4 Steps to an Uncluttered Desk

If office space detritus is weighing you down, then it’s time for a clean sweep. Follow this four-step clutter cleanup strategy from Enough Already!, by Peter Walsh, to free up physical and psychological space for more creative and productive work flow.

Improving your work life isn’t as simple as having a clean desk. But what can I say? I do this for a living — it’s a good place to start. There’s no faster way to inspire an immediate change in attitude than with an uncluttered, clear, pristine desk. It’s a little like making your bed. A made bed anchors a room, sets the tone for the day, says, “I respect my space,” and shows a commitment to routines and organization. So you are your desk. If it’s cluttered, how are you supposed to prioritize? How can you be efficient? Think of your desk as a reflection of your head. No matter how creative and brilliant you are, I can assure you that you’ll perform better with an organized desk. Now let’s get to it. Here’s how.

Activity
Quick Desk Purge

  1. File. You shouldn’t have anything on your desk that isn’t “active,” meaning it still needs to be dealt with. Filing isn’t complex, and it isn’t high priority, which is why a “to file” pile tends to grow high. Get rid of those piles immediately, even if it takes you an hour. If you take ten minutes to file at the end of the day, you’ll always be able to keep your desk clean. Filing and tidying up at the end of the day is a good way to decompress before you go home, as well as a way to clarify and reinforce what you did today and what you need to do tomorrow.
  2. Get rid of the miniature Zen garden. After you’ve filed, clear your workspace of anything that you don’t use regularly. If you must have sentimental items and toys (really, must you?), pare them down to a bare minimum. This isn’t a high school locker. You’re a grown up and a professional. Your desk should reflect that. The same goes for the stuffed animals, Vegan souvenirs, and collectible action figures!
  3. Use a vertical file organizer for “active” files. Reserve your inbox for items that need to be dealt with pronto. For ongoing projects, create files and store them in an easily accessible desktop file organizer or a rolling file cart that slips easily under your desk and can be accessed quickly and efficiently.
  4. Create systems that work. No matter if you’re a shoe salesman, a full-time dad, or a rock star, you’ll do your job better if you have fool-proof systems in place.
  • When you listen to your phone messages, the calls you need to return should always be written down in the same place.
  • When you plan a meeting, a playdate, or a concert in Madison Square Garden, the event goes immediately into a calendar.
  • When you pay a bill, complete a sale, or finish an album, all documentation should immediately be filed away.
  • Keep a running to-do list on a notepad or electronically. Start a new page every day, copying outstanding to-dos onto the new page. When you complete a task, check it off and note the date. You’ll always know when you got something done and have a clear record in case you need to refer back to it.

And so on. Take notes. Keep a calendar. Return calls. Log important addresses and phone numbers. Be accountable. You know how there are some ultra-reliable people you trust to do what they said they’d do, when they said they’d do it? You can be one of those people. Your organized desk is the first step and says “I mean business” to everyone who sees it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Walsh is a clutter expert and organizational consultant who characterizes himself as part-contractor and part-therapist. He is the bestselling author of Enough Already! Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You (Copyright © 2009 by Peter Walsh Design, Inc.), It’s All Too Much, and Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? He can also be heard weekly on The Peter Walsh Show on the Oprah and Friends XM radio network, is a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and was also the host of the hit TLC show Clean Sweep. Peter holds a master’s degree with a specialty in educational psychology. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.

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Does Your Home Stress You Out? Why Less Is More

Don’t let your stuff define you. Embrace a new mind-set of consuming less and living with less, and you’ll find more peace and happiness at home, says expert organizer Peter Walsh in Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less.

IT STARTS WITH A VISION
If I had to give you one word that lies at the root of most people’s emotional pain and anguish today, you’d probably be surprised it’s not “money” (or the lack thereof). It’s “stuff.” Stuff keeps us from having the rich, full life we deserve. More stuff doesn’t equate to a better life. Stuff has a way of creeping into and overtaking our homes. It also has a way of defining us, when we should be defining ourselves from a much deeper, intangible perspective. And when our stuff begins to define who we are, we become incapable of defin­ing ourselves outside of what we own and what we can buy. This, as many of you may know by now, is a setup for utter unhappiness. One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie Fight Club: “The things you own end up owning you.” It’s a great quote, one that I use often and one that’s really worth pondering. I can also extend that quote: “The things you own end up owning your identity.

