Advertising

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
Advertising

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?

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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?

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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!

Advertising

Reference

More by this author

Heather Poole

Heather shares about everyday lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

How to Find Your Core Values to Live a Fulfilling Life 60 Workout Motivation Quotes for Tough Workouts The 7 Types of Learners: What Kind of Learner Am I? What To Eat (And Not To Eat) When You Are Suffering From Inflammation! Yes Life Can Be Boring Sometimes. But There’re Some Tricks to Make It More Interesting

Trending in Productivity

1 7 Effective Ways To Motivate Employees in 2021 2 How a Project Management Mindset Boosts Your Productivity 3 5 Values of an Effective Leader 4 How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them 5 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
Advertising

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

Advertising

From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

Advertising

The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

Advertising

But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

Advertising

Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Advertising

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

Read Next