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How to De-Clutter Your Mind and Become a More Productive Writer

Carol Tice

Businessman Seated at His Messy DeskHave you been finding it harder and harder to get the writing done lately?

This happened to me recently.

I felt like a rusty engine slowly grinding to a halt on rails that needed some oiling.

It seemed super-hard to focus on the article or blog post or email I needed to write. I just couldn’t get started.

My head felt fuzzy like it was stuffed with cotton.

Then I took a look around my home office, and all around my house.

Clutter outside, clutter inside

Know what I discovered? A lot of junk. On every available surface.

It’s the 21st Century American curse. Stuff is cheap and readily available, and it tends to pile up like you wouldn’t believe.

After 18 years in my house, the place was a clutter-hole. There wasn’t a cupboard or shelf you could put anything inside of anymore, so things were piling up in plain sight. And this house is loaded with more closets and drawers than you can believe.

In my office, a mile-high stack of about two years of project files sat, waiting for me to discard old files in the filing cabinet and make room for them.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m looking at a world of clutter all around me, I find it hard to focus. The visual clutter clogs my brain up, too. It’s too much stimulation and not enough serenity.

Getting clean and simple

Once I realized what the problem was, I committed to combing through the house to get rid of useless junk and get things put away.

It took a few weeks to get through the bulk of it, but the results have been well worth it, both for my writing productivity and for simply enjoying my home more.

Think you don’t have time to declutter? I hear ya. That’s how the clutter gets there in the first place.

Around my house, we often throw stuff down because we “don’t have time” to figure out where it goes right now. Two years later, it’s still sitting there. Junk was dripping from the tops of bookshelves, piled on the fireplace mantle, shoved under the beds…you name it.

The problem is, all that clutter calls to me. It makes me think I should be picking up around the house instead of writing.

I refuse to blow writing time to do it, so the clutter sits. But I also don’t write. It’s sort of a vicious cycle. And here’s how I escaped…

A busy writer’s de-cluttering guide

I didn’t get any less busy, but I managed to clear vast swaths of junk out of my house. Since getting the place cleaned up, I’m finding it much easier to sit down and get to my writing assignments.

Want to clear the visual clutter to kill the mind-clutter? Here are my tips:

  • Do a 1-drawer quickie. On hold on the phone? Waiting for dinner to cook? Pull out one drawer or attack one shelf. Over time, these really add up, and allowed us to rip through most of the kitchen. It now has — gasp! — actual empty shelf space ready for new edibles, and half the counter clutter is gone.
  • Get family buy-in. If you don’t live alone, you didn’t make this mess alone. Explain to everyone that we’ve got too much stuff, and their help is needed to cull the collection. (Anyone unwilling to participate will have to live with the decisions others make on what to discard.)
  • Go for the worst. I was shocked when my husband went straight for the worst drawer in the house — the one we call “The Drawer of a Thousand Things.” You couldn’t even fully close it anymore, but whaddaya know, it didn’t take very long to clean it out! After that, everything seemed like a breeze.
  • Pick a boring day. A dull, rainy day is a perfect time to organize a cleaning party. Warn family members that you’re planning to do some cleaning tasks that day so everyone is prepared.
  • Think Container Store. Often, closets seem full but are just poorly organized. My daughter’s closets were a disaster area…so we bought three sets of new organizer drawers. Presto! All her art projects and raw materials are easy to tuck out of sight. Now, she can pick up her own room in 5 minutes flat, a task I used to spend at least a half-hour on twice a week — hello, extra writing time! There are pricey organizer systems out there, but plenty of cheap systems, too — this doesn’t have to cost much.
  • Make it fun. We turned on the stereo and listened to music while we cleaned, and rewarded cheerful cleaners with treats such as a movie, DVD rental, or a fresh-baked muffin. There’s also the bonus of finding actually useful items you no longer knew you had.
  • Have a splurge. Once you’ve got empty drawer space, treat yourself to something you’ve been wanting. One of my kids replaced three entire bins of ancient, little-used toys with one $30 copy of Wii Sports Resort. Now, he’s got a fun new game and tons of closet space to store his current, grown-up kid projects.
  • Donate. Anything useful but outgrown can be donated to any of the many charities that run thrift stores or garage sales. Feel good that you’re helping others by passing on what you can’t use, especially clothing. If you haven’t worn it in a year or two, it should go.
  • Don’t forget the computer desktop. If your online desktop is a morass of miscellaneous visible files, get those tucked away into folders and out of sight, so you can focus on your current assignment.
  • Get into maintenance mode. Once you’ve got cleaner closets, commit to keeping them that way. Five quick minutes a day to make sure closets are still functional and clutter is stored gives you the reward of a tranquil writing environment. Be pickier about what you decide to purchase and bring in the house, and you can kill more clutter at the source.

When I’m stressed lately, my sister orders me to immediately throw away 10 things that are sitting out. That’s a great quick drill for preventing clutter from creeping back.

What clutters your mind? Leave a comment and tell us how you clear the decks.