More than one way to clear your life clutter

Red tulips in vase

Red tulips in vase© All rights reserved

Zip, zap, pow! Moving it out!

Rule number one: Even if you don’t have time to take pics and write about it, keep clearing that clutter!

I was so busy getting ready for a big party at our house last week that I didn’t get a chance to take pics and post my clutter zapping progress, but I didn’t let that stop me from clearing messes.

First up, the shelf in the picture you see here. Two dozen jars of jam have been sitting on that shelf since last summer–strawberry, plum, pluot, blueberry. Lots of yum factor, but lots of eye wear and tear. I just never seemed to find the right place in our small apartment to store the jam.

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. I couldn’t have those jars out during the party, could I? Forced to find them a home, I did. Not the best of homes yet. That will have to wait till I get to the closets and can clear space there. One step at a time: That’s all I’m asking of myself.

Rewarding ourselves for a job well done

Having unjammed the shelf, I had room for flowers in the dining room for the first time in months. Aren’t the tulips gorgeous this time of year? Every time I walk into the dining room, I smile and my spirits lift. As a reward to myself for continuing to clear the clutter in my life, I plan to keep something beautiful and alive in this space going forward. If you’re in process of clearing clutter from your life, or thinking about getting started, find a way to reward yourself along the way. Incentives are wonderful motivators.

But wait! There’s more!

As I mentioned earlier, I was getting ready for a big party last week. How to balance the cleaning, cooking, shopping with my body’s need for breaks and rest? Adding even fifteen extra clutter zapping minutes a day felt like too much with all on my agenda.

I admit, I’m no spring chicken. I get tired. When I get tired, my joints lock up and refuse to bend. I’m forced to rest. So when I needed a break from cooking, scrubbing and moving, I sat down to my computer and cleared some of the clutter that’s piled up there in the last few years. You heard me right. Years.

Got mail? Zap it!

Stuffed with more than 750 emails, my inbox was downright scary. Truth is, I almost dread opening my email every day. Plus the desktop on my PC was so full of icons, I got dizzy looking at it. Those icons, shortcuts to files and folders we use every day, are time savers, right? When I started going through them, I couldn’t remember why most of them were on my desktop. Some were docs I’d sent to myself from work, so I could work at home–for a job I left three years ago!

So every time my muscles and back squeaked louder than the ticking clock–constantly reminding me how much I had left to prepare before the big day–I sat down and gave them a break. I cleared out most of those useless shortcut icons from my desk top. Then I started in on the emails.

Why, I had unanswered emails from 2006! How important do you think they were last week if I hadn’t bothered to answer them in nearly six years? Zip! Zap! Zam!

It’s not that I don’t intend to keep up with my email. Law knows I answer as many as I can get to each day. It’s impossible to keep up! Do you find that so for you? If not, puh-leeze, share your tips in the comments below! Meanwhile, every time I took a break last week, I went through the emails, one at a time.

A lot of them were easy: Feeds from organizations, other bloggers, and newsletters to which I subscribe. Anything older than yesterday, I dumped. Then there were the emails from family members and friends. You know how it is. You get a wonderful, newsy email from your sis and you save it to savor and respond to with care. But before you get back to it, it’s buried forty or fifty deep and you forget about it. That happened to me more times than I’d like to say. Boy did I respond to a few with a red face!

Prioritizing email with filters keeps you organized and saves time

To help me manage my emails better and save time, I set up some filters. Now, my email client shunts every new email that has to do with¬† my volunteer work, for example, directly into a folder with the organization’s name and the word “Unread.” That way, I’m not distracted with those emails when I’m sitting down to respond to family and friends. By the same token, when I’m devoting time to my volunteer work, I work from that folder alone, eliminating distractions from other emails popping into my inbox.

This single step has saved great swaths of time the past few days and helped me stay focused on the work at hand. So I took it a couple of steps further. All those feeds from organizations, bloggers and online publications I read regularly? I created filters for those as well. It’s much quicker to follow a thread in one of my active forums when all the emails with updates land in a box just for that forum.

This method also helps me understand better which feeds never interest me enough to open and read the entire article. Slowly, as I discover what I’m not reading, I can easily unsubscribe and cut those emails altogether. This leaves more time, energy and focus to enjoy the cute pictures of grandkids, nieces and nephews, and all the other updates from the most important people in my life: My family and friends.

By the time Friday came, despite getting thirty to forty new emails every day, I had that backlog cut to just over 500 unanswered, unfiled, or unread emails. I’ve kept at it, too. At this moment, the count is 454.

How I feel

To be honest, with 454 unread emails to go, I feel a little overwhelmed with the task at hand. Yes, I’ve kept up with the new stuff, and taken care of a few old ones along the way this week, but I’ve a long way to go to managing my email effectively. One step at a time.

I’ll keep whittling away at them and let you know down the road how it’s going. I’ll also let you know if I’ve come up with any good tips for keeping the overload factor down. Of course, if you have any tips to share, I’d love to hear them.

What’s next

Tomorrow, I’ll share my successes so far this week. I’m excited about them!

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