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

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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!

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Reference

More by this author

Heather Poole

Heather shares about everyday lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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