One of the questions I hear on a regular basis is, “Where do I start? My office is just one big paper pile!” Or, “my home is such a disaster and every room is full of stuff – every time I look even at just one space, I’m overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin!” My advice comes in three parts: start small, start easy, stay put!
Rather than looking at your entire office, pick one small area to work on at a time. It may just be the paperwork on one section of your desk, or your bulletin board, or your top desk drawer. In your home, choose one room and one room only, and start with one small section of that room. In the family room, perhaps JUST the top of the coffee table! In the kitchen, start with the junk drawer. In your bedroom, maybe the top of your dresser, or your nightstand. If you find that the visual clutter in other spaces constantly distracts you, try covering every area that you’re NOT working on with sheets (like on the operating table!) Chunking down a big project into smaller, more manageable parts is much less overwhelming, can be done in shorter time spurts, and doesn’t have to be exhausting.
When you’re starting a physical organizing project, go for what I call the low-hanging fruit. Don’t start with objects that have a great deal of sentimentality attached to them – your kids’ art projects, your grandmother’s china, anything that carries heavy emotional baggage. Get rid of things that are easy to let go first – broken stuff, duplicates, outdated stuff, obvious trash. In your office, don’t start with paperwork loaded with information that you really have to think about. Go through your desktop and trash the old flyers, outdated memos, used post-it notes, expired coupons, invitations to events that have already passed. Chuck the dried out pens, used up memo pads, and old computer software for a computer you don’t own anymore. Make the easy decisions first. Once you’ve built up some decision-making “muscle” and gained momentum, the harder stuff will go more smoothly and quickly.
Once you’ve chosen your small area to work on, stay there until it’s done. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by other things – turn off the phone, all those beeps and dings that notify us of incoming emails and voice mails, close the office door and put a sign up asking for some uninterrupted time (be specific – say from 1 – 2 pm, so people know when they can interrupt again!) Physically, keep yourself in what I call the “organizing zone” – that area that you’re physically working in. It’s tempting when you come across something that belongs in another space to get up and go put it there, but it’s just too easy to become distracted along the way! Put that stuff in a box near the door marked “elsewhere”, and put everything away in other spaces only when you’re done in your designated “organizing zone.”
You won’t overcome the overwhelm overnight! But, if you start small, start easy, and stay put, you will find that gradually, one step at a time, you will be able to clear your space of unnecessary clutter and organize what’s left so you can live and work more productively over time.
I’ll be tackling more FAQ’s over the next several months. If you have a question about organizing your space and time that you’d like to see answered in a future newsletter, let me know!