How tidy are you?

Confession: I am a tidy person.

Reading Emma Kell’s recent piece on tidiness in tes, the link Adrian Bethune included in a Twitter comment about Emma’s article, and the ensuing Twitter debate, made me thoughtful.  I can see that tidiness is not universally accepted as a virtue.  Some people seem suspicious of it, some are dismissive, and some equate it with lack of creativity, dullness and a failure of imagination.  Others envy the tidy and seek to emulate their systematic practices.  Where do you stand on this?

I like order.  Tidiness connects to calmness for me.  Interestingly, if I feel out of sorts or unwell, I often want to clean the house.  If everything around me is organised, I always feel better.  I could never work at a messy desk – the picture above wasn’t staged! – and when I was working full-time I often thought that the secret to professional success lay in methodical filing… At the end of every week when I took stock of what had happened and planned for the week ahead I organised everything so that I could find what I needed, sort out priorities and pace myself appropriately so that nothing important was missed.  And usually by the end of every day I had cleared my email inbox and worked my way to the bottom of my in-tray – ready for the deluge I would face the next day.

I have always found it mystifying that lack of systems mean some people waste precious time.  A friend and her husband were constantly looking for their keys, phones, wallet and this took time and caused stress.  (I have a vivid memory of her two year old son one morning posting the car keys in the Cornflakes box when no one was looking – that presented a challenge).  I have always had specific places for such things so I know where to go and just pick them up.

I sound smug, don’t I?  And I don’t mean to be.  But being tidy helps me to feel more in control of my life.

So if you are committed to being tidier this year, at home and at work, perhaps just think about the following:

  1. Embrace the view that everything has its place.  Important things, like keys, need a special place where you put them automatically and don’t even have to think about it (a hook, a bowl) – and you can always find them quickly when you want them  again.  The habit you need to develop is to put things away – and in the right places, rather than letting things pile up.
  2. Teachers love stationery, I know, and I also love storage. I bought some wonderful ‘under the bed’ lined and lidded storage baskets from Laura Ashley last year in their sale – they’re practical and they look good.  I have attractive lidded boxes and open lined baskets on top of the wardrobes.  Things I don’t need frequently but may need in the future are packed in lidded boxes, labelled and stacked to save space – I know where to go to find what I want. There are lots of attractive and inexpensive storage solution options.  IKEA is a good pace to start.
  3. If anything DOESN’T have a place, then it needs to go – donate it, recycle it.  But get rid of it.  Minimise the clutter.
  4. Have a filing system that works for you.  I think every year of my thirty year career I experimented with refining my system and making it better!  Sorting through my ‘Pending’ box and bringing forward anything I needed for the week ahead – and organising into ‘days of the week’ files – helped me ensure I had the information to support me through whatever lay in store.
  5. I’m hardly minimalist, but these days I am less keen on accumulating ‘stuff’ and if I buy something new, I look for what I can clear out to make space for it.  So if I bring something into the house, something else is taken out of it.
  6. With email too – what do you need to save (and where will you save it), what do you need to pass on to someone else, and what can be deleted?  Crack on with it!  Again, the trick is not to let things pile up electronically.  I think every school needs a sensible and workable email policy, and my next blog post will be about this.  But think about your own email strategy and how you can avoid wasting time on emails.
  7. Routines and systems can help us navigate the pressures of life at home and at work.  What joint processes do you need to agree with your family and your colleagues so that you are supporting each other in making efficient use of time and space and not confounding others’ efforts?

Any other tidiness tips you would share?  I’d love to hear them!

Photo credit: John Berry

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