Declutter with Me | Organizing My Office Bookshelves

[Video transcript edited for blog readability]

Albert Einstein famously said, “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what, then, is an empty desk a sign of?” Every few years, some article will go around about how a cluttered desk is a sign of a genius. Well, I don't want to be a genius. I just want to be able to find a pen that works when I'm sitting at my desk.

More and more research shows that clutter negatively impacts our ability to focus. And I do struggle with focus. In fact, my word of the year for 2022 is “Focus”. So it is especially important to me that the space around my desk - the space where I need to focus to work on my YouTube videos, to work on my piano studio, to help my daughter who I homeschool - needs to be a space that is optimized for focus. And it is not currently today. I am going to work on bringing some peace and order to the six-foot bookshelves that sit next to my desk so that I do not have this looming tower of clutter over my head. The hope is that will help me better focus when I'm sitting at my desk and doing work.

In one of my YouTube videos, I talked about decluttering and organizing in order to have space to declutter and organize. I do have a dining room where I've got quite a lot of space to be able to declutter, but I don't really want to empty this entire bookshelf and take it all the way to the space I have in the dining room to organize everything on it and put back what's going to stay. And I don't have the space in my office to do that either. I maybe have a little space on the floor, but that's just a recipe for having a big mess if I can't complete it at the time that I start. So I'm going to go through several steps to organize my bookshelves without taking everything off my bookshelves. That's often a common issue for a lot of people who are organizing is that you don't have the space to take everything out in order to organize.

Step One: Before you even touch your disorganized space, you need to gather up some places for the things that are going to come out of this space to go. Find a box or basket to put everything that belongs someplace else in your house, a donation box, and trash and recycling containers. Gather those first so that as you take things off of the shelf, you have someplace to put them that’s not a pile on the floor. We want to avoid the pile on the floor.

Step Two: Going shelf by shelf, take off the things that very obviously don't belong on the shelves or that are trash.

Step Three: Go through every single book and decide if it's going to stay on this bookshelf, if it's going to move to another bookshelf, or if it’s going to be donated. Since I sell books online, I will check books first to see if I'm going to sell them before deciding if I'm going to donate them. I know book decluttering was one of the most traumatizing things when Marie Kondo's system came out because it seemed like she was saying you should only keep 30 books, which was a complete misunderstanding of what she said. If you would like an entire video or blog post about how to declutter books, let me know in the comments. I do have ideas on how to declutter books properly.

Step Four: Go through containers and drawers. I'm going to go through all of these very convenient and extremely, overstuffed drawers and organizers and decide what actually needs to be on this bookshelf. For example, at this stage, in our homeschool journey with a high school student and a college student, I probably don't need to keep the crayons, markers, and colored pencils right beside my desk. Anything that's in a container I'm going to go through and decide what needs to say, what needs to go, and organize from there.

Step Five: Go through the shelves and look at anything that's left. Hopefully, there shouldn't be a lot left at that point, but I know I've got a greeting card organizer, some craft projects from my kids, and other items. For instance, I still have the golden apple from when my son who is now a freshman in college studied Greek mythology and the three goddesses fighting over the golden apple. He made the golden apple out of paper mache I don't even know how many years ago, but it's been a while, and I still have it. Do I need the golden apple? I don't know.

Step Six: Once you have gone through all of the things in the space, you want to then take a step back and look at the space with a fresh eye, with a beginner's mindset. Have you taken enough things out of the space? Is it decluttered enough to make you feel peaceful and orderly with the space? Do you need to take out more? One of the things that I find can be helpful is to take a step back, take a photograph of the space, give it a little bit, or even have friends look at it and ask, “Is there something here that you see that I could do something better with or something different with?” Another thing you can do with the photo is to ask yourself, “If I saw that on Pinterest, would I be drawn to that?” If not, then go back through your space again and see if there is something else you can take out?

Step Seven: So my shelves are in a much better place. I have everything gone that doesn't belong there. I've taken out books that don't need to be there anymore. I have cleaned out the drawers. I have dusted - that was long overdue. I'm in a really happy spot with what the bookshelves look like. But I have one more thing I need to do before it's done. All of the boxes and recycling bins and trash cans that I gathered at the beginning need to be dealt with now or I'm not really done. So I'm going to put the donation boxes in the back of my van so that I can get them to the donation center this week. I will put the books I plan on selling downstairs in the basement with the other books that I sell, throw away the trash, and throw out the recycling. That box of things that belong someplace else? I need to find a home for those things now and put them in those new homes or then I've just got another box of clutter that I'm going to have to deal with later. It's better to just get it all done now.

I hope my system helps you in decluttering your own messy bookshelves. Be sure to let me know in the comments how your decluttering and organizing goes! hope your days are increasingly clutter-free and filled with the people and things that bring you the most joy.