It’s that time of year to remove clutter from our lives. While my resolution this new year is to be a little bolder than I have been in the past, my goal is to minimize some of the clutter that stands in my way of that resolution and most everything else I try to accomplish on a daily basis.
I am not alone. The Interchange column on page 5 of this week’s issue is by a professional organizer, Suzanne Neilson, who is making a business out of curing the clutter in everyday life. This month’s issue of Woman’s Day has an A to Z guide on reducing clutter in your life, “26 rules for clearing out the clutter once and for all.” Ellen Tozzi, another professional organizer, presents a workshop Friday, January 18, at the Center for Relaxation and Healing at 666 Plainsboro Road.
For me (and I suspect a few of you, as well) clutter is an ongoing problem. In the first issue of U.S. 1 in 1984 an anonymous and smart-ass young reporter interviews me about the work at hand — but not before commenting on the mess overwhelming my workspace. Not much has changed in the ensuing quarter century.
In fact things are getting worse. About 10 or 12 years ago I wrote a column on a typical day’s mail that came into our office. As I recall there were roughly 100 pieces or so that I pawed through, in hopes of finding a few missives that would help produce the content of the paper. The snail mail has abated since then, but E-mail has more than made up for that.
Nevertheless, at the beginning of every year I hold out hope that I can turn things around. The databases that track payroll and employee records get wiped clean for the new year. The filing folders that will accommodate the paper receipts for expenses incurred during the year are emptied out. All the back issues for the old year are carted off to Smith Shattuck Bookbinding on State Road to be transformed into elegant, compact bound volumes. It’s a fresh start. If only I can take advantage of it.
So while my New Year’s resolution is to be bold, the fight against clutter may be suited best to a humble approach. Like a participant in a 12-step program, I should first acknowledge that I am powerless before this paper onslaught. My mantra is that I cannot eliminate clutter. I can only strive to minimize it and to work more efficiently in its midst. Here’s what I will try to do — if you have any strategies of your own that you think may help me please pass them along.
1.) Don’t try to throw too much away. All the experts say that if you have to stop and think whether or not you need something, then you probably don’t need it and you can throw it away. I say that for those of us mired in clutter the time spent deciding whether to toss an item or not is time we cannot afford to spend. Unless it’s a no-brainer throwaway, just hang onto it and put it somewhere.
2.) Make that somewhere a place where you put similar things. The experts agree on this point.
I would add one refinement. If you are hanging on to some dubious item but don’t have any similar things already occupying some space, then just throw it into a bin for the year in which it was created.
3.) Recognize that some things defy categorization. Sometime last year I received a solicitation from an editorial content provider called the Informed Ape. The solicitation bragged that the Informed Ape could provide a dinosaur print publication with savvy content that attract hip 18 to 35-year-olds. The deadline was June 22, 2007. I’m keeping the flyer anyhow, because I’m thinking there’s a story or a column in all the people who think they can reinvent the media game. Good luck to the Informed Ape.
4.) Whenever possible save things on the computer. The computer allows you to sort in all sorts of helpful ways. And when you run out of room on your hard disk, don’t waste time poring over old files seeing which should be saved and which can be deleted (see item 1 above). Instead buy a bigger hard disk (and of course a bigger external backup disk, as well).
5.) Don’t think that you can stay ahead of E-mail. A decade ago you could not stay ahead of the 100 pieces of snail mail that arrived in the office every day. A year or so ago I began trying to delete as many old E-mails as there were new E-mails every time I logged in. But of course I don’t succeed at meeting that goal every day. When I began that effort I had around 4,500 E-mails in my inbox. Today I have about 6,000. That means that my accumulated E-mail grew by about four a day. Not too bad, given that I get around 50 E-mails every day.
6.) Instruct your survivors to throw away all this trash upon your death. Explain to them that the clutter may or may not mean something to you, but that it certainly won’t mean anything to anyone else.
A final note about professional organizers. They probably are helpful. But for compulsive clutterers such as myself, an organizer is not likely to be the answer. We probably need someone more like a sponsor.