By: Kent Sanders, writer, professor, and creative coach at
Time for a confession: Our basement used to be an absolute disaster area. Over the years we had let boxes, odds and ends, and even unused furniture accumulate to the point where it was hard to even get to our washer and dryer.
Every time I went into the basement (which was several times a day) I felt a tinge of stress because of the clutter. I was disappointed because my son and I couldn’t even use our pool table (since it was overflowing with boxes). I knew that cleaning it would be a big project and I had been putting it off for a few years.
A couple of months ago, I decided that enough was enough. I was tired of the clutter and mess. I went to the basement on a Saturday morning, turned on some music (namely, “Hamilton”), and by the afternoon it was clean and organized.
It looked like a totally different place, and I now felt a sense of peace every time I went into the basement.
This principle applies not only to any area of a house or building, including your work area. Especially your work area. Most of the time we don’t give a lot of attention to organizing our workspace. But since this is where you create your art and do your work, it’s worth setting it up for maximum efficiency.
There is an intimate link between your physical environment and your mind. When you work in an uncluttered environment, your mind is free to focus and be creative. You have less stress and anxiety because the clutter is not there to distract you.
So let’s dig in. Here are five steps to clearing the clutter from your workspace:
1. Focus on decluttering one area at a time.
If you have a messy workspace or office, take it one area at a time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with things and get stressed out. Start with one box, or start with your desk.
Once you have that organized, then move on to the next area. Doing it this way will give you positive momentum.
The important thing here is to just get started. It’s intimidating to stand in the middle of a messy area. It’s much easier to walk away. But the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Just get started and you will soon feel the momentum you need to keep going.
2. Get rid of things you don’t use.
Each of us has certain things we hang onto longer than we should. For me, it’s technology. I’m the guy who still has cassettes from 1985 in his closet (and the Walkman to play them!).
A couple of years ago I moved to a new office at my college, and I gave away several boxes of books. My rule was that if I hadn’t used a book in ten years, I probably didn’t need it.
Magazines are notorious for becoming clutter. Don’t let the guilt of having paid for a magazine, but not reading it, keep you from tossing it. If you haven’t already read it, you probably never will. Throw it away and consider canceling the subscription.
3. Free up the real estate on your desk.
Your desk becomes a catch-all for all kinds of things like mail, paper notes, trinkets, pens, and other stuff. Get everything off your desk except what you actually need. A messy desk doesn’t mean you’re creative. It just means you’re messy.
A while back I was visiting a friend and walked into his office. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There were books piled all over the floor. His desk looked like someone had taken a box of papers and dumped them all over the place. I felt incredibly stressed just being in that environment.
It’s easy to get accustomed to a messy desk. But if you don’t feel productive, try cleaning it off and experiencing the “ahhh” factor when all that clutter isn’t stressing you out.
4. Get rid of as much paper as possible and “go digital.”
Over the past couple of years I’ve been going through as many paper files as possible and scanning items I need to keep. This includes receipts, tax information, notes from college and grad school, appliance manuals, and many other items. This frees up space in your filing cabinet as well as your mind.
There are only four things you can do with paper:
- File it physically (in a file cabinet or drawer, or box)
- File it digitally (in Evernote)
- Discard it
- Shred it
When you handle paper, make a decision about it as soon as possible, then take action on it. When we put off taking action on paper items, we end up with piles of paper and it causes stress. And when we feel stressed, we can’t do our best creative work.
If I need to scan a single piece of paper, I take a picture of it with my phone and store it in Evernote. If I need to scan multiple pieces of paper, I use a Fujitsu ScanSnap 1300 (when I’m at home), or I use Evernote’s Scannable app.
I also have a shredder by my desk when I need to discard anything with personal information on it.
5. Don’t try to be perfect.
If you’re like me (meaning, a perfectionist) sometimes you put off doing work until you can do it perfectly. But if you’re not careful, you can procrastinate on getting work done. Things are rarely perfect, and when they are, it doesn’t last long. Don’t let your desire for a perfectly clean environment be an excuse for putting off work.
When you clear the clutter from your work environment, you have more peace of mind, more focus, and more momentum. Set up your workspace so that it fosters peace and harmony instead of stress and anxiety.
About: Kent Sanders
Kent Sanders is a writer, professor, and creative coach. He is also the author of The Artist’s Suitcase: 26 Essentials for the Creative Journey, and host of the Born to Create Podcast. Kent’s mission is to help others unlock their creative potential. You can find lots of resources for creative entrepreneurs at his blog, KentSanders.net, where he writes about creativity, mindset, and productivity.