If you’re a writer, or want to be, there are many benefits to minimizing or decluttering your writing space. Here are just a few:
- Less distraction. Distraction is a problem for virtually every writer I know—and a cluttered writing space is filled with potential distractions. Sticky-notes, business cards, books, file folders, bills, and uncompleted projects all clamor for attention. Removing them helps you to better focus on the most important project—the one you are currently working.
- More freedom. A distraction-free writing space puts you—rather than your clutter—in charge. Now your to-do list is determined by your priorities, not by the piles on your desk.
- Increased self-confidence. A distraction-free writing space is empowering. It’s a way to prove to yourself—and others—that you are self-directed, take your work seriously, and want to be efficient, accomplished, and thorough.
- New opportunities. A new day brings new opportunities and the potential to accomplish something great. Walking into a writing space strewn with unfinished work from yesterday (or yesteryear) immediately anchors you to the past, burdening today’s potential with yesterday’s baggage.
A clear writing space offers a clean slate—a place to begin again and consider endless possibilities. Even if your new day consists of completing yesterday’s project, reopening a file provides a fresh starting point and new perspectives for tackling a problem or task. That’s one of the reasons I clear my desk every evening before ending work.
The work required to minimize a writing space comes more naturally to some than others. But I have before-and-after proof that it is possible and worth the effort. When my family and I first began to minimize our home about ten years ago, my writing space looked like this:
Would you want to write here? Yeah, me neither. And here’s what it looked like the first time I decluttered it.
(By the way, these before/after photos are from the Archives of Becoming Minimalist. If you are unaware, this blog started as a journal of our family’s journey into minimalism. It has slowly grown over the past ten years into what it is today).
It is possible for any writer, regardless of their starting point, to create a less cluttered, more focused writing space.
Here is a six-step process you can use to clear clutter and enjoy the opportunity of a minimized writing space:
1. Clear out storage cabinets, drawers, and closets. Get rid of anything obsolete or unnecessary. Start with computer accessories: specialized cords that used to go to who-knows-what equipment, flash drives, old equipment manuals (which are probably available online), unused or outdated external hard drives.
Eliminate duplicate office products—you only need one stapler and one tape dispenser, right? Get rid of things you no longer need. When was the last time you used that three-hole punch? If you have a calculator app on your phone, do you really need a calculator?
Tackle consumable supplies—stationery, folders, labels, paper clips, Post-it Notes, pens, pencils, tape rolls, colored markers, and so on. If you have more than a six-month supply, get rid of some or store neatly out of sight.
2. Reduce the number of books on your shelves. How do you decide which books to keep and which to give away? Start by sorting your books into one of four categories:
- Books you have never read and don’t realistically expect to read. Donate them.
- Books you have read but will never go back to. Donate them.
- Books you have read that have been influential in your life. Keep them. Or, lend them to someone else who might get just as much out of them as you have.
- Books you have already read and know you will want to return to. Keep them.
3. Simplify walls and bulletin boards. Take a critical look at the walls that define your writing space. Are they crowded with photos, posters, or inspirational plaques? Do you have an “ego wall” of diplomas and certificates? Do you have shelving that displays a multitude of small objects? Get rid of anything that’s more distracting than helpful, and take down shelves or even a whiteboard or bulletin board you don’t need.
4. Clear out your filing cabinets. Even in the digital age, many of us still keep too many paper files. To file papers, you need hanging file folders, labels, and file cabinets. It all takes up space. It’s also a disquieting reminder that there is a whole bunch of paper stored inside those drawers that at some time or other you’re going to have to face. That time is now. Get started by removing anything that can be accessed online.
5. Remove furniture or accessories you no longer need. Have you eliminated enough unnecessary files that you can now get rid of that ugly metal file cabinet? Great! Do it. Other candidates include credenzas, bookshelves, chairs, lamps, electronics, clocks, distracting decorations, etc.
6. Create a wide-open desktop. Is your desktop cluttered with things you think you need to have at hand? Be bold in getting rid of all you can do without. Do you really need the clock since you have the time on your computer and your phone? You can write with only one pen or pencil at a time, so isn’t that enough to have on hand? When you’re satisfied that what’s on your desktop is only what you really need at hand when you’re working, arrange this stuff neatly and wipe down the desktop. Then enjoy the wide-open vista of creativity it presents.
If you’re a writer, or want to be, creative work is no doubt a big part of what you’re here on this earth to do. The ideas and stories you share make a contribution that adds value to your own life and to the lives of others.
When you minimize your writing space, you take a big step toward maximizing your potential. You free up your mind to think more clearly, be more creative, and make better decisions. And that should be reason enough to sort through some files and toss out some clutter.