Review: Unclutter Your Life in One Week

Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal productivity, personal development, or career book.

unclutterer bookIf you’ve been reading my weekly roundups for long, you know I’m a big fan of the Unclutterer blog and its chief writer and editor, Erin Doland.

I link to Unclutterer frequently because I believe there is a strong connection between clutter and financial problems, since clutter represents having more physical possessions than you can manage and all of those possessions cost money. Plus, dealing with clutter requires a time investment and in our busy lives, time has a very high value.

Unclutter Your Life in One Week essentially offers a “detox” plan for getting clutter out of your home, office, and life, ostensibly in one week. I should say right off the bat that I found actually accomplishing all of the ideas in this book in one week to be impossible. That doesn’t mean the book has value, but you should not expect that all clutter in your life will be gone in one week if you follow this plan. Although, I will say that there is some function of how cluttered your life is when you start and how thoroughly you’re going through your life with the plan.

That being said, the advice in this book is stellar, in my opinion. Let’s dig in and look at some of the specifics.

The Foundations
Most of us have lives that are overbooked, overworked, and overstuffed. We have more things that we want than we possibly have time for. I’m certainly in this boat myself – I’d trade all the material items I have for another four hours in my day.

In our rush to jam even more into our lives, our lives become inherently complicated. We accumulate more things than we can deal with and some things begin to slip simply because there aren’t enough hours in the day. Those “things that slip” often take the form of clutter – items in our lives that we simply don’t have the time to process. These tend to build up throughout our lives, filling up our homes and our day planners with a backlog of things that need to be taken care of and things we don’t have the time to actually enjoy or use.

Dealing with clutter is an intense process, because it not only requires dealing with this backlog of stuff, but it also requires dealing with the elements in your life that are causing clutter.

Monday is the best day of the week to begin establishing new routines. It’s also a good day to tackle the “firsts” – the elements of clutter you face first throughout your day.

For example, many of us face a cluttered closet in the morning when we wake up, so a good first step is to get your clothes in order. If you have more clothes than you can adequately fit in your dresser and closet, you need to eliminate some.

At work, the first thing we often see is our desk or workspace. Figure out a place for all of the stuff that you see – and don’t be surprised if the space for many of those things is the trash can.

Tuesday is the most stressful day of the week, so it’s the best time to tackle the areas of your life that cause you the most stress and require the most work to keep up.

At home, Erin encourages decluttering the bathroom (with the goal of being able to easily find all of the things you need but tossing the things you don’t actually use that tend to fill up your bathroom closet) and also streamlining your household chores. I find in my own life that when I have a household chore routine, things are more likely to work well.

At work, one should take a look at filing all of their papers so that the documents one needs can easily be found and the less-important things are out of the way. At my previous job, I found that having a filing cabinet split into two pieces worked for me – a single drawer for stuff I actually used sometimes and the rest for stuff I needed to retain but would rarely look at. 99% of the time, I’d just look in that one drawer and find what I needed.

Wednesday is “hump day” and a perfect day to focus on communications and processes in our day.

At home, take a look at your kitchen and your bedroom. For us, at least, the kitchen alone can be a major project for de-cluttering. One big tactic that works is simply reducing your kitchen implements, replacing fifteen low-quality single use items with one high quality item that simply does the job. You don’t need a butcher’s block, you just need one really good chef’s knife, a bread knife, and a paring knife. You don’t need tons of casseroles and Pyrex, you just need a few high-quality French ovens. A more streamlined shopping plan helps, too.

At work, re-evaluate your commute and your communication processes. How do you get to work? Does your trip fill you with unnecessary distractions and angst? Look for the least stressful way to get to work. When you’re there, look at how you communicate with others. Does it happen in an orderly fashion with appropriate emotions? I find that “communication sessions” work well for me, where I spend a period of time each day just handling communiques, then I turn off those communication channels to allow myself to focus on other areas.

On Thursday, the focus should be on organizing your living spaces at home and focusing on your workflow and processes at work.

At home, look at the places you spend your time during the day. For us, that means our family room, and the obvious place to look there is our entertainment center, which is often a mess thanks to kids pulling out DVDs and playing with various items. Another spot to look is our book collection in the laundry room, which could sorely use some time.

At work, examine how you work on projects. Do you have difficulty completing them? Do you have too many projects? Start using the “five whys” and dig into the reasons for this. Quite often, there are some simple things blocking you from a much better workflow.

Friday’s focus is solely on uncluttering your schedule. Most of us have schedules that are so full to the brim with activities that we scarcely have time for important things in our lives. How many of you read the previous activities and thought, “That sounds awesome, but I don’t have time for it!”

The best way to do this is to simply prioritize the things you’re doing. Figure out what elements are truly of low priority and either treat them as such or find ways to completely eliminate them. Then, look at the higher priority things and look for ways to compress them – perhaps, instead of watching a show live on Tuesdays, you can record it and watch it commercial-free on Wednesdays. Perhaps instead of unwinding after work, you can spend a brief bit of time truly relaxing and then get on with the things you need to do.

The Weekend
The biggest benefit of unclutterinig is that it truly frees your weekend. If you have established routines for handling everything throughout the week – and you’ve uncluttered your time enough to allow for it – your weekends go from being “catch up” time to being big blocks of free time with which you can do whatever you want.

That’s really the reward, isn’t it?

Is Unclutter Your Life in One Week Worth Reading?
Absolutely. This is the single best book I’ve ever read on organizing your life. Much like my favorite book on time management, Getting Things Done (and, incidentally, Unclutter Your Life in One Week has a foreword by the author of GTD, David Allen), Unclutter Your Life in One Week shines because of the small implementable details, like the few pages devoted to how to organize your clothes and fold your shirts (seriously – I started using that method and it works really well).

If you were to do everything in this book, it would take much longer than a week, without a doubt. However, the modularity of it allows you to pull out pieces to tackle the most egregious parts of your life and then gradually move to other details as the “de-cluttering” advantages become clear.

This book has found a semi-permanent home on my bookshelf as I move towards decluttering some of my own life (like that nightmarish junk drawer and the train wreck that is my closet and, frankly, my time schedule).

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