zenhabits : breathe

Nine Quick Tips to Identify Clutter

‘How many things are there which I do not want.’ ~Socrates

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project.

Lately, I’ve been on a clutter-clearing frenzy. For me, as for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm, and sweeping away a bunch of unloved, unused stuff has given me a huge happiness boost.

As I sifted through our possessions, I identified nine questions to ask myself when I was confronted with a questionable object. This list helped me decide what to keep and what to toss, recycle, or give away.

  1. Does this thing work? I was surprised by how hard it was to admit that something was broken and couldn’t be fixed—say, our dud toaster or my daughter’s frog clock. Why was I hanging on to these things?
  2. Would I replace it if it were broken or lost? If not, I must not really need it.
  3. Does it seem potentially useful—but never actually gets used? Something like an oversized water-bottle, a corkscrew with an exotic mechanism, or a tiny vase. Or duplicates. How many spare glass jars did I need to keep on hand?
  4. Was I “saving” it? Leaving bath gel in the tube, or hoarding my favorite stationery in a desk drawer, was as wasteful as never using these things. Spend out!
  5. Does it serve its purpose well? For example, we have a lot of “cute” kitchen objects that don’t really work.
  6. Has it been replaced by a better model? Inexplicably, I’m in the habit of keeping a broken or outmoded version of tech gadgets, even after they’ve been replaced. Pointless.
  7. Is it nicely put away in an out-of-the-way place? One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: Just because things are nicely organized doesn’t mean they’re not clutter. No matter how tidily a thing is stored, if I never use it, why keep it?
  8. Does this memento actually prompt any memories? Sometimes I automatically keep things that fall into the category of “mementos,” assuming that they’d set off some sort of response, but they don’t. The attendance trophy from my daughter’s pre-school sports class—out.
  9. Have I ever used this thing? I was absolutely shocked to find, when I started looking, how many things we owned that we had never once used. Many were gifts, true, but I promised myself we’d either put these things into use within a few weeks or give them away.

How about you? Have you identified any questions that help you decide whether or not to keep a particular possession?

Read more from Gretchen at her blog, The Happiness Project, or read more about her #1 New York Times bestselling book, The Happiness Project.



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