So you’ve conquered Step 1, admitted you have a problem, and feel ready to move to a life of clutter-free clarity.
Being mired in more paraphernalia than you can handle means your life is constipated. You’re holding onto stuff from the past, overwhelmed with too much stuff in the present, and fighting to forge a clear path into your future. You need a life laxative to release the stodge and ease your pain. It’s time for…
Step 2: Purge
How do you do it? Simple. I call it the three-bags-and-a-basket method and it involves just six simple steps.
1. Start somewhere
Pick a room. Begin somewhere easy so you can take the success with you to more challenging spaces. If a whole room is daunting, begin with your wardrobe, a cupboard, even a drawer. It doesn’t matter. As long as you feel ready to do some clearing, the momentum will take you along.
2. Get receptacle-ready
Collect three large bin liners and a big basket or laundry hamper. It’s a good idea to put an easy-to-read label on each bag so you don’t get confused and can work quickly – momentum is a key part of this process.
The labels are:
- Trash: anything not used/worn in the past 12 months and in poor condition
- Charity: anything not used/worn in the past 12 months and in good condition
- Repair: anything you would have used/worn in the past 12 months but couldn’t because it needed fixing.
Re-assure yourself that if you need something later you can replace it. In my experience it’s rare to need a discarded item; but even then, the joy of being clutter-free greatly outweighs the small inconvenience of re-buying something you previously had.
The basket is for stuff belonging in the trash pile which you aren’t quite ready to release from your life. When you’re done, it will go to a friend’s garage for 6 months – by which time you’ll probably have forgotten about it and your friend can send it the way of all trash. (Be kind and choose a friend whose garage isn’t worse than yours.)
3. Expect excuses
Clutter represents all manner of psychological baggage and there will be resistance.
This process will test your every inclination to hoard, every conviction that you will one day break out that Ab-roller and achieve your very own six-pack, every heartfelt fear that your life will be unspeakably empty without your Bedazzler.
A part of you will seek to procrastinate, rationalize or make excuses. Expect these tactics and more – it’s normal.
You can give in and put the process off, blame someone for your crap-filled home, see a shrink to process your spatial constipation – but you’ll still end up stuck in your stuff.
Or you can summon your inner Borg, chant ‘Resistance is futile’ and begin moving from clutter to clarity.
4. Empty everything
Now that you’re physically and mentally set, it’s time to take action.
Whatever the space you’re working on – room, cupboard, desk, drawer – empty it. Take everything out and place it on the floor nearby.
5. Maintain momentum
Now, take one item at a time and place it in the bag where it belongs or, if you genuinely want to keep it, put it back in the space. Move quickly, not thinking too long about each item. Remember – if it turns out you need something later you can buy another one.
Exclusions: You may choose to exclude from this process such loved items as favorite books and CDs, photos and precious items that hold special meaning for you, or beautiful things that give you pleasure when you look at them.
The exclusion does not apply to out-of-date lecture notes and texts, jeans whose zip hasn’t moved since 1998, or figurines you look at only to lament about the dust.
6. Suddenly surfaces
Continue until everything is off the floor. Then move to the next space. Let the music, momentum, and reassurance that you’ll survive and thrive without all your stuff keep you repeating the three-bags-and-a-basket method in every room of your home. Then move on to the garage. (Your office will get a step to itself.)
You’ll know you’re done when:
- Your bags are bulging (you can drop them off at their respective locations)
- You find yourself moving from room to room saying ‘so that’s what color that is’
- You feel so, so good.
Purging is the hardest step in de-cluttering your life – and one you should feel great about achieving. After all that clearing you’ll want to keep the benefits and not fall back into clutter habits.
And that’s just what Step 3 will help you do.