Are you a slave to your stuff?

The word “clutter” comes from the Middle English word “clotter,” which means to coagulate — that’s about as stuck as one can get.

Clutter affects most of us in one way or another, and by clutter I’m referring to all the accumulated items, including papers that we are afraid to toss, that provide absolutely no inherent value to our daily work tasks. I read somewhere that clutter exists because our brains trick us into thinking that everything is important and necessary.

Strong evidence suggests that when multiple visual stimuli compete for attention, it’s harder to narrow focus and concentrate on tasks at hand. Some days it might seem like our primary function is simply to clean an inbox and arrange the constant flow of papers that come across our desk into ever changing piles. This can lead to ending the workday in frustration.

Experts suggest that if you aren’t well organized, then you are probably a slave to paperwork. They also say that you might be spending too much time reading data for which you have no use, which keeps you from finding information you actually need.

One business coach friend says that a lot of people never get organized because they think there are complex rules that include being neat or handling a piece of paper only once. Especially because it’s so easy to forward via email, she suggests that we should “paper train” co-workers to only forward memos and items that are accurate, concise, timely, and relevant to our job responsibilities.

Recently, one of my friends told me that she and her husband have been accumulating way too much stuff both professionally and personally. Their offices at work and at home are full of things they don’t need and don’t use. Bookcases are filled with books they haven’t had the chance to read and probably won’t ever make time to read. Both of them have been accumulating the latest gadgets the minute they are introduced, which now take up space in the “why did I get this in the first place” bin. Desk drawers and dresser drawers are full of extras. Closet space is taken up with “saving for Goodwill” outfits. Besides feeling helpless with all their stuff, they are getting ready to make a move to a different community and the thought of how to get rid of things is overwhelming. While they have made a commitment to purging and reducing their extraneous belongings, the reality is that the thought of getting rid of all this clutter is mind boggling even though they know it will free them up from possession-overload stress.

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An expert in space clearing shared that when you begin decluttering, you will bring a better focus back to your world and have a positive effect on your mental state. To keep from being a slave to your stuff, keep your desk as clear as possible. Don’t overload your desk or credenza with too many pictures, trinkets, or past work. Sort your email inbox, which could be the most cluttered thing in your professional life, by organizing emails into different folders and deleting them when they aren’t needed anymore. Don’t leave work with a cluttered desk or inbox.

Another expert says that you should use the 80–20 rule when it comes to arranging your office for organizational efficiency. Keep the tools (20%) that you use the majority (80%) of the time so that they are in reach.

Getting rid of unnecessary, interfering items has become a lifestyle trend. It used to be called spring cleaning, but now we recognize that more frequent, regular decluttering can improve your professional and your personal life so that you no longer have to be a slave to your stuff!

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