Declutter your space

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It is much easier to focus when multiple objects in your surroundings are not screaming for your attention. While I do not function well in minimalistic settings where all you can find in a living room is a sofa, a lamp, and a coffee table (I always feel like a tumbleweed will roll across this dreary, impersonal landscape at any time), I also get overwhelmed in a room where every inch of space is full of randomly-placed objects not connected to each other by form or function.

Productive Zen Mama - Declutter Your SpaceNow, you might say, what about the toys being strewn all over the floor at any point after children have been in a room for more than five minutes? Ah, the key here is a deep breath, a “c’est la vie” attitude, and perhaps a tall drink. We can only control our own environment, and that only to a certain extent. After all, if your mail gets delivered through a slot in your door, the only thing you can do is pick it up. However, what you do with it after (throw it onto another spot on the floor, onto your desk already heaping with papers, into the cat’s litter box or into the recycling bin) is completely up to you.

Due to the ever-growing number of projects I’m working on at any given time, my environment tends to bulge with books to read, projects to complete, puzzles to assemble, beading projects to explore, items to photograph, clothes to mend, laundry to sort, recipes to try, notes and plans to follow-up on, and pieces of paper with ideas to consider. Add to this toys’ tendency to migrate into every nook and cranny, laundry and empty glasses left around by busy family members, cat’s chewy toy, yoga mats, random electronics, essential oil bottles, USB keys… — this list can grow a lot longer.

The mental stress this creates is significant. Have you ever walked into a kitchen with dirty dishes piled high from the night before? Did it make you want to cook a healthy breakfast or to run screaming to the nearest coffee shop? How much mental effort would it take to disassemble this dirty pile so that you can see your kitchen counter and still be inspired to cook? Have you ever procrastinated studying for an exam or doing an important project by re-organizing your desk or cleaning your home instead? Gratification is easily achieved by doing a mentally-undemanding task such as cleaning, while the more difficult task of studying or working is perceived as a much harder one, when our mind is being distracted by multiple reminders (in the form of clutter) of other available actions.

Naturally, it would be great to avoid creating the clutter in the first place. In reality, however, we also need to periodically rearrange our workspace to clear out the clutter, change up our environment, and at the same time prioritize the most pressing tasks.

Decluttering tips:

  • Make it fun. Just like anything in life, if you perceive this activity as being pleasant, you’ll be much more willing to do it, it will fly by faster, and your satisfaction with the process and the result will be greater. Combine it with music, listening to a seminar or an audiobook, hanging out with a friend, or playing with a child.
  • Start from your immediate surroundings: your desk or a book case, kitchen or pantry, toy boxes or laundry bins, – whatever clutters the space you are using most often.
  • Consider re-arranging the furniture. You can always move it back where it was before, but you might discover a better-lit area, a space-saving configuration, or a more accessible setup.
  • Do a little bit at a time. It’s easy to feel burned out after spending an entire day decluttering. Sometimes, like during spring cleaning, you can be more productive in one longer session, especially if the entire family is helping out. In that case, the greater productivity comes from batching related jobs, while with decluttering you are usually dealing with a bunch of unrelated items that need sorting and re-organizing. Try clearing up one drawer or one shelf a day for quick gratification and sustainable progress.
  • Consider cataloging books, music CDs, software, games, and any collectables you have. Keep a record of where the items are located. It comes in handy when you want to find a particular CD among hundreds or determine whether you own a particular figurine. It is also useful if you have your possessions insured and have to make a claim. I have actually written a piece of software for myself to catalog my extensive library, another one to keep track of all the data and music CDs, and I’m documenting my puzzle collection on my blog. In the process of cataloging, you might discover gaps in your collection, logical groupings of items, duplicates, and items in need of repair.
  • Consider what can be sold, gifted, or donated. If you tend to keep things you are not using, evaluate whether it makes sense to let them go.
  • Use containers to divide and sort items in closets and drawers. Ikea and Pinterest can offer some great ideas on how to pack a large number of things into well-organized small spaces.
  • Use labels to indicate where things are. Often I end up putting an item somewhere clever, only to not be able to find it again when it’s needed. I use labels on herb and spice containers in the kitchen, on drawers of art and craft supplies, and on boxes of toys.
  • Don’t stress about it! Remember, it is not a hungry tiger chasing you, it’s just some items which you might or might not need that require your attention. It does not have to happen immediately or be done perfectly.
  • Remember about mental “declutter” — great ways to clear your mind are going for a walk, meditating, taking a relaxing bath, dancing, playing with a singing bowl, having a cup of tea, doing something with your hands such as beading, crocheting, or assembling a puzzle. Let your mind wander, take in the sights and sounds of the here and now, lose yourself in a relaxing and enjoyable activity, and you will come out with a greater mental clarity.

Watch how your attitudes change as a result of a less chaotic environment. I have had my workstation in the living room for several years, and have recently noticed that during the evening I would be trying to get some work done while the kids wanted to play and asked for my attention. As a result, I would be frustrated at not being able to finish even a simple task on the computer and would not be fully present for them. Additionally, during the work day, toys all over the floor (we use our living room as a large play area) would wear on my ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Simply clearing the toys away took only minutes (thanks to many boxes and shelves designated for the purpose) and worked wonders by letting me focus better.

Last month, I have ventured even further and have moved my system upstairs, into my studio. We had to re-wire the network across two floors and get creative with the placement of various peripherals, but the resulting productivity was well worth it. Now I have my workstation upstairs, on what used to be my puzzle desk, strongly associated with relaxation. I find that I can focus much better, get better lighting during the day, and can think much more clearly in a room which is full of imagery that fuels my creativity. It also allows me to manage my Etsy store inventory without running between two floors checking the items against the shop listings. My puzzles have migrated downstairs, where I can occasionally put in a few pieces as the kids are playing around me.

Re-organize and declutter your physical space to lower your stress, save time, and boost your productivity.


  1. Great tips! It’s amazing how much calmer life can be without all the physical clutter.

  2. Pingback: Put things back where they belong - Fingering Zen

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