I recently worked with a client in her office cubicle. The space was filled with stacks of paper on her desk, the floor, in boxes, and on an empty chair. She looked tired and haggard and tiny. She was intimidated by the paper. It seemed like her needs were secondary to the clutter's needs.
I moved the stuff off the extra chair and took a seat. She looked ashamed about the situation and was maybe expecting me to put her down about it. I introduced myself and talked about what I did. I asked her about her job. I think I might have asked her what she had for breakfast. I probably told a joke. She started to relax a little.
I picked a random stack of paper and started asking about each sheet or stapled group. Because I was just asking whether she needed it or not, she stopped feeling badly about the situation and started thinking about what was right in front of her. She was able to think clearly enough whether she used it or it could be tossed. It turns out a lot of the paper was unnecessary. Some of it was important a ways back, but not anymore. Some of it turned out to never be important. There was a lot of paper that was generally sent to everyone in the office and it wasn't important for the work she did. It all went into a big blue recycling trash can. I think she started relishing tossing it.
We continued the tossing. Soon we could start to see open floor and desk space. This was encouraging to her. The papers she did need, we separated off into its own stack.
Soon we came to the files. The idea of going through this was daunting to her. Seeing all those files, stuffed into the filing cabinet was too much. I joked that she probably had enough paper in there to make a large tree. She laughed nervously. I picked up one file at a time. I took out the papers and asked her about them one at a time. She was able to think clearly enough to make good decisions. Again, she surprised herself by how much she tossed. When we were done, half of the once filled space was now free. We took the papers that she needed to keep from before and put them in the necessary file folders. They all had homes. The great thing about putting things in their home is you don't have to think about them till you need them. They are no longer sitting in front of you making you feel guilty. And by going through them in this piece by piece manner, she felt good about knowing that everything in the folders was essential.
When we were done, she was sitting taller. She exuded confidence. She got the feeling of being self-reliant. It helped that I was there to assist her in the process. But that was to get her back on her feet again. Sometimes we get overwhelmed and we shut down. But then we get a jump start and we get back our discriminating faculties. Maybe by reading this, you'll get inspired to go through your things with the same kind of matter-of-factness.