Clearing clutter is like counterinsurgency

Boxes - Rachel Whiteread EMBANKMENT at London's Tate Modern (courtesy Antony J Shepherd at Flickr CC)Whether it’s piles of clutter in your house, hundreds of unread emails, stacks of paper, folders of photos to edit or WHATEVER….

….the techniques for getting them under control are very similar to classic military counterinsurgency strategies of Clear – Hold – Build (some would add Sustain) plus a little inkblot spreading.

Find one part of the pile, no matter how small, and clear it.

Put practices in place to keep it sorted and clear (hold.)

Spread and grow the little “inkblots of order” until they connect, and you’ll have a tidy part of the desk or section of the room.

Build habits and create techniques that bring tidiness and order into your routine, and sustain them.

Move onto the next messy pile/room/email account and clear – hold – build – sustain.  It’s even a tactic for downtown development.

To make it work, you need systems to sort incoming stuff, you must set aside administrative time to do the clearing and then have the self-discipline to hold onto your newfound orderliness.

One of my favorite references for organizational strategies is Julie Morgenstern – her blog features a recent post by a military woman in Iraq dealing with time management.

It takes planning to make even simple things go smoothly (or as I found while in the Navy, it also helps to marry a fabulous guy who shares the load.)

How do you attack clutter in your life, both digital and physical?

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5 Responses to Clearing clutter is like counterinsurgency

  1. Great post! Very timely!
    As I look around my office “piles” I must agree with you. I’m a big fan of grouping like items to handle as a stack. I like to think of it: Tetris-style organization. (remember that Nintendo game way back in the 80s-90s?)

    Now that I think about it I handle most areas in this manner… from home organization, to task lists, to email & social media time management. I find if I try to do things in chunks, I make better progress than if I handle one detail at a time. The only kicker is not letting your pile get up past the “Game over” thresh hold.

    • Yep, I think many of us do better in bursts or chunks of the same thing, so we can get into a flow.

      I often sort my email IN box by Subject so I can plow through emails that are grouped together by the same topic, instead of having to jump from one thing to another when I go through them sequentially.

  2. Andy Hayes | Travel Online Partners says:

    I fight clutter with prevention. If you stop it at the source (good organisation) it doesn’t become so bothersome.

    If only my apartment got the same attention as my business =)

    PS – You lost me at the inkblot!
    Andy Hayes | Travel Online Partners´s last [post] ..Blogging without Assumptions

    • Hi Andy,

      Yes, kill the source, which is why I’m unsubscribing, diverting and blocking emails like crazy these days. Double opt-in, yo.

      Sorry about the inkblot – in counterinsurgency, you “clear” one small area of the enemy, then another, then another. Pretty soon all of those blots will spread, like ink, until their boundaries converge and you have one larger cleared area from many small ones.

      Same thing with clutter – create an “inkblot of order,” a blob/area of order if you will, and even if it starts out surrounded by mess, if you create enough of them, the cleared blots merge and begin to crowd out the messy areas. Then messes don’t seem so overwhelming, either. The first blots are the hardest, because you’re still surrounded by enemy piles and it can be discouraging. Persevere. 🙂

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