One Hot Mess: A Practical Guide to Working Smarter and Living Simply

Most of us have too much stuff and not enough places to put it. Combine that with our hectic modern lives, and we have a recipe for a clutter catastrophe. In this season of great uncertainty, there are very few things under our direct control. However, we can get organised. What does this actually look like for you?

For some of us, it means clearing clutter, for others, it means getting around to filing and admin tasks that are piling up because we have been putting them off. Perhaps you simply want to overcome the feeling that you never get around to what matters because, from the moment you wake up until your head hits the pillow at night, there’s always a general air of chaos.

“The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.”
― Marie Kondō

You may think that you don’t have time to get organised, but if you actually knew how much disorganisation is costing you, you’d immediately reconsider. Rearranging, dusting and moving piles occasionally doesn’t count. The whole point of organising things is to make your life easier. When your life is easier, you can make the right decisions because you don’t have to spend time on setting up things before you act.

Only when we acknowledge ourselves from where we are, as we are in the moment, can we truly begin to take inventory of the physical, mental, and emotional clutter that no longer serves us. It is then that we can choose to stop judging ourselves for what we’ve become and focus on who we’d like to be. Life happens, and in that process, clutter happens too. Being organised is about being on top of the things that are important to you. 

The Cost of Being Unorganised

Being unorganised has larger consequences than misplacing your keys or forgetting to respond to an email. For one thing, it’s expensive. A 2017 survey found we spend a total of 2.5 days a year looking for misplaced items, such as phones, keys, and remotes. Replacing lost items costs the global economy billions each year, and many people are regularly late for work or school due to frustrating searches.

Disorganisation can also have a major impact on your emotional well-being. Data shows that people who describe their homes as “cluttered” or full of “unfinished projects” tend to be more depressed, fatigued, and have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who say their homes are “restful” and “restorative.” If  you are working from home or unemployed, as many have found themselves during the global lockdown, the impact of clutter is compounded because you’re constantly around it.

“Reduce the clutter in your life. Get rid of the things that no longer serve you: past regrets, leftover anger, old plans. Clutter doesn’t just occupy the house in which you live, it occupies your mind. Learn to maintain your mind. Learn to do a daily clean up. Get rid of those unwanted thoughts.”

― Avina Celeste

Amidst our quest to strike the right balance between our personal and professional space, life becomes too cluttered. When you have a cluttered environment, it’s hard to focus and decompress. When you get up in the morning and have clutter staring you in the face, it starts the day off on the wrong foot because, when you have to start your day by looking for your keys or your phone or your hairbrush, it makes you incredibly anxious — and you haven’t even left the house yet!

Living simply is not about seeing how little we can get by with – that’s poverty. A simple life is about how efficiently we can put first things first. When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments in your calendar.

5 Ways to Organise your Professional and Personal Life

If you’re feeling stressed, out of control or hemmed in by clutter, or you’ve simply bitten off more than you can chew, it’s time to organise your life to help you find calm and think more clearly. This will look different for everyone; some thrive on simplicity and minimalism, while others find order in colour-coded labels and consistency. Experiment with different approaches to see what resonates with you. Here are five suggestions you can try: 

1.Name it Right

We’re all guilty of creating meaningless document or file names like “Document22” or “Ideas.” In isolation, these vague file names don’t really do much harm. However, when you multiply this habit by the hundreds or thousands over time, you can quickly find yourself unable to locate documents, wasting time deciphering search results that all look alike, and opening dozens of documents to find the right one.

Establishing standard naming conventions keeps you and your digital workspace more organised. Naming conventions don’t need to be intimidating or burdensome; instead, focus on adding as much detail as you can to the title or file name. You could organise your files by project title, type, team member name, initials, or date. For example, instead of “Document22,” you could add the date, draft title, and author name: “Pure Gold_OneHotMess_OrganisedLife_SCunning.”

“Alchemy is the process of changing lead into gold. Inner alchemy (personal transformation) occurs when we clear our clutter—internal and external—and let go of things that no longer serve us well. This creates balance and space, a place that nurtures contentment, which I believe is true success.”
― Laurie Buchanan

Find a format that works for you, and stick with it. If you’re working with a team, be sure to gain buy-in from everyone and apply your naming conventions to notebooks or folder hierarchy as well. This will ensure everything is super organised.

2.Don’t Hesitate to Automate

Throughout any one day, you might constantly jump between business applications that each hold their own set of information. Employees in one study switched between as many as 35 job-critical apps more than 1000 times each day. This pattern not only impacts your productivity, it also increases the chances of losing information or having too much data siloed in certain apps. The result? Keeping track of which tasks are completed in which app not only clutters your workflow, it also clutters your mind.

