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Gems Versus Junk: Tips On Staying Organized

Updated on October 6, 2013

Gems Versus Junk: Tips On Staying Organized

October 7, 2013

Winston Wayne Wilson


I hate to clean and organize my space. Most of us do. My simple solution has always been to avoid creating too much mess to begin with so that I only have to exert a minimal amount of effort to clean and organize my personal space. Whether it is our home, our office or our car, many of us treat our personal space like an afterthought and put very little effort into keeping it clean and organized. The reality though is that the only reason we have to clean up our cluttered space in the first place is because we mess it up. In other words, we are the source of our clutter problem – even though we hate the solution, which is to put in the time to clean up after ourselves. The unfortunate problem is that clutter is the ultimate manifestation, to the people who observe us on a daily basis, that we are unable to filter the objects in our space that are gems versus the ones that are junk and that we basically cannot manage ourselves. Our observers might also think that, if we cannot manage and organize ourselves, then we also cannot manage or organize anyone or anything else. Those same people might make even more disparaging assumptions about us regarding work ethic, discipline, hygiene, and so on. Studies have shown that, in many ways, these seemingly harsh observations about people with habitually cluttered spaces are not always entirely untrue. Why is that? Well, once our “gem-junk filter” is broken, just about every aspect of our lives will be adversely impacted. For example, it is a well-known fact that one important area of our lives that is negatively impacted by clutter is our level of productivity. How could it not? Clutter is the birth-mother of chaos, disorganization and inefficiency. Few of us might be able to magically navigate cluttered space; however, the truth is that we invariably tend to achieve much greater success when we are more organized. When we have a clean, organized space we can find important things more quickly, we exude more confidence and pride, we appear to be sharper and on top of our game, and people are more drawn to us. In short, we become someone who is more promotable at work and more admired and respected in our personal lives. That said, here are five tips on how to keep your personal space more organized so that it reflects the more positive attributes of who you really are:

  1. Recognize that your space is your PR person. In a world where first impressions are lasting and where perception is reality, our personal space tells people more about us than our words do. At work, some of us delude ourselves into thinking that a cluttered desk means that we got a lot going on and that we are busy. However, the reality is quite the opposite. At work, we can be denied a raise, a promotion or lose the respect of our colleagues if our personal space sends the wrong message and does not reflect the highly competent employee that we aspire to be. In our personal lives, we might not only repel friends and family from wanting to be around us but we might lose their respect and confidence in our abilities. They might even berate us behind our backs. All this derisive judgment might not be fair, but that is the reality of how people typically react to our cluttered space. Knowing this fact, however, we should look at our personal space and ask ourselves whether it accurately reflects who we are and whether it is doing a great PR job. Moreover, if a camera crew came in and did a live broadcast of our personal space on the six o’clock news would we be proud of our space? If not, then we should begin to de-clutter our personal space so that we can create an environment that better reflects who we are and that we can be proud of, instead of being horrified, when others step into it. If we don’t think we can do it ourselves, then there are many resources out there to help us to become more organized. Even if we have to pay to get it done, it is a worthwhile investment to enhance our reputation and increase our opportunities for success.
  2. Create a home for everything. In some ways, clutter is like homelessness. When people don’t have homes they will have no choice but to roam the streets. We might not like the visual of countless homeless people panhandling; however, until someone finds them a home, they will linger on the streets. Similarly, the secret to having a clutter-free space is to first recognize that everything should have a home. Unless we create a home for the things in our personal space, however, they will exist haphazardly in our space, collect dust and prevent us from being productive. Many of the old, useless things we have lingering on our desks, in our cars, or on our floors at home are mostly homeless. In other words, they are lounging somewhere where they should not be. Some more appropriate homes for some of the things lying around us include filing cabinets, drawers, storage units, and organized spaces in our closets or garages. In some instances, the perfect home for some of the things around us is the garbage can or the Salvation Army. The key to staying organized is to constantly decide what is a gem versus a piece of junk. We should always keep the gem in a designated home and quickly get rid of the junk so that it does not start to pile up.
  3. Think and act in a more structured way. Clutter originates in the mind. Clutter occurs when the mind disregards the importance of being structured and compels us to procrastinate in addressing certain tasks like cleaning up after ourselves or organizing our space. When the mind does not think in a structured way, it is unable to process all the steps that are required to staying organized. Growing up I remember my parents insisting that I put things back exactly where I found them. Both my father, who was a very regimented cop, and my mother, who was also very meticulous, added great structure to my life. Hence, dirty dishes did not belong in the sink; dirty clothes did not belong on the floor; and random things did not belong on my mother’s precious sofa which, of course, was covered in plastic to protect it. Part of drying myself off after a shower included putting the towel back on the rack not on the floor. If I read something, and no longer needed it, it should go in the garbage not on the sofa, coffee table or in some arbitrary place. You get the point. I would spend countless Saturdays with my father moving furniture around so that we could shine the floors to look like his shiny cop boots and to make the house as clean and neat looking as his cop uniform. On top of that, my mother would always magically appear to ask me, “Is that where you took it from?” when I would accidentally put a cup or a plate back in the wrong place in the cupboard. Maybe that was a bit “OCD” but I eventually got the message about thinking and acting in a structured way in order to keep things clean and to stay organized. All this might sound too structured and like too much work; however, the mind has to have rules that it follows in order to stay organized. Again, the mind must be trained that everything has a rightful place. If not, everything will constantly be out of place. If we spend a little time each day to keep things in order then we will never get to the point where we are drowning under so much clutter that it will take an insurmountable amount of time and effort to get out of it.
  4. Create less clutter by actively filtering gems from junk. Since we are the source of clutter in our personal space, we are also the singular source for the solution to reduce or eliminate that clutter. One secret to keeping things organized is to minimize how much clutter we create in the first place. Minimizing how much clutter we create requires us to have a filter that bifurcates gems from pieces of junk. Once we identify the things that are junk we must immediately get rid of them. The things that are gems should be given specific homes as mentioned above. However, we should establish a very high threshold for what is considered a gem so that we don’t keep things that are merely nice to hold on to but, ultimately, have no real value in our personal space. To help identify things that are gems, we should imagine, for example, that our desk at work is a plate that we eat from. All we need on our plate are three square meals per day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – those are the gems. Sure we can put keys, socks, a hammer, some nails, yesterday’s newspaper and our cell phone on our plate - but we don't do that. Why not? Because there is a filter in our brain that says we should only put food on our plate - three square meals to be precise. Not only that, there is a filter in our brain that says that we should clean our plate after each meal; otherwise, it will collect bacteria and we will get sick. The same thing applies to our personal space. Our personal space is not a cesspool for everything and we must also ensure that it stays clean. Like the three square meals on our plates, the things that we need to be productive and successful are the gems that belong on our desks at work and in our other personal spaces. Hence, we should leverage the same filter that our brain uses to keep our plate clean to also keep our personal space clean. At least once a month, we should get rid of all the pieces of junk in our personal space that do not belong there – just like we would get rid of the things that do not belong on the plate that we eat from. If we seek to accentuate the gems and eliminate the junk, we will be well on our way to living a clutter-free life that promotes maximum success.

My challenge for you is to ask yourself whether the state of your personal space is an asset or a liability to your productivity and your reputation. If it is a liability, then I encourage you to take control of what your personal space is saying about you by ensuring that you are thinking and acting in a more structured way. Also, ensure that you are leveraging all the right tools so that your personal space enhances your productivity and promotes greater success in your life.


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