There comes a point where items get in the way and just take up space instead of helping you be more productive. Not only that, but studies indicate that companies with less materialistic bosses fare better overall, and that clutter in an office or home can throw out a negative message about your personality. And lastly, there’s a trend toward minimalism, not only because people want to clear their heads and focus on what matters, but because it’s just too expensive for an individual or company to house a bunch of extra possessions.
So let’s accept for a moment that you know stuff has to go. How do you decide what to toss/donate and what stays?
3 feet. This strategy has you put everything in the center of a room, Tetris style. The rule is that you must leave 3 feet of space out from every wall. If items don’t fit, you have to make some choices about what to pitch or move elsewhere. The strategy is helpful because it forces you to see what is most essential and consider whether the larger pieces in the room could be swapped for something smaller based on the way you really need to work. It’s ideal for smaller spaces like your bedroom or an individual office. If you’d rather not do heavy lifting for this one, a computer program or a few paper cutouts to scale can let you play around.
6-months. This rule says that, if you haven’t used an item in 6 months, it’s not helping you and should be donated or tossed. Seasonal items or ones with sentimental value can be exceptions, but you should consider whether they can be stored in another area and ensure you don’t have more than one of anything. Many times, snapping a photo of a sentimental item or considering how it is going to help or bring pleasure to someone else can help you let go.
No duplicates. Multiples of items often accumulate because of gifting or upgrades. Ask yourself which one you always reach for and get rid of the others. If borrowing has caused duplication, return what you borrowed.
The core. What’s most essential to a process or concept? Ask yourself if you’re keeping things just because they are nice to have or because they actually contribute to what you’re doing. Ditch anything that doesn’t align with your values and goals.
Purpose. Related to the core above, everything in your space should have a designated purpose. Don’t keep items you might use–good intentions often go nowhere without a concrete plan. Be able to identify why everything in your space is there and know when it’s going to offer functionality.
Alternate access. This strategy looks at whether there’s a public version of what you use available. For instance, maybe it’s cost effective to rent something for a brief period instead of keeping it, or maybe you can get books digitally or from the library.
Joneses. For this strategy, you purposely compare yourself to others, not to lose your individuality, but to think critically about standards versus what you need. For instance, do you really need to stuff six chairs in an office when most people only have two? Look around and observe what others do to see if maybe there’s a better way to manage the space.
New is a cue. Whenever someone gives you something or you buy something new, that’s your cue that something else in the space should go. I use this one to keep my kids’ toy collection from getting out of control or age-inappropriate, but it works well for just about anything, including your office wardrobe or technology.
Break the group. Sometimes we hold on to a bunch of items because we associate them with other items. For example, you might see a dozen books as a unit because they are on the same topic, or because you got them all around the same time in your life. Ask yourself why those items have to stay together. The odds are good that they don’t.
Some of these strategies might feel more natural than others, but using them all makes it more likely that you’ll be more critical in your downsizing. Once you’re clutter free, your only job is to resist the urge to fill the new open space!