desk … and plopped them into tidy baskets and bins under the desk. Everything felt so much better. For a while. But, alas, those bins under the desk are now overflowing and the piles on the desk have regenerated—along with the stress that comes with too much … stuff.
So for this Friday Five, we’re checking into ways to de-clutter—and de-stress. Yep. it’s time to clean up this damn mess!
1. Give it a clean sweep. Stephanie Winston’s 1980s classic, The Organized Executive, advocates tackling your daily to-dos by applying the simple acronym “TRAF”—trash, refer, act, file—to every piece of paper or digital flotsam you touch. Her system still works, but we’d add a fourth category: scan—for all the photos, receipts and articles you want to store digitally. (Going paperless, after all is the Holy Grail of de-cluttering.) Stuck on where to start? Organizing expert Donna Smallin’s site will tell you how to unclutter everything, and for telecommuters here are 20 tips (and nifty gadgets) for organizing a home office. If that’s all just too tame, read Erika Napoletano’s kick-in-the-pants tips on sucking less at organization.
2. Add some balance. Now that the office is a productivity showcase, let’s turn to the home front. Without getting too personal, we asked some well-organized sources about favorite apps for organizing or “archiving” off-hours interests. First, if you wonder what’s really down in the basement (or under the bed), Cellar Tracker will organize what’s on hand, what’s drinkable and what to buy next. Do you aspire to entertain (or just prepare a decent meal once in a while), but find it all too overwhelming? Menu Planner will help with your weekly meal plan, shopping list, pantry items and recipes. (Try the epicurious app for storing recipes, too). Now let’s talk about those shoes. Stylebook will help manage every aspect of your wardrobe—what your wore last week, what goes with what, and what you already own so you can stop yourself from buying another pair of black flats. For new parents (or those with older kids, a box of keepsakes and good intentions), The Story of You is an easy iPad app for creating and updating beautiful digital baby books.
3. Find a good home for your stuff. If you’ve ever watched a “Hoarders“-style home makeover show, you know about the three piles: keep, trash or donate (and the obligatory tussle over why the keep pile is still too big!). Knowing your goods are going to a good home, or will serve a better purpose, can make the parting much easier. Find your local Goodwill or Salvation Army to donate all manner of gently used items. Habitat for Humanity ReStores also accept new and gently-used building materials, furniture and household goods, mainly for housing projects. (Like that box of tile you meant to install … in your last house.) Dress for Success is an international organization that collects interview-appropriate clothing like those gently worn suits and shirts.
4. People, people. No, we’re not talking about updating your contact list (you’ve got LinkedIn for that, right?). We’re talking about those people in your life, your law office, and even on your client list who take up way too much of your energy and give far too little in return. It’s not hard to figure out who those people are—the tricky part is untangling, and learning to say no. Think about your social media activities, too—following Life Hacker’s advice for filtering, unfriending and otherwise cleaning up that mess might be well worth your time.
5. Keep it simple. Does everything really have to be so … complicated? Why not take some inspiration from simplicity guru Elaine St. James, author of Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter. Figure out your priorities. Are the things you spend most of your time and money on really the things that matter most to you? Maybe it’s time to de-clutter more than your desk!