We are now living in unchartered and challenging times. As a global society we are rethinking almost everything that we do to make the necessary changes to meet our global survival need. On the home front I have been going through the many files on my computer to make access easier and to get rid of obsolete files! During this process I came upon 8 Steps to DE-CLUTTER Your Life, an article from the worldhappinessforum.org, November 2012. The first question I asked my self was “what is clutter”? My curiosity took me into the article to find an answer!
Clutter is “all those things in your life that don’t really matter or aren’t being used, or as the dictionary defines the term, ‘a disorderly heap or assemblage, litter, a state or condition of confusion.’”
This answer really piqued my curiosity as to why do I need to clutter my life, my mind, my home and my computer? Am I just too busy and outwardly focused? Have I lost sight of what really matters?
My life experience has been that possessing more things does not bring me greater happiness! In fact, quite the opposite as many psychologists tell us that many emotional problems are linked to our attachment to clutter.
To help you begin, I have summarised the 8 Steps to DE-CLUTTER Your Life.
Step 1 Don’t get overwhelmed
Decluttering is a big job and it’ won’t happen overnight. Stay positive and don’t give up before you even start. Start small – identify small chunks - choose one room, cupboard or a clutter category e.g. clothes. Go slowly and methodically – develop your own system. Be brave and dig deep for the willpower to throw stuff out! Ask for help if needed.
Step 2 Ask yourself some important questions
The influential writer, craftsman and social reformer of the 1800's, William Morris, said ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to use, or believe to be beautiful.’ This is true today!
1. When was the last time I used this?
2. Could I borrow, rent or improvise with something else the few times I might use this?
3. Have I got more than one? If so, keep the best one and ditch the rest.
4. Is it out of date? This applies mainly to food, medicine and make up.
5. Can this item be fixed? Not a great option if repairs cost more than replacement.
6. Am I keeping this because I’d feel guilty if I didn’t?
7. How easily and cheaply could I get another one if I really needed to?
Step 3 Create a system
Use large boxes or garbage bags for sorting. Label suggestions:
1. Keep - things you definitely want to keep, and that meet these three criteria:
1. You use it regularly
2. You like it (a lot)
3. It has a place in your space
2. Put Back/Return - stuff that doesn’t belong where you found it e.g. office paperwork in the bedroom.
3. Give Away - anything you don’t need or want anymore but it’s too good to throw away.
4. Fix - possessions you believe are worth fixing although if it has been broken or torn for longer than a few years, and you haven’t missed it, throw it out.
5. Trash - for anything that’s truly outlived its usefulness and can’t be recycled.
Step 4 Deal with the boxes/bags
Once you’ve gone through everything and relegated at least one third of it to a box/bag, you’re ready to do one of three things:
1. Get it out of the house - now or ASAP (set a timeline).
2. Group similar things together - e.g. put all reading material together. Look for ways to group things in one place and make their final resting place obvious. Ask ‘where do I mainly use this?’
3. Celebrate when you’re done - even if it’s just one drawer or bookcase, that’s an accomplishment, and worthy of celebration!
Step 5 Avoid clutter in the first place
Celebrate by all means but don’t get complacent – old habits die hard! Things to do to stop cluttering:
1. Get rid of something - every time you bring something new home get rid of something else.
2. Set a clean-up time - every night, once a week, or even once a month. Agree to sort and toss a specific number of items. Be realistic to help you meet your target.
3. Get the kids to help - get them to help designate storage zones. Ask them to select and sort into piles items they use in their various activities. Make signs to help kids quickly identify where things belong.
4. Healthy minds make better purchasing decisions - it’s easy to get swept up in the thrill of ownership and spend money on things we don’t need. Think long and hard before you buy. The truth is, having less frees you up time and money wise to follow other, more worthy pursuits.
The Buddha said, ‘with our thoughts we make the world’. It’s worth noting that if there’s a lot of clutter, it can be a sign of some deeper underlying issue such as grief or loss.
Therefore, it’s important to try and understand, maybe with the help of a professional, the role played by superfluous possessions in your life.
Step 6 Organise your workspace
Many of us work at desks and in offices crowded with papers, books, boxes, stationary and other stuff. This has a negative impact on our ability to be productive, research shows that we’re happier and work faster and better in a well-ordered office.
The physical workspace - regularly spring clean your work area. Get rid of post-it notes and loose papers. Throw out pens that have run out of ink. Create files for essential material worth keeping. Record appointment dates in a planner or online calendar. Find a home for everything on your desk.
If you work in an out-of-home office, why not ask your colleagues to join in so that everyone benefits from an improved working environment.
The digital workspace - we now use computers instead of filing cabinets and often our most important files are spread all over the desktop, on a USB or in cloud storage. The anxiety and confusion this may cause is no different to walking into an office where everything is in disarray.
Some suggestions to organise your workspace:
1. Organise your digital files in clearly labelled digital file folders.
2. Store all files in one central location e.g. ‘My Documents’
3. Consider cloud storage for all your backups.
4. Trash everything that’s no longer useful, including banal email correspondence. Your aim is to create a digital world that matches in serenity your de-cluttered physical one.
Step 7 Clean out your car
If your car is so full of rubbish passengers have to clear a space to sit down, it’s time for some helpful reminders:
What shouldn’t be the car: old food wrappers, empty drink bottles, toys, anything destined for the op shop, drycleaner or recycling depot that you’ve been meaning to drop off for weeks but haven’t; tools unless they’re for the car, and unopened mail delivered to your post office box.
What should be in the car: registration, insurance certificate, owner’s manual, maps (unless your car is fitted with GPS).
What should be in the boot: tool kit, torch and working spare tyre.
Step 8 Spring clean your mind
Clutter isn’t just confined to our external world. Our mind can also be overloaded with worries, regrets and repetitive stories that keep us stuck in neurotic patterns. The goal of de-cluttering is to get rid of non-essentials and keep only what’s necessary and useful. When it comes to the contents of your mind, decide what you pay attention to, that is, what’s worth keeping and what’s not.
Remember it takes time to undo the practices of a lifetime.
Every time a negative thought, emotion or internal experience arises, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do I need this? Is it really necessary?
2. Does it serve me? Is it helpful or useful?
3. Am I attached to it? Can I let it go?
4. Will it take me closer to what I want or further away?
You may even find that simply asking these questions will cause neuroses to loosen their grip, including those that compel us to choke our lives - both inner and outer with surplus stuff.
Remember what we think becomes our reality!
Consultant, Mentor, Speaker.