Maybe you’ve got a few boxes lying around, or maybe the camera crew from Hoarders is knocking at your door as you read this. Either way, clutter is bad for the mind and bad for your wallet. But there’s good news: you can get rid of it without driving yourself crazy. Here’s how:
We’re not angling for everything-I-own-fits-in-a-backpack minimalism here: our goal is that, by the end of this post, you’ll have the tools required to donate, gift, or toss out things that do nothing but take up space in your lives. Whether you’ve been forced to downsize or you’re just looking to trim down the physical crap in your life, this post will help you make the tough calls-so you can get back to enjoying the things you love.
Work in Reverse: What Would You Replace If You Lost Everything?
Ask yourself: “If my home burned down and I lost everything, what would I replace as soon as my renter’s insurance check came in?” (You do have renter’s or homeowner’s insurance, right?) During my last move, I went from a large apartment in the suburbs to a smaller apartment in the city. I knew I was in for some tough choices, so I needed a way to think about my possessions that went beyond the traditional “keep/toss/donate” method, and this mindset worked wonders. We’ve discussed how making a home inventory can help you declutter, so consider this a blind inventory.
The key is to do this from another location-a coffee shop, a library, somewhere quiet with a laptop where you can really think and make your list. Don’t do this at home though, you need to be somewhere you can’t just look around and make a list. Don’t get caught up in model numbers or specific products-just jot down everything you can remember that you would actually go out and spend money on a second time. If you need help getting started, we’ve covered some apps like Know Your Stuff and StuffSafe (among others) that can help you build your inventory. That’s your base list of things that are both valuable and important to you.
Declutter in Small, Focused Bursts: Make Each Session a Sprint, Not a Marathon
You’re not going to clean up your entire home in a day, or pack your entire apartment in a weekend, so don’t try. It took time to get all that stuff, it’ll take some time to let it all go. Set yourself up for success by making a plan and targeting specific areas you’re going to declutter, clean up, and organize over a prolonged period of time. Then stick to it so you don’t tire yourself out.
For example, consider decluttering one room at a time, in 30 minute bursts. Set aside a few hours on a Saturday afternoon to tackle your home office, then work for 30 minutes, take a half-hour break, then work for another 30. The goal here is to avoid the frustration and high-running emotions that come with deciding to keep, donate, or throw away the things that you own. Set a timer and stick to it, rewarding yourself when you get to natural break points. If you’re a fan of the Pomodoro productivity technique, now’s the time to use it.
Think Of Your Things In Terms of Utility First, and Sentimental Value Second
It’s easy to get attached to things, either because you’ve had them for a long time, they have some special meaning to you, or because they represent the hard work and sweat you put into making the money you used to buy them. That’s completely normal, but when you’re looking to downsize and declutter, you have to try and separate yourself from those feelings a bit. Here’s how:
• Ask yourself “What does this item do for me that nothing else does?” Start thinking about the utility of the item you’re looking at. What makes it unique among your possessions? What does it do? Does it do multiple things or is it a unitasker?
• Next, ask “Do I have anything else that does this better, or at least does something else as well? This is where you choose between your can opener and the other can opener with a bottle opener on the top. Pick the items that add more value to your life.
• Finally, ask “Does this have sentimental meaning to me?” When it comes to appliances, tools, and electronics, it’s easy to ask the first two questions, but if you’re looking at a box of photos, utility doesn’t come to mind. Sentimental value is important in a lot of things, so don’t overlook it, just try not to get bogged down in how an item makes you feel versus what it does for you and how much space it takes.
Apply these three questions to virtually everything you own. If you’re moving, like I was, you have a natural reason to evaluate everything you possess, but if you’re decluttering to clean and organize, make sure to give yourself time to review everything, instead of just deciding that specific drawer or box is fine the way it is. Don’t leave those stones unturned-open up that box and look inside. Even if it seems okay, it’s a box full of old papers to be shredded, you’ll be happier with them gone than taking up space next to your desk.
Use the Four Box Method
The four box method is just a modified version of keep/donate/toss. Instead of three boxes, you’ll make four: Keep, Sell/Donate, Store, and Trash.
• Keep are items you need or use regularly, and have space for.
• Sell/Donate will go to Goodwill or your favorite charity, or hopefully make you a little money on eBay or Craigslist.
• Trash is junk: papers to be shredded, broken things that you know you’ll never repair, you know the deal.
• Store is the most ambiguous: these are the boxes of things that you can’t part with that don’t play a role in your daily life. They’re to be stored, but only so much that you have available storage space.
Apartment Therapy calls this space the “Outbox,” or a halfway house between keep and trash. They even have specific rules governing the Outbox. We agree: deciding that you need something or don’t is easy. Parting with it is hard. Give yourself some leeway, just don’t make that leeway your entire house.
Remember, our goal here is to not drive yourself crazy, so you’ll have to walk the line between storing only the things you really want to keep that aren’t useful on a daily basis versus the amount of out-of-sight storage you really have. This isn’t an excuse to get a storage unit either, paid storage units are a huge money sink, and only best for people who have short term storage needs, people who have inventories that make them more money than the storage costs them, and next of kin looking for a place to store family items while they push through the clutter and their loss at the same time.
Find New Ways to Keep the Things You Love
With your boxes and piles at the ready, pour yourself a drink and go through your rooms, drawers, and closets one by one, and group everything into one of those four categories. While you go through each area, think about some of these ways you can have your cake and eat it too-that is, keep the item without keeping the clutter:
• Digitize photos and documents. We’ve discussed how to digitize your lifein the past, and there’s no better time to do it than when you’re trying to declutter. Photos? Scan them, organize them, and upload them to safe places so they’re backed up. Do the same with semi-important documents, then shred the originals if you don’t need them, or pack the originals away in a safe place, like a fireproof box.
• Digitize movies and music. Keeping with the digitize idea, don’t leave your CDs in towers and your old DVDs and game boxes in the bookshelf (unless you like the art). Rip those CDs and movies that you really enjoy and know you’ll watch again. Store the originals just in case, and donate or sell the crap in your collection.