Physical Workspace Makeover: Declutter Part 1

Do you struggle with keeping yourself organised and focused?

Does your new year goals and aspirations slip through the cracks as “life gets busy” throughout the year?

If your life is cluttered with things that don’t serve you, it may be the reason you’re finding yourself repeating your years, struggling to make progress towards your ideal life.

The beginning of a new year is probably the most underrated time of the year.

If you want to set yourself up for success in 2022 and beyond, it may be time to declutter your life so you can clear out the old and make space for the new.

While I personally don’t do new year resolutions nor think about my new year until I’m close to finishing my lap around the sun in March each year, I do think about the preparation required to set myself up for success because I want to create momentum to better sustain my efforts toward my goals and prevent myself from falling back into old habits and patterns.

December/January has become a time where I discard what hasn’t worked (declutter and consolidate).

So I’m sharing my process of transforming my physical and digital workspace (in 2 parts), so you can see a real life example to help you create the lasting change you seek in your own life.

Before I do that, there’s an important concept I need to share with you first that took me years to learn and internalise…

It’s critical to understand and wrap your head around it if this concept is new to you, especially if you’re striving towards a better life.

We are ultimately the center of our universe, which means our environment (where we live and work) is a reflection of our psychological, emotional state and who we are.

If you’ve ever struggled with fatigue, feel like your brain is fried at the end of the day, unclear about your goals or unable to clearly see what your ideal life looks like, it’s because your brain is over-processing. It’s busy processing everything you’re dealing with in your life and everything you’re holding onto.

Whether you realise it or not, everything we possess in and around your life requires a decision from us. There’s literally thousands of micro-decisions our brain has to process everyday (consciously and subconsciously).

However, we only have a limited amount of energy per day for all the things we’re trying to accomplish in our lives.

That means, if we use (read: waste) our mental energy to process the clutter and disorganisation around us, we have less mental bandwidth, attention and focus for the things that really matter.

Now you know why it’s important to declutter, stay organised, and understand how your environment affects your daily performance…

Let’s move onto the process I went through to create the transformation and results I wanted for myself.

To do that, I need to give you some context in terms of where I am, to better understand the changes I’ve made and why they’re important to me, so you can take the ideas I’ve shared and implement them into your own life.

What’s Not Working

Throughout last year, I found myself becoming more and more annoyed with the space I’m living in. Part of it is because I don’t have total control of the place I live in because it’s not my house, and part of it is because my space no longer support the ideal vision for the life I want to live.

Ultimately, I realised that my physical environment doesn’t reflect who I’ve become, how I feel about myself, nor my transformed spiritual and mental states.

In 2018, I started adopting the minimalist philosophy and lifestyle. I also started practicing the art of detachment to detach myself from all material things.

Since moving into this place in March 2018, my belongings and the way I organised them has mostly remained untouched. I’ve also been conscious of adding “things” into my life.

However, as my life continues to evolve, more and more mess inevitably creeps in. That means…

  • What used to work for me stopped working…
  • What was once useful to me became useless…
  • What I thought I needed, I didn’t end up using…

Stuff doesn’t just accumulate over time, your belongings also come in and out of function the more or less you use them.

I found myself having problems finding, storing and accessing items I need at the time I need them. That’s because even though my belongings and my space has stayed the same in 4 years, I’ve changed a lot in that time, which means my needs and my desires have also changed.

Stuff started piling up on top of other things “for easy access”, and before I know it, I have a pile of shit I had to wade through to find what I need.

One of my pet peeves is wasting time looking for stuff I need when I need it. My belief is that if I spend the time and energy upfront to think through and decide where it makes sense to store them, I’ll save my future self a bunch of time from repeating the same task because I’ll be more efficient at it.

My annoyance with myself inspired me to finally look into Marie Kondo just before the Christmas holidays. I listened to her audiobook and watched her Netflix series (which are awesome btw).

She inspired me to make my project bigger than I had originally planned — a complete reorganisation; a makeover; a face lift with decluttering sprinkled on top.

