When you’re feeling overwhelmed by clutter… Do this

My friend Susan has a temporary clutter problem.

Susan’s husband is renovating the upstairs part of the house, the bedrooms and bathrooms. This situation means that all of the stuff that would usually be in those rooms is down in the lounge, family room and entry hall. Unfortunately, since her husband works full time, this renovation is taking a lot longer than either of them would like.

Susan quite happily shares that it currently looks like a bomb has gone off in her home. She knows it’s not forever, so can be quite lighthearted about it.

Did I mention that the kitchen is also being moved from one side of the house to the other? Possibly not the most sensible idea, given the circumstances. And… they have five children! Disaster 101 right there.

I would not recommend following this course of action, and to be fair, neither does Susan.

I always advocate for working on one thing until it is finished before moving on to the next.

This means…

  • completely emptying one box in the storage area before opening the next
  • sorting the dishes and wiping down the counters before leaving the kitchen after dinner
  • paying the bills and then putting all of the papers away
  • reading/answering/saving/deleting emails each day until all have been managed
  • focusing on one project at work until nothing further can be done with it
  • folding the laundry and then putting it away
  • renovating one area in the house at a time
  • focusing on one homework project at a time
  • watching the television or looking at your phone, not both

When we jump from one task to the next, research tells us that it takes approximately 20 minutes to fully re-engage.

When we jump from one project to the next, we end up with many unfinished projects and no satisfaction in a job completed.

Think about it like this…

Let’s say we have 3 weeks to complete three tasks. Let’s call them Task A, B and C.

We could work on them like this…

Option 1

Week 1: Task A, B, C

Week 2: Task A, B, C

Week 3: Task A, B, C = all tasks finished this week

All tasks are finished at the end of week 3 but it takes three weeks before any task is completed. Wow, that’s a long time to wait!

Each time we switch between these tasks we lose focus and therefore take longer to fully engage with the next project’s work.

We could instead work on them like this…

Option 2

Week 1: Task A, A, A = task A finished this week

Week 2: Task B, B, B = task B finished this week

Week 3: Task C, C, C = task C finished this week

All three tasks are completed by the end of week 3 but it does not take 3 weeks to complete each task. The first task is completely finished by the end of week one. How amazing does that feel? This is a strategy sometimes known as ‘batching’.

Do you see how focusing on one thing at a time enables you to build momentum?

The second way of working also means that you can celebrate the completion of task A and no longer have to think about it.

Such a psychological benefit right there.

Obviously, there will be exceptions to every rule but the basic premise is the same.

So, if you are trying to get more done, I recommend that you give Option 2 a go.

What have you got to lose?

Certainly for Sharon and her family, batching the renovation would have meant much less mess and far fewer disruptions to their normal routine.

When we apply this rule to decluttering, it might look like this:

Week 1: Declutter the kitchen

Week 2: Declutter the dining area

Week 3: Declutter the hallway

This way we are batching the kitchen tasks in week one, the dining area tasks in week two and the hallway tasks in week three.

Or, if you need to take things a little slower, it could look like this:

Week 1: Declutter the countertops

Week 2: Declutter the fridge

Week 3: Declutter the pantry

How much you tackle each week will depend upon your time and how much stuff you need to go through.

This is an excellent strategy for decluttering and I recommend you give it a try. It is particularly useful if you feel overwhelmed by clutter.

Meanwhile, have a think about what tasks you can batch and let’s get on top of our to-do-list this week.