The Blog.

Why decluttering is not about tidiness

16 Sep 2013 | Clarity & Focus

I am not a tidy person. I’m most likely to procrastinate when it comes to housework.

So I had to dig deep this summer to finally sort out my living room (we’ve only been there 7 years…)

Choosing curtains, buying a new rug and getting a fresh lick of paint on the wall was nice. But none of it would make a blind bit of difference if I didn’t declutter.

So cue Project: Reclaim Living Room.

And I found some surprising similarities to the insights that I teach as a productivity ninja in the Getting Your Inbox to Zero workshops:

Less is more

You can always tell when my kids’ playroom needs decluttering. They stop playing in it.

Too much of a good thing can be overwhelming. When you don’t know where to start or how to take it all in, you can end up not enjoying any of it.

When my bookshelves were doubled up and overspilling with books, all I saw was a sprawling mess. After a massive donation to the charity shop (and believe me as a book worm this was painful to begin with), my eye can finally pick out a title I want to read.

Equally with email, people in our workshop are often surprised to find that out of the hundreds or thousands of digital items in their inbox, the number of really useful, valuable emails they actually need to respond to, is always far less than they think.

Things get old. Life moves on.

I found university notes from over a decade ago (very neatly filed!), bank statements from last century and manuals for appliances that broke down years ago.

Things that were very important at one time, but not any more.

Equally with email, we have a habit of hanging onto everything. Yes, paper trails are important, but inevitably conversations grow old and expire. Projects finish. People move on.

Even if you have to file them, getting them out of your inbox means you free up space to focus on what’s live and what’s current.

For me the most exciting thing was seeing empty space on my bookshelves – space for new projects, new horizons and new things I want to learn.

Where’s the value?

I always thought decluttering was about tidiness.

It’s not.

Decluttering isn’t about tidiness. It isn’t about the stuff. It’s about the space.

When you make it about stuff, you get hung up on what to keep and what to throw away. When it’s about the space, you decide what adds value to that space, and what spoils it.

Just as Inbox Zero isn’t about emails actually. It’s about conversations and clarity.

Filtering out the noise so you can focus on the conversations that matter. Handling those conversations well so that your business does well. Dealing with email quickly and effectively, so that you can spend more time outside your inbox.

Which is just as well, as I don’t value tidy (as much as I sometimes wish I did…) so tidy doesn’t motivate me. Tidy is a chore. Reclaiming space and clarity on the other hand, now that’s a mission.

…with a little help from my friends

We procrastinate over the stuff that’s big, boring or scary. To me decluttering was all three. Shifting the focus from tidying to creating space made it less boring. Tackling one corner at a time, one shelf at a time, made it smaller and less scary.

But ultimately it was a deadline and accountability that made me get on and do it. The friend who was making my curtains, who told me in no uncertain terms, that I had to declutter before she would deliver the goods.

Another friend who came to help me get the final corner done after school had started again. A natural completer finisher to hold me accountable.

And that’s exactly what I do for the fabulous folk who come on our Getting Your Inbox to Zero workshop. I teach them how, show them it’s absolutely doable, walk them through step by step, and provide the space, support and accountability to get it done in our three hours together, so they leave the workshop with complete clarity. A clear inbox. A clear mind. And a massive sense of satisfaction.

Want the Inbox Zero experience for yourself? Get in touch about inhouse workshops where I come to you, or join me online, on the Inbox Zero One-Day Challenge.


  1. naomirichards

    I love love love a good de-clutter. We did it last week in the boys bedrooms and they now play more with their toys.

    • Grace Marshall

      Good to hear Naomi – we need to do our playroom again!

  2. Bev Murrill

    Great advice, Grace.

Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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