“Clutter is symptomatic of delayed decision making.”
― Cynthia Kyriazis

Tools like Zapier and IFTTT can help connect your favourite apps, so that information automatically flows between them. Zapier allows you to search for apps and choose from a list of “Zaps” (pre-made integrations), or, if you prefer you can create your own workflow. IFTTT’s pre-built integrations are called Applets, and they also allow you to create your own. An automated workflow will cut your manual work in half or cut it out altogether.  

3.The Art of Zen Desk

Your desk can quickly become a catch-all for clutter, accumulating piles of paper, books, notes, pens, and snacks. While all these items serve a purpose, how you organise and display them has a big impact on how you work. The more cluttered your desk, the more stressed and anxious you’ll feel.  Don’t assume that a bare desk is best, though. Your optimal desk setup depends entirely on you. Think about your daily workflow. Identify the three to five items you most regularly use and place them within reach. Everything else can be stored or put away.

“The simple rhythms of nature are calling you. Let them wash away the clutter and distractions from your false life.”
― Bryant McGill

To really be in the flow, you could set up your desk to mirror our natural balance to receive on the left and give out on the right. For instance, you could place ‘incoming items’ like your computer or phone on the left, leave an empty workspace in the middle and place outgoing items (like completed paperwork) on the right. Try different arrangements until you find one that resonates with they way you work and process information.

Pro Tip: No matter how tempting, never eat at your desk. Eating lunch at your desk means you’ll stay seated longer, and sitting for long periods of time can make you sick in more ways than one. Bits of food also attract bacteria. Simply turn your keyboard upside down and give it a good shake right now – so gross!

4.Go Paperless

Our lives are increasingly digital, yet paper remains a modern reality. The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper every year. While some of that will be recycled, much of it will sit in your filing cabinet or on your desk.

“A good system shortens the road to the goal”

— Orison Swett Marden

Consider using portable whiteboards instead of notepads and critically evaluate what you need to keep and what you need to recycle. The goal is to transform as many paper documents into digital files as you can. Of course you will still need to physically store important papers, such as legal documents, and you can still digitise those to have a back-up copy as well.

5.Habitually Organised

Make time for organisation, just as you would for a big meeting or presentation. You might clean your desk on a Monday morning to kick the week off in style, or block off ten minutes at the end of each day to clear your physical and digital space. Make it a part of your routine and it won’t get out of control and seem so mammoth when you do get to it. Simplicity leads to clearer thinking. When you streamline things, life will be more enjoyable and mess-free! Not to mention, you’ll be super proud of yourself for making the changes. Organised people are not born organised; they are everyday people who have cultivated healthy habits which help them stay organised.

“You don’t have to face every skeleton in your closet before you can make some room in there!”
― Carmen Klassen

Our Stuff has a Powerful Grip.

Even though we might see all the benefits, when it comes to getting organised, we tend to be our own worst enemies. We keep things because we persuade ourselves we’ll need them – even if we haven’t used them in five years and don’t quite know where we’ve put them. There seems to be a security factor in just knowing they’re around… somewhere.

“You’re the boss of clutter, not the other way around.”
― Monika Kristofferson

As soon as we pick up items to declutter and organise, we are confronted with our memories, values and beliefs. People turn physical objects into magic talismans that connect them to memories and better times in their lives. Getting organised may have more to do with psychology than piles of possessions. From low self-esteem and an inability to make decisions, psychology shapes a person’s relationship to their space and stuff. So the key to more organised lives may lie within the grey matter of the mind.

Your home should be your sanctuary, your buffer against the world, which means it really is torture if you’re living in chaos. Yet guilt, grief and attachment are common motivations for retaining old things well past their expiration date. Ask yourself if this thing enhances your life. Do you like this item? Does it weigh you down? Do you feel stuck to it?

“By handling each sentimental item and deciding what to discard, you process your past. If you just stow these things away in a drawer or cardboard box, before you realise it, your past will become a weight that holds you back and keeps you from living in the here and now.”
― Marie Kondō

Four Kinds of Clutter

Once you know the reason for your clutter, you can make basic steps to eliminate, categorise and then organise.

Technical

Clutter that causes space restrictions and an overall lack of storage space.

Life Changes

Clutter caused by a new baby, a death in the family, a move or anything that has thrown a life out of balance.

Behavioural/Psychological

Clutter caused by depression, low self-worth or lack of personal boundaries.

Time/Life Management

Clutter caused by the need for better planning.

Putting in the effort into getting organised, especially if this organisation extends to multiple areas of your life, can help reduce stress levels in the long-term by requiring less last-minute scrambling in a variety of everyday situations. It can also feel empowering, so you begin to experience new situations as “exciting” rather than “stressful,” which can minimise the strength and duration of your stress response, or even keep it from getting triggered in the first place. It’s all about how you approach getting organised and on track. Everyone can afford to keep things tidy and make way for more happiness. Get it together and build on your confidence.

