The Two Types of Clutter: Misplaced Stuff and Logjams

Photo: public domain

Photo: public domain

As I’m working on clearing off my desk and clearing out my office I’m starting to realize that this time around the clutter I’m dealing with is of a different quality than your garden variety crap-fest.

Use the Two-Minute Rule to Banish Vulture Vomit Forever

That was the term Stanley, our colorful across-the-street neighbor, used to describe his yard and garage when Lord Chaos had the upper hand. “Who left all this vulture vomit on the front lawn?”

Most clutter seems to fit this category – stuff where it shouldn’t be. It’s pretty easy to deal with, albeit not the apex of a good time. Simply round up the tools and put them back in the tool shed. Put the sports equipment back in the hall closet. Empty beer cans go in the recycling. Boom. You’re done.

If things are a little more complicated, let’s say with a messy desk, you can use David Allen’s two minute rule. If something on your desk can be handled in two minutes or less – like putting the car registration in the glovebox of the Ford – then do it now. Otherwise file it in a system that will prompt you to get to the task later.


Logjams May Require Dynamite

Vulture-vomit chaos is pretty easy to manage because you simply have to return things to their proper places and voila! order emerges from chaos.
But there’s another type of mess altogether – the logjam. Here you’ve got all kinds of projects, fragments, raw materials each with its own agenda, all at cross-purposes to the others.

For example I have some books on my desk that I should put on the bookcase but the shelves on the bookcase are cluttered with silver-plate family heirlooms but I can’t get to those because of the banker’s boxes full of my mother’s financials which I mean to scan and shred but I can’t start that project because my scanner is buried under a cascade of books on my desk.


Why the Two Minute Rule Doesn’t Work on Logjams

Breaking a logjam requires an entirely different strategy from ordinary clutter because there’s nothing in this howling mess that can be done inside of an hour and deferring one of these projects is simply like picking up a log from one part of the pile and moving it to another part of the pile.

Typically the way to clear a logjam – at least a real-life jam consisting of a tangled pile of logs damming up a river – is to identify the “key log” that is holding the jam in place. And then remove that log.
Identifying and removing key logs isn’t easy and it isn’t fast.

Consider the Great Raft, a jam of logs that was four times as long as Rhode Island is wide. It took teams of engineers decades to remove these logs and get the Red River flowing. But the alternative to doing the work is to let the log jam grow. Then you’ll be in a dam fine mess indeed.