In the world of lifestyle magazines and blogs, the month of January is all about motivational posts and decluttering articles. I can guarantee you that any blog, website or magazine you pick up this month will be filled with articles on how to get your house in order / feel happier / get rid of clutter. And I know this because every year (as part of my day job as the editor of Houzz) I commission them! So you can blame me. But there’s a reason that bloggers, writers and editors all focus on the same topics each month – we homeowners are all creatures of habit and as sure as we all get excited about filling our house with sparkles, glitter and decorations every December, it’s a safe bet that when January rolls around we will be filled with the same urge to purge and strip our homes back to their clean, minimal basics.
But there’s another, more emotional element to the January declutter. It’s the perfect time to be kind to ourselves and treat ourselves by adopting just one, simple new practice that can make our lives simpler and happier. Rather than punishing ourselves for December’s excess (excess is fun, that’s why we do it – why feel bad about it afterwards? Don’t even get me started on ‘dry January’…) I think the new year is the perfect time to treat ourselves and our home to a new, time-saving habit.
So, this January I’ve been inspired by the wonderful Zen Habits blog (you need to add this to your reading list) and I’m training myself to keep my desk tidy. Sounds simple enough, but how many of us actually have the luxury of a uncluttered and zen workspace? And it is a luxury – trust me. I’ve been putting this into practice for a couple of weeks and it works. I was inspired by this Zen Habits post, it’s dated 2007 but the advice is spot on – proof that a good idea doesn’t date. (The Zen Habits post was inspired, in turn by this book that I have just ordered – more on that when it arrives!) You can also buy Leo Babatua’s brilliant book Essential Zen Habits here. I just have!
How to keep your desk tidy by Leo Babatua
The following three steps are based on Leo’s belief that you must have a system in place, and you must teach yourself to follow the system. They are taken word for word from his blog post that you can read in full here. (I started to paraphrase them, but he has written them so clearly I wanted to share them with you in full.)
1. First, take everything on your desk and in your drawers, and put them in one big pile. Put it in your “in basket” (if it doesn’t fit, pile it next to your desk or something). From now on, everything that comes in must go in your in basket, and you process everything as below.
2. Process this pile from the top down. Never re-sort, never skip a single piece of paper, never put a piece of paper back on the pile. Do what needs to be done with that paper, and then move on to the next in the pile. The options: trash it, delegate it, file it, do it, or put it on a list to do later. In that order of preference. Do it if it takes 2 minutes or less to complete. If it takes more, and you can’t trash, delegate or file it, then put it on a list of to-dos.
3. Repeat at least once daily to keep desk clear. The end of the day is best, but I tend to process and tidy up as I go through the day. Once you’ve processed your pile, your desk is clear. You’ve trashed or filed or somehow put everything where it belongs (not on top of your desk or stashed in a drawer). Keep it that way. You must follow the system above: put everything in your inbox, then take action on each piece of paper in the inbox with one of the steps listed. If an item is on your to-do list, you can keep the paper associated with it in an “Action” folder. But you must regularly (daily or weekly) go through this folder to ensure that everything is purged.
And that’s it. Leaving things until a magical time in the future when you will deal with them will only add to the clutter in your life. So, don’t procrastinate; do it now. File that business card, deal with that post-it, tidy those ‘papers’ then forget about them and move on.
With thanks to Leo Babatua for the inspiration.