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How to Become Clutter-Free for Greater Happiness and Productivity

How to Become Clutter-Free for Greater Happiness and Productivity

    If an alien nation were to look down on Earth at this moment in time they really would think us a dumb race. They might say something like:

    “They buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t like.”

    But even if it’s not about impressing others, most of us have too much stuff and we know that the accumulation of goods won’t make us happier — yet we continue to consume. The aliens would also notice how busy the inhabitants of this planet are and how they work incessantly a lot of the time doing work that doesn’t need to be done. And if they asked us we would acknowledge that we work too much, knowing that it can lead to a high percentage of us feeling stress or anxiety (1.5 million people in the U.S. alone having heart attacks each year). But we continue to work longer hours. We would also tell them that we know simplicity can lead to greater happiness and wellness, yet we are prone to staring blindly at facts and doing nothing about them.

    So just in case some alien race is watching, don’t you think we should simplify our lives? Maybe we could also benefit from the other advantages. By making a commitment now to reduce, eliminate, and set yourself free this year, you will feel the liberation and the lightness as you rid your life of the physical and mental baggage that has being weighing you down. Clutter is stagnant energy and by removing it from your life you will free up time and space for the more important things in life.

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    How to Get Started

    Step by step and room by room, you can start to eliminate the unnecessary in your life. The books you have read but hold onto, the clothes that are too small but sit in your cupboard. The stuff that that lies on your kitchen table or clutters up your living room. Wouldn’t it be nice to be rid of it?

    Organizational expert Barbara Hemphill calls clutter “postponed decisions”. So start making some decisions. Get bags or boxes — one for recycling, one for the charity shop, one for the trash and one for the yet to be decided.

    Start with one area of your house or office, choose a drawer, a counter space or shelf. Don’t try to do it altogether or you may get discouraged and leave your house looking worse than before. If you have a lot to do, try setting yourself a time deadline rather than a space deadline. if you can commit to de-cluttering for an hour or two, you will be satisfied with what you have achieved if you stuck with it for that time period.

    For each object you pick up ask yourself the following questions:

    • “Do I need this?”
    • “Have I used in in the past 6 months?” (12 months for seasonal clothes or sporting equipment)
    • “Would it help someone else more than me?”
    • “Can I easily get it again if I dispose of it?”

    These questions should help you make a decision. If you end up with a box of things that you can’t decide what to do with or you are not ready to dispose of, keep them in this box in storage. After six months, go back to the box — and if you haven’t used anything from the box in that time you can pass them on to someone who may be able to use them.

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    Once you have eliminated all that is unnecessary, the next step is to make sure all that is left is organized and accessible when you need to get at it.

    Organizing the Rest

    The correct storage is important for your home or office; you need to decide where everything should go and whether it is necessary to get more storage solutions to accommodate your possessions. If possible, try to use existing solutions, as I find the more storage I have the more I will fill.

    Regardless of how few papers you need to keep, you will need a filing system. I don’t have enough papers at home to merit a filing cabinet, so I use a filing box. It holds about 40 hanging folders, enough to keep all my home paperwork — items such as birth certificates, contracts and certificates are all filed away neatly. Inside each hanging folder I have a manila folder which has been labelled clearly with a labeller. This means that when I go to look for a folder I can clearly see it and don’t waste any time searching.

    Once you have a place for everything and everything in its place, the way to keep it organized is to commit to cleaning as you go…and try to get everyone who lives in your house on board.

    “If everyone swept in front of their own door, the world would be a much cleaner place” – Mother Theresa

    De-cluttering the Mind

    To de-clutter the mind is to empty it of all the unnecessary thoughts that prevent you from living a happy, calm and stress-free life. The mind can be a busy place as it stores our commitments, responsibilities, hopes, dreams and plans along with the constant input that comes its way as we pass through our day.

    A mind should not be a place of clutter, but a place of calm and peace. Below are a number of ways that can help you to clear your mind and free it from the constant noise and clutter that resides there.

    1. Write it all down
    Get out a piece of paper and write down everything you need to do, from organizing a children’s party to starting a new project at work. Write down your chores, your duties and your responsibilities. Write down your plans for articles, books and businesses. This act will help to clear the mind and keep you from using it as a reminder system.

    2. Get Organized
    Just like clearing the physical clutter is not enough to complete the task, clearing the mind also needs an organisation phase to help completely free your mind from the responsibility of remembering. Once you have it all written down, you must plan and schedule all that needs to be done. Having a system to organize your tasks and projects can help to eliminate stress and induce a sense of peace and calm

    3. Focus on the essential
    If you identify the most important things in your life, such as your main goals and intentions, it will make it easier for you to identify the things that are not important — the things that clog your mind and clutter your space. Once you have identified and start to focus on the essential, the rest will fade into insignificance.

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    4. Reduce information consumption
    Where possible, reduce the amount of time you spend watching television, listening to radio and reading newspapers. Too much negative news can have a negative effect on your mind. Television is not as relaxing as people think; your mind is very active while doing it and it will remain active for a long time after watching. In particular, watching television reduces the quality of your sleep if you watch it before bedtime.

    5. Journal
    Journaling can help to quieten the mind. By writing down all your thoughts, worries, and dreams you take some of the pressure away from the mind. A lot of people journal before sleeping as this can free up their minds from these worries and stresses, allowing for a more peaceful sleep.

    4. Spend time in nature
    Nature can be a great detox for both body and mind. A fresh breath can clear out stagnant or negative energy held in the body, and walking in nature has grounding and purifying effects. Activity outdoors can also be a great way to be mindful shifting your thoughts from your worries to the present moment.

    5. Meditate
    Meditation, just like mindfulness, can help to relax the constant chatter of the mind. Stress and worry are caused by focusing too much attention on future negative outcomes. The more we can focus our mind on the present moment the happier and more peaceful we will become.

    If you follow these steps to de-clutter your physical and mental space, you will find greater peace and happiness. What you will also achieve is the ability to focus more intently on the essential and become more efficient and productive with both your time and space.

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    Oh, and you’ll likely impress the aliens a bit too.

    (Photo credit: Bad Day at Work via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    Ciara Conlon

    Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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    Last Updated on June 18, 2019

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Making Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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