Slow going, but oh so worth it

In fifteen minutes, I don’t get very far clearing paper piles. Why? Because I don’t want to touch any of these papers ever again, unless we need them for some reason.

If a document requires a phone call or letter, I stop and take care of it, make notes, then file the paper where it belongs and where we will find it when we need to recover that record.

Here’s my desk when I started this morning, my second day of clearing the desk clutter in tiny, quarter-hour sessions.

My desk this morning, just before I set the timer for 15 minutes

My desk this morning, just before I set the timer for 15 minutes

Almost anything that lands on my desk requires action of some sort. We’re working on becoming a paperless household–mostly–but we have a way to go. For now, I pick up one piece of paper at a time and take action, file it, shred it if it’s sensitive material, or recycle it.

To be sure, there are a couple of exceptions. In this pile I find drawings and homemade greeting cards from the grandkids. They go on the refrigerator for now. Later, we’ll drop them into a folders we keep for the girls. When we’re gone, they can decide whether to keep these mementos or pitch them.

A handmade greeting card from one of the grandchildren

A handmade greeting card from one of the grandchildren

After fifteen minutes, the pile appears a little more manageable. Strangely, I feel as though I can breathe better. It’s as if the air is fresher. Perhaps it is! Printed papers contain a lot of volatile chemicals, including formaldehyde. I wonder what happens to all those chemicals when we lock papers away in a drawer.

15 minutes later, I've whittled the pile a bit

15 minutes later, I’ve whittled the pile a bit

Feng Shui experts tell us that clearing our clutter frees unseen energy in the room. Perhaps all that free energy lightens my body as much as seeing these messes disappear lightens my spirit.

How do you feel after you clear a mess? Do you find yourself wanting to plow into more messes and get them out-of-the-way once and for all?

Part of me wants to stick to this little pile and get it done, for Pete’s sake. But I know me. My contract with myself is fifteen minutes, five days a week. As long as I stick to that, then the next day, when it’s time to begin again, I’m not tempted to delay.

In the past, I found that doing more gave me a kind of license to procrastinate the next day, or to think, “I did three days worth yesterday. I’ll take today off.”

Before I knew it, two or three weeks had passed, and I hadn’t touched another clutter mess.

So, thank you, but no. I’m staying on track for now, zapping my clatter for just fifteen minutes each day, until this habit is so ingrained, I don’t have to worry about losing it.




4 thoughts on “Slow going, but oh so worth it

  1. I really must start finding time to set my timer for 15 minutes! I got a wee start yesterday on clearing some of the paper clutter from my desk. It’s so bad that it’s moved over on to my keyboard! I got sidetracked after only a few pieces.


    • Marsha, one of the beauties of setting the timer for 15 minutes is that it helps to focus my energy on the next piece of paper or junk, and only that one, until I’ve taken the action it requires and filed it or recycled or shredded it. I’m not as tempted to get distracted with setting up an entire new filing system, say, or jumping up and trying a recipe I’ve jotted down on the back of an envelope.

      Instead, I work with what I have now. If I need a new filing system, I put it on the agenda. If I want to keep that recipe, I type it into Notepad and file it on the computer in my “Recipes to Try” folder and recycle that envelope.

      Give the fifteen minutes a trial, allow yourself to feel good with each small step, and come back and tell me how it went. We’re in this together!


    • Yes, I’ve experienced exactly that, Virginia. Almost all of my current desk mess happened just as you describe.

      So glad you asked for help, because the whole point of this blog is to create a mutually supportive space!

      This very problem is the reason I force myself to pick a pile of clutter for today’s 15-minute session and leave it in place.

      I don’t bring it to me. I take me and my three bins to it: Giveaway, Recycle, Trash.

      The hardest part is making myself take the top item off the pile and, if it doesn’t go in one of the three bins, to put it away, rather than making a pile of put-aways.

      I’ve learned that I cannot risk the timer going off and still have a bunch of stuff for which I must find homes.

      That means extra steps, but it’s the best way I can manage to keep the task small, doable and on-track.

      My fifteen minutes may not get me very far through a pile of clutter on any given day, but when I put an item away, it’s where I can find it when I need it. It’s done.

      When the timer dings, I make myself stop and put away the three bins, so they’re not there reminding me of how much more I have to do.

      If you try this method, let me know how it works for you. If it doesn’t, well, we can brainstorm something else together if you like.


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