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Stuck Making Decisions? Sort Smarter with These Five Rules

Making decisions is hard! One of the biggest obstacles to getting organized is getting stuck. One minute, you're moving quickly through the room, and the next, you're standing staring down at an old memento from your college days wondering what the heck to do with it! Do you keep it? Do you toss it? Do you donate it? Do you give it to your old friend Sarah?

1. The 20x20 Rule

This rule is simple. If you don't use something often or it's a "just in case" item, ask yourself if you could replace it in 20 minutes or less for $20 or less. If yes, do yourself a favor and just get rid of it. If not, you can hold onto it and apply it to the cycle rule (more on that later).

An example:

My client Alice has been holding onto a pen collection for years, just in case. Many of the pens are not her first choice to use, they're too bulky or the ink texture isn't her favorite, etc. In this case, she can just take out the ones she likes and get rid of the rest. If she runs out, she can get more. For now, that space would be better used for something else. She's excited about this because now it's easier for her to see and grab the pens she likes when she has to write something down!

2. The Burning House Rule

No, no, please don't burn down your house for this one. It's a metaphor!

A helpful strategy when you get stuck on an item is to imagine that it burned in a house fire (or was swept away in a flood or tornado or whatever you want it to be - get creative!) How hard would you try to replace it after having lost it? Notice what emotions come up when thinking about losing said item. Are you relieved? Sad? Stressed?

If you wouldn't try to replace it, you can let it go. It's just taking room that you could use for things you actually use and treasure.

An example:

My client Jim received a gift from his good friend. He was really touched that his friend thought of him, but the gift is not much in his taste. If it burned in the metaphorical fire, he'd be relieved. It's important for Jim to hold onto the kindness from his friend separate from the material thing. The object is just a vessel with no relationship to the feelings or intentions the giver or receiver have. He realized that the object was just taking up physical and emotional space, so he let it go. His relationship actually benefitted from it because that weight of the bad gift was gone.

3. The 70% Rule

A big reason why we end up with piles and clutter is space planning issues. Maybe we do have a home for all of our items, but we've filled that place up to capacity. Do Not Cram. Make sure that whatever your "home" for a particular item is, it stays full to a maximum of 70% capacity. This is particularly applicable to kitchen cabinets, drawers, and clothing closets.

Almost all of us have too much stuff and that's okay, to a certain extent. But once our stuff overtakes the amount of room we have, it's time for some tough love. I find it helpful to start with favorites of something and keep going until I've reached the 70% mark, then get rid of the rest.

What about for certain items that you collect and want to have a bunch of? Everyone has their thing; for some it's shoes, for others it's figurines, etc. Whatever it is, it's okay to give yourself a bigger space to keep your collection. Maybe you want a whole cabinet just for your 56 mugs. Whatever the size of the space (or "home") for that item, keep it within 70%. Otherwise, it'll quickly become piles or gravitate to the open surfaces or surrounding cabinets. Once you hit 70% and want to add to the collection, I challenge you to first try to get rid of some to make room. If you can't, then it's time to find a bigger space for the collection.

An example:

My client Lily loves to collect perfume samples. After going over all the space in her house and how much she can reasonably devote to her collection, we've given her two full walls in her bedroom. We set up shelves and filled them up, starting with the full bottles and her favorite scents. After having filled up every shelf without cramming things (every bottle is easy to reach), there were still about 15 bottles. After seeing how many she already had and having already kept her favorites, Lily was able to let the 15 go. She set an intention to only get a new perfume when one of the ones she already had ran out or to get rid of one she had if she found a new one she liked more.

4. The Sustenance Rule

Marie Kondo popularized the idea of only keeping what brings you joy. This is a helpful reminder when sorting, but I've found that it can be a little confusing. What about the things that don't bring you joy, but you need them? What about memorabilia of a family member who passed away that mostly makes you sad?

I like to broaden "joy" to sustenance. Sustenance can mean something that sustains you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, etc. Think of all of the objects in your home as things requiring your care. Maybe you have to dust them regularly or replenish them when they run out or make sure they don't rust or wash them, or or or. Now ask yourself: are all of those objects taking care of you? It's an act of self care to cut out the things that don't sustain you and it's hard! But part of the work of healing your physical space is to practice self care. Life is too short to hold onto the things that aren't actively sustaining you.

An example:

My client Sam has a bunch of clothes that don't fit her anymore, but she holds onto them in hopes that one day they'll fit. She hasn't been that size in ten years, but she keeps telling herself she'll get there. I asked her how those clothes made her feel. Did they sustain her physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually? The answer was no. Rather than inspire her like she hoped, holding onto the clothes filled her with self-loathing, shame, and regret. Part of her healing journey through our work was realizing that she deserved to feel confident in her skin and to own clothes that celebrated her instead of shaming her. She gave those clothes away and made a bunch of space in her closet to get more clothes in her real size in styles that showed off her assets and boosted her confidence!

5. The Cycle Rule

The final rule is that organizing and decluttering takes time. It will most likely not happen in one round. Some decisions are just too difficult to make the first time and that's okay. In fact, sometimes it's important to let things simmer so you can make sure you make the right decision. There are many tricks you can do to give yourself time to make a decision while still continuing the sorting process. Two such tricks:

  1. My personal favorite strategy that works with anything is to make a pile of your Maybes in whatever category you're sorting (the Nos go to the trash or donation pile, the Yeses get put away in their home). Take all of your maybes and put them in a box stored wherever is convenient for you (garage, basement, closet, etc) for a predetermined amount of time. After however many weeks, months, or years, notice if you've thought about any of the items in the box or if you've gone to get something out of it. Everything that you haven't thought about or gone to grab, get rid of it.

  2. Another option for clothes that you aren't sure of, you can put them on hangers and the first time you wear an item, flip the hanger. After a certain predetermined amount of time has passed, check your hangers and see what you haven't worn and could give away.

Organizing is a constant cycle and it's important to schedule regular maintenance sessions with yourself and check in with yourself every few years to see how your opinions on items around your home have evolved as you have. Our job together is to make the process as simple as possible, so that you have all the systems in place to support you.

Okay, that's it for now! Happy organizing :)


Open Spaces Organizing LLC

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