It’s time to seriously examine ourselves and our relationships with the money, people, and things in our lives — and the lack thereof. No one should feel stressed out when she opens the door to her own home or buys staples for living. No one has to. No one should feel like he has “nothing” when he can count on his loved ones, even when there’s a lack of material possessions and money. Your home and your financial stability are within your control. Con­sider this: if your home is not providing you with a place of peace and calm, of focus and motivation; if your home is instead a major source of stress and anxiety in your life, then isn’t it obvious that things are seriously out of balance? If your own home does not offer you some measure of nourishment and calm, where are you finding that peace? Chances are, nowhere! Your home should be the place where you escape all negative forces in the world. How you live in that home — eat, breathe, sleep, play, and connect with loved ones — should be the antidote to stress, not the cause.

To get to the heart of our financial problems, we have to reframe how we view what we own, what we buy, how we pay, what we can af­ford, and what will help us create the life we want for ourselves. This is about living mindfully within our means and it begins with a new perspective and a new mind-set about consuming less, living with less, and being happy with less — a mind-set that embraces the idea that happiness doesn’t automatically come with more. This process must start with a clear vision of the life you want — not a debt num­ber or credit score. Just a vision — your vision — and a big one at that.

LESS IS MORE
Let’s be honest, the concept of less is far less attractive than the con­cept of more. Just that word “less” carries a boatload of negative con­notations. Less drums up thoughts of not having enough, being a few dollars short, getting the short end of the stick, not functioning at 100 percent, missing something, lacking something, and so on. It implies hardship, deprivation, destitution, and poverty. But does it have to be a negative term? What does less mean to you?

Complete the following statements:

With less, I am afraid that:

With less, I won’t be able to:

With less, my happiness is:

Think for a moment about what automatically comes to mind when you think of you with less. Are you afraid that life won’t be as plea­surable or rewarding? Does less mean you can’t be happy? Does the very idea of less threaten your happiness? Will having less and living on less income mean you won’t be living the life of your dreams? Why do you think this way? How is this so? What preconceived no­tions about “more” are clouding your definition of “less”?

Now let’s turn this table around. Our cynical relationship with this word “less” is completely arbitrary. What if we chose to look at it from a different perspective? What if, for example, we couch “less” in terms that relate to abundance? Having less doesn’t have to equate with being less, or missing anything. It can, in fact, result in the opposite effect of being more and having more — less of the things that cripple us or trip us up and more happiness, more simplicity, more relaxation, more satisfaction, more energy, more time, more joy, more order, more freedom, more flexibility, more opportunities, more of the things we truly value and need to live the life we want. This concept of “less” that will change our lives is less stress, less worry, less anxiety, less debt, less dissatisfaction, less frustration, less failure, less chaos, less dependence, less dysfunction in our relation­ships, and less feeling trapped in our financial instability and clutter-filled homes. When you look at it this way, less really can be more.

The shift from seeing less as a negative to less as a positive hap­pens when we embrace the concept of less as an opportunity to be re­sponsible and to be mindful consumers. It’s about filling our souls rather than our physical space. It’s about peace of mind rather than just more, more, more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Walsh
, author of Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less (Copyright © 2011 by Peter Walsh Design, Inc.), is a clutter expert and organizational consultant who characterizes himself as part contractor and part therapist. He is a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and hosts Enough Already! with Peter Walsh on The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Peter holds a master’s degree with a specialty in educational psychology. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.

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The Surprising Cost of Clutter in Your Home

Not only does clutter burden you emotionally — it’s costing you financially. Expert organizer Peter Walsh shows you how to calculate the value of unused space in your home due to clutter. From Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less

That Clutter Is Costing Real Dollars
It’s easy to put a dollar figure on the cost of professionally stored clutter, but what about the clutter you keep at home? How much is that costing you? I’m not just referring to the financial cost. I’m also talking about what it’s costing you emotionally. The emotional cost may exceed the dollar cost.

Try going through one room and make a quick estimate of the cost of what you’re not using. For example, look in your bedroom and consider the cost of unworn clothes and shoes, unread books, unworn jewelry, or unused makeup. Consider the unused toys in your den or child’s bedroom. If any particular item you come across tugs at your heart or makes you emotional, then consider that an added cost. Add up the cost of the items — I’m guessing that some of those clothes still have the tags on them so it won’t be that hard — and write down the amount. Is it big? How much of that are you still paying off? This simple exercise should give you a rough estimate of the cost of the clutter in your home.

