zen habits : breathe

Are you an unclutterer or a cleaner?

Editor’s note:This is a guest post from Erin Doland, Editor-in-Chief of the fantastic blog, Unclutterer.com.

Un·clut·ter·er | ənklətərər |
1. One who seeks to get rid of clutter and distractions that create barriers to or hinder the formation of a remarkable life.
2. One who unclutters.
3. One who reads the home and office organization blog Unclutterer.

Language has a beautiful way of being manipulated so that an exact thought or intention can be simply expressed between two people. The word “unclutterer” didn’t exist in 2005, but today it is a regular part of my vocabulary. I can’t remember what I said in its place before — maybe “neatnik” or “person who is organized” — but neither of those phrases were as efficient or accurate as “unclutterer.”

Being an unclutterer implies that a person has systems in place to handle the things he or she owns. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place. Mail doesn’t need to be cleaned off the table every night before a meal because mail doesn’t stack up on the table in the first place. An unclutterer likely has a trash can and shredder by his front door where junk mail is instantly deposited. The good mail is filed or put into a tickler system immediately.

The main difference between being someone who is just clean and someone who is an unclutterer is that unclutterers look for permanent solutions. An unclutterer will invest the elbow grease into organizing her home and office so that she saves time and energy in the future. Cleaning on its own is a Band-Aid® solution — it doesn’t solve the problem. Tidying up a space is like being a hamster in a wheel, because you’ll have to tidy up again tomorrow. Living as an unclutterer, however, means that you organize once and then maintain only when a specific item requires maintenance. (As a point of clarification: Both cleaners and unclutterers still need to sweep floors and sanitize toilets, but those tasks I call chores that we all should complete as hygienic humans.) Ultimately, an unclutterer has more time and energy to pursue his interests and passions and live the remarkable life he desires because of his organizing efforts.

Here are a few beginning steps to consider if you’re thinking about becoming an unclutterer:

  1. What process is in place for papers that come into your home or office? If you don’t have a process already, take a few minutes and set one up in the location where those papers arrive. If you open mail at your office desk, make sure you have a trash can/recycling bin, filing cabinet, shredder, tickler file, sticky notes, pens/pencils, and paper clips within arms reach. If your filing cabinet is hidden in a closet, will you really take the effort to stand up and walk over to it? Really?
  2. What process is in place for meals in your home? Do you make a weekly meal plan and grocery list based on that meal plan? Or, are you constantly standing in front of your refrigerator asking yourself, “What is for dinner?” If you need help getting this system in place, feel welcome to check out the post Creating a weekly meal plan over on Unclutterer.com for suggestions.
  3. What process is in place for handling laundry in your home? Does it pile up out of the hamper until it spills out on the floor and causes you stress? Having clothes on the floor shortens the life of your clothing and provides more chances for the clothes to be damaged. The first step in having an uncluttered laundry routine is not to have more clothes than you can store. If you can’t put all of your clothes away, you’ll always have a reason to have dirty clothes. More laundry tips can be found here to help you get laundry under control.
  4. How do you handle cords and cables for your electronic equipment? Are all of your cords labeled at both ends of their plugs? Masking tape or a labelmaker are great for this task. Do you have the cords you use on a regular basis in a place that is easily accessible and well marked? Are there extraneous cords you don’t need? How many cell phone chargers do you have for phones you no longer use?

I hope that in your pursuit of simple living and your adoption of Zen Habits that you become an unclutterer to help you on this path!

To read more from Erin Doland, see her blog Unclutterer.com or check out her new column on organization and simplifying at RealSimple.com.

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