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/ As Published In Getting Organized Magazine --
10 Signs Clutter Has Taken Over Your Life

As Published In Getting Organized Magazine —
10 Signs Clutter Has Taken Over Your Life

Sometimes when you’re not paying close enough attention, life can creep in on you from all sides. You bring home some junk from your mom’s house, you forget to open the mail for a week, you agree to a few extracurricular projects at work — then before you know it, you’re knee-deep in clutter, behind on everything, and feeling so overwhelmed that you don’t know what to do! What’s the solution? Learning to recognize those all-too-obvious-if-you’re-paying-attention “danger signs” before everything spins completely out of control. Here’s a sure-fire 10-step method for addressing all kinds of clutter in your life.

You Have To Move A Pile Off A Chair For Someone To Sit Down

Publicity -- Getting Organized -- Clutter Taken Over LargeHaving a closet where you hide your mess away is one thing. Not classifiable as “good” by any  stretch of anyone’s imagination — but certainly a bit more tolerable than having stacks of out-in-the-open crap scattered everywhere. However, when your junk starts spilling into (then taking over) your active living and working spaces, it’s time to re-evaluate the situation.

I’ve seen clients who couldn’t turn on their stoves because 3-foot high piles of unopened mail blocked the burners, who used their showers as “storage” for boxes of who-knows-what that hadn’t been opened in 10 years, and who never got a good night’s sleep ‘cuz every bed was covered in “stuff” they hadn’t gotten around to putting away yet. If this sounds like you, let’s make some changes to evict your clutter, take charge of your space, and reclaim your life!

You Know You Own A Pair Of Scissors, But Can Never Find Them

Having trouble locating things when you need them is a sign (a really BIG damn sign, with blinking neon letters about 50 feet high) of chronic disorder — an indication that your belongings are homeless, unhappy, and crying out to you for a place to live!

Staying organized over the long-run requires an assigned storage space for each and every thing you own. And not just any old place — I’m talking about a logical, rational spot nearest the point where you use that item. Ask yourself where you would look for those scissors when it comes time to cut — that’s where they should be kept! And if you snip in several different areas around your home/office, buy 3 or 4 pairs and give each its own unique abode.

It Takes At Least 3 Tries To Get Out Of The House In The Morning

I can  see it now — you leave home for the day, only to discover that you’ve done so without your briefcase (or purse or laptop bag or whatever). You go back for it, then head out again — this time, sans keys. You return (muttering expletives as you snatch them off the table by the door, attempting for a third time to finally start your day) — getting all the way to your car before you realize that your lunch is still sitting on the flipping counter. Dammit!

No, you’re probably not suffering from Alzheimer’s at the tender age of 22 (or 37 or 43). This is nothing more than poor planning. Take a minute the night before to gather up everything you need to take with you in the morning, and store it in a designated holding area near the door so you won’t forget it — a “launching pad,” if you will. That includes your computer, wallet, keys, gym bag, presentation for the big meeting, snacks, water bottle, whatever — as well as your kid’s soccer uniform, band instrument, and diorama of the Egyptian pyramids (if you happen to own a small house-ape). What about that sandwich you made for lunch? Put a sticky note on the door to remind yourself to get your food from the fridge!

You Pay Even A Single Late Fee Or Interest Charge Each Month

Extraneous account charges aren’t an unavoidable fact of life — they’re a symptom of disorganization. (Well, either that or poverty. Could be poverty.) But when you have a standard way of dealing with financial paperwork as it comes in, there’s absolutely no reason (besides poverty) to get behind or incur those annoyingly punitive-feeling oops-I-missed-that-deadline penalties!

Designate a small filing rack as your bill-paying center — when liability notices come in, line them up in “pay-by” order, with due dates written on each envelope. Then, block off time in your calendar for pulling out the checkbook, either literally or figuratively (if you do these sorts of things electronically) — weekly (for you big money-worriers), fortnightly on the 1st and 15th (if you prefer to tackle 2 weeks’ worth of expenses all at the same time), or once a month (if you’re the kind of guy/gal who likes to live on the edge). Whatever the schedule, treat bill-paying time like an appointment — commit a consistent and recurring chunk of time in your planner, then don’t let anything get in the way of completing that chore.

You Regularly Request Extensions On Your Tax Returns

Publicity -- Getting Organized -- Clutter Taken Over 3 LargeFor a good many of us, tax day isn’t actually April 15th — it’s more like mid-October! Your accountant may have suggested procrastination as a way of dodging those quota-driven first-come-first-served IRS audits — as a self-employed individual, I understand the entrepreneurial impetus to file as late as possible. (Whatever it takes to keep Uncle Sam off your back!) Unfortunately, most folks who request extensions aren’t plotting an elaborate occupationally-inspired-legal-loophole-cum-fiscal-avoidance strategy — they simply can’t manage to get their paperwork together on time.

