It is easy to accumulate and collect things. We clutter up our lives to the point where much of our time is spent trying to organize the ton of stuff, chores, lists and systems we maintain to try to keep track of everything we own. Life becomes cluttered and stressful. It is hard to find the important things in a timely manner. The easiest place to start getting back on track is to get rid of the clutter before trying to get organized. Hitting the Delete key can be a satisfying experience, but its finality can make it difficult to follow through every time.
Here is a few ways that I found over the years that makes letting go of things easier and as a result, I have developed quite a fondness for just pressing Delete.
Just do it
Sometimes the easiest course of action is to just go ahead and do it. Don’t over think, don’t get bogged down in the details. Make a quick decision and stick with it. I regularly make time to sift through the backlog, but on a daily basis I try not to let things get that far. Not every email has to be read and many do not need a reply. Not every small task has to make its way onto my to-do list. I ask myself two important questions when I start to feel as if details are choking all creativity and productivity out of my life.
1. Can I delete it without getting involved. I couldn’t delete email or throw out a box from storage without ever opening it, but I can and do limit the amount of time I spend on something to seconds rather than minutes. A five second rummage through an old box out of storage can give me a good idea whether the contents are valuable and requires a more detailed sort and a quick glance at an email can do the same. If at all possible, I don’t get involved in things that will not yield concrete benefits.
2. Do I need to take any action? If not, Delete or Archive. If so, deal with it at the most appropriate time. For example: I have a quick look through all messages first thing in the morning. I reply to urgent messages immediately, but leave the rest for later in the day when I cannot concentrate on creative tasks and have time set aside for it. I add tasks to a small to-do list that I keep below 20 items or I add it directly into my calendar.
The skill to delegate is a very valuable one that has two components. The first is the ability to hand over projects, tasks and responsibilities to someone else and letting them handle it. Always ask for help when you need it and for bigger jobs, put in the time and effort to train someone to do the job properly and then let them get on with it.
The second skill is to know when not to delegate. If it something small that takes more time to manage when delegated than it does to do it yourself, don’t delegate. Delegation doesn’t knock things off your list. You remain ultimately responsible and you may have to remind, motivate, train and reward someone when they do something for you and these things take time and effort as well. Before handing off a project or chore, assess whether it will simplify or complicate your life to do so and act appropriately.
Some tasks are quicker to accomplish with another pair of hands on board. Asking for help has the advantage of not having to train someone or check in regularly to make sure the job is getting done and some tasks, particularly boring and tedious things, are much easier and more fun to do with help. Involve family, particularly young children, in household chores and tasks. Ask someone who doesn’t have the emotional attachment you do to help make decisions about what is important and what isn’t, what to keep and what to let go. An objective outside opinion can often see through our personal clutter better than we can. If you need help, ask for it. Most people would rather you ask and give them the opportunity to say yes or no than assume that they would say no.
Give away don’t throw away
It is often difficult to get rid of sentimental items, but it is rarely an option or a smart decision to try and hold on to everything. If something has sentimental value, consider giving it away to someone who will appreciate it and ideally who will also need it. Give much-loved books to other book enthusiasts in your life or take a few boxes to a charity shop that specialises in second-hand books or raises funding for a charity that lies close to your heart. Find the items that you love new homes where they will be loved, appreciated and used instead of just throwing things away. It is also a greener and more sustainable choice.
Getting rid of old things can take up a lot of time if you let it build up. Make trimming down part of your daily routine and automate as much as possible. Every time I buy a new item of clothing, I have a quick flick through the closet and pull out the oldest items I do not wear regularly. I have systems in place that automatically delete old and outdated information. Instead of automatically saving and storing everything, I save and store information that is timeless and important immediately upon receipt and my day-to-day systems automatically delete or archive old items regularly.
In addition, stop adding clutter to your life. It is always tempting to bookmark everything you find interesting, to add everything to your to-do list, to save clothes that no longer fit for when you lose the weight you gained ten years ago. Keeping sentimental, valuable or potentially useful items is fine, but they must have a home in your home. I have one box of bits and pieces for crafting and when it gets full, I sort through and throw out some of the contents (or make something with it that I have been meaning to make for months). I do the same on-line and impose artificial limits on things for myself so that to-do lists do not sprawl and my saved to read later lists doesn’t take on a life of its own.
Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. Don’t be scared of the Delete button. Accept that the longer to-do lists get, the less time there is to do the things that matter. The more cluttered living space get, the less usable space remains. Eliminate all the unnecessary things that clutter up life and then spend quality time on organizing the precious things that are left.