Clear the Clutter! Proven Ways to Determine What to Keep & What to Purge

declutter, organize, rva

(Step 3 of theNeatNiche’s 5-Step ASK ME Process to Organize Anything – read step 1 here and read step 2 here).

If you’ve read any of our other posts, you’ll know that at theNeatNiche, we believe clutter is a buildup of postponed decisions. Too many postponed decisions, and you start to feel cramped, overwhelmed, and unfocused.  

Sound familiar? If so, it’s time to live and work organized instead. 

Today, we’ll be talking about one of my favorite topics: decision-making. If you’re just tuning in, this is the third post in a multi-post series covering theNeatNiche’s fool-proof system to organize anything. This five-step organizing process, represented by the acronym ASK ME, will take you from chaos to calm every time

ASK ME™ stands for: 

A – Assess 

S – Sort 

K – Keep or let go 

M – Make a home 

E – Establish a system 

Whether your organizing project is physical or mental, small or large, with these steps, you can clear clutter and achieve long-term, systemized success.  

As the above graphic illustrates, we always start with assessing – determining what you want and comparing it with what’s going on right now so you know specifically what needs to happen. From there, we move into sorting, which is about putting like items together in preparation for better, easier decision-making. 

With your stuff sorted (and maybe subsorted), it’s time to take things to the next level. This is where we actually figure out which things should stay and which should go. This is the “Keep or Let Go” step, and it has the power to change your life. Seriously.  

Let’s take a closer look. 

Keep or Let Go: What Adds Value to Your Life? 

Ready to clear out? Since clutter is a buildup of postponed decisions, clearing out means it’s decision-making time. In this step of the organizing process, what we’re really trying to identify is the stuff that no longer serves you. Of all the stuff you have, which are the things you actually love, need, and use? Which things on your list or in your piles are old, outdated, or no longer relevant?  

It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with physical stuff, mental stuff, or just feel like you have too much stuff going on in your life. As you clear out clutter, you will inevitably find things that simply don’t matter to you the same way they used to. Not only is this okay, it’s perfectly normal.  

The truth is, you can’t keep it all or do it all anyways. If you want a different experience, one not so full of things, thoughts, and clutter, something has to give. That something is the stuff that’s not adding value to your life. Find it, clear it out, and make room for what you actually care about. 

Five Proven Decision-Making Tactics 

Knowing you need to make decisions is easy. Actually making them? Not so much.  

Decision-making is something many of us struggle with, and it’s easy to see why. Sometimes, we don’t feel like we have the time or energy to make a good decision. Sometimes we get distracted and lose focus. And sometimes, we’re just not sure what the best decision is, so we put it off.  

If you struggle with decision-making, here are five solid approaches to decision-making to help you determine what to keep and what to let go. 

  1. Choose past, present, or future. 

At its simplest, there are two main buckets for postponed decisions: stuff that has to do with the past, and stuff that has to do with the future. Anything that does not fall into either of these categories, is, theoretically, being used right now – in the present.  

Stuff you use in the present moment is the stuff that actually helps you live your life. However, most of us keep a lot of stuff that we are not using in the present moment. 

For example, if you tend to have a lot of: 

  • mementos, souvenirs, or photographs (physical or digital) 
  • gifts from other people 
  • sentimental paperwork or clothing 
  • stuff that belongs to your kids (especially if they’re adults) 
  • things inherited from your parents 
  • basically anything else you are keeping for the sake of preserving memories 

All that stuff is stuff from the past. Except for the sake of sentiment, it is not serving you right now. Of course, we all have at least a few sentimental things – who doesn’t enjoy an occasional trip down memory lane? – but if you have so much you can barely move, that stuff from the past might be holding you back from living your life right now. 

On the flip side, if you tend to be future-focused, you might often hear yourself saying things to yourself like: 

  • “I’ll get to that later…” 
  • “I could use this for…” 
  • “When I lose 20 pounds…” 
  • “I’ll save that for…” 
  • “I’ll make that into…” 

These phrases (and many others that are similar) all indicate postponing a decision right now for the sake of some future possibility.  

