Most clutter is a function of postponed decisions. Here are six easy questions to help you make quick decisions about what to keep and what to dispose. I love my books, so I’ll use my books as an example of making decisions to declutter.
Look at an object like one of my beloved books and ask six questions:
1. “Do I need this?” The question is not about the future, whether you will ever need that old sweater, couch, book . . . . The question is in the present tense, Do you need this item in your present life? If you need it, then go to the next bit of stuff to declutter.
Often I don’t really need that particular book, but I’m not ready to toss it just because I don’t need it. As a material thing, the book is expendable, but I have a sentimental attachment to many of my books.
2. “Have I used it in the past 6 months?” (12 months for seasonal stuff like Thanksgiving table decorations or seasonal clothing) This question helps sort out lots of useless items like the crepe pan that I never use. Again, most of the books on my shelf sit patiently for a year or more.
3. “Would it help someone else more than me?” We can find a good home for a lot of stuff—even books—that just waste away in our closets or attics. I find that I am more likely to give my books away than to dispose of them. I’m really quick to offload a mystery novel and less likely to offload a reference book.
4. “Can I easily get it again if I dispose of it?” If I throw away the old crepe pan and then decide to make crepes, I can get another pan. If I throw away my copy of Cardinal of the Kremlin signed by Tom Clancy or my copy of Stuff of Thought signed by Steven Pinker . . . I can’t easily find another.
5. Is there are more efficient way to store the item? Sometimes you don’t need to dispose of the item; rather you need to manage the storage. New technologies allow use put our office files in easy-to-store digital format. We can get the contents of a four-drawer file cabinet on a thumb drive.
However, I prefer reading from paper that from a screen. (Studies show that people read 25% faster on paper than screen.) I will cheerfully reduce all my audio and even my photos to digital to save space, but I’m keeping the books.
If I answer these questions, I get a good idea how best to handle my stuff. As Dilbert McClinton sings, “I got too much stuff . . .” And I have that CD somewhere in my pile of stuff.