When Tammy called she began the conversation by stating how frustrated she was with her cluttered office. She could not work in this space any more because it was not conducive to maintaining focus or being productive.
“I only have the weekend to declutter. Can you help?” she asked.
“Sure, I said, ”and we set up an appointment for Saturday morning.
I asked her to make a list of everything that was bothering her and paint a picture of how she would like her office to look. When I arrived for the marathon decluttering weekend, I spent a few minutes reviewing her list. Now I was armed with the information to identify problem areas.
We spent two days clearing the desk, bookcase, and file cabinets and establishing systems that would work for her. Tammy worked hard in making the decisions necessary for everything in her office. This was not simply a cleaning job, but a decision-making project, and that is what made the biggest difference in her success.
For every item she touched, I asked, “What is the purpose of this item and what do you want to do with it?” Tammy was forced to decide— toss it or find it a home. You see, it is the lack of making a decision about an item’s importance that creates clutter.
Here are a few things we dealt with during the weekend:
- Magazines and journals — Tammy had to make a realistic estimate as to how many she was really going to read. All the old ones were recycled.
- Overabundance of pens — Tammy decided to keep 10 and donated the rest to the front office secretaries.
- Coffee cups — “It seems that coffee cups multiply as fast as rabbits,” Tammy said, and we both laughed. Tammy gathered them all together and headed to the office kitchen to wash and return them to the cupboard where they belonged.
- Family photos — Tammy loved having family pictures nearby but they were crowding her desktop. She finally decided on a couple of the most recent pictures to be kept on the window sill, freeing desktop space.
- Project folders — Folders were piled on her desk and floor. I suggested establishing a zone approach—different areas of her office would be designated for different projects. Once all the folders were in their specified area, it became easier to decide how to incorporate them into a workable system.
- Reference manuals — As soon as Tammy picked up a stack of informational papers, she knew instinctively that they needed to be in a 3-ring binder and stored on shelves.
- Briefcases — Tammy had several briefcases and tote bags tucked behind the door, just in case she needed them. We pulled them out and decided the smaller one would work well to transport project folders to meetings. The larger one would be used for maintaining travel documents while on business trips. One other bag could be used to transport reading material home and the rest of the bags were taken home.
The marathon decluttering weekend was a success as Tammy surveyed her office and sighed, “I didn’t realize how much space I really had.”
My role was to keep Tammy focused on making decisions about every item she touched. You, too, can make firm decisions if you ask yourself a few pertinent questions.
- What is the purpose of this item?
- How will I use it?
- Where will I use it?
- What will I be thinking about when I want to use it again?
In 1875, Samuel Smiles wrote a book titled Thrift, which contains the now famous saying…“A place for everything, and everything in its place.”