Dump your clutter: a strategy for creating order out of chaos in 2017

Anyone who knows me well will confirm this: I am not the most organized person on the planet. Somehow, I manage to function in the multi-tasking world of journalism. Maybe it’s because there’s something appealing about the seat-of-the-pants demands of newsroom deadlines, or because having a Plan B, no matter how cloudy and ill-formed, is second nature to me. But at the end of the day, there’s no denying that workplace organization is not always my strong suit.

Outside the newsroom, personal organization has also been a longtime challenge. Years ago, when I was in school full-time, working part-time, and trying hard to maintain a tidy, predictable, welcoming home for my then-husband and our two boys, I discovered FlyLady. For the uninitiated, “FlyLady” is the the pseudonym of Marla Cilley, a North Carolina housewife-turned-entrepreneur who has built a network of devotees — and a small business empire — by laying out a step-by-step, day-by-day system for maintaining order and serenity in our homes and our lives.

From wearing lace-up shoes and polishing the kitchen sink every night to tackling the darkest recesses of the junk closet, FlyLady offers hope and structure to people who struggle with the routine challenges of creating an orderly home environment. She even puts a name to this struggle: CHAOS, or Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

FlyLady encouraged me to set my home to rights a little at a time, to be patient with the process and to set a good example for my family members rather than nagging. In the interest of pragmatism, she also provided a 30-minute emergency plan for making my house presentable for the in-laws or other short-notice guests.

But FlyLady really stresses the importance of making regular “baby steps” toward organizing and de-cluttering our homes. She offers thoughtful, if sometimes cloying, essays about work-life balance, recipes for easy weeknight meals, suggestions for spicing up marital relations and other tips you might wish you had learned from your mother but didn’t.

I’m not a complete evangelist for FlyLady, mind you. I long ago unsubscribed from her rambling daily emails, weekly newsletters and other nattering reminders. Like many online services, this one can quickly become a time-sucking project of its own, complete with pitches to purchase special organizational calendars, weekly meal plans and color-coded cleaning supplies. But I still dip in and out of the FlyLady website from time to time, picking up a bit of inspiration here and a concrete tip there.

Recently I was reminded of a FlyLady maxim about clutter. This was on New Year’s Day, when I sat down at my home computer and looked at the mess of files, photos and documents that were piled up, higgledy-piggledy, on my desktop screen. If my actual desk, at home or at work, had that much junk stacked up on it, I wouldn’t find a place to set down my coffee cup, much less be able to function productively.

You cannot organize clutter, FlyLady maintains. You can only get rid of it.

So I took a couple of hours and sorted through it. Much of the stuff on my desktop was abject junk — files I had downloaded on impulse or for short-term reference that I no longer needed. I dragged 90 percent of it into the trash and deleted it. I saved a few documents and photographs, which required about five minutes to remind myself how these storage systems actually work. It’s not rocket science, it turns out.

Emboldened, I opened my personal email Inbox and mass-deleted about 13,000 old messages, dating back to 2008, the year my first marriage fell apart. Why was I hanging on to them? Evidence? Nostalgia? My autobiography? It was ridiculous. I saved a few tender exchanges between my grown sons and me, but even those were hardly deathless prose.

I also saved a file of email exchanges with my new husband, Douglas, starting with our meetup on Match.com in 2011 and ending about the time I moved in with him in 2013. They’re the e-version of our love letters, with nuggets of sweetness and humor I will want to revisit in the years ahead.

Here’s to organizing, simplifying and decluttering our lives for 2017.

Read more of Meg Haskell at livingitforward.bangordailynews.com.

Meg Haskell

About Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at mhaskell@bangordailynews.com.