Believe me, I get it – who doesn’t want to dream of greener pastures and a better tomorrow? It’s natural to think about what you want to do next with your life. Just make sure you’re only keeping an actionable amount of stuff, not everything. Otherwise, you might end up bogged down in it.  

For both past and future, keeping too much will prevent you from actually being able to live your life. 

Regardless of whether you lean towards past or present (or maybe a combo of both!), the goal is to strategically keep: 

  • just enough from the past to help you preserve precious memories 
  • just enough from the future to keep you inspired and motivated 
  • just enough for the present to help you live your life and take action towards your goals  

Achieve these three goals, and you’ll have found your flow.  

  1. Find your 20%. 

Ever heard of the 80/20 rule, also called the Pareto Principle? It has to do with a long-ago scientist and gardener named Pareto who grew peas in his garden. He discovered that 20% of his pea plants produced 80% of his harvest, and 80% of his plants produced the other 20%. As he also examined the world, he found the same general ratio to apply almost universally. 

In organizing, the 80/20 rule can be seen as follows: 

  • We wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time 
  • Kids play with 20% of their toys 80% of the time 
  • We reach for the same 20% of dishes and glassware 80% of the time 
  • We use 20% of our office supplies far more than the other 80% 

So, when it comes time to figure out what to keep and what to let go, look for your 20%. Those are the things you know you use all the time; they will definitely stay. Then, consider your 80%. Chances are, much of your 80% is excess that can go. 

  1. Look for reasons to let go, not reasons to keep. 

If you’re good at justifying or finding reasons to hold onto things, try playing devil’s advocate. Look for reasons not to keep things instead of the other way around.  

By reminding yourself of things like, “It’s inexpensive/easy to replace,” “It’s broken, and if I’m honest, I won’t actually fix it,” or “I could easily find this information again online,” you will not only let go of more, but you’ll learn to become more selective with what makes the cut.  

  1. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”  

Do you find yourself keeping things “just in case?” If you hear yourself using this phrase, you may be postponing decisions because you’re uncertain about the outcome or think something bad might happen if you get rid of it.  

Rather than holding on “just in case,” try asking yourself this question: “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I didn’t keep this?”  

By allowing your fear to play out in your head until you have an actual answer to this question, you get down to the root cause of your fear or uncertainty.  

Sometimes our fears are legit – if you let something go, you might be in financial trouble or be unable to prove a legal decision. But most of the time, nothing bad will happen if we let go. If the worst you can think of is, “I’ll have to spend $10,” or “I’ll have to call someone,” or “I’ll have to look it up online,” that’s not much of a repercussion.  

If you can’t envision yourself using the thing in a specific way in the foreseeable future, let it go. You can always replace it or find your answer again if it turns out you need to. 

  1. Play the game “Friends, Acquaintances, & Strangers”  

Are you more of a “feeler” than a “thinker?” Are you “chronically disorganized” – a term to describe those of us for whom disorganization has been an ongoing, if not lifelong, challenge? If so, you may benefit from trying an exercise originally found in the book Conquering Chronic Disorganization, by Judith Kohlberg.  

To play the “Friends, acquaintances, & strangers” game, consider the pile you are trying to clear. Go through the items, and look for your “friends” – the items you love, need, and use often enough that they “feel friendly.” Pull your “friends” out of the pile, and set them aside.  

Once you’ve gone through the pile once to find all your “friends,” repeat the exercise. But this time, look for “acquaintances” – items you have used occasionally enough that they are familiar, if not loved. Set them aside, too. 

Lastly, review the items left behind. Theoretically, all that remains are “strangers.” The real question is this: Why are there strangers in your house, your mind, and your life? Get rid of ‘em, and spend more time with your friends instead.  

There you have ‘em! Five time-tested, proven tactics to help you figure out what adds value to your life. Try one, or try them all.  

Just keep on going until all you have left are the things that actually make your life better!  

Then, come on back for our next step of the ASK ME organizing process: Making homes for your treasures and “friends.” More on that in the next post!  

Questions about how to decide what to keep and what to purge? Feeling unsure? We’re here to support you. Simply comment below! 

Leave a Comment

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00