What are all those papers piled around the room? What’s all that stuff sticking out of the drawers? We’d like to open the closet to pull out our spring clothes, but are scared to open the door for fear of what might fall out. The feeling of lightness starts to fade. The weight of having too much stuff pushes down on us.
But have no fear. There are people out there who actually take great joy in helping others in just this situation. Lucky for you, I’m one of them. And lucky for all of us, Fr. Dave and Fr. Steve are taking on the Busted Halo Office Clean-up Challenge and have asked me to give them — and you — some tips on getting started.
Decluttering versus organizing. Many people think, “I want to get organized,” and the first thing they do is go out and buy “stuff” to help them start: containers, closet organizers, baskets. They miss the crucial pre-requisite: decluttering. No need to purchase items to help you get organized until you know what you need to organize, and how much of it you have.
What is clutter, anyway? Anything that doesn’t have a home. Look around at your surfaces. See those piles? See all that stuff lying about? It’s there because either #1 — it doesn’t have a designated place where it belongs or #2 — the place it belongs is not an ideal location.
For example, I found I had a lot of papers lying about. I had a filing system set up (so the papers had a home), but papers didn’t seem to make it into the files. Why not? Because my files were in a box in my closet and I had to move clothes aside to get to it. The location wasn’t ideal. I moved the file box to a more accessible location, and — like magic — papers found their way home.
Before picking up a single item, start with these three steps:
- Pick a room. Where do you want to start?
- List the purposes that room serves.
- Create a goal — then think smaller.
- A place to greet admirers (though maybe he doesn’t really want to see them — as he’s covered every place for them to sit with more stuff)
- A place to store unopened Christmas gifts
- A place to escape from co-workers (which seem to drive him to drink — thus the stock of bottles on the side table)
Fr. Dave’s office has a few functions as well:
- Work — he looks quite official with all those filing cabinets and stocked bookshelves.
- Library — though he seems to have run out of shelf space and has started using the floor to serve that purpose
- Mystery Storage — what’s behind all those locked cabinet doors?
- Hydration Station
Fr. Dave and Fr. Steve would say their goal is to declutter their offices. To which I ask, “How does that goal feel?” Overwhelming is usually the answer I get. So think smaller. One of the students in my decluttering class went from “clean out the office” to “clean off the desk” to “clean off the top of the desk” and finally settled on a goal to “go through the pile of papers on the back left corner of the desk.” How did he know that goal was small enough? When I asked how he felt about it he said, “I can do that.” The next week, he reported he got two piles done.
Dig in. Now that your goal is small enough that you feel you could successfully accomplish it, let’s get started. But how do you know what to keep? A quote from William Morris helps me most: Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
The Four Categories of Stuff. Most everything you find will fall into one of four categories. Let’s apply the quote above to help the decision-making process.
- Keep — Is it useful? Is it beautiful? If so, keep it. If not, it goes into the next category. Father Steve’s rat’s nest of wires? They could be useful, so he gets to keep those. But if any of those chargers no longer work, they go into our second category.
- Toss or Recycle — Anything that’s no longer useful because it’s broken, expired, or outdated gets tossed or recycled.
- Donate — If it’s not useful or beautiful to you, but has the potential to be useful or beautiful to someone else, it fits into this category. Fr. Steve’s table of Christmas bounty may qualify here. The object is not to dump unwanted goods someplace else, but to find a good home. That may be a non-profit that accepts what you have to offer, or a friend that has been wanting to read the book you’re looking to discard.
- Don’t know — Not sure if it’s useful or beautiful? Think back to the purposes of the space. If it doesn’t fit that purpose, it doesn’t belong. Still not sure? Make your very own purgatory — a box for items that don’t clearly go in any of the above categories. Pack it up, seal it, and mark it with today’s date. If, in six months, you’ve not opened the box (or have no recollection of what you put in it), you’ll know you don’t need it.
Some final words of wisdom: you can do all the decluttering you want, but if you don’t become more aware of what’s coming in to your space, it will all build up again.
Fr. Dave and Fr. Steve live and work in New York City. Should they find themselves out on the streets at midnight, they may see a large man (bouncer) standing beside an open doorway blocked with a red velvet rope. There will be a line of people waiting to get in. The bouncer’s job is to size up those that want to enter and determine if they are dressed properly and look the part. Fr. Dave, Fr. Steve: You are the bouncers. Imagine a red velvet rope at the threshold of your office. You determine what papers, books, magazines, etc., qualify to gain entry.