My Ideal Vision

First, I needed to clearly communicate my personal vision to myself. Because lack of personal vision and purpose is one of the many reasons people fail to achieve their goals.

The most important question I needed to answer was this:

What’s your ideal vision for your life?

My current situation is that I live in a 3 bedroom townhouse with a housemate. The challenge with living with other people under the same roof is that I don’t and can’t control all the spaces I use, and it’s difficult when you don’t have the same habits and standards.

However, I’ve trained myself to focus on what I can control in life, so that’s what I focused on — my personal spaces.

Because I wasn’t sure how long I was going to stay here when I first moved in, I didn’t bother personalising my space in case I needed to move again. I went through a long period of uncertainty the last couple of years, so my circumstances affected the way I organised my belongings.

I am not looking to move again for another 3-4 years, so this place serves as a dojo before I eventually find and move into my own place.

Now that I feel more grounded, feel a sense of certainty and clarity about where I’m heading, and what I want to accomplish, my space needed to support all my life goals and serve 3 functional purposes:

  • Bedroom
  • Office
  • Music Studio

I want my space to support me in…

  • relaxation, renewal and recharge (sleep is a priority)
  • performing focused, deep work
  • inspiring creativity
  • creating and maintaining positive energy

The reason why I’ve been feeling disconnected with my space is because it doesn’t reflect the inner peace, self love and self acceptance I now have. I wanted my space to mirror how I feel on the inside so I can continue to live in alignment with myself.

I also needed my space to bring me joy!

After watching Marie Kondo’s series on Netflix, I realised there’s a serious lack of joy with the items I’m surrounded by everyday in this house that was causing the disconnect in me.

This is why she resonated with me because her tidying philosophy isn’t just about cleaning, it’s about creating a space that sparks joy so you get close to your ideal life — a space that suits your ideal self.

The Reorganisation Process

My goals are to:

  • Remove items from my room that I don’t use and don’t spark joy
  • Eliminate items I don’t need anymore
  • Remember to use the items I have that I’ve forgotten about that I’m keeping
  • Only keep items I actually use and spark joy

Since cleaning is part of the makeover, I kick started the project with a deep clean of my Mac accessories (keyboard, trackpad, mouse, Apple Watch and earphones) with isopropyl alcohol to remove all the grime built up from my fingers, so everything looks and feels brand new again.

In case you didn’t know, the keyboard (and phone) is one of the dirtiest things in your office/house. The things you touch the most is usually the dirtiest.

Cleaning smaller things to start lead me to clean the big things as momentum builds — I eventually did a deep clean of my room and bathroom.

I followed Marie’s teachings and reorganised my belongings by 5 areas:

  • Clothing
  • Books
  • Paper
  • Komono (kitchen, bathroom, garage, miscellaneous)
  • Sentimental Items

Clothing has always been more about comfort, function, fit than style. While I barely added any new clothes in the last 3 years, I noticed that I haven’t touched 40% of clothes I own in the last 2 years because I ended up wearing the same things over and over.

To better gauge what I want to keep and donate, I will be rotating through my clothes this year as a separate side project.

Books and sentimental items (photos, mementos etc) have already been decluttered when I last moved. 4 years ago, I decided to buy all books on kindle instead of physical copies.

Paper and komono (miscellaneous items) are the biggest problem areas causing the majority of the mess and disorganisation I was seeing in my space everyday.

To better redesign how I want to use my space and to sort through my belongings more efficiently, I pulled everything out of my draws, shelve and wardrobe, grouped items together to better decide what to do with them.

I needed to decide:

  • whether to keep it or discard it
  • where to store them so I know exactly where to look the next time I need them based on how frequently I use them
  • how to store them so they’re easily recognisable, accessible and retrievable

Making those decisions became easier once I had a better sense of the space I have, what I wanted to keep, and the best organisational methods to use for each sub-categories of belongings.

Below, you’ll see how I solved each problem area of my space, the results I achieved, as well as the benefits I received from the transformation I created…

Major Changes, Benefits & Results

Desk

desk-transformation

My desk is my work area. It needs to be clutter-free at all times for better focus.

