Follow these tips to get more in control of your space
We live in a consumer culture, which means it’s easy to accumulate objects. Too many of us end up feeling overwhelmed by our stuff—and as though it’s ruling our lives. If that describes you, then it’s time to take back control with some simple strategies!
Maybe you’ve heard about the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The subtitle is “The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” and it lays out an ambitious strategy for how to attack each element of your life and pare it down to the bare essentials. But we’ve got some strategies for you that are a bit more manageable. If you follow them, they will help you to feel calmer and more in control of your living spaces. So give them a try:
Clear off important surfaces
There tend to be several danger spots for those of us who struggle with clutter. These are places that we fill up readily because they’re convenient for dumping what we carry in with us. You may find you get into trouble especially on your dining room table, desk, kitchen counter, or stairs. The key is to carry items to their ultimate destination right away, and not leave them in a way station, to deal with later. Think of every item as a carton of ice cream that will melt all over the counter if you don’t put it into the freezer, where it belongs, ASAP. The melted ice cream is your clutter!
Your bed is another surface to protect. If you’re someone who likes to dump clothing or paperwork on your bed, you’re making a task for yourself each night before you go to sleep—and a clutter-filled bed is never inviting. Have a no-tolerance policy for a messy or unmade bed, and spend five minutes when you get up each morning to make it. It will help with your sleep hygiene to know that at the end of the day you’re headed to a nice, restful space, and not into another mess you have to deal with.
Have a decision tree for paperwork
Paper is a terrible source of clutter. Most people accumulate paperwork because they avoid making decisions about where it goes, and so it ends up in piles. The key to keeping your paper situation under control is making a decision about each piece as soon as it comes into your space. This goes for mail as well as anything you print out from the computer.
You should have only four options: recycle, hand off, take action immediately, or file. Every piece of paper belongs in one of these four categories. As soon as you touch the paper, make a decision about which one applies. Then make sure it goes into a space you’ve designated, such as:
- recycling bin: Have them in convenient places on each floor. (Be sure to shred anything that has account numbers or your social security number.)
- someone else’s possession: Take a photo of the document with your phone and text or email it to whomever might need it. Then you’re rid of the responsibility, and can recycle the paper!
- Filing cabinet: File each paper into an appropriate, clearly labeled folder inside. Don’t just stack the papers on top—that’s creating another project.
Remember: Chances are you don’t need to hold on to as many documents as you think you do.
Go paperless with your bills
Most credit cards, banks, and utility companies will encourage you to go paperless. This means you can access your account information and statements online, and will be notified via email, rather than receiving them in the mail. Make a list of each company you receive mail from, and take a few minutes to log into your online account (or set one up) and change your preferences. You’ll be amazed how much this will cut down on incoming mail and filing each month. If you need to look at a statement regularly—which is a wise way to go—then download them to your computer and store them in a special folder (or on an external hard drive). At the end of the year you’ll have a tidy electronic folder of statements. Then you can delete folders after a certain number of years, depending on whether you need to keep records for your taxes.
Spend 17 minutes
One of the keys to keeping on top of clutter is regular maintenance. You want to avoid spending hours on the weekend cleaning up your messes, which means instead spending a few minutes every day. Try the 17-minute rule: Every time you come home from school or work, set your alarm for 17 minutes, and then do as much as you can to tidy up your living space in that time. You’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish. That’s time to empty the dishwasher and put in a load of laundry. It’s enough time to sort through the mail and take care of a week’s worth of filing. You night also see that it’s enough time to clean a sink and a toilet, or to vacuum a room. The 17 minutes is not a burdensome amount of time—just enough time to make progress!
Designate a spot for overflow
Let’s be realistic—chances are slim that you’ll magically be able to eliminate all clutter overnight. So come up with a backup system for any areas where you have trouble. If you tend to accumulate clothes on your bedroom floor, for example, then designate a chair in that room as the one place you’re allowed to stack things when you take them off. (When you bring any clean laundry into the room, put it away immediately.) Once a day, or once a week (depending on how high the pile is) go through everything on the chair and put it in its proper place. Anything that won’t fit on the chair must be put away—the floor, bed, or other surfaces are not an option! Similarly, if your desk is the problem, get an overflow bin to put there, and use it for anything you’re having trouble deciding where it goes. Once the bin is full, you must spend half an hour cleaning it out and designating destinations for each item. These systems will keep your clutter overflow under control.
Once you put these strategies into place, you’ll be well on your way to feeling calmer and more in control of your space—and your life! People who are good at keeping things tidy are giving themselves a daily gift of a nice living space, and you deserve that same gift. Just put in a little routine effort, until it becomes a habit, and enjoy a more clutter-free existence. Good luck!
This article is part of the weekly blog of the Salter School. We care about supporting all our students in doing their very best in their careers and in life. Learn more about the professional training programs we offer at our Malden campus in Massachusetts, including Professional Medical Assistant, Health Claims Specialist, and Massage Therapy. Reach out to us today at 781-324-5454 for more information or to schedule a campus tour. We hope to hear from you!