with Hannah Garland

  • Hannah Garland

Decluttering can't make you happy, but clutter certainly won't make you happy

The next time you throw an item in the closet no one ever sees or glance at another pile of clothes on the floor, consider how this clutter is making you feel. Is it helping you feel more peaceful? I can’t control how I feel all the time, but I know that clutter isn’t helping me at all. So I’ve been developing a mindset of organization and productivity that will help me stay on top of the chaos of my home so I have one less thing on my mind to worry about.

I am not a productivity expert.

I am not naturally good at organizing.

I am not a minimalist.

What I am is a mom who has been forced to find a way to organize and simplify in order to cut through the chaos of life. I bring order to areas I can control and accept some things I can’t control. I can’t control that I’m pregnant and tired, that my baby is constantly getting into everything, or that my propane company decided to leave me without propane (and therefore caused me to rely on a wood stove and an instant pot for a month). Life is consistently chaotic and I can react to it or get proactive about it. By focusing on the things I can control - like my laundry or my child’s toys - I have a constructive way to create a semblance of order where possible.

This week’s podcast touches on a host of ways that I can create peace by instilling routines. I cover everything from the benefits of self-care to block scheduling systems through the lens of my current personal struggles. In the midst of my emotional issues, I have many unfinished projects and piles of laundry sitting around - I’m sure you’ve been there at some point! The answer to getting a handle on how overwhelmed I’ve been is creating routines. In this blog, I’ll focus purely on the productivity and organization portion of routine-building.

I’ve learned that having small, easy routines that enhance my productivity is a manageable way to create a mindset that is consistently bent toward productivity. I can say without a doubt that some of these routines have completely changed my stress levels in regards to housework, which in turn helps me be a less stressed person. Of course, having a clean home will not necessarily make you a happier person. However, if your home is chaotic, it certainly isn’t helping how you feel inside. For me, when my life is chaotic all around me, I need to be able to find peace in my home. My hope is that these routines will make feeling at peace in your home more possible for you as well.

Below are some productivity tips. Some I’ve gleaned from other moms and have adapted to my life, while others are my own. These concepts have helped me develop a mindset of productivity where it’s less about accomplishing things in big moments or huge projects, and more about structuring my life in a way that I can be regularly productive, even in the small moments.

Productivity bites

This is such a small concept that was really instrumental in making me more productive overall. It’s not a major system or big weekend purging project. It’s really simple. You find ways to be productive in the small (I’m talking usually 90 seconds or less) moments that are usually wasted time. Jordan Page calls these productivity bites. I couldn’t find a specific link to her describing this idea but here are her great multitasking tips for moms.

Great examples of opportunities for productivity bites when you are heating something up in the microwave or waiting for a 3 year old to use the potty! During these moments, you might only have 30 or 60 seconds so quickly scan what’s around you and tidy up or clean. My go-to when I turn on the microwave is emptying or filling the dishwasher. I used to just stand there for less than a minute while my plate heated up. Now I can empty half a dishwasher in that time! Not only is it nice to chip away at tasks but it forces me to work really quickly for really short bursts of time.

In my podcast this week, I mentioned that I clean the toilet or the bathroom while I wait for my bath water to heat up. I didn’t know I could clean an entire toilet that quickly! That was lost and wasted time until I realized it was an opportunity for a productivity bite.

Routinely combine small tasks

This is something I started doing when I had my son, Calvin. Suddenly I had to live my life in 45 minute increments (the length of his naps), which was never enough time to finish any large task. Instead, I would have a constant eye out for little things I could accomplish as I went about my day. Examples will help explain this. Whenever I leave a room, I grab something that belongs elsewhere and take it with me. If I’m leaving the bedroom and heading to the kitchen, I pick up dishes (we eat breakfast in bed). If I’m walking through the living room heading downstairs, I’ll take a spare book or game and put it away. I may not be able to clean the entire living room everyday, but if I always have an eye out for something that belongs elsewhere, I can spend the extra 3 seconds it takes to take it with me and put it away.

I’ll also combine small tasks related by location. I rarely remember to empty the cat litter boxes - sorry, kitties! The boxes are in the laundry room so I don’t see or notice them. To remind myself, I started emptying them every time I did laundry. By making this a routine, I don’t have to think about it anymore. Now, every time I do laundry, my brain automatically knows to complete this habit.

Think of what small things you could start to implement into your days. I even started pulling a few weeds every time I took my dog on a walk! What could you do? Could you take your trash out when you hop in your car for work each day? Could you declutter one item from your closet every time you do laundry?

