Other ways to identify clutter

Most of us know ordinary clutter when we see it. Piles of stuff with no place to live. Let’s say that you’ve already dealt with those piles. Sorted, tossed, put away. Countertop now clear.

Are you done? Not necessarily.

At one of my favorite blogs, Zen Habits, guest blogger Gretchen Rubin who wrote The Happiness Project, describes some other ways to identify more subtle forms of clutter.  Here’s what she says:

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 Has it been replaced by a better model?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? 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.
  10. And my addition: Do I actually know how to operate this thing? (Could I even locate the manual for it?)

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

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2 Responses to Other ways to identify clutter

  1. Jennifer says:

    I didn’t much care for “The Happiness Project”, but I did love her chapter on clearing clutter. It’s true, there is a direct link between a clutter-free space and happiness (and productivity and creativity to boot).

  2. joiede says:

    Yup. I wish ce-cluttering was a project with an end. But clutter-collecting knows no bounds.