We find it in closets, spare rooms and garages. Sweeping is the act of quickly removing clutter from a surface or vehicle and sweeping it all into a bag or a box. This habit of sweeping, in my opinion, causes a lot of chaos and overwhelm in homes and offices.
An event usually triggers a quick clean sweep of surfaces
Nearly every time I work with a new client we uncover forgotten bags or boxes of sweepings. The discovered stash is the result of a clean sweep of surfaces in a home or office. A phone call announcing the impending arrival of guests or the excitement of a new project that requires a work surface can be common triggers for sweeping.
Have you swept away items on these lists?
You may recognize some of your past sweepings from this list. The contents of the bags or boxes of sweepings vary depending on the area that was swept.
Kitchen table or countertop sweepings usually contain these items:
- Mail both important mail and junk mail.
- School papers some not important and some in the sign and return category.
- Plastic forks and napkin packages from take out, little salt and pepper packets or worse ketchup packets from take-out.
- Pens, sharpies and notepads
- Newspapers and magazines
- Small plastic shopping bags with the items purchased and the receipt still intact.
Office desktop and credenza sweepings usually contain these items:
- Papers that need to be acted on
- Papers that need to be filed
- Checkbooks and checks that need to be deposited
- Day planner
- Stapler, pens and pencils.
Master bedroom dresser top or vanity sweepings can be some of the grossest stuff.
- Used makeup removers and tissues
- Greasy gunky tubes of various products
- New make-up products in packaging
You get the picture – I need not go any further.
Some people sweep their vehicles. These bags usually land in the garage or laundry area and contain the following:
- Fast food bags smashed into a ball and empty water bottles
- Mail and newspapers
- Books and magazines
- Window scrapers – you were probably looking for that last winter.
We’ll stash it for now and deal with it later
When the bags and boxes are filled with sweepings the owners have the greatest intentions of dealing with them within a day or two. Realistically they are out of sight and out of mind. These bags and boxes can sit in their hiding places for years until something forces a clean-up or until a Professional Organizer is called in.
I almost always find a bag or two of these items when I help organize a pantry, garage, office or even a clothes closet. It is during these organizing sessions that my clients are forced to deal with the stuff. Usually eighty percent of it is trash, but we almost always find important stuff.
I have found important keepsakes, checks, cash – once an envelope with a card and five crisp one-hundred dollar bills. In a garage bag of car sweepings I found a cashier’s check for fifteen-hundred dollars, dated two years prior. – I insist that my clients go though these bags with me.
I was talking with a friend of mine about this practice. He told me that his home office was piled up and they were expecting guests. He swept the piles into a box and put the box in the basement with the intention of dealing with it within a few days. A couple of weeks went by and he got a notice from the utility company that his electric bill was past due. He knew that he had paid it. He pulled out the box of sweepings and found the stamped utility payment that did not quite make it to the post office.
Most people do this, but why?
There are several reasons. The most obvious to me is that the items don’t have homes to begin with so they end up cluttering the surfaces. Many of the items that I find were actionable at the time of the sweeping. This tells me that the clients don’t have systems for collecting the items related to actions. See the article about permanent action files to learn how to solve this problem.
Another reason is that the client is rushing and places items on a surface for now with the intention of putting it away later. Sometimes putting things away is physically difficult which tells me that the client is unaware of good organizing practices and principles.
The good news is: I teach clients methods and skills that prevent the massive buildup of clutter on surfaces. With systems in place it takes only a few minutes to properly clear a surface that has accumulated a small amount of clutter.