My wife’s family has a small cabin in the mountains of New Mexico. Let’s just say it’s…um…quaint. There’s nothing fancy or fashionable about it at all. Whatever image of native stone fireplace, hand-hewn logs, and luxurious leather furniture you might have in mind…yeah, this is not one of those.
It’s more like mismatched furniture, worn carpet, 70’s era paneling, and assorted fixtures piecemealed together over the many years the family has owned it. As to the cabin’s craftsmanship, electrical work, and plumbing, there’s always something that is in need of repair or replacement. “Cozy” is just realtor-speak for “small.”
Regardless of its condition, that cabin holds years of treasured memories of irreplaceable worth to our family. Holiday getaways, family reunions, fishing tales, tree forts, hiking forays, and the many childhood adventures five grandsons will remember for the rest of their lives.
Next to the cabin stands a small wooden shed stuffed full (literally) of everything you’d ever need for living in the mountains. And I mean, everything. Chain saws, fishing gear, life vests, lanterns, bungee cords, toilet repair kits, jumper cables, space heaters, paint, automotive parts, and a supply of nails, screws, nuts, and bolts that rivals any Home Depot. You could go out there at any time and find exactly what you were looking for.
I said you could. The truth is, nobody ever does. The shed is in such horrible disarray that nobody ever takes the time to look for what they need. They simply head down the mountain to the local hardware store and buy it. After years of this practice, if there is one of something in that shed, there are four of that very same thing somewhere in there. It’s ridiculous.
Somewhere in my introduction to the family as a son-in-law, I assumed the role of “keeper of the shed.” My penchant for order incites a need in me to clean out the shed every time we visit the mountains. Evidently, others in the family do not share my disdain of clutter. Knowing full well I will have to start all over again the next time I am up there, I drag everything out on the ground and start purging the mess that has accumulated since the last cleanse.
You see, clutter annoys the begeebers out of me. Of course, you’d never really know that by the look of my desk sometimes. Still doesn’t mean it doesn’t irritate me.
(Trust me, I write this article more as one experienced with clutter than one accomplished in order.)
I write a lot about living a productive life in terms of dreams, ambitions, goals, planning, time management, discipline, and priorities. I enjoy exploring practical insights and tips for how one goes about living their life with greater purpose and passion. However, we can pursue personal and professional efficiency all day long, but without order in the key areas of where we operate each day, we will never be as efficient as we could be.
Clutter is the enemy of efficiency. Inefficiency is the nemesis of effectiveness.
In the interest of being extremely practical when it comes to how we go about living our life, let’s talk about one of the greatest threats to our ambitions rarely talked about in the discussion of our life’s pursuits.
We know what it is. It’s the stuff that constantly gets in our way because it is not where it belongs. It’s that disorderly mess of items that end up complicating even the simplest tasks. Papers, clothes, shoes, books, backpacks, dishes, gadgets, toys, bicycles, magazines, laundry, jackets, tools…you get the idea. It’s anything and everything that’s in the way because it has not been put away properly.
While we may excuse our clutter as a lack of storage or being too busy, its threat to our life’s priorities is greater than most of us realize. We try to dismiss it as no big deal - a mere inconvenience - when, in fact, it is robbing us of the valuable time and energy we should be leveraging toward more productive purposes.
Clutter is side-ways energy. It constantly takes you out of your zone, often times in sinister ways. Most people don’t even recognize the negative impact clutter is having on their attitude and productivity.
Think of clutter as that person who keeps interrupting the really important conversation you are having with someone else. That "important conversation" is the work you are trying to accomplish. Clutter is the junk that keeps distracting you from what you are trying to do.
Stuff Clutter Does
Clutter is annoying. It eventually gets on your nerves. Oh, you work around it for days, weeks, maybe months, but then it finally pushes you over the limits of your patience and makes you angry.
You’re in a hurry to finish some yard work, but the rake you need is all tangled up in a mess of the tools, hoses, bikes and boxes. You start tugging at it but it doesn’t budge. The next thing you know you’re yanking on it in a fit of rage trying to dislodge it from all the clutter.
You sigh, you gripe, you swear, you throw things in the frustration of having to work around the clutter in your way…again. You get “sick and tired” of always feeling so annoyed by the clutter in your way.
Clutter does that very well. It annoys you if you let it stay around too long. The more time you overlook it, the more it multiplies. Before you know it, it has overtaken the prime real estate where you work and live.
Clutter is a threat to focus. It will get you off your game if you are not careful.
You’re on a roll; the thoughts and ideas are flowing. You are scratching tasks off your To-Do list in record time. You get started on the next item on the list to conquer but because of the clutter around you, you can’t find “that thing” you need to finish the new task. You start your search under this and in that, and before you know it you have wasted a half hour looking for what you need.
Few things impede forward progress like clutter. It kills momentum.
In the distraction of looking for what you need, you get side tracked into tending to another issue or losing interest in the one you needed to complete. Often times, that momentum is hard to get moving again in the right direction.
This happens all around you. Your bedroom closet. Your desk. The kitchen counter-top. The dining room table. Your computer files. Each time you have to fumble through the clutter to find what you are looking for, you lose momentum. This often leads to another unfinished project left hanging over your head.
Your productivity will always be compromised by clutter. Due to heightened levels of annoyance, the stress of competing distractions, and the frustration of interruptions to your progress, you keep finding yourself getting less and less done each day. You end up asking, “Where did the time go?” The answer is it went traipsing off in a hundred different directions while you were searching through all the stuff that was in the way of what you were trying to accomplish.