In the past, maintaining a clutter-free desk has been challenging even though it has been my intention every year.

Every time I tidy it, it becomes messy again.

Maintenance was a problem.

I finally realised I haven’t been honest and clear to myself about why having a clutter-free desk was important to me.

To stop myself from repeating this problem again, to save my mental energy from deciding where things should go, and to avoid creating more work for my future self in 2023 and beyond…

I created a new rule to live by:

Everything that doesn’t belong on the desk must be put back where it belongs when I’m done using my desk for the day.

Apart from my iMac and external hard drives, the only items allowed to sit on my desk are my pen holder, desk light, USB charger, cup, water bottle, iPad and iPhone.

I realised the reason why I end up with a messy desk at the end of the year is because I never designated a home for paper and miscellaneous items so they end up sitting ‘somewhere’ on my desk.

Creating a designated place for them made all the difference!

My desk finally reflects my mental state! Now I have plenty of room to be strategic and creative.

Shelf

shelf-transformation

I reorganised most of the items on the shelf for quick access and retrieval.

Apart from some books and folders, the shelf is the place where I dedicate to items I use the most and want to be reminded of to use because it’s the most obvious piece of furniture in my room.

This is where I keep my accessories, beauty, health and some miscellaneous items that don’t belong in the bathroom.

Wardrobe and Shoes

wardrobe-transformation

Like my clothes, I also end up wearing the same shoes all the time. That’s also because I’ve kept most of my shoes in boxes, and have forgotten to wear them.

To help me better remember the shoes I have, I needed to make them visible and accessible, but out of sight when I don’t need them to avoid visual clutter.

I decided to put the shoe racks inside my wardrobe, so when I slide it open, I see all my shoes straight away to help me remember what shoes I have and for easy access.

More Room Space

Ever since I moved in, I used this chair in my room as a “holder” for my worn-but-not-dirty-clothes. I don’t have any shelving in my wardrobe where I can put clothes that are not ready for the laundry basket yet.

While the chair was functional, it’s an eye sore. It’s also blocking access to the wardrobe and limiting the space I have for me to move around. In winter, when the heater is out, I have even less space in my room.

I decided to say goodbye to the chair, moved it out of my room, and moved the towel rack I had in my bathroom and placed it against the wall where my shoe rack used to be.

It feels amazing to remove visual clutter out of my space, especially when it hasn’t given me joy at all for the longest time.

Keyboard Cover

keyboard-transformation

My keyboard is setup against my balcony window. The original cover has faded in colour and disintegrated over time due to sun exposure. I’ve been putting up with an increasing amount of lint and broken cover bits that has fallen onto my keyboard and carpet.

I needed a solution for a new cover, and find a different material that isn’t going to disintegrate from sun exposure. I managed to find some fleece material from a homeware, fabric store.

Now my keyboard has new protection, is lint free and also requires less cleaning in the future.

Wall & Paper

wall-transformation

I’ve had the habit of keeping paper around for decades (documents, letters, manuals, notebooks, notes from seminars etc).

I also like to create notes for myself and stick them around my walls to remind me of the habits I’m implementing into my life. The notes I create also contain quotes, affirmations, things I want to be reminded of.

My paper note taking habit has created clutter in all the rooms I’ve lived in, and makes my room visually unappealing. I finally took down my 2019 wall calendar (!!!) that ended up as a “post-it notes holder” since it’s almost impossible to stick paper on concrete walls.

Now I want my space to be completely clutter-free, I decided to either discard (recycle) or digitise all paper moving forward.

I found that these days I only scribble on paper for things I can’t easily do digitally yet (which doesn’t happen very often). As I’ve evolved to utilise more digital tools in my life as technology improved and more note taking/productivity apps became available, I decided to keep paper to a minimum.

The only thing I kept behind my door is my goal/habit tracker, a stick on weekly planner and my career/human design chart for quick reference.

I bought a magnetic memo board and 2 magnetic clips to create space and also to create constraints for myself. The new memo board and my existing white board are the only places on my wall where I’m allowed to write notes and stick things up.

paper-discarded

I sorted and grouped all the paper I found in my space.

