Clutter in the office and at home causes distraction and stress, say researchers from the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute. According to their findings, cluttered surroundings overwhelm the brain’s visual cortex and lead to anxiety, inability to focus and difficulty processing and recalling information. These problems lead to less fulfilling personal time and less productive work time.
So how do you conquer the clutter to organize and simplify your daily life? Let’s look at the root of the problem and explore how organizing your home or office can make you happier, healthier and more productive
Sunk Cost: Knowing When It’s OK To Let Go
When you pay for something and can’t just return it for a refund, that’s a sunk cost. The term usually refers to something you wish you hadn’t paid for but feel obligated to use because you already sunk money into it.
That’s the mindset behind the sunk cost fallacy, the idea that when you’ve bought something, you must use it regardless of whether it is beneficial now or not.
For example, suppose you bought a large piece of exercise equipment, one that you can use for a full arm, leg, and core muscle workout. It’s been taking up a third of your living room for about a year and you rarely use it. You don’t like using it, and don’t see a time when you will suddenly change your mind about it, yet you feel obligated to keep it because you spent maybe $500 on it and you can’t return it. You rationalize this by thinking, “Someday, I might change my mind, and I really should exercise with it.”
The takeaway is this: a sunk cost should not be a factor in making decisions now. To further illustrate why think about this. You have sunk $500 into that machine, and whatever you do, you won’t get all that money back. If you keep it, you’ll feel miserable every time you look at it taking up your living room space. If you sell it or donate it, you will still have lost most or all of that $500, but you’ll improve the atmosphere in your living room tremendously. In the first case, you’ve compounded one negative with another negative. In the second, you still have the first negative, but you also have a positive.
Keep the sunk costs fallacy in mind when getting rid of clutter. Clearing the clutter means keeping your most important items and, out of the rest, deciding between selling, donating, or throwing things away. When you stop thinking about how much an item originally cost, it’s easier to decide what to do with it based on current information only.
Here are some specific ideas for going through your belongings and figuring out what to keep, what to donate, what to sell, and what to throw out.
Pick a room to clean. If the room has trash lying about, clean that up first. Then, put all items that belong in other rooms into a basket. Dump them on the kitchen table, then sort them by room with an extra pile for things you can sell or donate. Put the items in their correct rooms, sort the rest into a “sell” box and a “donations” box, and put the boxes by your front door. Keep in mind the sunk cost fallacy! Be honest if each item is something that you think you will actually use. If not, sell or donate it. Clutter bust one room per day so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Your Good Tableware
Use your good tableware, glasses, and silverware every day! Why restrict this pleasant part of life to only special occasions? This will allow you to sell, donate, or throw out your not-so-nice everyday tableware and to declutter your kitchen cabinets. If you have, say, cups that you enjoy, like special coffee mugs, then by all means, keep those. Decluttering isn’t about cutting everything out of your life down to the bare essentials. It’s about improving your life by simplifying.
Declutter Your Wardrobe
This is a big one! It can be especially difficult to get rid of clothes, so go through them and really think about what you wear and what you don’t. If it’s something you haven’t worn for the last six months or so and is in good condition, donate it to a thrift shop. If it’s in bad condition, bring it to a cloth recycling center or throw it out.
One popular method for decluttering your wardrobe works like this. Turn all of your clothes on hangers so they’re facing left. Each time you’ve worn and washed one of these outfits, return it to the closet facing right. In six months, by the end of the warm or cold season, you’ll be able to see at a glance what you have worn during that time. Get rid of the rest.
Put Seasonal Items in Storage
I suggested six months for the clothing decluttering exercise because much of the country has distinct summer and winter seasons. Still, why leave your off-season clothes hanging in your closet when you aren’t going to wear them for months? Consider getting a small storage locker or using valet storage which provides a convenient way to store just a few boxes. A valet storage company will drop off boxes for you and pick them up once you’ve filled them, usually for free, and you pay roughly between $5 and $8 per box as long as it’s in the company’s warehouse. Two or three boxes may be enough to store all your off-season clothes.
You can use the same self-storage facility or valet storage service to store your seasonal decorations, like Christmas or Halloween adornments. Perhaps your family likes to go swimming, fishing, or camping in the summer. You could store your beach and other outdoors items half the year, making room in your garage. Once you know how much you plan to store, look into the pricing advantages of each type of storage.