When it’s hard to carve out an hour or two (or more) to complete an unclutter mission, sometimes we forgo organizing at all.
That’s where the speed unclutterer comes in handy. When your boss is about to drop by your cube or friends have called to say they’re coming right over, uncluttering has to take on velocity. I have found that this works best when you close off all distractions, focus solely on the targeted area, set the timer for 5-, 10- or 15-minute increments and unclutter until the timer dings.
What you do in your 5-, 10- or 15-minute increments depends, of course, on the degree of disarray in the area you plan to unclutter and the system you use. Here are some ideas to get you started. Adjust them according to your situation.
The 5-minute Unclutterer
To know where to begin on a 5-minute uncluttering project, asking yourself questions will sharpen your focus. As I wrote on page 20 in The Naked Desk:
If you have limited time to organize, ask yourself, “What single action would make the greatest impact right now?” Or, “What can I do in five minutes that will make the biggest difference?” Scan the office and choose the area that is calling out for order the most. Then take action!
These questions will help you quickly home in on the area that if you unclutter it, will bring you the greatest relief, serenity or beauty. Overwhelmed? Put a bull’s eye on one corner of the table to get started, rather than trying to conquer the whole thing.
Zen Habits also has a great list of 5-minute uncluttering actions in the article 18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess.
I love Leo’s tip #6:
Pick up 5 things, and find places for them. These should be things that you actually use, but that you just seem to put anywhere, because they don’t have good places. If you don’t know exactly where things belong, you have to designate a good spot. Take a minute to think it through where would be a good spot? Then always put those things in those spots when you’re done using them. Do this for everything in your home, a few things at a time.
Make a mental note of the new spots for items so you can retrieve them when you need them.
The 10-minute Unclutterer
You can power through a small uncluttering task in 10 minutes or make progress on a larger project.
Admittedly, the morning dishes in our home sometimes get left unwashed as family members dash out the door for work and school. I set the timer daily for 10-minute dish washing blasts — instant sink and counter uncluttering. Other things you can knock out in 10 minutes include:
- File one inch of paper
- Organize a book shelf
- Start a load of laundry
From home to work, there are many 10-minute uncluttering opportunities. For example, you can reserve the last 10 minutes of the day to unclutter your desk to start fresh and clear the next day.
To fend off return-from-home clutter piles, make it a habit to use your first 10 minutes through the door to put things away, such as your umbrella in the umbrella holder, your jacket in the closet and your keys on the landing strip.
The 15-minute Unclutterer
With all that you can accomplish in five or 10 minutes, 15 minutes can make an even bigger dent in clutter. You won’t streamline a bedraggled garage, but you can clear out one box.
When you find yourself with an unexpected block of 15 minutes, you can use the time to clear out clutter from your home or office. For example, you’ve arrived 15 minutes early for a lunch appointment — unclutter your car. Additional ideas:
- Remove all broken or obsolete items from a junk drawer
- Clear out your purse or wallet
- Organize your monthly receipts
To unclutter and clean, check out About.com’s Sarah Aguirre article”15 Minute Cleanups.” The article provides cleaning checklists for six different rooms, from the kitchen to a kid’s room.
I put the Bedroom Cleanup checklist to the test one evening from 8:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. As I followed each of Aguierre’s steps (except I substituted vacuuming with dusting), the room took on an extra sparkle. (Earrings that had collected on my dresser got returned to their home. I also unpacked my husband’s suitcase from last week’s business trip.) It was fast and easy to run through someone else’s pre-made to-do list. I’m glad I did it and will try her suggestions for other rooms.
Some cluttering projects do take hours, days, or months to finish. But, starting with 5-, 10- or 15-minute uncluttering bursts can give you instant progress. These timed uncluttering sprints are also useful for daily maintenance.
What are you able to get done in 5-, 10- or 15-minute unclutter sprints? Let us know your regular routines in the comments.
This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.