I became a professional organizer because I’m truly a detective at heart. I grew up on Nancy Drew mystery books but never did outgrow my passion for mysteries. I love treasure-hunting spaces and people and I’m going to show YOU how to follow the CLUTTER CLUES to solve common organizing problems!
In good organizing, there is more to the process than just sorting and containerizing.
To create lasting order, we need understand the ROOT CAUSE of our organizing problems instead of just dealing with the symptoms of our disorganization.
To get organized and boost your productivity, get out your magnifying glass and follow the clutter clues!
We must learn to ask not just WHAT is happening in our messes, but WHY! Our own clutter contains the clues that will lead us to the causes of our disorder.
The first clutter clue is when you’ve run out of room….
Clutter Clue #1: Stuffed Drawers or Cabinets
A good clue you need to “restore order” is when you want to file something, and you can’t cram it in the stuffed drawer!
Overpacked filing drawers reveal a long-term habit of stashing and stuffing. Perhaps at one time your filing system worked, but over time it devolved into a crowded mess. So, instead of taking the time to address the problem, you’ve just begun slipping in files “here and there.” Pretty soon, you reach critical mass and you can’t stuff in another file!
This is also true for supply drawers and cabinets. Sometimes these spaces were never organized in the first place, or they have no assigned “purpose,” so it’s easy to commandeer the real estate and shove anything into the space they afford. But eventually, the space grace runs out, and you’re stuck with jam-packed drawers and cabinets burgeoning with STUFF.
When you have to shove something in, or dig for what you need, it’s time for an organizing overhaul!
The solution isn’t popular: you’ve got to “pay the piper” and address the problem.
To address overstuffed file drawers and supply zones, you’ll need to pull everything out and sort, thin out your belongings, assign a purpose to the space, and reload.
In the process of following the clutter clue of stuffed storage, you may discover that you actually need to acquire another file cabinet because your business has grown and you need more file space. In this case, your clutter clue was actually pointing to a GOOD thing: growth and expansion!
By unloading over-burdened storage cabinets, you might find a lot of items you no longer use. As life and work changes, so do our supplies. We used to need a lot more binder supplies than we seem to nowadays. And very few people utilize report covers or two-hole punches anymore. So, your stuffed storage clue – in this case- leads you to let go of extraneous belongings.
Speaking of paper, there’s a type that seems to multiply and cause clutter: notes!
Clutter Clue #2: Notes Everywhere
We all do it: we grab the back of an envelope and jot down a phone number. We take notes on sticky pads. We rip out pieces of paper and scribble out our thoughts. We use a notepad…for a while…and then move to another.
I’ve seen lots of sticky notes outlining the rim of computer monitors, plastered all over workstations, and stuck upon paper projects. And, as you know, sticky notes tend to travel! They get attached to items that were not necessarily their mate! Our notes-to-self add to the jumble and confusion.
The solution is to streamline your note taking habits.
Take specific types of notes into different notepads. For example:
- Choose one notepad for your task list
- Select another notepad for your ideas
- Purpose another pad for notes related to a big project you’re working on
I like to use spiral notepads because they fold back completely. Even within notepads, I try to limit each page to a single topic. That way, if I want to rip out a page and drop it in a file folder, I can do so easily without losing other information I wanted to keep in the notepad.
And please –except in a pinch: use sticky notes for labeling not note-taking due to their propensity to travel. Instead of scribbling messages on sticky notes, use them for labeling categories or types.
Here are a few examples of using sticky notes for labeling:
- When I’m sorting paper for a client, I will categorize their paper by type so they can look at one type of paper at a time, which helps for streamlining thoughts and decision-making. I will denote each category with sticky notes marking each category: health, correspondence, financial, bills-to-pay, etc.
- After we’ve overhauled a home office for a client, we will write the contents of each drawer and cabinet on a post it note and leave it there for a while until the client gets used to the new locations of their stuff.
Now that you have reigned in notes, you can address other pesky and persistent problems.
Clutter Clue #3: Recurrent Problems
You know how the same problems just keep haunting us until we get annoyed enough to deal with them?
This is especially true in organizing.
Recurrent problems are a common clutter clue and a cry for organizational help. These are problems that happen over and over are generally related to workflow and habits.
Here are some examples:
- The kids habitually invading your home office workspace and leaving behind their snack wrappers and homework
- You or your spouse dropping the mail all over the house, instead of in one agreed-upon spot
- Constant interruption by small humans when you’re on the phone
As frustrating as these recurrent workflow invasions are, we often delay dealing with them because we have to unravel these clues and determine what they’re revealing. In my experience, these issues and habits just need a little thoughtful attention and you can resolve them pretty easily.
The solution to any recurrent problem is to SLOW DOWN and give yourself the gift of TIME to address it properly.
Here’s a three-fold approach:
- Assess the costs of these problems – from noise, to clutter, to tripping hazards
- Determine what needs to happen – like setting up a separate homework station for the kids, or adding a locking door
- Execute your plan – calendar some time to address the problem. Most issues take me between 12-24 hours to tackle
Now that you know how to deal with stubborn recurring problems, this last clutter clue will be a breeze!
Clutter Clue #4: Duplication
The last clutter clue is duplication, largely due to our modern compulsion to collect!
Duplication happens in both the physical and electronic world!
Examples of duplication include:
- Cords everywhere – they’re stuffed in drawers and bins and tossed out in the garage. They come in a huge variety, from audio/visual cords to computer cords, to phone and tablet cords, to cords for our accessories and appliances. The sheer volume of cords, along with the rapid pace of outdating electronics, results in too many storage locations and too little sorting and identifying.
- Explosion of office supplies – from the craft area to the kitchen drawer to the home office, we need office supplies, and herein lies the problem. Office supplies soon begin traveling throughout the home and no one can find a stapler.
- The proliferation of paper – Paper is produced through the printer, mail, and other incoming sources. We then pile it or sort it on any available surface. Without a good incoming paper station and routing system throughout the home, our surfaces become hijacked by lingering paper.
- Duplicated electronic files – Very few people create naming conventions for their electronic files. And overhauling an electronic system takes time, so hardly anyone does it. Therefore, we end up with multiple files and folders with the same name. Another culprit is forgetting to delete earlier editions when you are saving the latest copy of something. It’s so easy to create duplication in our electronic files and so cumbersome to fix it, that we rely on the “search” feature and call it good.
The ONLY solution to the duplication problem is to methodically address one issue at a time.
For example, take an afternoon to gather all the cords throughout your home and garage (and car!). Then, organize them by type. Start a donation or resale bag for those you no longer use (and take the time to pair the cord with the give-away device). Once you’ve sorted everything out, store the cords nearest your workstation that you use daily and weekly. Others (like the projector and its cord) can go elsewhere in a “media zone.”
As you can see, solving duplication isn’t really that hard; it just takes time.
But all good things require an investment of time. When you dedicate the time to follow the clutter clues and act on what they reveal, you can truly create organizing solutions that last!
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning how to follow the trail of clutter and solve each case of disorganization!
Your friend in detective work,
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