Organizing Information

The Clutter Factor: From Packrativity to Productivity

? Are you embarrassed when you walk into your home or office?
? Do you frequently run out of space?
? Is your desk piled high with UPO's (unidentified piled objects)?
? Are you frustrated by the amount of time you spend looking for things?

If so, you're not alone! Research shows the average person spends 150 hours per year looking for misplaced information, while eight out of ten people have at least one area of their home or office they would prefer that no one ever see!

The word "clutter" comes from the same root word as "clot". Webster's Dictionary defines it as "to run in disorder, to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness."

Clutter affects our society at every level - our personal lives, our families, our work, our businesses, and the world in general. It seems easy enough to eliminate - just throw it away. If that were true, more people would do it. So what's the problem?

Frequently clutter is an emotional issue. Ironically, many of us have clutter because we were forced to give us something we considered valuable earlier in our lives, and now we can't even get rid of the junk in our lives. People who lived through The Great Depression, for example, cling to every minute object in the extreme fear that someday they might need it. A 25-year-old man, describing his home in which no friends or family had been for months wept as he recalled the death of his mother when he was four. A woman who shared her bedroom with four sisters at the age of eight now hangs on with desperation to everything that comes in her space at the age of 80. A gentleman shared that the dates of his clutter began the year he retired. Slums are filled with junk. The poorer we are - in body or spirit -- the more we hang on: "It might be useful some day." The irony is that the more we hang on to what is not useful, the less room there is in our lives for those things which encourage us to be productive!

After spending 20+ years in the homes and offices of America, I have concluded that there are five components to a clutter- controlled environment:

1. Vision. It is impossible to even define our own clutter if we do not hold a clear picture of who we are, or what we are about. A photographer had on-going dreams about living in a tall, white tower with glass windows, while her real home was buried in clutter accumulated over 30+ years. When we focused on her love of the arts and what was aesthetically beautiful, letting go of the unsightly clutter became less painful, and even freeing.

2. Attitude. A book agent discussing the idea of a book on the subject of clutter commented, "Some of us are just slobs." Only if you want to be. Creating a pleasing and productive environment requires a process. If you honor the process, you will succeed.

3. Time. "How long is this going to take and how much is it going to cost?" is the first question asked by potential clients. My answer: "It doesn't really matter, but the longer you wait, the longer it's going to take and the more it's going to cost."

4. Tools. Growing up on a farm in Nebraska, my father taught me "Half of any job is having the right tool." The amount of effort required to control the clutter in your environment is directly related to the tools you use. One woman eliminated her struggle with scraps of paper on which she had scribbled phone numbers and appointments when she discovered that the only thing that mattered to her about her calendar was that it was beautiful.

5. Preservation. People often say, "Oh I can get organized. I just can't maintain it." Clients have taught me that if they can't maintain the environment we create with relative ease, we have to return to the one or more of the first four steps.

Your ability to enjoy your life, or to accomplish any task or goal is directly related to your ability to create and sustain a productive environment in which you can live and work.

Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at

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