Do you really need decluttering tips? Surely the mountain of papers and coffee cups you fondly call your workspace is clear proof that you’re either impressively busy or a certified creative genius. Possibly both. Or is it? While some evidence suggests that chaos can be good for creativity, studies also point to a bunch of benefits that stem from keeping an orderly and clutter-free workspace.
Let’s take a look at why decluttering is good for getting things done—along with the best decluttering tips you can use to turn your own workspace into a haven of productivity.
The Benefits of Decluttering Your Workplace
Here’s what some of the recent science says about clutter and your ability to focus, and we’re not just talking about a messy desk. Clutter, in this sense, can also include a chaotic desktop, a wall filled with distracting art, or a downloads folder that goes on for days. But worry not, we’ll get into ways to clean up all of your spaces—physical and digital.
A cluttered workspace can:
- Be the enemy of productivity and decision-making: The same study as above found that being in an orderly room led participants to make kinder and healthier decisions. I.e., they donated more money to charity and were more likely to choose a healthy snack than participants in a disorganized space.
- Distract you: Another study tested the effects of visual clutter on participants’ ability to perform certain tasks. The study found that people’s ability to pay attention to what they want to pay attention to is constrained when there are a lot of other objects in their visual field.
On the other hand, a decluttered workspace can:
- Help you stick to your goals. Researchers in Italy found that setting goals and self-monitoring progress in an organized way, as well as setting up one’s environment to remove triggers of inactivity and encourage physical activity, helped participants adhere to an exercise program.
So to put it simply: Clutter is distracting.
Clutter overloads your senses, which can lead to stress. So if your goal is to come up with creative solutions, a bit of clutter might be a good thing. But if your goal is to focus more on your work and feel more in control, you might want to get your desk situation organized.
7 Decluttering Tips for Your Workspace
Regardless of whether you work in an office, a cubicle, or at home, having physical clutter on and around your workspace can definitely make your brain feel as messy as your desk. Here’s what to try:
1. Take it one step at a time
Facing a big bunch of stuff can be overwhelming. Where do you even start? You might take one look at your desk, panic, and gracefully back out of the room to go make another coffee. But don’t put it off. Instead, just start small. Choose one area—maybe a desk drawer or single stack of papers—and focus on that. Doing good work creates its own positive reinforcement, and with one section down, facing the next pile of clutter will be much easier.
2. Use the isolation method
If you’re not sure what should stay and what should go, try this method: Take everything off your desk aside from the absolute essentials (like your laptop and phone) and put it all into boxes. The things you really need as you go about your work will have to be brought back to your desk. Anything else should stay in the boxes. After a week or two, whatever is still boxed up will probably stay that way. Toss it in storage or donate it.
3. Minimize paper
Cloud-based computing was invented for a reason. This is the digital age, so think twice before you print out documents and reconsider processes to see if they can be digitized. You’ll not only save some trees, you’ll save a bunch of storage space too.
4. Create a paper workflow
We get it: Some jobs simply require a lot of paper, whether you want them to or not. If you can’t get away from paper-based processes, try creating a workflow so documents pass across your desk in an orderly fashion. Using paper trays in a left-to-right process is one common way. (E.g., paper enters on the left, is processed in the middle, and goes out on the right.)
5. Manage your cables
Cables suck. And despite the advent of wireless, you’re still bound to have a bunch of them thrashing around your workspace and making it look like a tangled mess. Thankfully, getting your cables in order is not an expensive task. Try cable boxes to get power cords and plugs out of sight or cable clips to keep them running neatly in place. Put phone chargers, headphones, and power adapters away when you’re not using them.
6. Give objects a home
Ever heard the motto “a place for everything and everything in its place”? If not, don’t worry, you have now. And okay, it all sounds a bit Mary Poppins, but trust us—there’s value to it. When you give objects a defined home, keeping things tidy becomes easier. For starters, you know exactly where to find things when you need them. And every time you put things back in their place, you’ll feel instantly more organized and in control.
7. Make creative use of space
Sometimes being ruthless isn’t enough. You really, really do need all the things. The problem is then how to keep all your stuff close by without your workspace looking cluttered. This is where you can try and get creative with your use of storage space. Look around. Can you fit a small filing cabinet or some neat storage boxes under your desk? What about making your storage space vertical by adding extra shelving to the walls above it? There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of stuff, as long as you can find a way to store it neatly.