Another assessment you can do is to work out how much each square foot of your home is worth and then see how much of that space is unused due to clutter. Simply take the current value of your home (make a rough estimate; you’re not trying to come up with the exact selling figure for real estate purposes so just obtain the general ballpark figure), and determine how much each square foot is worth.

Value of your home ÷ Square footage of your home = Value of each square foot

____________ ÷ _______________ = ____________

So, if you live in a $250,000 home and it’s 2,500 square feet, then each square foot is worth $100.

The value of each square foot of my home is: ­­­­­­­­­­____________

Now let’s calculate how much of your home’s space is occupied by things you don’t use. Walk around your home and make a rough calculation of how many square feet are unusable because of the clutter. Don’t forget the basement, closets, and garage!

The number of square feet in my home that are occupied by things I don’t use: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­______________

Now let’s find out how much that wasted square footage is worth:

Value of square footage x Square feet occupied by things you don’t use = Value of unusable space

____________ x _______________ = ____________

Are you surprised at the value of the space you’re giving up to things you don’t use? Is it a big waste of space? A colossal waste of money for space that is lost to you and your family? Every month when you pay your mortgage company, a decent chunk of that money is paying for storage in your own home.

Now let’s do this once more but this time go through and write down what everything in each room is worth. Mark which items have been totally paid for. And then write down how much you still owe on the other items. For example, let’s say you have a big-screen TV that you bought for $2,000 when it first came out because you had to have it for the Super Bowl three years ago. Did you put it on your credit card? Have you paid the card off or are you carrying a balance every month? Think about it: if you are carrying a balance, some part of the balance you pay every month is that TV you bought three years ago. If that TV breaks, you are still paying it off even if you replace it. And then you’ll be paying for both the broken TV and its replace­ment! Really look around your house and figure out exactly what you own and what you still owe money on. Was anything worth the worry and stress of those monthly bills?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Walsh
, author of Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less (Copyright © 2011 by Peter Walsh Design, Inc.), is a clutter expert and organizational consultant who characterizes himself as part contractor and part therapist. He is a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and hosts Enough Already! with Peter Walsh on The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Peter holds a master’s degree with a specialty in educational psychology. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.

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Clutter-Busting in 5 Minutes a Day

Help keep your home clutter-free in five minutes with these five simple steps. From It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff by Peter Walsh, professional organizer from TLC’s hit series Clean Sweep

Daily Purging
You’d be amazed at how much you can accomplish in ten minutes. Every day, take five minutes to straighten up and five minutes to focus on cleaning out the clutter in a drawer or on a shelf or flat space, and your house will always be in order. Think about it — if you do this five days out of every week, you’ll have purged 260 small areas in your home at the end of a year. Those small projects really add up.

It’s best to use the same time slot every day. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, do it when the kids nap or leave for school. If you’re a morning person who either works from home or never has trouble getting to work on time, then make it part of your morning ritual. If you’re always in a rush in the morning, pick a time when you get home — as soon as you walk in the door, or after dinner, or after the kids are in bed — whatever makes the most sense for you. One of my clients likes to straighten up in the morning so she comes home to a clean house. She saves her purge for the evening so that she can be sure to finish up. These small steps really make a difference!

The Five-Minute Purge
Here’s what the five-minute purge looks like:

1. Set the kitchen timer for five minutes.

2. Grab a medium-size garbage bag. You’ll use this bag to throw things away or to drop them off at your charity of your choice, whichever makes more sense for the times you’re purging.

3. Pick your target. Make sure to keep it small so you can be thorough. It’s one drawer in the kitchen, one shelf of video tapes, the floor of the coat closet, etc.

4. Clear out anything you haven’t used for the last six months to a year. Remember? You were supposed to have done this when you first cleaned your home. But a home is a living thing and what you felt you needed to keep yesterday, you may be able to let go of today. Now be ruthless. The more you get rid of, the longer you can wait before you revisit this area.

5. When the timer goes off, stop. If the bag is full, put it in the garbage (or in your car trunk so you can drop it off the next time you drive past a Goodwill or other charity). If the bag isn’t full, put it with the garbage or recycling in preparation for tomorrow, when you’ll surely fill it up in your next purge.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Walsh is a clutter expert and organizational consultant who characterizes himself as part-contractor and part-therapist. He is the bestselling author of It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff (Copyright © 2007 by Peter Walsh), Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? and Enough Already! He can also be heard weekly on The Peter Walsh Show on the Oprah and Friends XM radio network, is a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and was also the host of the hit TLC show Clean Sweep. Peter holds a master’s degree with a specialty in educational psychology. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.

