Sometimes, life can creep in on you from all sides — and before you know it, you’re knee-deep in clutter. You find yourself behind on everything, and feeling so overwhelmed that you don’t know what to do! The trick is to recognize the “danger signs” before everything spins completely out of control. So how do you know if you need to clean out?
Here’s a sure-fire ten-step way to spot (and deal with!) all kinds of clutter in your life.
1. You Have to Move a Pile Off of a Chair So Someone Can Sit Down
Having a closet where you hide it all away is one thing (not good, but certainly a bit more tolerable). However, when your “junk” starts spilling out into your active living and working spaces, it’s time to re-evaluate the situation. I have seen clients who couldn’t turn on the stove because it was piled three feet high with unopened mail, used their shower as “storage” for boxes of who-knows-what that they hadn’t opened in 10 years, and never slept in their bed because it was covered with “stuff” they hadn’t gotten around to putting away yet.
2. You Know You Own a Pair of Scissors – But You Can Never Find Them
Not being able to find things when you need them is a sign — your belongings are homeless and crying out to you for a place to live! If you want to stay organized, you need to have an assigned storage area for each and every thing you own. And not just any old place, but a logical, rational spot nearest the point where you use that item. Ask yourself where you would look for scissors when you need them and that’s where they should be stored. If you use scissors in several different places around your home or office, buy 3 or 4 pairs and give each its own unique home.
3. It Takes You Three Tries to Get Out of the House in the Morning
Let me guess — you walk out the door without your briefcase. You go back for your briefcase, and then head out again sans keys. You return for the keys and get all the way to your car before you realize that your lunch is still sitting on the counter. No, you’re probably not suffering from Alzheimer’s at the tender age of 37. This is nothing more than poor planning. Take a minute the night before to gather up everything that you need to take with you in the morning. Put it in a designated holding area near the door so you won’t forget it — a “launching pad,” if you will. You can even put a sticky note on the door to remind yourself to get your lunch from the fridge!
4. You Pay at Least One Late Fee or Interest Charge Each Month
If you had a standard way of dealing with financial paperwork as it came in, you wouldn’t get behind. Set up a small filing rack where you put all of your bills, lined up in the order in which they should be paid and write the due date on the envelope. Then, schedule time on your calendar twice a month to pay the bills that are due in the next two weeks. Treat your bill-paying time like an appointment — block it off in your planner and don’t let anything get in the way of completing that chore.
5. You Regularly Request an Extension on Your Tax Returns
For some people, tax day isn’t April 15th — it’s August 15th! Most folks who file extensions do so because they can’t get all of their paperwork together on time. Set up a filing box just for tax documents. Break your receipts down into basic categories: office supplies, charitable donations, medical expenses, travel, etc. and file any new ones as soon as you get them. Then, you can hand the entire box over to your CPA at the end of the year. Better yet, set yourself up on a computerized accounting program (your accountant will love you!)
6. You’ve Never Seen the Bottom of Your In-Box
If you have piles of papers and unopened mail, ask yourself if you are setting aside time each week to process incoming paper. You should sort through all the new stuff — once a day. That means doing more than just putting it in a pile on your desk. How will you know what you need to do if you don’t at least open the envelopes? When you pick up a piece of paper, make a decision about what action you need to take (put a sticky note on it to remind you, if you need). Then, schedule that action into your calendar. You should set aside regular time each week for making phone calls, writing letters, filing, and data entry.
7. Your Typical Workday Ends Three Hours After Everyone Else’s
Workaholism has become a serious problem in our society, but not everyone who works late does it out of a compulsion. Some people have to put in longer hours to make up for the fact that they are less productive during the regular work day. Do you get a lot done while other people are around, or are you constantly being interrupted and distracted? Make a list of all the things that draw your attention away from work during the day — drop-in visitors, clutter in your office, time spent surfing the web — and start tackling these “time wasters” one-by-one. Once you get organized, you’ll find that you can go home on time every night of the week.
8. You Can’t See Your Desk Under All The Stacks and Piles Of Paper
People who pile instead of file, tend to do so because they have never set up a useful filing system. Some are afraid that sticking an item away where they can’t see it is a recipe for disaster — not if your files are working for you. Look at your folders — do the categories make sense? Are they grouped into logical clusters of information (all of your insurance paperwork together, utility bills in the same place, computer manuals in one home)? Do you have multiple files with the same information in it (a “car” file, a “Toyota” file, and a “vehicle” file)? Are your drawers cluttered with ancient paperwork that you really don’t need? It might be time to re-vamp, re-organize, and clean out!
9. You Are Always Running Someone Else’s Errands
Have you learned how to say “no” yet? I have never understood why people think that “no” is such a bad word — as though they are being disrespectful to the other person by turning them down. What you are actually doing when you say “no” is being respectful of yourself, understanding and accepting the limits of what you can reasonably accomplish in a day. You aren’t doing anyone a favor by overloading your day with responsibilities. In fact, you are doing others a disservice by rushing from one activity to the next without giving any of them your full attention. And you are certainly causing yourself a lot of unnecessary stress.
10. Your Life Feels Out of Control
Many signs of clutter are tangible, you can see and feel them. But that vague sense of overwhelm can be ominously more damaging than a stack of unopened mail or a pile of junk in your closet. Do you feel that you are terminally behind and will never get caught up, no matter how hard you try? Or that you are losing your mind because you can’t deal with the mess anymore? The first step to curbing these anxieties is to take that first step. Tackle a cluttered drawer or today’s mail or a shelf in the garage. Just putting a dent in your mess will take a great weight off your shoulders and often give you the motivation you need to dig in deeper.
If you need help getting organized, we have resources to help you get started.