Decluttering for writers: 6 tips to help contain creative clutter
I am not a natural organizer. I was not born “tidy.” I wasn’t really interested in “tidy” or “organized.” Sometimes I lost things. Many times it took too long to find things. To top it off, I liked to save things “just in case.” Do you remember the old television series “The Odd Couple?” Oscar was the slob-like messy roommate and Felix was the tidy three-piece-suit neat nick? Well, the best I could do was to hide stuff when company came over, so people wouldn’t think I was a slob like Oscar. I was creative. I liked to read and write rather than to straighten and organize. Does that sound familiar?
Then it happened: I got married and discovered my mother-in-law. Yes, this is a mother-in-law story. Back in the 1960’s, my mother-in-law, who raised three boys, was nominated for Suburban Homemaker of the Year of St. Paul, Minnesota. Her home was described as “a model of neatness and comfort.” No kidding. She scared me. I soon learned that because she had less clutter in her life than I did, she had time for her priorities—her faith, family, friends, and life. I really admired that, and finally I understood the benefits of Felix’s tidy behaviors. I didn’t want a magazine-cover perfect looking life: I wanted less clutter and more time and energy for my priorities.
Reading organizing books and talking to people provided many solutions. After several years of reading and trying all sorts of techniques, I began helping people who wanted to free up time and energy for their priorities.
Here are some tips I would like to share with fellow writers:
1. Any pile can become a file. In fact, a pile is often a new filing category that hasn’t grown into a folder yet. Keep a supply of empty folders handy. Use them. Label them in pencil. Our lives change and our folders will change over time too.
2. Create and use only one file or system for each category of information. Clutter often happens when we use multiple systems for the same kind of “thing.” For example, think about coupons. Sometimes we have them in our wallet, car, and desk drawer. That is three systems or places you have to look when you are hunting for a coupon. Store coupons and other “like items” in one place.
4. Decide to decide. Paper clutter tends to be postponed decisions. Any way that you can motivate or reward yourself for making those decisions will make your clutter shrink.
5. Tailor any clutter clearing or organizing system to fit your personal needs and style. Everyone is unique. There is no single “right way” to clear clutter or get organized.
6. Feel guilty once. Yes, that is my advice! Right now multiple pieces of paper or other types of clutter (unread magazines, perhaps?) could be making you feel bad every time you see them, several times per day. Feel guilty once as you send the paper off to be recycled or donate the items. Out of site is out of mind, and you will free yourself up for more important things.
Wow! Clutter clearing isn’t rocket science. We can do this! I began to help friends and ultimately was asked to speak to groups to share my ideas. I wrote a simple living column for several years for the local hometown newspaper. That was sort of funny: They had put in an advertisement looking for a cooking columnist (I am not the best cook), and I responded with a sample article for a simple living column to help readers declutter, organize their homes, and simplify their lives. I was lucky that the editor decided clutter clearing was as important as cooking.
My writing and speaking expanded. I spoke to business wellness seminars, women’s organizations, and church groups, and they spoke to me. Every time I gave a talk, I learned something from at least one person there.
Clearing clutter is a win-win-win situation (no, that isn’t a typo). When we clear clutter, we make our homes into relaxing and restoring spaces and free up time and energy for our priorities. We can donate these items to help our favorite charity and help the recipients who may be experiencing tough economic times. Finally, when we donate, we are living green—we are living responsibly and not contributing to a landfill. In good times and in difficult times, we can make clutter clearing choices to improve our lives and the lives of the people around us.