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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

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Heather Poole

Technical writer

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Last Updated on February 21, 2019

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

Forgot a name? Misplaced your keys? Taking longer to find the right words? Don’t panic. There’s plenty you can do to improve your memory.

You’re probably expecting us to reveal 7 little known and newly discovered herbs from the forests of the Amazon, the peaks of the Himalayas and the Arctic tundra. No such luck.

Despite Americans spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on Ginkgo Biloba, Ashwagandha, Periwinkle, Bacopa, Vitamin B’s, Omega 3’s and memory boosting supplement cocktails, there is very little scientific evidence they actually work. [1]

Instead, we’re going to offer you 7 completely natural memory boosters, backed up by scientific research. It may take a little more effort than a magic memory pill, but the benefits will transcend your memory and improve your overall quality of life as well, making you more fit, energetic, happy and sharp.

How Do We Remember?

The first process in remembering is creating a memory.

This is where our brain sends a signal, associated with a thought, event or piece of information our mind is processing, over our brains neural pathways, called synapses.

Think of our neural pathways like roads and information like trucks. The better the roads, the more trucks can be driven.

The second step in remembering is memory consolidation.

Consolidation is when the brain takes that thought, event or piece of information and actually stores it in the brain. So now we’re talking about taking delivery of the trucks and storing its contents in the warehouse.

Consolidation helps us store information and label it properly, so its organized and easy to retrieve when needed.

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The last step is memory retrieval.

That’s the step whereby we try to retrieve the information stored in our brains. You know when you have the name of someone on the tip of your tongue.

You have the information; it’s been stored, but you just can’t find it. Our memory recall is typically better the stronger the memory is and the more often we’ve used it.

Memory decline is a normal part of aging. However, new scientific research is discovering many new ways for us to improve memory creation, consolidation and retrieval–no matter our age.

7 Natural Memory Boosters

So how to work on memory and boost your brain power? Here’re 7 brain boosters backed by science that you should try:

1. Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic activity is about as close as we get to a magic pill for our memories. Exercise helps your brain create new capillaries and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which creates new brain cells and connections. To put it in plain english, aerobic activity changes our brains and helps it grow.

Studies have shown that exercising increases the size of the hippocampus and improves memory. In fact, even if you start exercising as an older adult, you can reverse cognitive decline by 1 to 2 years and protects against further decreases in the size of the hippocampus, which is essential for memory. [2]

In another study, reviewed by Dr. Ian Robertson of the University of Dublin, they looked at a group of people of 60 years and older, who engaged in “active walking” for four months.

They compared them with another group of people who only stretched over the same period of time. After testing both groups before and after the 4 month period, the walkers improved their memory and attention considerably more than the stretching group.

So which exercises are best and how much do we have to exercise?

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Turns out, it doesn’t really matter whether you run, swim, row or bike. What does matter is that you push yourself beyond your current abilities, keep doing more, keep getting better. Set yourself short term goals and keep pushing the goal posts.

2. Sleep

You need your sleep. The deeper the better. Sleep helps improve your procedural memory (how to do things, like how do I navigate my iPhone) and declarative memory (facts, like what’s my password). [3]

Even short naps from 6 to 45 minutes have been shown to improve your memory. In one Harvard study, college students memorized pairs of unrelated words, memorized a maze and copied a complex form. All were tested on their work. Half were then allowed to take a 45 minute nap. They were then retested. Those who took a nap, got a boost in their performance. [4]

Another study showed that getting REM (deep) sleep can increase your memory and mental performance by 33% to 73%. Getting a deep sleep helps the brain consolidate memories through dreams and “associative processing”. However, the study also revealed that heart rate variability in deep sleep also contributed significantly to increased memory performance. [5]

3. MIND Diet

Healthy eating, particularly more dark colored fruit, vegetables and oily fish has been shown to improve memory and stave off cognitive decline.

The MIND diet is proven to reduce the risk of dementia. It’s a mix of the popular Mediterranean diet and the low blood pressure DASH diet. [6]

The study kept track of the diets of almost 1,000 older adults. They were followed for an average of 4½ years.

The study concluded that “people whose diets were most strongly in line with the MIND diet had brains that functioned as if they were 7½ years younger than those whose diets least resembled this eating style.”

The study also showed that people who followed the MIND diet in the study reduced their chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease in half.

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So what does the MIND diet consist of? Lots of vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil, whole grains and wine.

4. Relax

We all know that stress is bad for our health. It can raise our blood pressure, impact our immune system and interrupt our sleep. Stress also impairs our memory.

When our body gets stressed, it releases cortisol into our blood stream, which can cause short and long term physical changes to the brain. While cortisol has sometimes been shown to cause increases in short term memory, it can actually decrease our long term recall memory.

To help reduce the stress in your life, try relaxing with meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. Unplug–even for just a few hours. Stop checking your emails, social accounts and news. Release some endorphins with some exercise.

Bottom line, the more anxious and stressed we are, the less clearly we think, the poorer our memory works.

5. Continuous Learning

The mind is like a muscle. The more you challenge it, the stronger it gets. The more you learn, the more you can learn.

Research shows that learning can actually change the physical makeup of your brain. Not too long ago, we used to think that you were born with a fixed amount of brain cells, which declined with age. New research now shows that we can actually increase the number of brain cells we have throughout our life.

Aside from staying physically active, learning new skills and studying can actually keep our brains healthier. Consider taking a continuing education class, studying a new language, learning a new instrument, playing new card games. [7]

Studies show that the more complex the task, the more benefits for your mind. Simply showing up to class is not enough. You need to be actively engaged. Anything that forces you to focus and learn something new and get out of a rote routine will help you sharpen your mind and boost your memory.

6. Stay Social

The more deep and meaningful social connections you maintain, the more you protect your brain. Bottom line, the more friends you have, the more people you work with, the more you’re forced to use your brain.

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Social isolation and loneliness are significant risks of dementia. Without interacting with others, our brains wilt. Isolation and loneliness lead to depression, physical and mental decline. [8]

In a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, seniors with a full social calendar did better on memory, reasoning, and processing speed tests. [9]

What to do?

Party! Seriously, get together with friends as often as possible. Have family dinners. Choose social activities or sports like tennis, golf, cards or go for walks with a friend. Bottom line have fun, build meaningful social relationships and stay connected. Not only will it make your mind sharper and your memory better, you’ll be happier, too!

7. Wakeful Rest

This one is getting harder and harder to do. In a world where we can’t sit on a bus, go up an elevator or go to the bathroom without our phones, doing absolutely nothing to distract our minds is becoming increasingly difficult.

But, the results are in. Doing nothing is great for your memory. Quietly resting for 10 minutes, after you learn something will help you remember and help you create more detailed memories. [10]

What we do minutes after we learn something new has a significant impact on how well we retain the new information. In another study, it didn’t matter what you did after you learned something new, as long as you weren’t distracted by outside factors. In other words, you could be thinking of your day, making a grocery list, or thinking of a story. In either case, wakeful rest for a period of 10 minutes helped the brain process and consolidate your memories so that you were better able to recall the information at a later date. [11]

Conclusion

You don’t have to spend a dime on cocktails and supplements promising a quick boost to your memory power. There is very little conclusive scientific evidence suggesting supplements will help improve the memories of healthy individuals–not for Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B, fish oils, Vitamin D, Folate or other supplements claiming they a secret formula.

There are far cheaper and more effective ways to boost your memory: exercise, rest, eat well, learn, love, laugh and relax. Who wouldn’t want that prescription?

More Resources About Boost Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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