Set up a portable file box just for tax documents (with a home for each type of account statement and your receipts broken down into basic categories — office supplies, charitable donations, medical expenses, travel, that sort of thing). Simply file any new documents away as soon as you get them — then, you can hand the whole conglomeration over to your CPA at the end of the year. Better yet — get a computerized bookkeeping program, set up your chart of accounts to mirror the corresponding paperwork, and indulge in a monthly game I like to call “reconcile as you file.” (Your bookkeeper will love you — and a happy number-cruncher is always better at finding potential deductions!)

You’ve Never Actually Seen The Bottom Of Your In-Box

If you’re endlessly surrounded by mounds of paper to-dos and stacks unopened mail, ask yourself why — most likely, it’s because you’re not setting aside enough time (or any time) each week to process the incoming accumulation. Life’s a lot easier if you sort through all the new stuff once a day — and that doesn’t mean plopping it down in a pile on your desk! (How on earth are you supposed to know what action a particular document requires if you haven’t even opened the envelope??)

When you pick up a piece of paper, make a decision about the next step you need to take to clear that item up (punctuated by a sticky note reminder, if necessary) — and store it in a folder for that type of to-do (“to file,” “to read,” “to contact,” “to pay,” whatever). Block off regular time each week for emptying those folders, apply ass to seat, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly the piles disappear!

Your Typical Workday Ends Hours After Everyone Else’s

Workaholism has become a serious problem in our society. But not everyone who stays at the office late does so out of a compulsion — turns out that a good many of the live-at-their-desk set are putting in longer hours to make up for the fact that they’re less-than-productive from 9 to 5. Go figure!

Are you capable of focusing with other people around — or are you constantly being interrupted and distracted? No worries, ‘cuz we’re going to draw a few healthy vocational-temporal boundaries! Make a list of all the things that steal attention away from your true priorities during the day (drop-in visitors, office clutter, FB, surfing the web — and start tackling these time wasters one-by-one. Once you get those efficiency-suckers under control, you’ll find that you can go home on time every night of the week.

You Can’t See Your Desk Under All The Piles Of Paper

Folks tend to pile instead of file when they’ve never known what a really useful document storage configuration feels like. They might have tried someone else’s paper management blueprint at one time or another — but gave up when it didn’t work for them, instead of customizing the damn thing to suit their personal preferences and thinking style. There’s also a great deal of fear attached to filing, worry that sticking an item out of sight is a recipe for disaster — but I say, “Not if you’re using the right system!”

Take a good hard look at your folders — do you have the same information in multiple locations (like a “car” file, a “Toyota” file, and a “vehicle” file)? Are your drawers cluttered with ancient paperwork that you really don’t need? Do you forget what you own and where you’ve put it? Each category should make sense (to YOUR brain) and be grouped into logical (whatever “logical” means to YOU) clusters of information. If your files don’t meet this criteria, it might be time to revamp, re-organize, and clean out!

You’re Always Running Someone Else’s Errands

Publicity -- Getting Organized -- Clutter Taken Over 2 Large

I hate to ask this (because I know you’re all competent, responsible adults out there) — but have you learned how to tell people “no” yet? I’ve never understood why folks think of “no” as such a bad word — like they’re insulting another human being by turning down a request. Gimme a break!

When you say “no,” you’re actually demonstrating a great deal of respect (for both yourself and the other person) — by understanding what you can reasonably accomplish in a day and accepting your own limits. You ain’t doing nobody any favors by taking on more responsibilities than you can handle — overloaded, unnecessarily stressed, rushing from one activity to the next without giving any of them your full attention. If you want to regain control over your life, it’s time to put on your big-girl/big-boy pants, and start protecting your borders!

Your Life Feels Out Of Control

Most signs of clutter are tangible, visible — but that vague sense of overwhelm (hiding deep inside your brain) can be even more damaging than a stack of unopened mail or a pile of junk. Are you convinced that you might lose your mind if you have to deal with the chaos one minute longer? That you’ve fallen terminally behind — and you’ll never get caught up, no matter how hard you try? Are you haunted by a nagging voice in the back of your head, always reminding you how stupid and worthless you are because you can’t get your shit together? How about we shut that mother-smurfer up, once and for all!

The first step toward curbing these anxieties is taking the first step. Do yourself a favor — turn off the TV, put down your stupidPhone, and spend a few minutes tackling your junk drawer or paper-pile or a shelf in the garage. Just putting even the tiniest dent in your mess will remove a humungous weight from your shoulders, giving you the motivation you need to dig in deeper.

(this article has been edited/expanded for the web — click here to download the original PDF as published by Getting Organized Magazine)

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Copyright 2015

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    Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and

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