Welcome!ResourcesTraining Notes − TN57 Clear your clutter!

First published on this website in November 2010 and last updated in October 2012

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Categories: Administration


Clutter is defined as the untidy mess of stuff which is in the wrong place (when in your office or study for the purpose of these notes).  To create a clutter-free zone:

  1. View this as a spiritual discipline
  2. Turn off the tap
  3. Diarise the time
  4. Take extreme action
  5. Appoint a partner
  6. Deal with clutter as it appears
  7. Create an in-tray for pre-sort
  8. Guard every flat surface
  9. Create external storage spaces
  10. Aim to get rid of more.


Here is the link to this item: PDF tn57.pdf


These notes were updated in October 2012 with minor alternations throughout the text.

Tee hee, I read that article and with about half of the suggestions I get this massive stomach wrenching nooooooooooo........ you cant take all my STUFF away !

My desk looks like this but with taller piles:

A while ago I watched a program about the Large Hadron Collider (that big accelerator thing on the Swiss / French border). I was fascinated to see that all the designers and scientist thinkers who were dreaming up the new ideas being built there had desks which were at least a foot deep in paperwork, and usually a room full of it around them. As the program went from one to another, the same pattern showed in the majority of the workplaces.

I started thinking about this, because I work in the same office as my senior pastor, and his desk only ever has todays work on (well more or less), whereas mine has various strata, by which I can accurately age a project between now and 3 years ago. I used to feel bad about this because the time and stress managers always told me it was a "bad thing" to have this stuff because as the article suggests it could be an indication of disorganisation, lack of planning, overload, lack of mental clarity, inability to manage time and boundaries, procrastination, indecisiveness, fear of confrontation, displacement time wasting, squirelling, or the first signs of obsessive compulsive disorder !

But hey - what about Einstein and the Cerne scientists ? What about the fact that I am known around here as the ruthless one of the ministers ? That my colleague and I compete for the first shout of get that out of this building right now ! That I have an insane workrate but thrive on it? (Well okay sometimes I ride the ragged edge of overload, but I've never fallen off the edge yet and I'm 50 already). What about the fact that I know where everything is on my desk (and in my filing cabinets), but the other minister doesnt know where things are once its more than a week since he dealt with them?

I guess that this, like so many principles, really varies from person to person, and from situation to situation. John said that clutter is what is in the wrong place, but what is the wrong place for you is not necessarily the wrong place for me. So while I find some points will work for me: 1 (but sometimes sentimentality IS reality),2 (but I love post it messages),6 (but not the clear computer desktop),7 (but an in tray is a good place to hold hundreds of possibilities/options),9,10 (but dont you dare touch my sea shells/fossils/minerals/dried flowers/inscribed shell case from Morocco/kendo sword), and some are okay occasionally: 3 (Diarising), the others are potentially bad ideas for me: 4 extreme action (careful - explosive territory ahead)/ 5 accountability on clutter (you want ME to let YOU decide where MY stuff goes/ 8 clear surfaces NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Why such a big reaction ? I think one reason is to do with thinking systems. I am highly kinesthetic, and think creatively / by synthesis, rather than by analysis. My senior pastor in contrast is a visual thinker and works by analysis. So for him to work effectively he needs clear space, and only the task to hand to work on, so 4/5/8 with hard edged rules on his work space makes him feel secure and good. I on the other hand, along with the artists / designers and other synthesists need to be surrounded by stuff that feels of what I am working on, and which provides me with the raw material for combining ideas in new ways. I am able to work well if I am surrounded with stuff some of which would probably normally be considered sentimental, and a clear desk actually makes me feel slightly ill ! From my side of the chasm, a clear desk could be a sign that you arent looking at enough ideas, thinking widely enough, pushing the boundary of your capacity enough, getting interrupted by new ideas and diversions enough..... etc.

Another aspect of this is about motivation and satisfaction. Some people find that clear spaces to work in give them security, structure, and satisfaction in their work. Whereas I get those things from mass of material to draw from and an opportunity to make something with it.

Of course you are wondering how we manage to work in the same small office, which is about 8 x 15 feet. Well I can only imagine that after several decades of walking with God, we have learnt something about having grace for people who are different from ourselves, and we quite enjoy the other persons skills and different approach. I admire his clear desk enormously, and the fact that I can throw new problems over to him anytime and he is always ordered enough to add it to his diary and find some time for it. I admire the fact that John is so organised that he can apparently effortlessly run this entire website with his spare time and resources !

My colleague once in a while surprises me by admiring something that seems to me to be perfectly straightforward and obvious. Perhaps because my head holds a mental map of all sorts of structural and technical aspects of our organisation and that when something changes and causes a problem, I can often draw lots of relevant information out of my consciousness and synthesise a solution without needing to refresh my mind about the details, while my colleague is still having a panic that his neatly tuned organisation has been messed up again. How can I do that ? I argue that its because of all that stuff I keep on my desk, in my in tray, in my head, on my reading shelf. Its because I do pointless things like playing piano, daydreaming, going to beaches to get shells to clutter my office, watching films and going to the pub with people who have half a pint more than keeps them in their comfort zone, and then rant about what they really think.

I think its because holding lots of ideas as feelings in my awareness helps me to think creatively and to find intuitive solutions. I think its because God speaks to me not in the neat and orderly, but in the novel, the unexpected, the surprising, the complex, and even the chaotic.

Please dont move that clutter - thats my thoughts you are discarding !

Albert Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

Wow. My office is already looking tidier. Also , when a church member saw what I was doing she offered to do some of the clearing up with me! Double Wow!!