Module Two: Remove the Clutter

One of the hardest parts about getting organized is going through and getting rid of the things that cause distractions and take up space. When you find yourself among the stacks and piles of stuff and items, it can seem overwhelming. But by taking it one step at a time, and remembering to breathe, you can begin to de-clutter your life and start on the path to successful organization.

Just Do it

Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed about taking on the task of removing our clutter and tend to make excuses as to why it doesn’t get done. We can claim that we don’t have the time, or that there is too much to do at once. But as Nike says, we have to “Just Do It” and we have to throw away our excuses and dive in. Make a plan on how you can get started, such as making a ‘cleaning calendar’ or choosing an area to start on. Stick with your plan until the job is complete, and don’t let the same excuses hinder your success.

Helpful tips:

  • Make a calendar with time to clean
  • Divide the areas that need to be conquered
  • Make a list of tasks
  • Decide where items go beforehand

You Don’t Have to Keep Everything

You know who you are – the person that exclaims “I have to keep [this] because I might need it later!”

In reality, we can throw away over half of our saved documents or items without feeling a sense of withdrawal or consequence. The decision to keep everything can drive us to make inappropriate choices with organization and contributes to more clutter. We can break that kind of thinking by examining what we are holding on to and by realizing we can’t live by the ‘what ifs’ an item may have. Go through your clutter and clarify how it is useful to you right now and get rid of anything that doesn’t have a clear purpose. Once you have removed the items you don’t need or have use for, you are no longer wasting time on useless clutter, but are developing better organization for the things you did keep.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I going to use this in the near future?
  • What was the last time I needed this?
  • If I keep this, what is it organized into?

Three Boxes: Keep, Donate, and Trash

The most common approach to clearing out clutter is the Three Boxes method. This method forces a decision to be made about each item you touch as you go through your clutter. You don’t get to put it aside or come back to it later. Pick up an item, one at a time, and think about which box it should go in. Try not to release the item until a decision is made.

  • Box 1
    – Items to Keep: This box is for items you would like to keep in your area or maybe even put away for safe keeping (such as heirlooms or special gifts). This is not to be confused with the ‘things I might need later’ type of thinking. Only keep items that have value and meaning to you.
  • Box 2
    – Items to Donate: This box is for items that you realize you no longer need or want. Items in this box can be donated or sold at a rummage sale, just as long as it leaves the clutter!
  • Box 3 – Trash: This box is for the things that you do not need or want and cannot be donated or given away. This often includes old papers or documents, mail, or broken items. Once this box is full or complete, remove it from the area right away and don’t give it a second look.

A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place

One factor that contributes to our clutter is where we decide to keep it or let it lay. When something is not in its proper place, everything else can seem chaotic and, disorganized. While we are thinking about where things need to go, think about what the item or items are and where it would best be suited. This may require you to refresh your mind and search your office over for every available open space that can be used. But no matter the amount of stuff you plan to keep, once it has found its proper place in your office, it won’t stay in the way of you becoming more organized.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I need to put here/there?
  • Where would this be best suited?
  • Will it be in my way/contribute to clutter there?

Case Study

Stacy decided she would spend her Saturday afternoon clearing out the clutter that has built up in the family den. She knew she had put it off for too long, and decided this would be the best time. She took her three boxes marked Keep, Donate, and Trash and began picking up items one by one. As she picked up old papers and broken toys, she knew it was an easy decision to throw these things away. But then Stacy started to find old keepsakes lying around, including her children’s old clothing and photo albums. Her immediate thought was to put them away; until she remembered that it isn’t necessary to keep everything and that she can, and will, have to part with some things.

By the end of the afternoon, Stacy had managed fill a donation box with items she knew she no longer needed or wanted. She also threw away several boxes of garbage. When she was left with just the items she wanted to keep, she had no trouble organizing everything finding a permanent place for it all (that doesn’t include the floor!).