“The professional… is on a mission. He will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.” Steven Pressfield, the War of Art.
Like many creative people, I’ve had my struggles with clutter. I used to accept it as part of my nature, but Steven Pressfield changed my mind. He believes creatives must create order in their environment so they can approach their work like pros. This is why I created these 5 rules of engagement to win the war on clutter.
This is how it happened…
I was helping a friend make some progress on his clutter problem. He’s got it bad. So bad that sometimes I go over there just to feel better about me (don’t tell him!)
He was sharing his frustration that though he has cleaned up his place many times, it always reverts back to a giant cluttered mess.
Time for a metaphor.
“Ed”, I said, (cause that’s his name) what you’ve got here is a battlefield. Your enemy has overrun your position and flanked you on all sides. If you don’t discipline your troops and take your fight to the enemy, you’re going to keep getting slaughtered. You need to change your rules of engagement.”
Okay, a bit dramatic. But he seemed to like it.
I went on. “You see these (pointing to trash and dirty dishes)? These are your dead and your wounded. If you can’t clear your beach (sink), bury your dead and get your wounded treatment, disease will spread. And that will infect the healthy troops you need to carry the fight to your enemy.
“See this (pointing to the dishwasher)? This is your troop transport. If you can’t get your healthy troops out of the transport in time, everything will back up on the beach. Then your reinforcements can’t land to help you hold your ground.”
He was digging it so I forged on. ” You’ve got to keep your beach clear at all times. Then once you’ve established your beachhead, you cand send send your fresh troops to capture more ground held by your enemy. Fight them off, establish more territory, and hold it.”
“If you can’t hold the new territory, your troops fight in vain.”
He was totally on board with the metaphor, so we established some simple new rules of engagement.
5 Rules of Engagement to Win the War on Clutter
- Your kitchen is ground zero. You must be keep the sink and dishwasher clear at all times. Empty the dishwasher as soon as it’s clean so things don’t back up in your sink. Don’t go to bed until your sink is completely clear. Establish the beachhead, clear it and hold it. Every night.
- Bury your dead immediately. Put all trash and packaging into the trash without second thought. You can worry about recycling and saving useful things after you’ve swept your beach.
- Clean as you cook. Put the food away and clean the cutting board while your meal is cooking. Clear it all up and wipe it all down before you sit down to eat.
- Store leftovers in the fridge immediately after the meal. Rinse pots, pans, dishes and utensils and put them in the dishwasher, before you sit down to watch TV. Get your troops (kids, spouse) to help right after the meal. No soldiers get R&R or go to the barracks until this is done.
- Once you’ve established this routine in your kitchen, put your troops on a transport and take new ground in other parts of your home. Take new ground, hold it, keep it clear.
Always, No Matter What!
You and your army must execute these steps, in order, every time. No Matter What. As the commander of your troops, you are in charge of discipline. It will take willpower at first, but it will become habit with repetition.
But discipline is critical, because an undisciplined unit is vulnerable to enemy attack.
If you lose ground, go back to step one. Don’t badger your troops and lower morale. Find sounds and symbols to rally them.
Like the bagpipes on the Scottish battlefield, the drum and the fife in the American Revolution, and the standard bearers in the Roman Legion, sounds and symbols will help drive your troops to victory.
So play some cleanup music to make it fun, and put up a sign or two to encourage your family to stay the fight.
Follow these 5 Rules of Engagement, and you will start to win the war on clutter.