by Susan McCarthy
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Everyday practice: If something isn't working the way you think it should, step back and ask, "What's the real problem here?"
You finally ramp up your motivation and sit down at your desk, determined to put the stacks of paper where they belong. You pick up paperwork related to your new insurance policy and go to file it. Only, ack, your file drawer is so full that you can’t squeeze in another sheet.
You start sorting through the papers in file after file. You wonder what you might need to keep for reference, so you check out a few sites online to determined what you can shred now and what you should hold onto for a while.
Hours later, you have more paper on your desk, a paper shredder that needs to cool down, and the strong feelings of frustration and resentment that you failed to accomplish the task you set out to do.
Maybe you’ve encountered a similar scenario while trying to clean out your coat closet, or clear your dining room table, or sort through the stuff that’s accumulated in a hot spot dumping ground. Sometimes, you need to declutter before tackling the project you think you need to work on.
How Zigzagging Occurs
Zigzagging – moving throughout your home when you started working on one task in one location – occurs when an area (anything from a tabletop to an entire room) collects a variety of items.
Sometimes this happens when a few things get left in a location instead of being put away, which gives permission for other items to be dropped in that spot. Clutter does have a magnetic quality!
You might feel that you’re wasting your time zigzagging throughout your home, but, sometimes, that’s what needs to get done.
Start with Problem-Solving before You Declutter
If items were simply set down because you ran out of time to put them away, then you might have no-to-few issues with finishing the task. However, if you didn’t know where to put the items, you want to do some problem-solving.
Start by defining the problem. “the dining room table is covered with so much stuff that we can’t sit down to a meal.”
Then, each time you pick up an item, ask, “why did this object end up here?” Maybe you need to decide where it belongs so you can find it when you want it again. Sometimes, people are afraid that if they put something away that they’ll forget where they put it.
However, when you decide where something belongs (as opposed to shoving something out of sight), this deliberate decision makes it likely that you’ll have access to the item in the future.
While all this decision-making may seem time-consuming, you want more than a temporary solution. A temporary solution is what you do when you have company coming and you sweep your surfaces clear by tossing everything in bags and boxes that then get shoved into a closet or corner of a room – but then you don’t sort through that stuff when the visit with friends and family ends.
Instead of bouncing stuff from one spot to another, deciding what you want to do with it will save you time overall.
Declutter Three Steps Back
Declutter Three Steps Back
Tracy McCubbins, in her book, Making Space, Clutter Free, points out that if you have a hot spot where clutter collects, that instead of starting in that spot, you might need to go back three steps to find the space that you need to declutter first.
For example, you want to declutter your dining room table. When you ask where the stuff belongs, you see that you have a lot of paperwork that belongs in your home office. You can bring all the papers to your home office, but you have no place to put them until you declutter your files so you can then file your more current papers.
Or, you have craft supplies on your dining room table because you don’t really have another space to do your projects. You’d like to use a table in the corner of your home office for crafting but that involves decluttering and organizing your home office.
Maybe you have a rolling storage cart with drawers that’s been trapped in the corner of a storage space for years. That would be perfect for organizing your current craft supplies, but you need to move stuff to reach the cart and then sort through its contents.
Remember, all this work came about because you wanted to clear the dining room table! It could be days or weeks until that tabletop is clear. This isn’t being inefficient or distracted. It’s figuring out what needs to be decluttered in order to create the clear spaces you want.
Make Decluttering Work for You
Clearing clutter isn’t always a straightforward list of steps to follow. There’s more than one way to declutter, and if one technique doesn’t work for you, that isn’t your failure, that just means you’ll want to try another method.
That’s why I wrote the brief eBook, Conquer the Mess Your Way: Your Guide to Making Decluttering Work for You which includes Zigzagging, Three Step Back and twenty other techniques and games that focus on your goal – clearing your clutter – instead of getting bogged down following rules that don’t apply to your situation.
Create space your way and you’re likelier to stay organized because you’ll know what techniques work for you.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, loves learning and sharing information about organizing, productivity, and habits. She also likes reading young adult novels, crocheting, and spending time with her cat and husband in their riverside home in Massachusetts.