The Only Way to Get Rid of Clutter

What is your clutter?  Email, paper, electronic files, to-dos?  Clutter accumulates due to indecision.  In this video, Dr. Melissa Gratias gives you three reasons why you should trust yourself to make good decisions.  You can get past your clutter, no matter what it is.


Don’t want to watch the video, a transcript is below.




Hi. My name is Dr. Melissa Gratias. I’m a productivity specialist, which means that I help overworked and overwhelmed people feel focused, balanced, and successful.


Today, I’m going to talk about clutter. Clutter can take a lot of forms in the workplace. It can be email clutter, electronic files clutter, paper clutter, mental clutter, tasks clutter, calendar clutter. There are lots of different types of clutter.


Before one of my training courses, one of the questions I have every participant answer is…


What’s your clutter?


Take a moment right now and answer that question yourself.


What’s your clutter?


I’m going to start with reading some feedback that I received from one of my clients to illustrate what we’re going to talk about today:


Before working with Melissa, I did not have the right mindset. Now, for everything I receive, whether it is paper or electronic, I ask myself a few questions. Do I need to file these? Do I need to take action? Or do I need to throw it out? For example, emails have overwhelmed me at times. Now, when I receive an email, I ask myself those questions and make a choice. My Inbox is nearly empty at any given point during the day. I have never been so organized and efficient in my 20-year plus career.


Yay! So, he asked himself some questions and got great results. Where did these questions come from?


One of the pioneers in the field of productivity is named Barbara Hemphill. She’s brilliant and amazing, and she came up with two very easy ways to think about clutter.


First is F.A.T. – File, Action, Toss. Second, she said that “clutter is delayed decisions.” Clutter is a result of delayed decisions. The good news is the decisions are not infinite. You don’t have to assess every possible scenario.


You need to ask yourself:

  • F: do I need to file it?
  • A: do I need to take action on it?
  • T: do I need to toss it?


Barbara came up with this. It is a simple, effective, powerful, beautiful, elegant, parsimonious way to deal with clutter.


And that’s what this client was talking about. He asked himself some questions. He didn’t have to decide the fate of the world with regards to every email that he received. He just needed to ask himself:  Is this a file item, is this an action item, or is this a tosser?


We accumulate things because we are afraid to make one of those three decisions. We think, “I might need it someday!” And that thought makes us want to keep everything. We think, “Oh yeah, if I might need it someday, then this is no problem. Isn’t better for me to keep it with, you know, fifty thousand of its closest friends (that I’ll never be able to sort through), than get rid of it and risk needing it someday?”


Here’s the advice that I will give you, which is the same advice I give many of my clients.


Trust yourself. Trust yourself to make good decisions about your clutter. Trust yourself.



Why should you trust yourself about your clutter?


Number one…because you are smart and skilled.


You’re smart and skilled. You were hired for your job (or promoted into your job) above other people. You were selected because you are smart and skilled. You are in your position for a reason. You have experience. You know what you’re doing. You’re not an idiot. You are smart and skilled, and most of the time, will make good decisions.


The number two reason you should trust yourself is because you don’t have to be perfect.


You don’t have to make the perfect decision every time. You are smart and skilled, but you don’t have to be perfect. You are allowed to make mistakes, and sometimes you will make mistakes, and that’s okay.


Sometimes, you will choose to get rid of something that you should have kept, or you will keep something that you that you should have gotten rid of. But, most the time, because you are smart and skilled, you will make the right decisions. And you don’t have to be perfect.


Number three:  even if you decide wrongly about your clutter, the world doesn’t end.


Even if you decide wrongly, even when those imperfect things happen, catastrophe does not result. You tell me, but generally, if I delete an email, and I actually did need it later on, it’s not like an earthquake happens. It’s not like the building splits in two and a monster goes RAAARRRRR, you made a wrong decision!


No, generally, I just have to call or email somebody and say “Hey, can you send me that report again?” Wow, the horror.


So, even when you do decide wrongly, the world and the business generally do not come to an end. Now, if it’s a business-ending email, sure you’re going to keep that. But that’s not all of them.


Trust yourself to make good decisions about your clutter, and understand, like Barbara said, clutter is delayed decisions. Saying “Oh, I don’t wanna think about that today. Oh, I don’t want to make a decision now” just makes it harder for you later on. So, trust yourself.


Trust yourself.


This is Dr. Melissa Gratias, productivity specialist. If you like my videos, you will love coaching. All you need to do to find out more is to send me an email. We will have a discussion to find out if productivity coaching is right for you.  The initial assessment is at no cost to you.


Have a productive day!


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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. B Wynkoop

    I have worked with Dr. Gratias in personal coaching sessions over the years. We moved from a paper process to a digital process. I even used her information to transform my home situation. I downsized from my 4 bedroom home to a small apartment. I was able to use the ideas and practices in my personal situation. Great article!

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Thanks, Brenda! What is so impressive about you is that your office is still pristine four years after our last paper reduction session. You are amazing!


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