Clutter! Clutter! Clutter! Clutter!

Do you feel proud when you look out across your centre? Are there piles of papers and storage boxes visible in your office? Do your staff take pride in their workplace and the learning environment? What do parents and caregivers see when they walk into your centre? Is clutter costing you clients?

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This Pivot: Sorting through the clutter on our desk, in our learning centre, and on our computer.

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Do you feel proud when you look out across your centre?

Are there piles of papers and storage boxes visible in your office?

Do your staff take pride in their workplace and the learning environment?

What do parents and caregivers see when they walk into your centre?

Is clutter costing you clients?

Recognising Clutter: The First Step

When we are surrounded by clutter we become experts at not seeing it.

But others will.

We tend to accept the routine and the predictable even when it’s working against us. That’s said to be one of the reasons why people stay in jobs they hate or cling on to abusive relationships. We become whizzes at not seeing unpleasant situations because it helps us to keep going.

In today’s world, most of us have too much stuff - at the office and at home. It’s what keeps the shops in our town open and those plastic container companies dreaming up all manner of shapes and sizes for us to store everything away in.

But even with all the fancy storage solutions, for many of us the clutter overflows and surrounds us.

Clutter is like chatter – a lot of noise going on all around you all the time and you can never shut it off. Clutter is distracting, stressful, demotivating, and can make a group of children go bonkers… - Teach Preschool

As anyone with a computer knows, clutter doesn’t stop at the keyboard. Our digital world is often a reflection of our office: untidy, overflowing and full of things we don’t need any longer.

But I Know Where Everything Is!


But clutter in our physical surroundings has one obvious risk: our physical safety. If we and the children are surrounded by a jumble of objects to navigate around, we raise the chances of trips and falls, crashes and bangs. We also make it just that much harder for everyone to move smartly in the event of an emergency.

There are many other drawbacks too.

  • Privacy - A clutter of papers on our desk can leave personal or confidential material in the view of others.
  • Theft - Items without a home are more obvious to wandering eyes and are therefore more susceptible to pilfering.
  • Efficiency - If we don’t know where everything is, we can waste a lot of time searching (ditto for our computer!).
  • Space - We make poor use of our storage space. We waste money either by buying more storage containers or over-purchasing things we already have.
  • Distraction and procrastination - Being surrounded by unnecessary external stimuli wastes our mental energy, disturbs our focus and makes it hard for us to get down to work.

It makes life hard for our cleaning staff to work, too.

People who constantly live in a state of chaos are prone to procrastination and an inability to commit to work [...] They get anxious and overwhelmed with change and usually give up before they even start the project. Their finances and time are wasted; they feel stuck and bad about themselves. – SOS Guide to Organize and Clean Your Home (Ranka Burzan)

Above all, a centre (or office) that looks like a jumble sale is a very unprofessional look.

It’s not a great lesson for the children either…

It Can Be Fixed

Decluttering our Physical World

In her best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo describes a methodical (if somewhat curious) technique for reducing the volume of material possessions that surround us at home. We can borrow much of her advice for our work place too.

Her process for decluttering is just two steps:

  1. Decide what to keep
  2. Decide where to keep it

Her “secret to success” is to tidy in one shot, as quickly and completely as possible, and to start by discarding. As she put it: “Don’t even think of putting your things away until you have finished the process of discarding”.

For Marie, discarding is best done by category, not by area. In other words, we don’t try to declutter our office (or the outside playground or the under-twos' area). Instead, we pick a category to tidy, let's say books.

We bring all the books - every single one - into one place. To make sure we find all the books, we apply the rule that any books found after the sort are automatically thrown away! We discard the items no longer needed or those that are unusable.

Gathering every item in one place is essential to this process because it gives you an accurate grasp of how much you have.

The process for discarding that Marie recommends is to handle each item individually and to ask if it “brings you joy”. Unless the answer is a big ‘yes’, we discard it.

Deciding what to keep on the basis of what sparks joy in your heart is the most important step in tidying.

(This may be a little impractical in a work setting as, clearly, it’s hard for us to feel joy for each of our three staplers! Therefore, we might adjust the question somewhat but the concept is still the same: addressing each item in a category and assessing if it still has a place. Perhaps we could ask: "Does this item still have a purpose?")

Marie recommends starting with the easier categories to make decisions about, and then moving on to the harder ones.

She says to always keep our focus on what to retain and not on what we are throwing away, and when we can’t decide she recommends asking ourselves: “Am I having trouble getting rid of this because of an attachment to the past or because of fear of the future?” She maintains neither of these to be good reasons for hanging on to things that don’t ‘bring us joy’ in the present.

Once the discard is complete, we decide where every item belongs, so that when we use it we know exactly where to return it to.

Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out.

She has other tips, like never piling things on top of others but instead storing everything we can vertically. She also recommends storing similar items in the same place or nearby.

Perhaps her best piece of advice is this:

I believe, however, that it is best to tidy up quickly and get it over with. Why? Because tidying is not the purpose of life.

As Art Buchwald once said, “the best things in life aren’t things”.

Finally, it’s a good idea to schedule a regular time for declutter maintenance. This is easy to overlook, but it is essential for keeping clutter at bay. Straightening up for a few minutes at the end of each day or 15 minutes on Friday will keep your newly organised centre - and you and your staff - in top shape.

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Tip: If you don’t have time for a complete declutter, try this in your office. Remove everything from your desk. Put it all into a box just far enough away that you need to stand up to get to it. Now go back to work as normal. If you absolutely need something from the box then go and get it. After a week, you’ll likely find the box still has most of what it started with. Those excess items can be stored away (or thrown out).

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Decluttering our Digital World

A clean, uncluttered room breathes fresh energy into your home and life. In the same way, an uncluttered computer results in a more enjoyable, fresh, and productive experience. - BecomingMinimalist

Can we apply Marie Kondo’s advice to our digital world too?


It’s a safe bet that for most of us the main categories crying out for attention on our computer are likely to be (in order of increasing difficulty):

  1. Desktop
  2. Web browser
  3. Documents and files
  4. Music
  5. Photos

(You’re free to insert your email inbox anywhere in that list that applies in your case!)

So to declutter, we would:

  • set aside time for an uninterrupted declutter session,
  • begin by deleting all the files that we no longer need,
  • work by category (desktop, web browser, etc.),
  • choose the easiest categories first, and
  • decide where to file what’s left.

Good luck with the email inbox, and good luck with all those photos too!

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Imagine; a decluttered centre, a decluttered desk, and a decluttered computer.

Saving time, saving money.


Food for Thought…

  • Most of us suffer from too much ‘stuff’
  • We don’t always notice the clutter that surrounds us
  • Clutter is not harmless; it comes with real costs
  • We can deal with clutter by having a systematic approach
  • A decluttered centre, office and computer is very professional


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