Do only one thing

Life is busy and crazy and full. Do you have 20 things on your plate right now? I know I do. I have too many things “in flight,” meaning, I have multiple projects running simultaneously and won’t make effective progress on any of them.

If that’s your situation, the solution is to narrow your list down to a single task to complete, while momentarily forsaking all other projects. In order to drive anything to completion you need to take a step back and analyze the total work effort. First, write down everything that you need to do. Writing it down will reduce your mental load and help calm your emotions. Then, make a note of things that have deadlines or need to be completed imminently to indicate priority order. Next, make a decision and just start working on anything. Of the things that you need to do in the very near future, pick something to drive to completion. I recommend picking something that is already partially complete first - though you don’t have to. For example, all priorities being equal, if you have 20 tasks in flight and five of them are 80% done, tackle each of those five tasks one at a time and completely ignore the other 15 until you’re done with those 5. By removing these nearly-completed tasks from your plate first, you will have more time and energy to devote to the other uncompleted tasks later.

Getting anything completed quickly is very important for your peace of mind and for your overall productivity. As you get single tasks off of your plate, you give yourself small successes so you gain momentum and motivation to tackle more tasks. Sometimes I’ll find a single task to devote myself to simply because I know that completing it will boost my energy and stimulate my motivation to continue to be productive.

Minimize and purge

Not everyone is a minimalist, but I think most people can see value in minimizing their possessions. I’m a bit out of my depth here as I’m not a minimalist, though I have adopted some minimalist tendencies. I am on a constant mission to intentionally simplify my life, including what I own. The value of owning less is that there is less opportunity to have clutter everywhere. My home still has clutter and is a work in progress but it has improved a lot and I will continue to improve it. I’m not naturally very organized so owning fewer things makes organization less necessary and easier to tackle.

In my last house, my dog had her own bedroom. I also used that room to store my books, some shoes, arts and crafts, and any other random thing I owned that I couldn’t find a place for. After a long time of treating that room like a trash can that I never emptied, I got the urge to clean it out. It was embarrassing having a room that no one could ever see and I could never use. It wasn’t serving me and had no purpose, other than to hold a dog’s kennel. After a weekend of going through everything, I got rid of enough junk to take three truckloads to the dump or donation center.

Since purging that bedroom, I have been on a mission to never put myself in that position again. I don’t want to be embarrassed by any part of my house and want to make sure every part of my house is serving its purpose. I don’t want cleaning up to take an entire weekend. I want things to be simple.

If you want to be inspired to simplify your possessions and regain control of your home, there are a few great resources out there. I really like Allie Cassaza. Her podcasts provide solid motivation for decluttering. She’s a minimalist but not in any strict or scary sense. Dawn from the Minimal Mom posts encouraging YouTube videos on home organization and decluttering. She’s a more strict minimalist than I could ever be but she has a really gentle, humble, and clear approach to describing her methods.

Tackle projects in terms of time you have or adjust the project size

Sometimes the idea of purging an entire room or your whole house can feel overwhelming. It seems like it would take days to do and you never have that kind of free time. I’m a procrastinating perfectionist so I have a hard time starting projects if I feel I won’t be able to finish them or do them perfectly. I’ve had to overcome this little by little since becoming a mom. I’ve learned that, if I wait until I have an entire weekend free to clean out the garage or reorganize the laundry room, it will never get done or won’t get done for a year or more.

If I say “Today I will organize the laundry room,” but never have more than 15 minutes free, I might feel discouraged when I don’t get it done. Instead, I have to use whatever time I do have to make progress. So I plan my projects in terms of my available time. If I only have 15 minutes, I say, “Today I will devote 15 minutes to organizing the laundry room” and suddenly, it will feel more possible to make progress! If you give yourself just a few minutes here and there, you will complete a project soon enough.

Another tactic you could use to make a project feel smaller is to make it smaller! Instead of setting a goal to clean an entire garage, set an achievable goal to clean only one shelf or a box. One box a day, and you’ll soon have a clean garage!

Though I can’t change how I feel and I can’t guarantee organization will help how I feel either, I know that chaos isn’t helping. So I have to do what I can to keep the chaos at bay through these simple routines. These are just a few of the ways I’ve allowed myself to change how I see productivity and organization. Over time, I’ve molded my habits and mindset such that it’s not such a chore anymore. Projects seem more achievable and clutter doesn’t pile quite high enough to become insurmountable.

Hi, there! I go deeper into topics in my podcasts. Each are 20-30 minutes long and they drop weekly on Thursdays. Please check one out here!