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Are You a Clutter Junkie?

Do you have a clutter problem? How bad is it? To find out, take this quiz from It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff by Peter Walsh, professional organizer from TLC’s hit series Clean Sweep.

Clutter Quiz
1. Could you have a party without cleaning up first?

a. Guests could eat off the floor. Bring ’em on!
b. Maybe tomorrow. The living room’s a mess, but I can hide it away in a few hours.
c. Um, I don’t have parties here. Can we go bowling instead?

2. Do your clothes fit in your closet?
a. Of course. They’re hung in order by color and season.
b. They fit, I guess, but I have no idea what’s on the top shelf.
c. They fall on my head when I open the door. Is that so wrong?

3. Without looking, do you know where to find your car keys, your unpaid bills, and your home or renter’s insurance policy?
a. Absolutely — want me to get them right now?
b. All except the insurance — it must be somewhere in my husband’s/wife’s/partner’s office.
c. Sure — just give me ten minutes to find them. Or an hour.

4. What is on your dining room table right now?
a. Wood polish and a rag — I was just wiping it.
b. A few piles of bills — and my child’s art collection.
c. So much stuff that I can’t see the table.

5. How many magazines are in your house right now?
a. Three — the current issue of each magazine I get.
b. Oh, a lot. But I need them for my job.
c. I have every issue of National Geographic ever published. It’s an outstanding collection.

6. How many paper and shopping bags are you saving?
a. A handful — we use them to recycle newspapers.
b. An overstuffed milk crate plus a few extra. You never know what size bag you’ll need.
c. Every single bag that enters the house.

7. Answer the following questions with a yes or no:
a. If you had to change a light bulb, could you find one?
b. Are all of your DVDs and CDs in their sleeves?
c. Are kids’ toys anywhere except in their rooms or designated play areas?
d. Are there dirty dishes in the sink?
e. Are dirty clothes anywhere but in the hamper?
f. Are there out-of-date medications in your medicine chest?
g. Are all bills paid and papers filed?
h. Does every item of clothing in your closet fit you now?

How Clutter Free Are You?
Score yourself:

Questions 1–6: Give yourself zero points for every A; one point for every B; two points for every C.

Question 7: Give yourself a point if you answered: a) no; b) no; c) yes: d) yes; e) yes; f) yes: g) no; h) no.

Add all your points together.

If you scored:
10–20 points: Uh-oh. Looks like you’re a HARD-CORE HOARDER. It’s amazing that you found a pen to take this quiz. But don’t take it too hard or feel overwhelmed: The first step is admitting the problem. We’ll take this step-by-step and custom tailor the program to work for you. Do remember that sometimes a first round of decluttering isn’t enough. A few months after your first purge, you’ll look at the same stuff you thought you couldn’t throw out and realize you haven’t touched it since your cleanup. It takes a while to get used to the idea that if you don’t use it, if it’s not part of your life, if it doesn’t serve your goals, then it’s just a waste of space. You’ll get there, I promise.

3–9 points: Good news. You’re a CLUTTER VICTIM. This may not sound like good news, but it means that you, like so many others, have fallen victim to the clutter buildup that’s hard to avoid when you have a busy life, diverse interests, disposable income, family memorabilia, and a steady influx of purchases and junk mail. Not to worry. With a reasonable amount of effort you’ll be able to get your clutter issues under control and keep them that way.

0–2 points: Congratulations! You’re CLUTTER-FREE. Give yourself a pat on the back, but don’t get lazy. Staying clutter-free takes work. Is there a storage room or an office where your clutter congregates? You can turn directly to that section to attack your problem head-on. A calendar of monthly routines will help you keep your home spick-and-span.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Walsh is a clutter expert and organizational consultant who characterizes himself as part-contractor and part-therapist. He is the bestselling author of It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff (Copyright © 2007 by Peter Walsh), Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? and Enough Already! He can also be heard weekly on The Peter Walsh Show on the Oprah and Friends XM radio network, is a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and was also the host of the hit TLC show Clean Sweep. Peter holds a master’s degree with a specialty in educational psychology. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.

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