When our two kids were preschoolers, our small house was cluttered with a lot of stuff they had accumulated over the years. And I do mean a lot: countless children’s books; wood blocks and Lincoln Logs; toy trucks and cars and planes; stuffed animals, dolls, and figurines of all sizes; rocking horses and wagons and roller skates; musical instruments and educational gizmos; and lots of balls, mostly the round kind, and many that were small enough to roll under furniture and hydronic baseboard housings.
Most days, the kids would drag an item from its storage bin into some part of the room, play with it for a while, then abandon it and pull out something else. By dinnertime, the house looked like a tornado had blown through.
So my wife and I devised a stratagem that we hoped would encourage the kids to put their toys away when they were done playing with them. The idea was simple: After bedtime each day, any toys that hadn’t been properly stowed were placed into a large container that we kept hidden. Everything in the box was out of bounds until Sunday night, when all four of us would empty the box and start over. We called it The Sunday Box.
We figured that the risk of losing access to their toys for as much as a week would be incentive enough for the kids to learn to put their toys away. And if they didn’t, at least we would have less clutter for most of the week. And it worked—sort of. But not in the way we expected. It worked not because the kids missed the toys that were locked away, but because, with a few exceptions, the kids forgot all about the toys in The Sunday Box.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because during the course of packing our house for a move back to Vermont, my wife and I have discovered that, some 30 years after hatching the idea, we have our own grown-up version of The Sunday Box. It’s the smaller of two garages that open onto the alley from the walk-out basement of our row house in Washington, D.C. We call it the “storage garage” because it’s too small to hold a modern compact car and because it holds mostly boxes of stuff we moved down here from Vermont in 2001, unloaded, and never thought about again for 16 years. (The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.)
As I went through those boxes, I discovered items of clothing, cassette tapes (remember those?), kitchen utensils, and other stuff that we’d obviously thought was essential enough to pack and ship 600 miles, but that we had managed to live without for 16 years. And it got me thinking about the act of decluttering as a way of simplifying that applies not only to physical stuff, but to business processes and systems as well.
I can think of a number of “Sunday Boxes” that you may have unknowingly built in to your company. Take material storage. If you truck leftover materials from completed jobs and unload them into a company warehouse, then you, too, have a Sunday Box because I’m fairly sure those materials never see the light of day again. Would it make more sense to declutter and donate all of that stuff to Habitat for Humanity or Rebuilding Together and take the tax write-off?
What about your sales process? Is your presentation cluttered with company history, photos, testimonials, and other information that most prospects have already pulled from your website? Would it make sense to declutter and spend more time listening to what the prospects have to say and presenting solutions only for the problems they actually need you to solve?
And then there are your people. Employees who aren’t living up to their potential or who are out of step with the rest of the team may as well be in a Sunday Box. They may not be actively harming your company, but if you’ve effectively been getting along without them, then maybe it’s time to ... “declutter” isn’t quite the right term for personnel ... let’s just say it may be time to free up their future.
What’s in your Sunday Box?