So why is there clutter on your desk?
That might seem like a funny question — but it’s actually the key to finding the solution.
You see, clutter is personal. Even though you clutter might look similar to your friend’s, the reasons behind it aren’t necessarily the same. And the right solution for you is likely not the right solution for her.
And then there’s the fact that all your ‘clutter’ isn’t the same either. There’s no one way to handle the paper clutter on your desk … because it’s not all there for the same reason.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for handling clutter
Sure, I could give you a list of reasons clutter generally accumulates — but that’s not going to help you find solutions that will keep you clutter free. It might point you in the right direction … or it might send you off on a wild goose chase.
Because you have to know what is piling up on your desk and why.
So stop just cleaning up your desk — it’s not helping.
You’re addressing the symptom, not solving the problem
Clutter is impossible to get rid of when you just clean it up.
That’s why professional organizers don’t want you to tidy up before they come. They want to see the mess in action. Because then they can figure out where it’s coming from and what’s needed to stop it. That’s how you find an effective solution.
You can do this too.
It’s called interviewing your clutter. Not only do you find out what this ‘clutter’ is — you also find out why it’s there and what’s you need to get it cleaned up for good.
It’s the first exercise I give everyone who declutters with me because when you do this, you discover what is causing the clutter in the first place. And I’ll give you a hint, it’s not because you’re lazy.
So before you clean up your messy desk, do this simple exercise. Grab a piece of paper — or download this handy worksheet — and figure out what you need to solve this problem.
Start with …
On my desk right now is …
Just make a quick list here of the broad categories of stuff on your desk right now. It’s fine to root around a bit to see what’s actually in those piles — but don’t go making an itemized list. Also, don’t bother listing equipment and things that belong on your desk.
Think of this as a snapshot of what tends to pile up around you. Bills, school notices, client notes, current projects, reminders…and such.
Then for each item on this list, answer the following:
It’s on my desk because …
So why is it there? What’s it waiting for? Maybe you just haven’t gotten around to dealing with it, reading it or returning it. Maybe it’s on your desk because you’re working on it — or waiting for an answer from someone. Maybe you don’t know where to put it.
When you acknowledge why this stuff gets left on your desk in the first place, you get to the heart of what’s causing the problem. Now you start to see if you have a storage problem, a decision problem, a problem with how you handle things — or some combination.
Does this matter to me?
This is a yes or no question. It’s also your reality check — does this matter in your life? Do you actually want (or need) to do something about this? Don’t assume you’re obliged to do anything more with that stuff than toss it.
So if the answer is no — just get rid of it now. Pause your inventory and just chuck it. Keeping things that don’t actually matter is a huge source of clutter in most people’s lives. If it doesn’t matter, admit it and let it go.
What I need to get this off of my desk is…
Now this is where you get to declare what you need to solve this problem — and keep this kind of thing from returning in the future.
Most clutter is actually both a lack of having a system (or using it) as well as a lack of physical storage. So now’s the perfect time to consider how you can handle both the physical stuff (so it’s not on the desk) and the process of doing whatever needs to be done with it (so it doesn’t become out-of-sight clutter).
You might know exactly what the solution is — hooray for that, just make a note of it in your inventory.
Or you might not and that’s fine too. “I don’t know” is totally okay. Now you know why that stuff keeps piling up … and you can start looking for a solution that fits your ‘why’.
Because the why is the key to finding the right solution to your clutter. Then you can identify whether what you need is storage, a better system … or both. (Hint: It’s usually both.)
And sometimes the truth is you need some help
You might also find that what needs to be done here is tackling something that is emotionally painful. Maybe it’s to do with your finances. Maybe it’s something you have to have a difficult conversation about. Maybe it’s a difficult project that needs to be completed. Maybe it’s stuff relating to the death or illness of a loved one. And that’s why it’s been sitting there in a pile.
Sometimes what you need to get this stuff off your desk isn’t just a good storage solution and a regular routine for handling this kind of stuff. Sometimes what you need is to talk the situation over with a friend or a professional. Sometimes what you need is to just ask for help from someone who will hold your vulnerability gently.
Now’s the time to jot down who you could ask for help if the thing you need to handle stops you in your tracks. There’s nothing to be gained from berating yourself for the clutter when what you need is support.
Ask for the help you need. And then maybe tuck it in a pretty folder or box so it’s not sitting there making life harder.
Clutter piles up for a reason. And when you really look at what’s piling up and ask these simple questions, you can find the right solution to your clutter.
How about you?
So why is there clutter on your desk? I’d love to hear what you noticed about the piles on your desk with this exercise — leave a comment here.