3 Tips for Reducing Digital Clutter
You don’t just have a physical workspace—you also have a virtual one. And clutter affects both of them in much the same way. Since most of us spend so much time working electronically, don’t forget to also clean up your digital life. Here are a few digital decluttering tips for keeping your virtual space as clean as your physical one.
1. Tidy up your desktop
It’s the first thing you see when you boot up, so a cluttered computer desktop can have the same mental effect as a physical one. Try clearing it up to get rid of any unused icons, and set a calming, non-busy backdrop.
2. Archive your emails
Maintaining inbox zero is a nice idea… but so is getting paid to lie on a beach in the Bahamas. Both are about as likely as the other. So don’t stress about keeping a perfect zero inbox, but do try and archive your old emails regularly and clean up as you go by deleting anything you don’t need.
Need more decluttering tips for your inbox? Check out these productivity hacks to keep email from taking over your time.
3. Choose your notifications wisely
Getting into your zone at work is hard enough when there’s gossip and a box of donuts in the kitchen to distract you. (Or for those who work from home, literally everything in the house that’s not your computer.) The last thing you need is ping after ping breaking into your train of thought. Check the notification settings on all your devices and turn off any that aren’t completely necessary. That includes browser notifications and email alerts as well as social media notifications on your phone. It’s all visual and auditory clutter when you’re trying to be productive.
Decluttering Tips for Your Mind
Is there such a thing as mental clutter? We think so. Maybe you can’t see it or touch it, but anyone who’s ever tried to read two pages of a book while their head is swimming with unfinished tasks knows it exists. That’s why getting rid of mental clutter is also important: Only then can we truly focus. Here are two decluttering tips that take on your headspace.
1. Keep a journal
Scribbling down your thoughts gets them out of your head and onto paper, decluttering your mind. What’s more, using a journal to list down your goals and make plans for how to achieve them has mega benefits. Research has shown that incomplete goals hover in our minds and distract us, while the simple act of making plans for those goals—even before we actually carry them out—has the power to clear away our anxiety.
2. Make to-do lists
Tell us if you’ve experienced this before: You’re trying to focus on a task, but thoughts of other tasks keep popping into your head. If you want to avoid those untimely reminders, get all your tasks down into a list. If paper is too old-school, try a productivity app for task tracking. Creating lists has also been shown to improve memory performance. So when you get things out of your head and onto a list, you’ll find it easier to remember the items on the list, even without referring back to it.
Tips for Maintaining a Decluttered State
Decluttering your physical and virtual workspaces, as well as your mind, is one thing. But clutter has a way of creeping back into your life. You have to keep pushing it away in order to maintain your space. Here are some ways to keep the clutter from coming back.
1. Set yourself limits
Try consciously making limits around how much extra stuff you add to your life. Only buy what you absolutely need in quantities you’ll actually use (sorry, jumbo pack of 5,000 paperclips). Same goes for apps: Think before downloading so you don’t clutter up your devices with apps you don’t need.
2. Don’t worry about perfection
Okay, this is one we’re still working on. Productivity, ultimately, means getting work done. So don’t obsess about turning your workspace into a picture-perfect, minimalist’s dream. Fixating too much on perfection is counterproductive, so instead try and find a balance between maintaining a healthy workspace and getting stuff done.
3. Create a daily routine
Some people find that putting five minutes aside at the end of the workday to tidy up their desk is a great way to maintain a decluttered state. If it works for you, try to build it into a routine so it becomes an automatic no-brainer. It’ll prevent clutter from sneaking back in too quickly, and set you off to a good start the next day.
4. Do what works for you
Last but not least, we’d be remiss not to mention that clutter is a personal thing. We all have different tolerance levels for it, and what constitutes clutter to one person might be totally fine for another. You might find that having a little bit of clutter makes you feel more at home. Or you might find that segmenting your workspace into zones is an ideal scenario—e.g., one area for doing creative work amidst piles of stuff that inspires you, and one area that’s kept minimal for doing detail-oriented work like accounts management (a good solution for creative freelancers in particular). Like anything in life, it’ll take some experimentation.
So try out these decluttering tips for yourself, and stick with what works best for you.
Your turn: What decluttering tips do you use to keep your workspace—and your life—free from chaos? Tell us more in the comments.
For more productivity tips, check out this article on how to take a productivity-boosting nap.
Author: Tania Braukamper
Tania Braukamper is an Australian-born writer and photographer. She believes in curiosity, kindness, and adventure as a state of mind.