Are the paths to your goals paved or cluttered?

Once upon a time, I conducted a one-question internet survey about what blocks people’s success in reaching their goals. The question I asked is: What is the single, biggest obstacle to achieving your goals? The responses were intriguing.

“Lack of Organization/Too Much Clutter” made it to the Top 5 on the list and it continues to rank as the #5 obstacle to goal success.

Speaking of goals, the National Association of Professional Organizers has reported that “getting organized” is one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions year after year.

If getting organized makes it to your list of resolutions in the upcoming year, it could have a positive ripple effect. When people clear out clutter, it paves the way for other goals too.

Why does clutter get in the way of goals?

When there’s clutter on our desks and we have to step over the jackets, the laptop case and shoes strewn about the hallway, it’s harder to think and we often forget things. How can you remember a priority project when it’s buried beneath a pile of paper as high as your office chair?

For me, an organized workspace (and house for that matter) allows me clarity of thought and gives me a motivational lift. It’s about progress, not perfection, by the way.

For example, when the surfaces of my workspace are clutter free — yet I still have the tools at hand that I need — I am more productive, have increased focus, and I feel better at the end of the day. That’s because productivity equals satisfaction. I like to work hard on my priorities.

When things are in the way — mentally or physically — we get slowed down, distracted and derailed. It’s no fun at year’s end to open a mysterious Word document that reminds you that you were going to lose 10 pounds and you haven’t made it to the gym all year.

Here are four tips to clear out clutter so that you can remove at least one obstacle to goal success.

Step Back

Assess the space you want to organize, whether it’s your cubicle, garage, or kitchen. Take five minutes to picture what you’d like the space to look like. Do you envision a transformation or just a few tweaks?

Create a Big Goal

The big goal represents your organizing ideal. For the garage, maybe that means hiring a company to build storage shelving and hooks to hang tools. Consider the benefits: peace of mind and clarity.

Do the Tough Thing First

Spot the thing that you dread most. When you look at the file cabinet bursting with 15 years of taxes, tackle it. Doing the hardest thing first will build momentum and inspire you to move on to more uncluttering.

Set a Small Goal, Too

You’ve made progress by facing the tough thing first. Do another small goal immediately. For instance, sort through two boxes or put all gardening equipment in one area.

Team up with one or more person to help make the process fun. With focus and dedication, all 4 steps are do-able.

Taking a moment to step back will give you a snapshot of what you want before you start. From there, you’ll have the ingredients for your first big goal. Doing the tough thing first allows you to get going fast and sets the stage for overcoming resistance of the things you don’t want to do. Keep going with a series of small goals. As you make progress, you’ll be more organized, and you’ll have more clarity and confidence to maintain your organized life.

What strategies have you used to set and achieve your uncluttering goals?


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

5 Comments for “Are the paths to your goals paved or cluttered?”

  1. posted by cerrissa on

    i find the thing that helps me most is the ‘envisioning’ step. I can set goal after goal but if i don’t have an end result in mind i can’t get any motivation. it’s always very fulfilling, and sometimes surprising, to see your dream finally becoming a reality. i also try to write a narrative of what i envision to help remind me of my goals trhoughout the process. Re-reading it every so often re-inspires me and helps me to not get overwhelmed.

  2. posted by Gwaine on

    “It’s about progress, not perfection” – this short little statement really hit home with me. That’s my new mantra!

    Thanks for the post!

  3. posted by Sue on

    Cerrisa: Good point. Athletes like Tiger Woods use this visualization technique for better results. If you can imagine yourself taking the step (or swing) your brain moves toward making the action happen. W. Timothy Gallwey et al. talks about this at length in his book, ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’–an excellent read, not just for athletes.

    Thanks for your input!
    Sue from unclutterer

  4. posted by Andamom on

    First, I do as you say and tackle the toughest projects first. In my case, when I see a problem area, I take care of it before it gets bigger — and I look for opportunities that will improve things over the long-term.

    With a small living space, our things are always in front of us. I know when I haven’t used an item or a mess needs to be taken care of because I’ll fall over it otherwise.

    Living a life free of clutter – both physically and spiritually – is the name of my game.

  5. posted by terri on

    OUCH… confrontation with truth so early in the morning…following the night when I made a list of all I was going to do today re clutter and organization…and this morning–it is just so overwhelming… am going to check my email instead…. (smiley face)

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