I have a confession to make. I need to unclutter.

My desk is overflowing with paperwork that needs to be filed and sorted. I haven’t filed or sorted any of it because for the past two weeks I’ve been woefully behind on my daily to-do list and constantly playing catch up. I’m woefully behind because my over-booked calendar leaves no time to do the day-to-day to-dos. My calendar is overbooked because I have a problem with “yes”— that problem being when I’m presented with a new work/life opportunity, I say it.

See, I wasn’t kidding. I need to unclutter. My desk, my calendar, and my life could benefit from an injection of the “Less is More” philosophy.

When It’s Time to Unclutter

If you’ve ever been — or currently are — in a predicament like mine, you’re in luck. There’s plenty of advice to read and implement.

This fall, The Thin Difference team considered what it meant to unclutter our lives and our work. Jon led the charge by calling for a new leadership mindset writing, “Our leadership gets messy. More explicitly, our leadership gets messed up. A new leadership mindset is needed. Leadership minimalism clears the clutter and renews clarity…leadership minimalism is an optimal way to create a better path forward.”

The team followed suite with several posts. Eric Torrence shared a few tips on how to “defrag” daily. Scott Savage considered the consequences of leaders who hoard. Jeremy Chandler confessed that he sometimes gets exhausted keeping all the plates spinning and suggested it might be time to quit a thing or two. And Heidi Oran shared a personal story about the ultimate entrepreneurial unclutter — when she decided to sell her business.

We didn’t stop there, though. Curious how other members of the Thin Difference community felt about the idea of uncluttering, we reached out and asked them.

We sent the following questions:

Many of us are good at accumulating stuff. As time passes, we seem to be magnates as things cling to us. Our desks get messy. Our shelves get cluttered. We all likely have some personal “messy” drawer.

Stuff clutters our work and life. Some of the clutter is material while other clutter falls into the category of distracting thoughts or unproductive work. How do you identify what is cluttering your life and your work? More importantly, what steps do you take to unclutter?

As usual, we’re inspired by the responses we received.

How to Unclutter

paulaPaula Kiger, Big Green Pen
Decluttering, of the physical and mental kind, is always a work in progress for me. Since we have been in the process of attending to details related to my mother-in-law’s death and my father-in-law’s subsequent move to our home, we have had the additional challenge of managing all of the “stuff” of two homes.

One key for me is learning to throw things away, to break my tendency to think “I may still need that next month/year/century.” Very few of us have unlimited space or endless energy to manage mountains of “stuff.” We owe it to ourselves to let go of the belongings that are weighing us down — a weight that can certainly transition from the physical pall of too many possessions to the mental dark cloud of oppression.


bobby-hoyt-headshotRobert Hoyt, Millennial Money Man
I have to be completely honest here — I’m not into the “minimalist” movement nearly as much as some of the other personal finance bloggers out there. I have very little desire to actually sell all of my stuff and live in a camper or something along those lines (which is actually fairly popular among millennials for some reason).

However, I hate clutter. My wife and I have a strict rule that if we haven’t used it in six-twelve months, we don’t need it. This along with the fact that I’m not a big fan of shopping definitely helps us keep extra items to a bare minimum.

When it comes to “life clutter,” I try to keep myself focused on my long-term goals above all else and take short-term inconveniences with a grain of salt. I want to create an incredible life for my wife and future kids, build my business and ultimately achieve wealth. Understanding that those long term goals are REALLY what matters helps me let smaller things go.


headshotErica Johansen, Splash Media
Mindfulness and reflection are particularly powerful when maintaining a clutter-free lifestyle. Just like your health, I believe it is something you have to proactively work on day-to-day. If you get lazy and get caught in a habit of acting on impulse (which is easy to do), you can get lost and spend a lot more energy trying to get back to your desired state.

One of the most helpful “life hacks” that I’ve adopted (with the help of a great daily planner) is spending time weekly and monthly to reflect on where my energy is being spent, and if that energy is being spent productively as it relates to my personal and professional goals. That combination of reflection and mindful acknowledgment has accelerated my growth. As a result, that growth has provided inspiration and motivation to continue to get more efficient at decluttering my thoughts and environment.


randyRandy Conley, The Ken Blanchard Companies
I usually have a gut sense when my leadership effectiveness is waning and it’s frequently because I’ve accumulated too much clutter (responsibilities, tasks, projects, meetings, etc.) that is distracting me from my primary purpose or goals. When I’m feeling overwhelmed with the clutter around me, I try to do a few things:

  1. Regroup – I take time to review all of my activities and view them through the 80/20 lens. What 20% of the activities are driving 80% of my effectiveness? Those are the ones I want to focus on and I have to discontinue or delegate the rest.
  2. Refocus – I look back on the goals I’ve set for the year and I measure my progress. Sometimes the clutter I’ve accumulated is associated with one or more of these goals, and what that tells me is I have to find a better way to manage that work. However, many times the clutter is totally unrelated to my goals and that’s the clutter that needs to be moved off my plate.
  3. Restart – I start over again by resetting expectations with others, adjust goals or deadlines, or ditch old strategies that aren’t working and try something new.

Just like my garage needs a good decluttering a few times a year, so does my leadership. It helps me clear away the things that take me off course and dilute my effectiveness.


I look forward to putting this advice into practice and possibly seeing the top of my desk.

While I work on that, I’d love to hear more from you.

How can you tell when it’s time to unclutter? What is your first step?