Learn to Thrive at Work and in Life

Clutter is stressful.

Sorry, I know the last thing you need is another source of stress, but this kind is actually pretty easy to get rid of, once you begin to recognize its insidious effect on your life.

First, there’s obvious clutter, the kind you can physically see.  I’m a horrible housekeeper, but despite all evidence to the contrary, I still liked to think I could do it all myself.  Night after night, as I brushed my teeth, I would juggle feelings of shame and distaste as I contemplated the grime in my bathroom sink. Every night, I would tell myself that tomorrow (or, more realistically, the day after tomorrow), I’d get to it.

Recently, I forced myself to accept that a) I was too busy to keep my space as clean as I would like it and b) there were more important, and more profitable, things to do with my valuable time.

Two weeks ago, I hired a maid.  The first morning she came, her sheer presence motivated me to tackle the huge mountains of paper on my desk.  As the sweet smell of bleach wafted up the hall from the bathroom, I almost wept with relief.  Now, when I brush my teeth, my sparkling sink fills me with pride and contentment.  Something so simple had weighed so heavily on my shoulders – day after day after day.

How does your desk look at work?  I’ve known of at least two colleagues who had to add a second desk to their office.  The first desk became so packed with “to do” charts and paperwork, that eventually there was no room left to work.  Apparently the most “convenient” solution was to simply get another work surface.  Don’t laugh – I guarantee we’ve all been guilty of this kind of self-deception in some area of our lives.

If you can relate to the paper pile nightmare, take a moment to really feel the stress of being continually surrounded by these piles of paperwork.  When you walk into your office at the beginning of the day, do they remind you how far behind you are?  How do you feel when you see them?  When you leave at the end of the day, do you feel guilty because, yet again, the piles are still there?

You may feel like you’re saving time by not dealing with these yet, but we don’t realize the price of the stress, and guilt, we pay every day that we maintain these piles.  And think of your beleaguered secretaries, who have to continually sift through them in search of missing documents.  These seemingly inert piles of papers are actually an active energy drain.
As an introduction, I deliberately chose obvious examples of clutter that most people can relate to.  Unfortunately, there are many other more subtle ways that clutter takes over our lives, draining us of our most precious commodities: time, energy, and peace of mind.

What does your financial life look like?  Do you organize your receipts, or just throw everything into a pile or drawer, to be dealt with “tomorrow”?  Have you drawn up your will, addressed your insurance needs, started a regular savings plan?  As anyone knows, that gnawing sense of clutter, chaos, or neglect of your finances can be a monumental source of stress.

How about your social life?  Does your calendar truly reflect who you are, and the people and activities you most value?  Or do you constantly find yourself grumbling about commitments you wish you hadn’t made?

Make a list of every single person in your life (family, friends, close or key acquaintances, work colleagues etc.).  Circle the people who mean the most to you.  When did you last see or talk to them?  Who do you spend more time with: whoever happens to invite you out this week (which may mostly be casual acquaintances), or those who you really value?

Look at yourself in a mirror.  Are there things you haven’t been attending to (such as that rapidly growing paunch) that bother you every time you see yourself?

Make a list of your life priorities.  Have you been putting off that much-needed vacation or time of rest because of other obligations that continually crowd out your real plans?

Make an inventory of everything that bothers you, or “clutters” your home, your work life, your leisure time, your finances, your relationships.  You’ll be amazed at what you discover.  So many of us sleepwalk through life, wondering why we feel so stressed, and frustrated.  Trying to clear all this clutter at once would just be one more stress, but if you tackle it one day and one small triumph at a time, you’ll be amazed at how much better your whole life feels.

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