Clutter: Where Does It Come From and 3-Tips to Keep it Away So that You Can Get Organized

Guess what, I figured out where a lot of clutter comes from. You might not be happy to hear this but, you may be creating it yourself. This is actually good news, because when you know what causes the clutter you can learn how to stop generating it.

I went food shopping this past weekend. I hadn’t been to the supermarket in two weeks. The refrigerator was bare and I was getting some seriously nasty looks from my husband and 3 teenage kids.

First, I went to the big supermarket and filled my car with ten bags of food. I went to a second store to get the tea that my son Josh likes. Then I went to a third store because, as you can imagine with three growing kids, I make sure to get the best price on milk that I can. I was gone for two hours. Food shopping isn’t on my top ten list of things to do but I don’t really mind doing it.

Here’s the part I can’t stand. I don’t like unloading the car and putting everything away. My feeling is that after two hours of picking out the food, paying for it, bagging it and loading it into the car, I should be done. But I wasn’t. I unloaded the car, put away the vegetables, fruit, meat, chicken and fish. I got the eggs, cheese and milk into the refrigerator. I put away Josh’s tea and everything else. THEN I had to put away the reusable bags and gather and toss out some trash. In the end putting everything away took ANOTHER 30-minutes.

So what does this have to do with clutter?

When thinking about the things you do, whether it is the everyday stuff like food shopping, or more involved projects like creating a report for your boss, or working on a hobby, what I find is that all of our energy and thought goes into the doing. Yes, the doing is important but unless you wrap up what you’re doing and put it away when you’re done you might as well not bother doing it at all.

Think about my shopping adventure. If I didn’t bring everything in, put it away and get those reusable bags back into the car, the milk would have gone bad, the refrigerator would still be bare and I wouldn’t have those bags with me next time I go to the store.

But it’s not just the “everyday stuff”. Everything we do works better when we wrap it up and put it away.

Let’s say you’re preparing a report for your boss. You’ve got important information and paper everywhere. Imagine if after you finished it you didn’t give the report to your boss, didn’t thank the people that helped you and didn’t clear your desk and put away all of the information. Your boss and colleagues would be angry at you, you wouldn’t be able to find the information again and your desk would be awash with papers. These papers will get mixed up with new papers and in the end it will be really hard for you to focus on the next thing you needed to get started on.

What about hobbies? Let’s say you enjoy painting and you’re working on a painting in your studio. What would happen if you don’t clean your brushes or put away the paints? Will you be able to use them next time you want to paint? Will your brushes be ruined? Will your cat knock the paint over and ruin your work?

Based on conversations I’ve had with many of my clients I have learned that many people don’t consider wrapping up and putting away to be part of the project or task. What this means is that wrapping up and putting away becomes its own task that needs to get done at some future time.

But here’s the truth – Wrapping up and putting away IS part of EVERY project you do.

There are lots of reasons you may be skipping this step. Sometimes you may simply have had enough of the project and want to move on. Sometimes you’re pulled away by other responsibilities and plan to get back to the project later. Sometimes it’s that you don’t give yourself permission to stop and wrap things up when you’re done.

You may even think that you’ll skip it and get to it later but I’m here to tell you that isn’t what happens. What happens is that you skip it this time, next time and the time after that. What started out as a couple of small things quickly becomes clutter and it just builds and builds.

So here’s my challenge to you. Next time you’re ready to walk away from a project, because it’s done or you’re just stopping for the night, I want you to ask yourself these THREE questions:

Am I skipping the wrapping up and putting away step?

What can I wrap up so that the leftovers don’t become clutter?

Is there anything I can put away so that when I move onto my next project, or continue on this one I’ll be greeted by a clear and open space?

Are you in a situation where there’s lots of left over clutter? Are you feeling overwhelmed by it and don’t know where or how to begin putting it all away? You don’t have to do it all today and it doesn’t matter where you start. Just pick one place, anyplace and take one small step.