Clutter
What in the world is this thing? Is this policy manual the current version? Do I really need to keep the contents of this box?


Are you asking these questions as you move into a your office to begin a new job? Are you asking these questions in the home you’ve lived in for a decade? The clutter may have taken over rooms or it may have merely taken over a corner. But clutter is clutter, and it only gets worse the longer it’s left unaddressed.

During my career in education, I held five different positions. Each time, the first order of business was cleaning out and organizing the space left by my predecessor. Generally, those on the way out aren’t as conscientious about having everything neat and organized as the person coming in.

When You Are New to the Job

As you organize, anything you pick up will fall into one of two categories: 1) you need it; or 2) you don’t. Toss the junk and organize the treasure. But, in the early days, it’s hard to distinguish the one from the other. As a result, too many people hang onto it all and wonder why they can never find anything amid the clutter.

Time tends to answer those questions. Today, the folder that looks like junk may turn out to be the folder you will be looking for next week.

You come across a box of keys. Nobody has any idea which locks they fit. A month later, you encounter that locked storage room. Nobody has a key. A match turns up in that box of orphaned keys. Aren’t you glad that box of keys spent some time in “bulk” before being thrown out?

Establish a “Bulk” Space

A “bulk” space is a place you can toss any questionable item until you can make a better decision about its usefulness and where it needs to live. The decisions are small ones, but they are decisions we must make.

The bulk space can be a designated shelf in a storage closet or cabinet. It can be an empty drawer in a filing cabinet or credenza. Two basic requirements make the concept work.

First, you must check the area regularly. On my task list is a weekly repeating item that merely says, “Check Bulk.” It’s a trigger to look at the contents and make decisions about anything that’s there. In a new position, the “bulk” space grows smaller each week as some items are discarded and others are organized in their proper places.

Second, nothing gets to live there permanently. “Bulk” is a holding tank for items awaiting decisions.

The bulk space provides a temporary place for the clutter. It’s out of sight. It’s not occupying a corner of your otherwise pristine office. But it’s not out of mind. You are regularly visiting that space and asking tough questions about what’s there, its usefulness, and where it’s present home needs to be.

The day the bulk space is totally clear is a major step forward. It’s a sign the decisions have been made. The junk is gone and no longer taking up valuable storage space. The good stuff is organized.

The “Bulk” Space Going Forward

Once the clutter is gone, that bulk space takes on a new and useful purpose: A microscope needs repair and you plan to deliver it to the proper person on Friday. Where do you put it from now until then?

You have a box of books to donate to charity and plan to take them on Tuesday of next week. What happens to that box of books until then? A new box of books arrives. What do you do with it until the books are distributed to the proper place? Do you really want the clutter sitting in a corner of your office? Your “bulk” space is your holding tank for these items.

You may be new to the job. You may simply want to turn over a new leaf and move from chaos to control. In either case, this bulk space provides a place for things that don’t yet have a home. Clear a place for your “bulk” space today.

If you are new to the job and enjoyed this post, you might also like this one the Tickler File. Are you following an “icon” and have big shoes to fill? Why not bring your own as this post suggests.