Get Rid of the Mess, Get Rid of the Stress

Take a look around. What do you see? Whether you’re at home or at your desk, chances are you’ve got stuff. Stuff to be sorted through, thrown out, stored, and above all, organized. What you don’t have? Time and motivation.

“Organization is about being able to find things,” says Donna Smallin, author of Cleaning Plain & Simple. “The goal isn’t so you have a nice, neat space. It’s to find things because when you can’t, it’s frustrating and it’s stressful.” (Just ask anyone who has wasted an hour hunting for car keys.)

For a clean sweep, you don’t need to spend every weekend between now and New Year’s shuffling through stuff in your basement or your office. Instead, break your tasks into manageable chunks of time–just 10 to 30 minutes a day–and get it done bit-by-bit. Here are easy tips to help you get organized and stay that way at work and at home.

At Work

According to a recent study, 75% of workers become more stressed when disorganized. Because of the mess, the study found, workers miss crucial deadlines and wind up working late 2 or more nights per week. But the same study found that cleaning just one part of your desk reduces anxiety and makes the job seem easier. Start near your keyboard (the area that distracts you most) or the paper pile that’s been sitting around the longest.

Does it stack up?  Privacy is one thing, but if you’ve been hiding beneath stacks of papers that could rival the Sears Tower, it’s time to find your way out. Every day for a week, go through one pile on your desk. Do it when you’re feeling most decisive— it’s judgment time. Smallin suggests: “Make a decision about each paper: Throw it out? Shred it? File it? Deliver it?” Once your area is clean, get into the habit of making a decision every time a piece of paper lands on your desk.

Make a clean exit   Carve out the last 5 minutes of every workday to clear off your desk, Smallin says. File away any papers you didn’t get a chance to go through earlier. If it’s something you need to tackle first thing in the a.m., leave it by your computer. The rest? Out of sight, out of mind. Then, take a moment to sweep a disinfecting wipe over your (uncluttered) desk. You wouldn’t believe how many germs reside there.

At Home

“Your home is a haven from the rest of the world,” Smallin says. “When you have a more orderly environment, there’s more of a sense of peace so you really are creating a welcoming space to come home to and feel good about.” Here’s how to make your living space the place you want it to be.

Instant makeover  Over the years you’ve accumulated enough tools, gadgets, and doo-dads to run your own cooking show out of your kitchen. Problem is, you’re more of a bread-buyer than breadmaker type of gal. Problem solved: “Clear off your kitchen counter completely,” Smallin says. Then, put back only the things you use on a regular basis and store the rest away in cabinets.

Clean out the closet  It can be tempting to leave every piece of clothing you own in your closet. But are you really going to wear those bermudas in October? Instead, create what Smallin calls an “everyday closet.” The only clothes you should be looking at are those you could potentially wear this season. Clear out anything that doesn’t fit, needs repair, or that you didn’t wear last fall. Next: Every day for a week, spend 10 to 15 minutes going through one drawer or one shelf at a time. You can even do this during commercials.

Kill bills  “There’s actually no reason to save bills that you’ve paid unless you work out of your home or need to document them as business expenses,” Smallin says. If that’s the case, get a folder, label it, and stuff the bills in there. “We make more work for ourselves when we dump them into a pile.” Once you’ve paid a bill, shred it. Even better, eliminate the paper trail and set up online bill paying. “It takes some getting used to, but it’s well worth it,” Smallin says. And when it comes to credit card bills, you only need to keep up to a year’s worth at a time. Create a folder for each credit card, and after you pay this month’s bill, shred the one from last year.

Donate year-round  One problem with cleaning is what to do with the stuff you don’t want. Keep a donation box somewhere in your home where you can put clothes, toys, old cell phones, kitchen gear, and eyeglasses to give away. Donate the stuff to a charity of your choice. Many, like the Salvation Army and Big Brothers Big Sisters, pick up the stuff from your house at no cost. Your unnecessary belongings are going to a good cause.

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