I recycled everything I don’t need anymore (business cards from networking events and ugly note books from events I attended that I will never use). Then I saved all the relevant notes and ideas I wanted to keep from the various notebooks I had and put them into Obsidian (my second brain/digital idea library).

Moving forward, no more sticking paper up anywhere and everywhere on my walls.

All notes, ideas and documents will be captured and saved digitally for easier, faster retrieval and search capability.

Komono

My linen, towels, blankets were scattered around different places of the house. Most of my linen items were stored in a plastic container underneath my laundry basket at the bottom of my wardrobe, where I folded and stacked them horizontally. It made accessing the ones at the bottom difficult for myself when I need it.

After throwing away a bathroom mat I never use, I folded them differently so they can be stacked vertically in a small unused cupboard outside my room.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated exercise equipment through different “health and fitness phases” I went through. Because they were also scattered around different places, I’ve forgotten what I already had available to me over time.

After moving all my shoes into my wardrobe, I decided to designate the bottom of the small cupboard for all my exercise equipment.

This also means, I’m making it harder for myself to come up with lame excuses for not exercising more. I am strategically forcing myself to be honest with myself about my health and fitness goals to increase my chances of success by not falling back to old habits and behaviours.

Photos

photos-digitised

Sorting through sentimental items wasn’t originally a part of this project, but I found a stack of CDs people gave me from various events I attended. Remember the days when you burn music, movies and photos onto a CD?

While I didn’t plan on sorting through my photos, but because I’ve never dedicated time to organise my digital photos, I knew the photo folders were the messiest ones on my Mac. There’s 20 years of memories unsorted and unorganised in 227.84GB of files… Yikes!

The photo folders were basically a ‘file export dumping ground’ from the multiple digital cameras and phones I owned in the last 2 decades.

Because my photo folders were so disorganised that it overwhelms me every time I look at it, I decided to give them some basic top level organisation so at least it doesn’t continue to irritate me every time I see that folder.

I’m going to need to make an effort to clean up and sort through my digital photos, so it doesn’t continue to grow out of control every year… I’ll need to tackle this by breaking it down into smaller projects over time.

Items I Added To ‘Spark Joy’

Salt lamp

I wanted a salt lamp for a while but I had no space on my desk. Now my desk is clutter-free, my sister gave me her spare one. Lucky me! 🥰

I immediately loved the warm ambience it gave my room, because I don’t like my room lights. They are too white, clinical and bright. They remind me of the days I used to work in offices (yuck!)… so I never want to turn them on unless I have to.

The salt lamp created the right feel and ambience I wanted for my space. 😌

Diffuser

Ever since my sister introduced me to essential oils a few years ago, I got a diffuser for my room. However, I stopped using it and put it away in my drawer as my life changed.

I remembered how nice it used to make me feel when I’m surrounded by different lovely scents that lift me up, so I decided to start using it again.

This time, the diffuser sits on my desk rather than on my bedside.

The oils gives me a lovely boost and helps create positive energy, flow and joy for me everyday. 🥰

Fairy lights

I have always loved fairy lights and wanted them in my room for ages but I couldn’t think of a way to hang them around my room. I was finally inspired to get them after seeing them displayed in a vase at my friend’s house when I visited her before Christmas.

It turned out to be a better way to display them in my room that I would’ve never thought of, so I bought a vase and fairy lights from Ikea and set it up on my shelf.

My level of happiness has increased ever since! They add to the positive ambience and mood created by the other items to create more harmony in my space.

Just looking at the fairy lights everyday makes me happy cus it’s so pretty! 😍

Photo Frame

I didn’t have any photos in my space for a long time.

During this makeover project, I wanted something in my room to be a source of daily inspiration, but I had no idea exactly what yet.

As I was top-level sorting through my digital photos, I was reminded of a photoshoot I did when I was 24. It was taken after I made one of the biggest decisions of my life to make my dreams a reality… I packed up, left Australia, risked everything (no Plan B) to work in the music industry.

