Make a Decision to Kill Clutter

Life Balance

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Make a Decision to Kill Clutter

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Let's get started with two quotes from Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life, by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau -- a useful book even for those of us not diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder:

1. "If decision-making is not your strength, accumulating things will be your weakness."

2. "Clutter consists of the remains of incomplete tasks."

How true those words are! Clutter doesn't come from the stuff itself, but from the decisions we make -- or fail to make -- about the things we have and the available space we have for them.

Storing Clutter Is Not the Answer

Yet what does our culture tell us to do about clutter? Often the answer is to organize it better or get more space to store it, whether that means a bigger house, a rented storage unit, or what have you. But neither of these suggestions actually solves the problem -- they merely defer it for later.

It's like buying new pants when the waistbands on your old ones are too tight, or getting a new credit card when your old ones are maxed out. The underlying issue is still there, whether the problem is over-accumulation of physical clutter, unhealthy diet and exercise habits, or living beyond your means.

Unless you dig deep to address the root of the problem, these things will still be trouble for you when New Year's rolls around -- even if we're talking about New Year's in 2023.

The Illness and the Antidote

This blog talks a lot about physical and financial fitness, so let's keep the focus here on physical clutter. What causes this peculiar disease? The two quotes above capture it in a nutshell:

Failure to make decisions. Look at that stack of magazines hiding in the corner by the easy chair. Why are they still there? Because you haven't decided to throw them out, you haven't decided to go through them to clip out useful articles, and you haven't decided to do anything else with them.

Failure to finish. . . . Or maybe it's just that you're partway through every magazine in the stack, and somehow you can't stand to sit down and finish one, or else discard an issue before you've read it through.

Obviously, this is just one easy example, but I think these two reasons are valid for any type of clutter, at any scale.

Now, what's the antidote? It's simple to understand, even if it's not easy to implement:

Decide. Just go ahead and decide. Is it worth it to read all those magazines? Answer "Yes" or "No" in the next 30 seconds. Seriously. Then take that decision as the basis for your marching orders. If it's worth it to read the magazines, block out some time to do it. If it's not, recycle them or give them away to your local library. The End.

Decide to finish. You want to reach "The End" of every task, every project, and every piece of clutter in your life, even if it means you have to make compromises, have to punt on some things, or have to accept a lesser outcome. If "The End" for a particular unimportant thing is "Then I gave up and threw it away," fine. Life is too short to cling to trivia.

Step by Step

Okay, maybe I've convinced you that this is the direction you need to go. How are you going to do it? Here's my suggested approach:

1. Take ONE thing in hand. How do you decide which thing? Honestly, it doesn't matter: just start anywhere. Start nearest your front door, or start with the thing that bugs you the most, or start with a few easy things to get the ball rolling. But start -- NOW.

2. Run it out to the end. Find some resolution that you can live with, as in the magazine example above. It doesn't mean you have to love the solution, and it doesn't mean you must throw away a given piece of clutter. You might be able to lend it out, store it someplace tidy, or reuse it for something else. But, whatever you do, SOLVE that one piece of clutter so you won't have to deal with it ever again. (If you've never put all your papers into a single, reliable filing system, this one suggestion will set you free.)

3. Repeat. Repeat ad nauseam. Repeat until there's zero clutter left. Repeat like your life depends on it.

4. Don't bring in new things. Or at least set a rule that you have to get rid of two (or three, or five) of something for every new one you bring in.

That's it. If you want to take this even deeper, apply the same wisdom not just to the excess objects that get in your way physically, but also to all the commitments and "open loops" in every part of your life.

Now you know how I'm tackling my own clutter. What will you do between now and the end of the year to eliminate the clutter in your life?

PREVIOUS ARTICLES:

Putting the Priority Principle to Work, in Fitness and in Life

The relief of making fewer decisions

Action Is Eloquence

 

Tim Walker

Tim is a writer, marketer, and social media pro in Austin. He joined CareOne's blogging team as a contributing writer for the Life Balance blog in 2009. As a blogger who has personally overcome debt challenges, he draws from his own experience to provide tips on living a balanced life and keeping fit. You can read more of his thoughts (on fitness and everything else) at his personal blog, What I've Learned So Far. Compensated CareOne Blogger

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