Setting Priorities For What To Keep And What To Discard

A question came up in the most recent clutter workshop about setting priorities for what to keep and what to discard while organizing. This is probably a question that resonates for many people because difficulty making these decisions is often central to clutter problems. So here is a little priority system for what to save:

1) health and safety (includes medical, insurance, and disaster preparedness)
2) work / career; obligation (includes projects, finances, legal issues, taxes, contracts & leases)
3) interests (hobbies, avocations)

NOTE: priority setting for what to save is not, and cannot be, the same as the priority systems for tasks

Lots of people save things because they think the item has the potential to be useful - maybe they will want to take up that hobby or career later, maybe they will need a particular document someday. It is important to remember that 80% of what is saved is NEVER used. So you are giving up precious living and work space for something that you do not and never will need. If you have lots of different interest areas, you will likely find that there are some that you actively pursue, some that you save and may look into casually, and some that you really never look at. Simplying and accepting that you can only do one thing at a time and not trying to hang onto too much will improve your ability to pursue those things which matter most to you.

What to get rid of
* Articles - In this era of instant-everything on the Internet, it makes little sense to save articles which tend to become obsolete very quickly and are easily obtained on the web in most cases.

* Magazines - Giving yourself a deadline to either read them or pass them along helps to clear out the logjam. The length of time it takes to get around to reading issues should tell you something about the real importance of that periodical in your life and whether you should continue subscribing. Donating your magazines (with your name and address removed) to doctor's offices, homes for the elderly or other place that will appreciate them will probably make giving them up easier.

* Things that have potential. Potential isn't reality. Maybe it does have potential, but if you have clutter or hoarding problems, you've got too much stuff to ever be able to make use of the potential. The volume of stuff is a barrier to being able to make any object realize its potential. This also applies to things that 'might' be useful. It is good to recognize that, if you have a clutter or organizing problem, chances are, you also have a time management problem. Until you solve the time problem, keeping objects that 'might' come in handy around just adds to the clutter and pressure.

* Unfinished projects. Anything that has been around for more than six months without being finished likely never will be. By the time you could get to it, it may be damaged from the long period of sitting around, obsolete, no longer fit, or no longer needed. You need a break from the pressure and expectations of getting all that done.

* Dated material. Some people do not throw out things like credit card offers or even ads or sales flyers. But such mailings have dates and are only good for a limited time. Past their expiration date, they are only clutter and confusion. Better to shred anything with your name on it (or at least cut up in little pieces the sections with your name on them if you don't have a shredder). Better still is to get off the credit card offers mailing lists (see workshop materials for how to do this) so the companies no longer send them. Instead of taking the position that such things should be kept because they 'might' be useful, consider adopting the motto that NONE of them are useful unless you are definitely NEED a new credit card, or sales item (a dubious idea until all the clutter is cleared out).

* Anything broken - again you really do not have time to deal with this. As long as you cling to things that demand extra amounts of your time and energy you will have a really hard time de-cluttering and staying clutter-free.

* Clothes that do not fit - if you lose weight, celebrate with new clothes. If you gain, get just a few things so that you will have some incentive to encourage weight loss.

One consideration for people with numerous interests: there are only 24 hours a day, a chunk of those are spent sleeping, and many of the others on the necessary activities of life. You may likely find that it is necessary to restrict your interests to a smaller group of those that matter most to you (with the benefit of perhaps getting greater enjoyment from those remaining) to be able to live a clutter-free life.

©2008 Gloria Valoris

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