Turns out, the photos I found of myself seemed fitting as the “source of daily inspiration” I was looking for.

They reminded me of my willingness to get out of my comfort zone, my desire to go against the grain, and my ladyballs to muster up the courage to chase my dreams.

They inspired me to create a custom photo collage with a mix of photos and inspirational quotes that is meaningful to me.

The 3 hard copies I dug out of storage serves as a reminder that I am capable of accomplishing all my goals and aspirations.

The photo frame is still a work-in-progress. Even though this little side project is still incomplete, I’ve already got the result I wanted. 🥰

Plants

I don’t have a green thumb, and severely lack skills and knowledge about plants… but I wanted to add some “life” to my space.

My amazing sister created this cute little pot plant for me to help brighten up my space. I love how much a cute pot plant adds to the feel of the space because it became another feature and source of joy in my room.

Setting Up For Long Term Success

Faster Cleaning, Less Wasted Time

Having a clutter-free desk and room at all time means cleaning takes 80% less time. I used to have to spend 45-60mins just to clean my room & bathroom because I have to move all the shit that was sitting on my desk and all the surface areas off it to clean it.

Cleaning my space now only takes 10mins.

I clean my room and bathroom once every 2-3 weeks so I’m stoked about the time I’m saving my future self from this repetitive task.

Because I love how my room looks and feels now, I’ve become even more motivated to keep it clean, tidy and joyful for myself.

The better I am at maintaining my space throughout the year means the more time I can dedicate to other projects that matter to me to achieve my ideal life.

More Happiness & Joy

I always feel lighter and happier after a clean and declutter project.

When you see the effort you put in to achieve a clean and tidy space, it’s like giving yourself a magical energy boost.

The energy boost doesn’t just come from the sense of accomplishment you feel, but when you discard and let go of material possessions, you also let go of the past and the negative emotions that no longer serve you.

For many years, I’ve been unhappy with my life. I was stuck in the same habits, patterns and behaviours — living the same year over and over, having the same “new year resolutions” every friggin’ year.

Before I figured out how to transform my life, I’ve deluded myself that my life will change, without doing the work required to change.

It wasn’t until I changed my environment, and learned to let go of the physical, emotional and mental clutter that was holding me back that my life finally started to change for the better.

Through my own journey of personal transformation, I learned that one of the smartest ways to change your behaviour is to change your environment.

Your outer world affects your inner world. Your inner world affects your outer world.

It’s a mirror (and will always be a mirror).

By choosing to only keep items that will be beneficial to my life going forward, I am allowing more space and more room for better opportunities and abundance to show up in my life.

When your physical environment is supporting the way you want to live your life, you feel the positive effect immediately as you learn to surround yourself with items that spark joy for you everyday.

Spiritual, Emotional and Mental Wellbeing (Life Changing)

I was already feeling better about myself even before I finished this project as I experienced what items I had around me bring me joy.

Decluttering, organising and tidying is critical to our psychological, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

I feel a greater sense of clarity and confidence because I also gain a level of trust within myself that “I can quickly find the things I need when I need it”.

With more space around me and within me, I am grounded even more into the work I’m doing, because not only am I walking my talk, I have room to think, be strategic and creative with the work I do with clients. It’s a ripple effect of creating greater impact.

While I’ve never been into interior design and decorating, throughout this physical workspace makeover, I’ve learned to appreciate lighting, design and the different elements that makes a physical space work for you.

This makeover also gave me a unique opportunity to understand what is most important in my life, how I want to live and what kind of relationship I want to have with all the items that surround me.

I hope I’ve given you enough ideas about how you can also create the lasting changes you seek in your life, by creating space to receive more of what’s available to you.

Keep your eyes peeled for Part 2, where I share my digital workspace transformation (another real life example) as I further support myself and set myself up to win in the long run.

P.S.

If you’d like me to help you get more organised, more focused so you can consistently accomplish more with less, you can reach out to me here.

  I’m Jen Kuo — advisor, strategist, designer, writer and personal growth enthusiast 🌱

But really, I’m a multi-passionate creator.

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