“Clutter Free” Zones
There are six primary places from which we operate each day; the important work stations of our daily life. Unfortunately, each one of them is particularly prone to the accumulation of clutter. We must be especially vigilant to keep these strategic areas clutter-free if we hope to increase productivity and preserve peace of mind in our life.
The amount of time we spend working at our desk each week is enormous. It’s where we conduct the crucial business of our job. When our desk is cluttered, it compromises both our attitude and our productivity.
· The mess annoys us because we can’t find what we are looking for quickly.
· It’s embarrassing when we start wondering what others think of the mess (or about us) when they come into our home or office.
· It frustrates us each time we realize the mess will keep growing bigger until we do something about it.
Clutter in our computer can become an even greater nightmare than a messy office. While the thousands of documents, records, images, and projects are all stored within the space of a computer’s physical footprint, the disarray isn’t any less threatening to our performance. The inability to find what we are looking for, a compromise of our computer’s efficiency, and the risk of losing so much important material in the event of a crash are a nagging concern in the back of your mind sapping energy from your creative genius.
Everyday begins with some time in your closet. You go in there to get some clothes and to find some shoes. That’s either a quick and efficient step in your early morning routine or it’s a stressful way to start your day. You can’t find what you’re looking for, you’re tripping over all that’s splayed out under your feet, and what you need is wrinkled and creased because it’s been smashed between all that’s crammed in there.
The best solution here is almost always purging. Get rid of what you are no longer wearing, can’t fit into anymore, has long gone out of style, doesn’t belong to you in the first place, and is never going to be repaired. C’mon, if you haven’t done anything with it in over a year, it’s a candidate for the Goodwill store. Start by purging all the unused hangers in your closet. Seriously? Hangers are worse than rabbits.
You don’t have to be a traveling salesperson to spend a lot of time operating out of your car. All of us, regardless of what we do for a living, depend on our vehicle as a key base of operations in our day. From our commute to and from work each day to the shuttle service we provide our children, our car is critical to what we get done in a day.
Take an inventory right now. What is the current state of your glove compartment, your center console, the back seat, the floorboards, the pouch behind the front seats, and your trunk? When was the last time you had your car in for its annual service to top off fluids, properly inflate the tires, and replace worn wipers? You and I both know our neglect of the little things adds up to big expense when it comes to automobile maintenance.
Could you quickly find your car’s registration or most current proof of insurance in the event you were pulled over for a traffic violation? Would the state of your car cause you panic if you found out your boss was going to ride with you to this afternoon’s lunch appointment? Do we even want to talk about the remnants of fast food, Cheerios, Fruit Roll-ups and favorite beverages lingering around the floorboards? How about the ketchup packets and napkins stuffed into those little storage nooks molded into the door panels?
We all have some files. Insurance policies, birth certificates, income tax records, dividend statements, social security cards, car titles, mortgage documents, warranties, and instruction manuals. They’re packed in boxes up in the attic, stuffed in back of some closet, crammed into a cabinet, hidden underneath the bed, or floating around various drawers and shelves throughout the rooms in your home.
You know you have them. Finding them is the problem. If you look long enough in enough places, you will eventually find what you are looking for if necessary. But the frustration, anger, worry and impatience that accumulate during your search stir a lot of negative emotions (and words) around your inner world, not to mention your household.
Let’s face it, for most Americans our garage is really a storage unit for everything but our automobiles. “Just put it out in the garage” is the default solution to everything we no longer have space for in the house. Consequently, you’ll find discarded toys, furniture, clothes, books, equipment, paint, chemicals, bikes, tires, ice chests, and technology on top of all the tools, lawn equipment, spare wood, potting soil, and bags of water-softener pellets. You’ll even find a few file cabinets in most garages.
Here’s the deal. When you need to get the lawn mowed or the bathroom painted, when you want to go for a bike ride or restore that cabinet you rescued from bulk trash, it’s a nightmare to find what you’re looking for or get to what you need. It’s so frustrating to be climbing over junk knowing you have what you need for a job but you just can’t find it.
Most of us don’t relish the kind of chores that begin in the garage in the first place. Clutter only exasperates the situation. The time wasted, the energy consumed, and the attitude altered defeats whatever determination you had when you went out there to get started.
What’s One To Do?
C’mon, we all know what to do. It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to understand that our clutter has to go. We need to get rid of whatever doesn’t belong in those key areas of our life from which we operate each day. Our bedroom, our office, our kitchen, or our garage – whatever or wherever- we need to deal with what keeps getting in our way.
Seriously! There is a lot of what you’re allowing to clutter your life that just needs to be tossed out. Files, clothes, appliances, equipment, and books that no longer have relevance to the function of your life need to go. Pare down some of those nostalgic or sentimental keepsakes and get rid of the rest.
Make room to put away the items that keep cluttering your vital workspaces by clearing out what you no longer really need anymore.
You can do it! Carve out some time. Turn off your phone. Grab a trash can. Put on some work gloves and get busy.
It may take a few hours…um…or days, but it will be, in the long run, time well spent as you find yourself feeling better and thinking more clearly as you go about your day in the clutter-free workspaces of your life.
And I swear, if I catch you anywhere near that shed next to our cabin in New Mexico thinking you’re going to jettison your junk in there, you and I are going to have words. You hear me? Stay away from my well-ordered storage shed. Mountain justice works differently than it does here in the big city. If you get my drift.