I can hear Mom’s voice now: “Clean up your room!” “Sure, Mom.” How we responded to that simple request, often repeated as we grew up, has had a big impact on our lives — probably much bigger than we realize. The way we view clutter has affected our home, our workplace, our relationships, our income and even our health.

In case you think I’m a clean freak, let me tell you — this is serious stuff and I’ve got evidence to prove it.

For starters, controlling clutter is the law. OSHA section 1910.22(a)(1) is pretty clear. “All places of employment, passageways, storerooms, and service rooms shall be kept clean and orderly and in a sanitary condition.”

Clutter is the first thing OSHA compliance officers see when they walk in your door. In fact, clutter was cited 1,064 times in the last fiscal year (10/06 to 9/07) and resulted in over $600,000 in fines.

You may not get cited for a 1910.22(a)(1) violation, but I know from talking with hundreds of OSHA folks over the years that their impression of your business and how they will treat you is formed in the first few seconds. That first impression is a lasting impression.

Clearly, clutter will cost you
If you doubt that, think of the restaurants, stores, movie theaters or sports venues you frequent. Do you find yourself going to some less (or not at all) and more often to others? There’s a good chance that the primary reason for your choice has to do with clutter and housekeeping. Even if the food is good, who wants to eat in a place with trash stacked in the corner, dirty restrooms, and grease coating the food prep areas?

It’s common to find rooms or storage areas in businesses loaded with unused, unneeded and nonfunctional items. People are so focused on the work at hand that they stash junk rather than taking it to the dumpster. That junk can adversely impact their safety and health and drag down quality and operational effectiveness.

I once walked into the maintenance shop at a large manufacturing complex. There was no place to step. Every floor surface was piled six inches deep with parts, tools and junk. Every tool surface was covered with scrap and other tools. There was no way the resident mechanics could work effectively, and the rest of the workplace showed it.

Clutter can make you sick
Junk and clutter can harbor mold and dust and pathogens that are significantly harmful to the workforce. Peter Walsh, organizational guru and author of the book “It’s All Too Much,” says, “Eighty-one percent of people who have hoarding problems have physical health problems related to the clutter, (primarily) respiratory problems.”

“One of the simplest, most effective things that people can do to minimize the risks from germs is to frequently wash their hands and clean their homes and places of work on a regular basis,” says Joseph M. Healy, chairman of the board of the Alliance for Consumer Education.

Clutter degrades productivity
According to a survey by Cableorganizer.com, 93 percent of business professionals rate their work space as “cluttered” and 30 percent acknowledge that their work space is so cluttered it “hinders productivity.” Then there are the 11 percent who embarrassingly confess they can’t see their workspace through all the clutter. The survey also shows that cluttered workspaces have negative implications beyond aesthetics. It affects peoples’ emotional state, causes them to be disorganized and feel incompetent or even “downright depressed.”

For more information on the study, go to http://images.cableorganizer.com/press-images/pr-articles/PR_Survey-Sweeps2.pdf.

Clutter is unsafe
Aisles filled with material block access to rack storage and to critical equipment. People trip or slip over junk left on the floor. Material blocks exits and safety equipment.

In a Dawson Associates/Rochester Business Alliance (DA/RBA) survey of 126 North American organizations across all business sectors, we found that 69 percent of organizations with safety performance superior to others in their business sector also had neat, clean and well-organized workplaces. Only 31 percent of those with safety performance poorer than their peers reported neat and clean workplaces.

Clutter is expensive
I visit organizations regularly and many of them have severe clutter problems that force them to find more space. What surprises my independent eye is that they have all the space they need — if they would only clean it out. The square-foot cost to construct new space ranges from about $80 for storage applications to $150 for typical business operation. If you’re wasting a 30x30-foot room with clutter, it’s costing your organization as much as $135,000 for the luxury of hording junk.

In the DA/RBA survey, we asked respondents if their organization was financially healthy. Of those who responded “yes,” 62 percent also reported their workplace was neat, clean and well-organized. Those who reported being financially unhealthy had a neat score of only 27 percent.

Make the “clutter costs” point. Clean junk from ten-foot-square floor tiles and mark each tile with “$100” using a dry-erase felt tip. Then bring team members in to talk about the importance of clutter control. They’ll get the idea that clutter costs quickly.

Clutter is dangerous
At the extreme, it can kill. We recently heard of an elderly man in New York who was found by his neighbors, crushed by ceiling-high stacks of newspapers and magazines that fell on him. There is no telling how many workers are killed or seriously injured by material falling from overloaded racks or from tripping over junk. Dust explosions, resulting from excess accumulation of plastic, rubber, wood and even food materials, have killed 119 and injured 718 in the past 25 years in the U.S.

Clutter elimination can get you promoted
Sharon Mann, organizational expert and president of the 100,000-member online I Hate Filing Club (www.IhateFiling.com), says reducing the debris-laden workplace is a way to climb the corporate ladder.

She cites surveys that say half of American employers look at the organizational skills of their workers as part of the annual review process. Employers said organized workers had better chances of getting noticed, appreciated and promoted than those whose desks were cluttered.

Taking control of clutter
Ready to clip clutter and be a good housekeeping champion? Here’s what you do:
  • Make it a corporate imperative. If your CEO realizes that good housekeeping cuts costs, increases production, allows faster operations, reduces incidents and fire hazards and improves morale, setting the tone to clean up should be easy.
  • Make clutter control a performance measure. Since it’s an overriding issue, bad grades in housekeeping must trump whatever good gets done.
  • Realize that it’s not a problem of organization — it’s a problem of excess. You need more dumpsters and recycling bins and the will to use them, not more racks and storerooms. If you don’t need it now, dump it! Don’t store it.
  • Be sure that everything has a place and is kept in that place when not in active use. For example, have tool outlines on tool boards by machines to show what’s missing.
  • Minimize work in process. If the job is done, move it out.
  • Reinforce your clutter-clipping champions. Reward them. Praise them. Ask them to do workshops on clutter control. Have new employees spend a day with them.