The Key to Clutter-Free: Making a Choice

Nov 04, 2023
women a table typing on laptop with coffee cup.

Many of us have experienced clearing our clutter only to find it accumulate again (and again!), but the cycle can be prevented.

At the root of the pattern of accumulating clutter is indecision. And the emotion behind the indecision is usually fear (the true source of all clutter). The key to staying clutter-free is to get in the habit of making choices. Namely, do you really need it and if so, where will you keep it? The more you practice making a choice, the less clutter accumulates and the more your fear of making the wrong decision subsides.

Each time you bring something into your home, make a choice. For example…

– When your child brings home artwork from school decide right away if you will keep it and if so, find a home for it. Don’t just add to the pile on the dining table and think you’ll deal with it later.

– As soon as you get your mail, go through it and decide what you need to keep and what’s junk mail, don’t let it stack up to the point where going through the mail becomes a daunting, time-consuming task.

– When you buy something and bring it home decide if you will keep it or return it (hint: if you find yourself hesitating before cutting off the price tag, chances are you aren’t committed). If you’re having second thoughts, return it right away.

– Anytime you pick up a piece of paper in your office make a decision rather than just moving it to a different pile. Either throw it away or file it. If you can’t make a decision because you need more information first, then create a designated spot for things that should be dealt with later.

– Go through stacks of books and magazines and decide right now if you will really read them. If not, recycle or donate (tip: many magazine articles are available online, so most likely you’ll be able to find the information you want if you change your mind later).

– When you find yourself continually putting on a certain piece of clothing, but then taking it off again, be honest with yourself—are you ever going to wear it? Before you hang it up again, make a decision.

– When you download photos from your phone or camera decide right then which ones you will keep and which ones you will delete.

– When food starts to get a little old in the refrigerator, decide if you really will eat it. Keeping something you’re not going to eat because you feel guilty wasting food, doesn’t make the food any fresher.

– When something breaks decide if it’s worth your time and money to fix it and be truthful about whether you really will find the time or spend the resources to fix it.

– Decide right after you read an email whether you will delete it, archive it, or if it requires an action. Email inbox clutter is always a result of not making a choice.

Making a choice prevents emotional and mental clutter too. For example…

– If you receive an invitation. Decide right away if you will attend the party and RSVP (you can always change your mind later if plans need to change).

– If you have a fight with your spouse, decide to forgive your partner now or pick a time together to work it out.

– Before you put something on your to-do list, decide whether it is something worthwhile to follow through on.

Three things to keep in mind to help you make decisions:

Look out for perfectionism: Don’t waste energy worrying about making the right choice—there rarely is a right or perfect choice. Better to make the choice and then spend your energy making it work or course correcting (i.e. making a new choice).

Everything is always changing: Also keep in mind that we can always change our minds and make a new choice. True choice stems from being fully present, not bound by precedent. One thing we can be certain of is that everything is always changing. Moment to moment we may make new choices.

A choice not to choose does not necessarily create clutter: You can always make the choice not to choose. What matters is to be conscious of your choice not to choose. Sometimes our intuition tells us it is not the time to move forward or make a decision. With physical clutter, making a choice not to choose can take the form of putting your items or project in a clearly labeled box that you will find a home for until it is time to make a choice. Because you are consciously making this choice to wait—the possessions are no longer clutter or unfinished business. For mental clutter this may mean writing down your idea and giving it a “home” such as on a “someday-maybe to-do” list.

Do you ever find yourself postponing making a choice and creating clutter? What do you do?

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