“Clutter is simply delayed decisions. Having systems in place makes it easier to make decisions” (Marilyn Gardner).

 This morning I picked up a piece of paper from my desk, read it, and told myself to make a decision about it—inspired by Gardner’s insightful definition.

 Recycle it? No. It contained some good thoughts I wanted to keep.

 Why did I want to keep it, and when might I look for it again? Aha, those were the key questions! Well, I might want to quote it in something I’m writing. Ok, then. I 3-hole punched it and put it in the 3-ring notebook labeled Supporting Material. Hurray. One small victory over clutter. And that little victory was possible because I had a system, a place for it. Making that modest system only took a bit of thought, and now it is reaping rewards.

 Clutter is my enemy. It trips me up, wastes my time, hides my treasures, and makes my home a less enjoyable place to be. But while it is my enemy, I am not clutter’s victim.

 Gardner’s definition is a gift to me. It frees me from paralysis. If clutter is not the invincible foe but merely “delayed decisions,” then I know what to do: make a decision. Or create a system that will make decisions for me.

Simple? Not really. Creating systems for all my clutter starts to sound like an overwhelming task, but Robert Maurer helps me here, with his book One Small Change Can Change Your Life. He claims that real and lasting change often comes from making one tiny step in the right direction and then letting yourself get used to in. “If your expectation is that a well-run life should always be orderly, you are setting yourself up for panic and defeat,” says Maurer. A healthier response is to look disorder (or whatever is causing distress) in the face and make one small step toward resolving it.

The initial step you make today must be so small and easy to do that you can keep it up. It’s the keeping it up that matters, says Maurer: “As your small steps continue and your cortex starts working, the brain begins to create ‘software’ for your desired change, actually laying down new nerve pathways and building new habits.” And this results in “the neural network for enjoying the change.”

 Maurer’s principles can be applied to any change your life is asking from you. For me, it’s a practical way to applyGardner’s insight about clutter.

 How do you manage clutter? Can you share any systems you’ve incorporated that might inspire us to design systems of our own? Or have you tried the “one small step” approach to change? Has it worked for you?

written by

I am a Christian thinker, reader, and writer, who never travels without chocolate. See the “About” page for details.

6 Responses to "C-Clutter"

  1. Kath Adams says:

    ….a wise friend, Heidi, relayed to me a phrase that has stuck in my head for the past two weeks….I cannot recall where she heard it, however, I like it! “Don’t put it down, put it away.” It is surprising to me how many times I have said that to myself since hearing it. It is a good one. The great part is i am following the order to keep order!

    You are correct, Tracey, small victories are a celebration to those of us battling clutter… 🙂 Thanks for the message!

    • Tracey says:

      Excellent motto. The challenge is to know where “away” actually is. That’s the systems part that I’m working on developing one step at a time. Yes. Hurray for small victories!

  2. Hope Squires says:

    I grew up with two pack rats and learned how to “clean” a house by putting the clutter in neat little piles. My mom always praised my efforts to clean, but somehow along the way, I learned more about keeping stuff I really should let go. So I’m anxious to hear from your readers about how they’re tackling clutter. I love Gardner’s quote and have seen it somewhere else recently (from you, perhaps, or maybe Shannon?). I’m hopeful that thinking of the clutter as delayed decisions will help me tackle and get rid of it. Because I’d like to take back my desk and my closet and the trunk of my car … Thanks, Tracey!

  3. Judy says:

    Thanks for inspiring me in my ongoing battle against clutter! I love the idea of small change, and “enjoying” the new neural pathways that result.

    I’m learning to realize the importance of finding a “home” for the things I choose to keep. I really only have so much space, and if I have too many things to fit in the space I have, I need to think about getting rid of things. For me the answer is usually NOT more storage bins, but narrowing down my possessions. And then, as others have mentioned, finding the right home for the things I feel are important enough to keep!


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