Defragging your physical environment

img courtesy sxc

Yesterday, I spent 5+ hours cleaning my 7 year old daughter’s bedroom. I had spent several additional hours a week or so ago just going through her clothing and purging anything that didn’t fit, was unfit to wear, or that she just didn’t like.

All together, I removed 11 trash bags of stuff from her bedroom, which is about a 10′ x 11′ space. About half of that went to Goodwill, and half of it went to the dumpster.  Here’s the really crazy thing: I did basically the same thing a year and a half ago when she, her brother, and her dad all went to Arizona on vacation.

At one point, I had her stuff spread out covering the kitchen table, all down the hallway, and in various piles in her room. I was burning daylight trying to get it purged to the point that we could let the dog back into the house without fear that he’d eat something toxic or dangerous. (He’s a pug. They’re not smart animals.) 

But I did get it all done, and now she has easy access to the stuff she loves and uses regularly, and when I tell her to pick up her stuff and put it away, there’s actually more “away space” than stuff.

You have no idea how badly I was dreading tackling this task. For one thing, she has a bad habit of sneaking food into her room. I was pretty certain I was going to find gross stuff (and I did). It was a dirty, nasty, hard, unpleasant task.

But I’m so glad I did it, and that I stuck with the task till it was completely done.

I think decluttering your physical environment emotionally resembles defragging your hard drive. Remember that? Your computer would start bogging down. You’d already done File Cleanup. So you’d go into System Tools, bite the bullet, and defrag.

You knew it would take FOREVER. You knew you couldn’t get anything else done while it was running. But you also knew that it would actually help make things faster and make it easier to get things done.

Defragmenting is basically organizing for the optimal use of the available space. That’s really what decluttering is: organizing for the optimal use of your physical space.

  • Getting rid of the stuff that’s utterly useless
  • Grouping similar things together, and
  • Prioritizing the groups so that the stuff you use most often is most easily accessible.

This is important to our family right now. We’re either going to get a buyer for our house, or remodel it to fit our needs this year. Either way, we have to get rid of all the useless clutter. I’m sure as heck not packing and moving it. Plus, I’m working from home quite a bit right now, and the more cluttered my home gets, the harder it is to remain productive here.

I want to do a lot more writing in 2012 than I did in 2011, and it’s hard to do that when I feel the clutter screaming at me. Seriously. It screams at my soul like a wet Mogwai.  Quite distracting.

It sounds so easy, but it’s so hard to actually make yourself do it.

Partly it’s the “I might uncover disgusting stuff that I will then have to touch to get rid of it” thing. But I think the bigger part is how bad you feel about yourself for letting inanimate stuff overwhelm and master you.

But then, if you just keep trucking on, and keep addressing this thing and that thing until you eventually get to the end. And it feels wonderfully freeing.

What about you? What do you always dread doing, but always feel great after you get it done?


  1. ·

    I feel that way about decluttering and organizing in general. Generally speaking I keep things fairly organized until I get involved in a project, then a lot of stuff gets pulled out. I don’t consider a project done until the cleanup is complete. Other people will accomplish the task, make a token effort at cleaning up, then leave it. The mess they leave behind screams at my soul. (BEST. DESCRIPTION. EVAR!!)

    I dread cleaning up after people because it feels like a slap in the face. I feel better after doing it, though, because the Mogwais stop screaming.

    The huge exception to this is laundry. I would rather buy new clothes than do laundry.


  2. ·

    My office is 12×12′ (x12′ tall, which is pretty funny), and with my desk(s) taking up a substantial amount of those square feet, I have to put a stop to all work every handful of months and do a complete audit of the “important papers,” pieces of potentially-useful PC hardware.

    I hate doing it, but I subconsciously become more aware with each passing day leading up to the great purge that I’m becoming less effective at my job tasks because of the stacks of tertiary tasks growing around me.

    Getting back to a clean slate is a major load off, both literally and mentally. Defragging is a great metaphor for this process & effect.

  3. Kat French

    Charles – Gremlins FTW! For me it’s usually dishes that are the “I resent getting stuck with this when 3 other people in the house could do it but MUST. STOP. MOGWAIS. SCREAMING…”

    Laundry I actually find quite meditative once I bite the bullet and start folding.

    Jeff – Why am I not surprised that your office is a perfect cube? You are a very precise person in general. 🙂 And yeah… you can feel the cognitive burden of clutter slowing you down.


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