Clearing my (psychic) clutter, Day 14: What goes with an empty desk?


My favorite declutter types, Karen Rauch Carter (whose book I wrote about), Brooks Palmer (whose book and workshop I wrote about) and Karen Kingston (whose book I really need to get around to reviewing here), all use one common descriptor to characterize the nature of clutter: sticky.

“Sticky” as in it sticks to what you put it on, sticks to other clutter, and generally, sticks around in your life.

It is also quite sludgy, in that it tends to make you get stuck on stuff, or in stuff, instead of feeling free to move forward freely. Literally, when things get really bad, you’ll find yourself not being able to move around freely in your dwelling space: a box (probably full of more clutter, honestly) that needs to get hauled to the P.O. instead gets put down in your hallway or the center of your office until you can get around to it, and you end up literally walking around it each time you need to move from point A to point B.

Or you have eight black tops hanging in your closet which you have to sift through each time you want that one exact one without the rip you’re really, seriously going to get around to mending one day (if you haven’t put it in the sticky dry cleaner’s pile).

Or you have a bunch of stuff on your desk, each piece of which had a perfectly valid reason for being there at one point, but whose time or purpose has passed and now just remains because you’ve not taken the time to return it to someplace where it “lives” (maybe because that is a mythical place of dragons and fairies).

One of the things I loved about Jen & Charlie’s Work Party was the smallness and fun-ness of it. As in, take five minutes and go put one thing that’s on your desk back where it should go, or sort through one pile of papers, or pitch some crap which was once useful but is now just clutter. Five minutes. Or maybe it was two.

The result of doing a small thing like that is that it is a smackdown, tricky and sneaky-like, of clutter: I’m not clearing my clutter; I’m just moving this one thing five inches to the left. And then at best, you uncork the Mad Power of Creating Order, and go to two, which at the very very least, you reclaim one square foot of precious desk space.

You also (if you’re me, anyway) regain purchase in a busy, cluttered mind. Just a couple of weeks of concentrated letting-go of stuff and I’ve grown much more sensitive to the presence of physical clutter and how it distresses me. I’ve noted how I feel in cluttered space and clearer space, and how much more mental work it is to block out clutter or fight the sticky feeling of clutter when I’m around it. I mean, it’s possible, but with energy in somewhat limited supply these days, I’d rather spend it on the stuff that really matters: work and loved ones.

I do not have eight black tops in the closet anymore; I barely have eight tops, period. But to paraphrase my friend, Chicago Jan, now when I look in my closet, I feel like I can’t make a bad clothes choice.

I’m working on that same feeling with my desk, and that big, sucking hulk of digital detritus perched upon it, my computer. Clutter seems to get stickier as you dig into the layers that are really scary to let go of: old files, someday/maybe ideas and projects, sentimental items or “taste” items like software and media files. The old files, ideas and projects feel like my work, and letting go of them feels like the work never happened. The old media and software files seem to define me, and represent cold, hard cash going out of my pocket.

Time and time again, I have to remind myself that what I really needed from most of those things, I’ve long since integrated. And the stuff I haven’t yet is getting in the way of the stuff I need now, or need next.

How do you, or do you, let go of music and movies, ideas and photos, all the accumulation of a medium-long lifetime?

One at a time…in batches…as you have the strength to…


Image by ngader via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. thanks for the reminder to clear the ‘stuff’ that lives IN my computer, especially the one at the office.
    i’ve kept many personal photos in the office computer and what i’ve been doing lately is deleting the pictures that are used on my blog since they are now stored at the blog. i’ve also posted pictures in my facebook page for ‘safe-keeping’ but i’ve seriously been considering starting an online photo-storing account so i don’t have to keep all my pictures in the computer (and hopefully avoid computer overload!).
    as for music and movies, i’m working on storing the cd’s into my Mac, so I can then sell them for $, but i love watching movies while creating stuff in my studio/workroom, so those may not be leaving my home anytime soon…
    thank you for sharing your clutter-clearing journey here! it’s nice to read that someone else besides me is having difficulty with clearing/decluttering though the intentions are VERY good =-) it really can be an overwhelming process!

  2. Sounds like you are really trying to get down to the nitty gritty here. That connection between the individual pieces of clutter and your mind. Here are several ideas for your desk. Get two cardboard boxes from the grocery store, start at one end and pick up one item at a time. Make a decision then and there, it either goes in the trash box or the keep box. pick up every single item on your desk, no exceptions. When the desk is clear, move the trash box out to the trash. The keep box is now sorted into piles, As, Bs and Cs. The A’s are things that are of immediate concern, actual jobs, bills to be paid, invoices to send, proposals to complete, timely correspondence, generally speaking actual money that is definitely going out or coming in. The B’s are things that need to be done to maintain your ongoing business such as follow ups on prospects that need to be done within this week, to do lists of home/ office maintenance/ completing the next step in a long term project/ research that will actually be of some benefit to your business/ reviewing results of the past quarter/ planning and making goals for the next quarter, etc. The C’s are long term items and inspirational items. These are the long term wish lists like the artistic direction you want to develop, cool ideas that might contribute to this, new technologies that you should be up on, thoughts on the meaning of life and that kind of stuff. The A’s get prioritized and put in a neat stack in your inbox. The B’s get put in priority order in a file folder under the inbox. The C’s get put into a file folder and filed in the file drawer. Now get to work on the A’s. When you’re done go to the Bs. If this works for you today, go and do that to every surface in the room.

  3. Monica – I hear you. Pixels may not show up in stacks but they take up room, just like anything else. I hear we’re supposed to be wary of entrusting photos just to a photo sharing service, like Flickr. Better to back up to your own external drive and a remote storage server. Redundancy is key for all the mission-critical stuff.

    Which of course means it makes sense to first reduce the amount of stuff you have, period. Aaaand we’re back to where we started!

    TheMikeCody – That’s a pretty nifty plan, and much like what I use currently to clear off my desk and other horizontal spaces (or even “buckets”). Thanks for writing it out: I’m sure it will come in handy for more than one lost soul!

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