Do you receive lots of door-to-door marketing materials? Do you always have magazines, newspapers and books sitting on all available surfaces, waiting to be read? In that case, you know how it feels: we want to read a lot, and read against better judgment because we feel like we have to.
Then there are books we saw and wanted to read, or books that were given to us as presents, maybe even books from the library we are interested in. Books you buy tend to sit on a shelf or side table for a while before you actually get around to reading them, creating a sort of clutter-bog that will never go away, because once you have read the books they most likely will end up on a bookshelf – and many of these books on your bookshelves will never be read again!
Then consider flyers and advertisements that arrive in our homes on a pretty much daily basis: estate agents on the prowl for flats to sell or people to sell things to, the local supermarket, the monthly church newsletter, new businesses in the area pushing their bid to fame through your letterbox, you name it and you’ll probably have received it at least once before.
Besides all of that, there are all the legitimate things delivered by the postman. Or are they, really? One would assume that this type of mail would be personal, but these days most stuff delivered by the postman is more advertisement that needs taking care of. Personal letters have become the exception rather than the rule, and a lot of the ‘legitimate’ mail are bills, reminders and generally the stuff of nightmares we’d rather not be reminded of. Although I have chosen to go full-time online banking, my bank still sends me a piece of confirmation for any amount arriving on my account from abroad or whenever I add a new person to pay something to. These things are obvious from my online account, so why even send me these things?
Just think: how do you deal with all that paper at your home? Again, most people just pile everything up ‘just for now’ right next to the door, with the intention of looking at the papers when there is time. And then they forget about them. The problem here is that some of the papers in that pile might, in fact, be time-sensitive bills (think electricity or water… do you really want to be cut off from the electric grid in the middle of winter simply because you forgot to pay the bill?), and that those few really important papers got lost in the pile you never looked at again because most of it looks like junk mail to start with? Or worse yet: you throw some of the legitimate stuff out because it got buried inside junk papers…
And that is only the tip of the iceberg, because besides all those paper materials, just think how much electronic clutter you get in your email every day, and that is without even considering things like texts on your mobile phone, the messages and posts on facebook, twitter, Instagram, etc. that you feel you need to keep on top of – without the benefit of physical clutter that stares you in the face whenever you walk past it: it’s easy enough to forget about that important text once you have swiped away from it.
Your browser is equally full of pitfalls: online articles that you have bookmarked for reading later, that website you want to explore in depth because it looks interesting, those lists of recipes you want to try… there is an endless world of reading you want to get done, every single day.
No wonder things pile up: there is really too much we are supposed to read on a daily basis. We keep hearing about the ‘Information Age’ and most of us have bought into the idea that everything we see with text on it is ‘information’. Well, think again: what you see is unsorted data and a whole lot of white noise! The difference is that ‘information’ is something that you can use, while data is just lots of stuff that you can do without, mostly. The trick is to learn and see the difference.
Let’s return to the paper materials that have accumulated in the growing pile somewhere near the entrance to your home. How can you make sure you do not lose track of things? There is a simple solution to that: make it a habit to sort through incoming papers straight away and make a cut as soon as things come in. The best way to achieve this is to have a paper bin right next to your door! Whenever you get something unsolicited like advertisements, flyers – chuck them out right away, unless you are actually in the market for what is advertised (and that is highly unlikely to start with). You’ll be amazed how small the remaining pile will be after this first purge. Make sure to put such important things like bills or personal letters into a proper in-tray and to deal with them swiftly.
Of course, this will not take care of things like newspapers, magazines or books (and references to online materials, too). Those require a different approach altogether because you want to read those, of course. I hear a lot of people moaning about the daily accumulation newspapers and within a week or two, they “are behind” and some papers have not even been touched. What you need is a change of expectations: don’t feel obliged to read them if you are a day or two behind. Just read the last one and you’ll most certainly be up to date on everything anyway.
Maybe you don’t even need a daily paper delivered: save some money by only buying a newspaper when you actually have time to read it, and that might just be two or three times a week. The same with magazines. Yes: they might look enticing and glossy, but if you feel stressed because you have no time to read them, maybe next time you might want to remember that you already have 5 others sitting on your side table that you have not touched yet?
Once those things have been read by all interested parties, make sure to put them into the paper bin right away. Don’t feel tempted to keep them on the table for longer than you really have to: remember the saying ‘nothing is older than yesterday’s news’. That’s true, isn’t it?
The thing about reading is that we seem to be incapable of making enough time to read all we have to, let alone those things we want to read of our own accord. If you find yourself lacking time to read and deal with things you are obliged to read, you need to take a good look at your time management and maybe even schedule time to do it regularly. Also it may be necessary to review how much you are reading that you don’t have to, like flyers, ads, newsletters you subscribe to online, all manner of social networks, etc.
Reading is important and can be fun, or course, but not at the expense of losing track of what you must read and deal with.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.