Managing Work Area Clutter by Rekha Ambardar

If you want to meet your writing deadlines and housekeeping causes you to get depressed now and then–and it can–the only way to overcome it, according to Sandra Felton, author of The Messies Manual, is by taking control.  Clean out one corner at a time, one room at a time.  We don’t have to feel we are under the gun to complete the task in a short period of time. One success, however small, will lead to another, and, slowly, a pattern will emerge.  Felton says, “You don’t have to aim for perfection.  In fact, a perfect home can be as bad as one that is chaotic.”

For writers, a cozy home fits the bill more that a museum piece of a house. Agatha Christie, Rosamund Pilcher, and Daphne du Maurier had homes that exuded the ideal work spot for writers – floppy furniture, flowers in vases, books and papers on the writing desk, a cup of coffee waiting to be sipped.

Your office need not be physical space; it can be a state of mind.  If a desk in a corner of the living room is all the office space you can afford at the moment, you may have to look for places to store bills, research notes, clipping and manuscripts.

Boxes: Not all rooms have space for bookshelves. Wal-Mart plastic boxes, that come in gray or black, are useful for storing papers in file folders, even books.  These can be hidden in the living or family room, between the sofa and the wall, under the computer desk, or next to the table that holds the phone, so that, with a table runner, one of these can look like a short table.

Use the Dining Table: To write, that is.  Moving your work space to the dining table for handwritten work serves two purposes–spreading out your books and papers so they are handy when you need them, and forcing you to clean up to lay the table for dinner.

Clippings: Ruth Emmett, professional speaker and author of The Procrastinator’s Handbook, suggests clipping items from magazines and holding them in a file folder until you have time to read them. Clipping the items saves space and at the same time you’ve saved the material which may be useful.

Names and Numbers: Michelle Passoff, a professional organizer, suggests having two Rolodexes, one for personal contacts and the other for in-depth business contacts (editors, publishers, agents).  She suggests filing the information by category.   In your personal Rolodex, you can set up headings in alphabetical order for Home Maintenance, Travel, Kids’ Contact, Banking, and under each category you’d put everything you think should go under that heading.

Ruth Emmett says old TV shows portrayed clutter-free homes, but they also showed mothers vacuuming wearing pearls and their best dresses.  “And don’t forget how perfectly behaved Opie and all those kids in black and white TV behaved.  The Cosby Show kind of hinted at imperfect kids with the messy bedroom, but it was really Roseanne who first showed a messy house and back-talking kids.”

Still, writers need to be able to think clearly and produce a body of work each day, and a clutter-free environment might help them do just that.

As I’m a writer, paper has taken over my life.  So drawers and plastic boxes are filled with manuscripts of writing projects, clippings and photocopies of research material I’ve collected over the years.  Since I don’t have an office to keep my papers in, they are stored in every used box I can find.  I know which stores toss out the clean ones. I’m happy with this arrangement because I know which corner of the room is hiding a given box.  Periodically, I do toss out the papers I’ll never look at again.

Michelle Passoff, author of Lighten Up! Free Yourself From Clutter, says “Too often, people relate to their file systems with the old out-of-sight out-of-mind attitude.  Many people leave everything out everywhere, afraid that whatever they put away will be forgotten.  The result is an overcrowded, disorderly paper condition, otherwise known as clutter.”  According to Passoff, the three main hubs for paper in a clutter-free environment are–

-the file cabinet

-a data management system for names, phone numbers and addresses

– an inbox for mail.

You can follow a filing system devised by someone else or construct one that fits your needs.  Since my office is not a physical space, my desk is in the corner of the living room and my books and papers camouflaged in boxes nearby – the best solution for my cramped situation.  Donna Smallin, author of Unclutter Your Home: 7 Simple Steps, 700 Tips and Ideas, says, “Uncluttering is not about being perfect. It’s about being able to find what you want, when you want it, and feeling good about your living space.”

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