Sometimes my clients have trouble identifying what their clutter is. Here’s a case in point. The desk and counters of Dave’s office are piled fairly densely, making it hard for him to work. I select a pile at random and here’s what happened.
Me: Dave, what’s this pile?
Dave: Those are binders from our spring conference.
Me: Is there a reason you’re keeping them?
Dave: That’s our biggest conference of the year.
Me: Right, but do you need 14 copies?
Dave: Well, sometimes people ask me for them.
Me: Do you have it available electronically?
Dave: Oh, yes. It’s on the website as a PDF.
Me: Would it be okay to direct people who want a copy to download the PDF?
Dave: Sure, I guess so.
Me: So do you still need all these copies?
Dave: We always keep copies. Every year.
Me: Is there some other purpose you’ll be using them for?
Dave: Um, no. We just, uh, keep them. The extras.
Me: So when you go to create this year’s binder, you won’t refer to these?
Dave: No, I have all the files on my computer, the templates and stuff.
Me: What if you just keep one copy in your archive files? How would that be?
Dave: Yeah, I suppose one is enough.
Me: Where would be a logical place to keep it?
Dave (looking sheepish): Can’t leave it on the counter, I guess?
Me: Well, you probably won’t need it anytime soon and you don’t want it to get buried under a pile. How about filing it with other documents from the spring conference?
Dave (relieved): Oh, yeah. That makes sense.
This is the source of a lot of desk clutter; papers that were important last week or five months ago, but aren’t now. They need to be tossed out or filed away. Paper like this very quickly becomes part of the backdrop in your office. Because it started out being important, you forget to question its presence.
Start questioning. Leave the room and come back in. Investigate the first pile you see. Does it have a compelling reason to be there; i.e. it’s important to your current work? If not, is it worth keeping at all? Be ruthless, especially if you have electronic copies.