You may be putting off clearing out clutter because the task seems daunting and tedious—but it doesn’t have to be. Simply by breaking clutter-clearing into smaller projects, you can make progress in as little as five to 10 minutes at a time.
And you’ll be glad you did. Your living or working space will become much more pleasant and efficient almost before you know it.
Important: Be sure that each “mini-project” you do can be completed in the allotted time. The satisfaction and sense of control you gain will keep you motivated for the next mini-project and the next one.
Here, quick clutter-clearing steps for common clutter problems. You can do each step in 10 minutes or less…
10 minutes: Cull and sort. Pull everything out of the container cupboard. Sort through what you have. Keep only the containers that you use most often and that have lids. Put the rest in discard/giveaway bags.
Put the keepers back in the cupboard. To save space, nest containers that are the same shape.
10 minutes: Organize the lids. Double-check that every lid in your collection has a container that it fits. Toss any stray lids. If you have more than one lid for a container you love, you can keep the extra, but don’t keep more than two lids for any container.
Stack lids of similar shape underneath their nested containers, or place all lids together on their sides in a single storage container so that they stand up vertically and are easy to pull out.
10 minutes: Clean just one shelf or drawer. By working in 10-minute chunks, you soon will get through the whole refrigerator.
Pull all items out of the section you’ve chosen, and place them on the kitchen table or counter. Throw out all food that is past its printed expiration date…any produce that is going limp…leftovers whose age you are unsure about…and anything that causes you to ask, Is this still good?
Wipe the shelf or drawer with a clean, damp sponge sprinkled with baking soda, then dry with a dish towel. Replace the fresh items.
5 minutes: Measure and order. The inside of the typical under-sink cabinet is just a big, inefficient space. Solution: Fit your cabinet with stacking drawers. First, measure the inside of the cabinet. Then order stacking drawers online in plastic or metal mesh. Each stack should be at least two drawers high and narrow enough to fit on either side of the sink’s drainpipe. If you keep tall cleaning supplies such as glass or toilet bowl cleaners under the cabinet, allow space for those. Recommended source: The Container Store, www.ContainerStore.com.
10 minutes: Assemble and assign. Unpack and assemble the drawers, and decide what category of object will go in which drawer. Example: One drawer could hold cleaning supplies such as sponges, scouring powder and rubber gloves… one drawer could hold extra toilet paper and facial tissues…another could hold a hair dryer and accessories.
10 minutes: Toss and install. Pull everything out of the cabinet. Discard any used sponges, old razors and toiletries you no longer use. Place the drawers inside the cabinet, and put all objects into their new locations.
10 minutes: Sort. The papers cluttering the surface of your desk represent to-dos. Quickly divide the papers into stacks, with one stack for each type of to-do. Examples: Call… write… pay… return… order… check with family member… brainstorm… file.
Label each stack by writing the category name on a sticky note and putting the note on top of the stack.
Remind yourself to do nothing else but sort in this session. Do not stop to read any of the papers or do any of the tasks. Otherwise you will never get through the clutter.
5 minutes: Set up a simple action system. Put each stack into its own manila folder. If you are a highly visual person, use colored folders. Write the task category on the front of the folder in large bold letters and on the side tab.
Keep the folders handy and visible. Either stack them on the corner of your desk, put them in stacking trays or place them in a vertical rack.
Whenever you have five or 10 minutes between other activities, you can go through one of the folders and take action. Often you can get through an entire folder in 10 minutes when you are focused.
5 minutes: Choose what will stay. Decide what few objects you want/need on your bedside table. Examples: Reading lamp…alarm clock or mobile phone… book… small basket that holds reading glasses, bookmarks, highlighter, pen, small notepad.
10 minutes: Cull. Remove everything else from the table—many items will be objects that have found their way in from other rooms. Discard trash, and put items that belong elsewhere into a basket with handles, a small plastic tub or other portable container.
10 minutes: Carry the container around the house, and deliver anything that belongs elsewhere to its appropriate spot.
10 minutes: Choose categories. On a piece of paper, list the broad categories of your video and music collections. Use terms that you and your family would be most likely to think of when looking for a CD or DVD. Examples: Your movie categories might include action… comedy… kids… drama. Your music might be sorted by genre such as jazz or classical, or by mood, task or time of day you would be likely to listen to it, such as relaxing on Sunday afternoon… cleaning the house… working out… entertaining guests.
10 minutes: Sort and retrieve. Quickly go through all the cases—whether or not they contain their CDs or DVDs—and sort them by category. Then gather all loose CDs and DVDs, and put them back in their cases. Return the cases to their storage shelves, separated by category. If you like, label the categories.
If your collection is large, you can spend five to 10 minutes at a time alphabetizing each section to make titles or artists easier to find. However, don’t bother alphabetizing unless the rest of your family values the convenience and will commit to replacing recordings in alphabetical order every time.
Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Julie Morgenstern, internationally renowned organizing and time-management expert, consultant and speaker based in New York City. Her books include The New York Times best seller Organizing from the Inside Out (Holt), which was developed into a popular special for PBS. www.JulieMorgenstern.com