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What to Keep and What to Toss? Asking These 15 Questions Can Make Decluttering Easier

What to Keep and What to Toss? Asking These 15 Questions Can Make Decluttering Easier

I recently moved to a new state and a new home. Moves like that are always exciting/scary/full of unknowns, but the one thing you can always count on is that you will be overwhelmed by how much stuff you have.

It never fails: I begin packing a room and I’ve only just begun when I find things I forgot I owned and clearly have no need for. You would think that means I just throw them in the trash, right? Wrong. I have a terrible habit of associating memories and nostalgia onto the cluttering objects in my home, and before I know it, I’m out of boxes because I can’t let anything go!

As Elsa Says, Let It Go!

I was determined to make this move different, so I developed a mantra: If you don’t love it enough to pack it, you don’t love it enough to move it. Basically, if I didn’t want to take the time to put it into a box and label the box, I probably didn’t need the item in my new home. It was hard, but so worth it. Now that I’m unpacked in the new house, I feel like I’m in a better mood and I can focus. It turns out, science finds that decluttering can bring you the following benefits:

  • You can concentrate better – Neuroscientists at Princeton University have shown that people working in an organized environment are able to be more productive and focused than someone working in a disorganized setting.[1]
  • You have better sleep – This goes along with the last point in the sense that cluttered rooms don’t allow your brain to focus on one task at a time. When the only thing you’re trying to accomplish is sleep, willing yourself to relax can be impossible in a messy room.
  • You’ll be happier – It turns out, clutter can make you a real Grumpy Gus. Clutter is basically the visual noise. When you keep walking past it at your home, your brain subconsciously receives the message that you don’t have your life together.
  • You can finally let go of the past – If you’re like me and your useless items seem to hang around because of nostalgia, it’s good to remember that sometimes memories can be toxic. Jessie Sholl said it best: “In many cases, the way clutter affects us has little to do with quantity. A piece of art painted by an ex-lover hanging over the bed can carry more emotional heft than a messy closetful of extra sheets and towels…”
  • You’ll amp up your productivity – When you’re surrounded by half-completed projects, all you have done is created an environment that constantly reminds you of your failures. Sure, maybe you have all those old jeans in the closet because you intend to lose weight, but right now they’re just taking up space. You can buy new jeans, but you can’t buy new sanity.
  • You’ll be more creative – Yes, some artists and creators work best amongst chaos, but as a general rule, you are far more imaginative when working in a clean, clutter-free environment.

15 Questions to Help You Decide What to Keep and What to Toss

It’s not always easy to donate or dispose of an item, but having a list of questions to ask yourself can help simplify the process. So whether you’re packing your house, like I was, or just trying to clean up the junk, ask yourself these 15 questions to make the process go smoothly.[2]

1. When was the last time I used/needed this?

If you have an item because you might need it one day, you probably don’t need it! I like to turn my hangers to all face a certain way in my closet and turn them around when I wear the article of clothing that was hanging on them. After a certain amount of time, I take stock. If my time frame was 6 months and there are a few things I didn’t wear, I donate them.

2. Is this item useful?

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It can be tempting to determine how it could be useful in the future, but consider the present moment. If you don’t use the item regularly, you probably won’t need it any time soon. Get rid of it.

3. How many do I have vs. how many do I need?

I experienced this question when it came to packing my kitchen. I had four sets of pots and pans. Why!? I picked the nicest ones and donated the rest. I was amazed at how much space this freed up.

4. Do I need this item because it has useful information?

Look, books are necessary and sometimes beautiful, but if you’re holding on to 5 volumes of encyclopedias, you’re a hoarder. This is the age of the internet. If you need to know something now-a-days, you simply Google it.

5. Do I even like this?

I’m guilty of this one, and my fiancé is terrible about it! It’s wonderful to receive gifts, but when you don’t need the thing gifted to you, let alone like it, it turns into clutter. This can be stressful because you feel guilty about getting rid of it. I have news for you: your mother-in-law is never going to ask what happened to that magnet she brought you back from her trip. Get rid of it.

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6. Will I lose my good memories if I lose this item?

After my dad passed away, I realized how many things I was no longer capable of parting with because he had given them to me. Just looking at the items gave me peace because they made me think of happy times with my father. But I quickly realized there were certain items that could be displayed and appreciated all the time, and others he would understand me parting with (like the shirt he brought me from a trip that never fit).

7. Am I only keeping this because it was expensive?

This was hard for me for a long time. I hated getting rid of a handbag or a pair of shoes I didn’t wear any longer because I still remembered what I paid for them! Thankfully there are tons of websites now where you can consign designer/high-end items and get a little money for them.

8. Do I care about it enough to clean it?

Remember my mantra about throwing out an item I didn’t love enough to pack? This question is similar. If an item is out on display (like that cat figurine your grandmother gave you), it will require dusting and maintenance. Do you love it enough to do that? If not, it needs to go.

9. Do I care about it enough to make room for it?

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In college, I moved back in with my parents briefly after renting a house on my own. When I started renting the house, it was completely empty, so I had to buy all new furniture. This was great until I was suddenly having to pay a storage unit to house it. I got so sick of the bill that I sold all the furniture and cancelled my storage unit. Was it hard to part with furniture I had loved? Sure. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

10. Do I feel the need to move it when I’m looking for something else?

If an item is in your way on a daily basis, there will never come a day when it suddenly serves you in some way. Accept that it needs to go and get rid of it.

11. Does it serve any purpose aside from being decorative?

I love home decor. Love it. But I try to justify the decor in my new home to ensure I’m not filling it with space-taking items. If I can’t come up with a useful purpose for an item, then I don’t bring it home. And if the item in my home is not useful, then I don’t let it stay.

12. I love it! But will I love it in six months?

This is a great question to ask when thinking of buying something that could become clutter and to ask when trying to de-clutter. You may really love a certain item, but will you love it in six months? A year? If you aren’t 100% sure that the answer is yes, you probably want to reconsider owning it.

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13. Do I want to pack and unpack this item when we move?

What, are you surprised it made the list? Whether you move constantly because of a job or you just love the feeling of freedom, think long and hard before bringing clutter from one place to another.

14. If this item was stolen and pawned, would you buy it back?

In the middle of moving out of that home I rented, I had a jewelry box stolen from me. Along with some costume jewelry, I had quite a few expensive pieces in there, some that had come from my late father. This was devastating (and still hurts today!). If I were to find every single one of those items in a pawn shop tomorrow, there are only a few that I would care enough to re-purchase. While the way it happened was less than ideal, it was a good lesson in realizing what is important to me and what I have around for the sake of owning.

15. What is this? What is this for?

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but just to hammer the point home, I’ll explain: If you find yourself looking at an object and questioning what it is, how you wound up with it, or why you would use it, you definitely don’t need that thing taking up space.

Happy cleaning!

Reference

More by this author

Heather Poole

Technical writer

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

How about a unique spin on things?

These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

1. Empty your mind.

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

2. Keep certain days clear.

Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

3. Prioritize your work.

Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

4. Chop up your time.

Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

5. Have a thinking position.

Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

7. Don’t try to do too much.

OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

8. Have a daily action plan.

Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

9. Do your most dreaded project first.

Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

11. Have a place devoted to work.

If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

12. Find your golden hour.

You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

14. Never stop.

Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

15. Be in tune with your body.

Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

16. Try different methods.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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