“We also need to be willing to make room in our lives for the impending birth of our dreams. This might mean emptying our life of clutter such as wasted time, energy, resources, or draining relationships. These things can jeopardize our dreams by distracting us at a time when we should be more focused than ever.”
― Christine Caine

12 Unique Approaches to Getting Organised

1.Write Things Down

Don’t rely on your memory alone. Even if your mind is sharp, it’s still easy to forget where something is, after you put it in a ‘safe place’. Try a phone app such as Evernote to jot down a quick note. Or, a planner works well too. Write down everything: shopping lists for groceries, holiday gifts, home decor, and important dates for meetings and birthdays.

 

2.Make Schedules and Deadlines

Organised people don’t waste time. They recognise that keeping things organised goes hand-in-hand with staying productive. They make and keep schedules. They make deadlines and set goals, and most importantly, they stick to them! Life is short, make sure you’re doing what matters to you most – most of the time!

3.Permission to Let Go

If you have a hard time letting things go, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, it gets tricky to keep everything. That’s precisely why you should give yourself permission to let go. There are solutions to still “keep” your stuff. For instance, you could photograph some items and “keep them” in an online art gallery. You might choose to give some things to someone else who could get more use out of them than you. Whatever you choose to do, don’t be afraid to let go of some of your possessions. You’ll feel lighter, and it’ll give you a chance to organise the belongings you do have.

4.Give Everything a Home

It’s easy to get lost if you don’t have a home. Keeping your life organised means keeping your things in their proper places. Organised people maintain order by storing things properly and by labelling storage spaces. Make easy-to-access storage spaces for things you use all the time, and don’t let your storage spaces get cluttered. Be creative about finding places for things. In addition, as a big No-No: never label a storage space as “miscellaneous!”

5.Regularly Declutter

The best way to stay on top of a mess is by preventing a mess from forming! Highly organised people make sure they find time weekly, or even daily to organise their things. Stuff does not stay organised on its own; it needs to be reorganised continuously and consistently.

6.Keep Only What You Need

What you own, owns you and more stuff means more clutter. People who live organised lives only keep what they need and what they really truly value and want. Having fewer things also means that you enjoy those things more and feel better about using everything you own, rather than letting half of what you own collect dust.

7.Put Things Away Right Away

If you’re not in the habit of putting things away after completing a task, you can change this starting today. Putting something back is much better instead of allowing it to collect dust. Unless, of course, you use it all the time! The same goes for other belongings, such as random papers you need to file. Better yet, scan them and upload them to your computer.

8.Check the Expiration Dates

Expired food is taking up space in your fridge and cupboards, so take the time to go through canned goods. Make a time once a month to check the dates on the food you are keeping. The same goes for the medicines in your bathroom cupboards. 

9.Stay Away from Bargains

It’s not a good deal if you don’t need it. You have already removed the things you don’t need. Will you replace them when you see something on sale? Instead of bargain shopping without planning ahead, write down exactly what you need and only purchase those items. Organised people do not give in to false advertising. No matter how much the price has been reduced, you will always save 100% by not buying what you don’t value. Items on sale will only produce more clutter.

10.Creatively Recycle and Donate

There are a multitude of creative ways to free yourself of stuff. You don’t automatically have to drop it off at Vinnies. (Even though that’s still a good thing!) Purge your apartment of things you no longer use, repurpose other things, and donate books to local libraries. You may even consider a good old fashioned garage sale.

11.Don’t Procrastinate

The longer you wait to do something, the more difficult it will be to get it done. If you want your life to be less stressful and less demanding, then organise as soon as you can. Putting in the effort to get things done as soon as possible will lift the weight off of you from doing them later.

12.Delegate Responsibilities

An organised life is not overfilled with responsibilities, meetings and deadlines. In fact, it has less because things that create stress have been slowly organised out. Go through your To-Do list and find one task that you can remove from the list or give to someone else. Now feel the stress of having to do it fall away.

 

“Think twice before you buy. Decide before you purchase anything where you are going to keep it and what you are going to use it for. If your answers to either of these questions are vague, then you are about to purchase clutter. Desist from buying.”
― Karen Kingston

It’s important to notice and eliminate patterns of triggers so that your stress response isn’t constantly triggered. For example, if you’re having trouble with your kids, don’t simply face each situation like it’s happened for the first time; do your best to notice patterns of behaviour and address those patterns, so they won’t keep happening. (Call that getting organised with discipline). If you find yourself constantly stressed in traffic, try to pinpoint why, and address those issues. Anywhere you can reduce the stress in your life is worth putting in the effort.

When home and family run smoothly, that means more time and energy for the important things in life. Whether the clutter is in your home or in your routines, or in your mind, get organised today and create a life you love to live.

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Suzanne Cunningham

(HBIC) Creative Director
Pure Element 5