For the past month I’ve written “de-clutter desk drawers” on the top of my to-do list. My desk drawers are a mess. Every time I sit down at my desk to write I think about those messy drawers, contemplate re-organizing and then shove more things inside. I waste 15 to 20 (so 30…) minutes every morning searching for the right pen or notecards or hand lotion to properly start my day. It’s foolish and, according to my friend Fay Wolf, I’m wasting more than just time.
She is the genius behind NEW ORDER – an organizing book for those of us who cannot handle the intensity of that other organizing book. The one that suggests we kiss our possessions goodbye…
Here is Fay’s adorable new book on her philosophy of de-cluttering your way to artistic freedom. For the record she does not promise you’ll make millions the moment you finish this book, but
I asked Fay a few questions about the method to her lack of madness. Read on and learn. Then buy the book. I did, and I have the stress-free desk drawers to prove it.
I know you’ve spent a lot of time with creative folk like me helping de-clutter and re-focus. Why is it especially important for people in creative fields to get this under control?
Our time to get messy and be messy is in our work, not in our normal lives surrounding the work.
We gotta be able to find and access the tools we need and not get bogged down by not knowing where the coffee filters or the guitar picks are, or not being able to quickly pull up the email or contact info for that cool person regarding that cool project. When the physical, mental, and digital clutter goes down, the space for creativity goes up.
Within the first few pages of your book you schooled me about buying too many organizational supplies.
Why can’t I run out and grab a dozen adorable plastic bins from the Container Store, Fay??
Well, Jessie, you’re more than welcome to. But how ever will you know what’s going to fit inside them if you don’t first figure out exactly what you’ve got? Wouldn’t it be soooo much more rewarding (not to mention frugal) to get adorable plastic bins after you’ve done some decluttering and already feel better? Unless we’re buying organizational supplies for specific items that we’ve decided we’re keeping, the supplies can become clutter themselves. You feel?
Give it to me straight: how much time is this all going to take? I can handle it, I just want to know how many brunches I need to cancel.
Cancel every brunch ever, cuz it’s gonna take your whole life. Just kidding…but only kind of.
Here’s the deal: if we can wrap our brains around the concept that decluttering is a practice instead of some thing that just happens once, we’re going to be a lot happier humans in the long run. Sure, if you want to do a huge purge and re-ordering of stuff, it’s going to take you a bit of time. That could mean 4 weekends in a month, or it could mean a year, depending on how big your space is and how much you have. But beyond those initial purges, you’re going to continue to declutter on a regular basis. (P.S. Part of the practice is not buying so darn much stuff moving forward. So it’s about curbing consumption as well.)
I imagine there’s a pretty big light at the end of the tunnel for me once I put in the effort. Can you give me a sneak peak, specific to my work as a writer? How will getting organized change the way I work?
Here are but a few tunnel-light examples for you: Imagine knowing not only where everything you own is, but knowing that every writing idea you’ve had is immediately accessible (and not scattered in different places or hiding out in the back of your brain). Imagine the swiftness of breezing through your email inbox when it houses only the emails you actually need, making the act of replying to a collaborator or a business contact 10x easier than sifting through a bunch of junk emails at the same time. Imagine new ideas popping into your head because your brain space isn’t being taken up by staring at a bunch of crap all the time. …There are so many things we (as artists and regular humans) don’t have control over. You can have control over what you own, where it’s stored, and how to access it. I truly believe that can lead to happier, freer, and more productive work.
Your approach feels less extreme than some of the other de-cluttering advice out there. What’s your brief take on the more intense paths to a clean life?
I think that whatever paths work for you are great. There’s no right way. What I often see are a lot of very-busy folks who are afraid to start because they feel like decluttering is a hugely-intense undertaking. I want to encourage folks to take small, imperfect steps – and know that they’re allowed to do it that way. There’s a laid-back version, and it’s just as fruitful. Action, above all, is what matters most.
And finally – I am a DIE HARD analog to-do list writer. My Moleskin is my trusted companion. Can you convince me to switch to a digital to-do list like Evernote?
You had me at “trusted companion.” At the end of the day, that’s all I want for people – to be able to trust their one master to-do list. So analog, digital, skywriting, whatever. If you can trust it, you can keep it. I happen to love using a digital to-do app, because my phone fits in my pocket, and the same list shows up on my computer. But if your system is working, then celebrate! Moleskins are rad! (Sidenote: Although many folks do use Evernote as a to-do list, I use OmniFocus for to- do’s and I use Evernote for reference only – like song lyric ideas and restaurants I love).
I often find myself becoming more cluttered than I’d like. Because of this my mind becomes messy and I find it hard to focus on anything, especially my writing. When you are able to clean out your living and working space, it automatically clears away some of that “junk” in your mind. I have found that writing lists and keeping a calendar help me a lot. This post was so relatable!
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