Q: What’s environmentally harmful, lowers productivity, and presents a major tripping hazard?
Yes, clutter, that old nuisance and byproduct of having stuff. It comes in many forms: a collection of knickknacks, a buildup of paperwork, or a pile of disorganized supplies or inventory. Whatever it’s made of, clutter can be a major liability for your business, causing missed reminders, lost payments, or even customer and employee injuries.
We talked to professional organizer Julie Bestry (@ProfOrganizer), owner of Best Results Organizing, to learn more about clutter’s harmful effects and how to reduce it.
How Clutter Hurts Your Focus and Your Bottom Line
“Clutter distracts,” says Bestry. Tangible clutter on and around your desk hides your work priorities and forces your focus on “low-priority attention stealers,” or whatever happened to cross your desk most recently.
What’s worse is that it can bury your resources and reminders, Bestry notes, which can cost you money in the form of:
- Late fees.
- Missed professional opportunities.
- Redundant purchases.
“Be honest,” she says. “If yesterday’s number one super-important task is buried under today’s number one super-important task, is it really reminding you of anything?”
If it’s really bad, clutter can even cause you to make mistakes in your professional work, exposing you to an Errors & Omissions lawsuit.
Why Clutter Is a Small Business Liability
If you have piles of disorganized stuff at your business, you risk two types of damage:
- Damage to your reputation. Customers may make snap judgments about your professionalism based on the disarray.
- Physical damage. Customers and employees could trip over clutter and get hurt.
Per the first point, Bestry says, “People often assume a cluttered desk represents a cluttered mind, and it's likely you're unaware of how much anxiety and distraction you (and visitors to your office) are experiencing because of clutter and related inefficiency.” In short, appearing as a disorganized professional could cost you clients.
As for the physical damage, think about it this way: do you walk around your workplace with the same level of care as you would a minefield? Will the slightest misstep trigger a landslide of folders and shelves? If so, your customers and employees could easily suffer a trip, slip, fall, or a strike by falling objects. If that happens, their injuries are your responsibility.
This is where small business insurance comes in:
However, even though small business insurance can help you pay for these injuries, you still want to minimize the risk. A business that’s constantly cluttered and the site of numerous injuries may have sky-high insurance premiums and a proportionately tinged reputation.
3 Ways Small Businesses Can Reduce Clutter
Bestry offers some tips for organizing your space:
- Use the Prime Real Estate Principle. Bestry says, “Define homes for your files, action items, and office supplies based on the Prime Real Estate Principle: the more often you use something, the closer you should keep it.” That doesn’t mean you should keep everything close to you in a chaotic mess. The key is to find “homes” for your things.
- Think of tidying up as a kind of insurance. “It may annoy you to pay premiums, but you’d prefer the small cost to a large loss," Bestry notes. "The ten seconds it takes to put an important client folder where it belongs may be a petty annoyance, but that’s far superior to sweating minutes, hours, or days searching for a lost document.”
- Purchase what you need. Acquiring stuff makes clutter, so Bestry advises that you purchase only what you need. “Reducing your acquisition isn’t just good for limiting clutter (and all its harmful effects),” she says. “The less you buy that you don’t use, the less you’ll have to throw out in a landfill.”
Need a more tech-friendly way to reduce clutter? Check out “Best Organizational Apps & Hacks for Small Businesses.”