I was in work on Tuesday last week. The main R&D building in Sandwich is being closed this month and I had to vacate my office. I knew this moment was coming one way or another for a few months and so had been trying to throw out any clutter that I knew I wouldn’t need going forward. And there certainly was a lot of that!
This week then, it was mainly personal possessions and mementos – pictures off the walls, photographs on the notice board. My collection of coffee mugs, books and even some handbooks from various training courses I have attended. My son came in with me – it was his last day of school vacation – partly for physical support (I had a lot of books) but also for moral support (I had no idea how I would feel).
My office is now empty. I have a desk (with computer, monitor and phone) ready in the building assigned to house the Sandwich ‘go-forward’ organisation, and I have a few more books, photographs and pictures in my office at home.
In reality cleaning out my office at work was a much more rewarding and satisfying activity than I thought possible…let alone likely. Everything I boxed, bagged or threw out evoked a memory or two, but all those memories either brought a smile to my face or involved me telling my son the associated story…and sometimes both! The simple process of clearing out my clutter felt good.
And as I was driving home, I recalled conversations I had with colleagues who had left Sandwich but who had come back to visit. It was amazing how many times – when asked what they had been doing since they stopped working – that the answer involved spending time clearing out a garage or basement at home. The first couple of occasions I just assumed this had to be a coincidence. But then I realised that almost everyone was describing the same basic activity.
I was left with the impression that there had to be some connection between the physical clearing out of clutter (whether it’s from an office, basement or garage) and the mental clearing of the mind. I assume it has to be something about preparing (physically and mentally) to move on – to be somewhere else…or to do something different…or even to be someone different. It’s as if getting rid of clutter – especially clutter from the past – allows us to be more open to new opportunities coming our way.
And being more open to new opportunities certainly sounds like a good thing – a good thing for us individually and also for us organisationally. So at this point I found myself wondering whether this feeling of liberation and openness can be achieved at other times. Wondering whether it is a purely personal thing or whether it can indeed be experienced by an organisation?
Would it be possible to deliberately set about creating this sense of openness? What would be the ‘clutter’ within an organisation that could be cleared out to generate that general sense of openness? Hopefully it’s not just people? What about projects? Ironically it sometimes seems easier for us to let people go than it is to give up on projects. But clearing out clutter projects – projects that are not going anywhere and that are burning resource – would definitely be of high value intrinsically let alone how it may help in terms of opening our minds to change and opportunity.
I know it’s hard. But it’s worth it – the idea of clearing my office was hard, but I left that day feeling like I had wings…