How Not to Be Buried…Under Clutter, That Is

Jan ChristensenJan Christensen grew up in New Jersey and now resides in Texas. Buried Under Clutter is her latest published novel. She’s had over fifty short stories appear in various places over the last dozen years, two of which were nominated for a Derringer Award.

Jan mainly enjoys writing mysteries, but every once in awhile steps out of that comfort zone and goes for something else, including non-fiction articles. She has a column about reading in the ezine, “Mysterical-e” and blogs regularly at her website. Learn more from:


What fun to be here on Buried Under Books today. Not just because Lelia’s a delightful hostess and runs a terrific blog, but also because my latest book is called Buried Under Clutter.

It all began when I was flailing about a few years ago, trying to decide on the profession for a new series character. I needed two things. Something different, and something I knew a little (preferably a lot) about.

One of my main interests has always been organizational skills. Even in school, I loved setting up notebooks, putting things in order. Then I read Cheaper by the Dozen. What the father put his family through to find out the most efficient ways to clean a room or Buried Under Cluttertake a shower when you have a dozen kids and two parents in the same house amazed me. And this family lived only a few towns away from me in New Jersey at the time.

When I got married, I set up a schedule for doing each chore on a weekly basis. My husband was in the military and gone a lot of the time, so I took over managing our finances.

In the nineteen-nineties, several books came out about getting organized. I read them with interest. Then professional organizers appeared on the scene, and I was fascinated by what they did.

So, it was natural enough to create a character who decided to become a professional organizer. Since I like to write mostly mysteries, it was a lot of fun to have my character, Tina Shaw, both solve the mystery and clean up a mess or two.

You may be wondering about how I organize both my personal life and my writing life. It can be a struggle. I’m not perfect, and I stumble around just like most people. But I do have a few hints that can make life easier, so I’ll list them here.

1) Do make up to-do lists and then a weekly schedule. My trick is to have only four mandatory things to do every day. One is to write on the current project and to edit some words daily. Two is exercise and personal care. Three is to keep the house in order so I won’t be embarrassed by unexpected visitors. Four is to keep papers and office-type things under control by taking twenty minutes each day to work on that—dealing with mail, paying bills, sending out birthday cards, filing, and so forth.

2) Follow your own schedule the best you can and don’t beat yourself up if you get off-track some days. Just start again fresh the next day. Making good habits takes some time, but once they’re in place, life is so much easier.

And that’s basically it. Oh, you wanted more? Okay. If you’re buried under clutter, then you need to include getting rid of it in your daily routine. As for any addition to your routine, do this: Pick an amount of time and a specific time of day (this really helps—say Organized to Death 2after lunch, or first thing in the morning). Then give yourself a time limit. At first, make it really short—say ten minutes. As you get into the mindset of this being doable and figure out the best way to accomplish it, you can increase that time until you’re up to half an hour or more daily. Some days you may even work longer, but stick to having a limit and give yourself permission to stop as soon as that limit is reached. Experts claim it takes three weeks to form or break a habit, doing the desired habit every day without a break. If you break for a day or more, the twenty-one days start over.

One more hint—this one to prevent clutter. After you bring something new home, put it away. Do not sit down until it’s stashed. And, if it’s not food, try to get rid of one item—maybe a similar one. For example, a new pair of jeans? Toss your oldest or least-liked pair. A new knick-knack? Take your least-favorite one to a charity shop. Better yet, if you’re feeling crowded, remove two items for each one you bring home from now on. After you’re down to the absolute basics, do the one-for-one swap from then on.

I’ll stop now. I think you get the idea. There are always a few tips interwoven into the Tina Tales novels, but the main thrust of the story is the mystery. The first in the series is called Organized to Death, second one is Buried under Clutter, and coming soon (this month or next) is Cluttered Attic Secrets.

Thanks, Lelia, for having me here. And good luck to all becoming or staying organized.