Try This Simple Decluttering Tool and Enjoy a Less Chaotic Life

Fact: the physical space that we inhabit on a daily basis, especially our homes, is an extension of our minds and attitudes. Your thoughts influence your actions, your actions influence your environment, your thoughts respond accordingly, and so on.

I don't need to offer a strong argument that the passive life—that is, the life where other people and random events have determined your course—is no life at all. Bearing that fact in mind, your surroundings shouldn't be an afterthought, but a map of the deliberate decisions you've made to make the best use of your time, energy, and resources.

I recently wrote about how you can hack your habits by deliberately organize your home; this is one specific application of that precept. The goal here is to reduce clutter, and the tool is a simple, easy-to-memorize maxim:

If it's worth having it, it's worth having a place for it.

Reread that a few times, because the parallel syntax makes your mind stutter at first. (Rhetoric nerds: this is an example of symploce, right?)

Then step back and apply the precept to the most cluttered area of your home. You know what I'm talking about—that room where you have to consistently push aside your life's flotsam to access the countertop, where you can never seem to find anything, where your blood pressure never seems to settle to normal levels. (Or, you know, it could just be your whole apartment!)

Now, ask yourself:

Are these things in your life worth having? Are each of these objects worth the maintenance you have to perform to keep them functioning well? Is all of this worth your time and effort?

Only you can answer those questions, but for me, the answer ranges the full yes-no spectrum with a whole lotta maybe in between.

Now, let's take each one of those objects and assign a particular place in the house to each one. Literally: every. single. one. The good news is that you've already done this for most of your belongings—I mean, your toothbrush lives in your bathroom on the counter instead of floating between the garage and patio and kitchen, right?

For example:

  • Paper bills? Pop them in the back of your physical planner until you can pay them, then reduce paper bills but signing up for online billing.
  • Physical planner? Place it at the very end of the kitchen counter, because you refer to it first thing in the morning when you're making coffee.
  • Headphones? They should live in the drawer near your desk, because you use them most often while working. Or perhaps with your gym bag? Maybe even your bedside table?

If you can't for the life of you figure out where to put that thing, and it really doesn't make sense to store it for later, I implore you—get rid of it! Please! Someone else will benefit from this object that you don't find valuable enough to make space for, and you will get all this junk up out of your eyeball to make room for the stuff that really matters.

Even more importantly…

When you declutter in this way, you'll be able to spend less time dealing with unwanted stuff and will have more time to spend on something much more valuable: people.