Being that we’re human, we are natural collectors to varying extents. Whether it’s buying new shoes every other day or owning 20 fidget-spinners, we all are guilty of accumulating some things in excess.
Acquiring items is not always bad, but once it begins to affect how functional and productive we are, it falls under the definition of “clutter.” In Mikael Cho’s 2013 article, How Clutter Affects Your Brain (and What You Can Do About It), he identifies how “physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress.” When faced with an overload of physical clutter, the senses become overloaded and ultimately, you become deterred and your ability to think creatively can be negatively affected. These concepts of clutter directly correlate to workplace functionality – if there is too much clutter, there will be an evident decrease in productivity. This type of hoarding can reveal itself in several ways in an office space, but most likely it manifests in the form of physical clutter made up of paper and files. This type of clutter makes it more difficult for one to filter information, switch quickly between tasks, and keep a strong working memory in the workplace.
To avoid a sensory overload, there are several ways you can clean up clutter in your office space to maximize space and productivity simultaneously.
Identify what is necessary and what is not.
If you’re anything like me, your desk at work probably has that ominously large stack of paper and dozens of vague sticky notes stuck to your desktop. To avoid this overaccumulation of physical clutter, there is an imperative need to sift through that pile of paperwork and determine what’s necessary to keep – the rest should be tossed or filed.
Professional organizer, Liz Watts, explores the variety of ways to manage paper in her advice article, Clear Office Clutter in Three Easy Steps. She strongly suggests having a basket or bin for mail and newspapers to increase organization and expand the physical space in an office.
Deborah Gussoff offers her own advice for “taming the paper tiger” which includes getting rid of redundant paperwork that only needs to be saved and filed once. She lives by the rule that certain receipts, junk mail, and old grocery shopping lists should only be saved for a period of time before getting tossed out. Other organizational techniques include using binders, shelves for different areas of paperwork (ex. Medical, Investments, Household Reference, etc).
In a similar light, Jason Fitzpatrick uses The End-All Guide to Getting Out From Under Your Office Crap to suggest first setting aside time to declutter and then organize three containers – one for trash, one for keeping but not in the office space, and the third for donating. Fitzpatrick emphasizes that it’s acceptable to leave necessary items on your desk like a legal pad and your computer, but that drawer “full of miscellaneous and half-used pens and multi-color sticky tabs [not touched] since the Clinton administration” needs to go.
Each professional organizer will advise the same thing when it comes to organizing paperwork: when in doubt, trash it.
Less is more.
This cliche actually holds a lot of weight when it comes to managing space in the workplace. Like an addiction, to break the habit of letting stuff accumulate, lines need to be drawn. The word “constraint” naturally has a negative connotation which makes adapting minimalistic styles seem unappealing. However, Joshua Becker reveals at least 21 benefits of owning less to encourage the transition; they range from stress reduction, less spending, and increased productivity. Applying constraints upholds the “less is more” cliche; Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus use their piece More Is Less? to delve into the concept of how “owning less stuff, focusing on fewer tasks, and having less in the way has given us more time, more freedom, and more meaning in our lives.” When implemented correctly, applying constraints (especially in regards to clutter) can relax the subconscious and actually increase productivity and creativity, as is explained in 11 Reasons to Own Less Stuff on Embracing Simple’s blog. The increased flexibility and energy that comes from reducing your clutter physically will result in mental liberation and allow you to have more efficiency in your work. Becoming a full-fledged minimalist in every aspect of your life may not be realistic, but learning how to manage your belongings and paperwork by using constraints is an obtainable goal in creating space.
Consider going digital.
Most likely you’ve heard how some businesses are going “paperless,” meaning that their files are digital rather than on paper. In general, transitioning from paper to computer for indexes, contracts, etc. has contributed to reducing the physical space in the workspace. In his online piece Your Business Need to Go Paperless: Here’s Why and How, Larry Alton points out how businesses tend to accrue boxes of files but “digital files…take no physical space on your premises at all.” Going digital involves transitions to resources such as e-signatures and Excel spreadsheets to physically clean up the workspace and encourage organization. Take one of the highest ranked e-signature companies, SignNow by Barracuda Networks, that allows millions of people to sign, send and manage documents on any digital device. In The Paperless Office (composed 2016 Q4), SignNow addresses how e-signatures are the first step in transitioning to a paperless environment while simultaneously reducing costs. They expanded on the decluttering benefits in Why Going Paperless Could be your Business’ New Years’ Resolution, where they identified how e-signatures could enhance productivity and save you space. Using paper is unproductive in its waste, and therefore part of the solution lies in digital organization; e-signatures are one of many examples that present benefits in digital organization. Although it would extend past e-signatures to go completely paperless, considering the idea of eventually transitioning into a digital platform as a business or individual could be a huge step in optimizing space and productivity.
We all are guilty of collecting clutter one way or another and need to be aware of the effects it has on our productive capacity. So when you find yourself surrounded by clutter at home or at work and want to start maximizing your physical and mental workspace, considering these suggestions can help you be successful in that. After all, in order to cultivate creativity, there must be the space to do so.