UnStuff Your Life

Why do we hold on to things we don’t need? A guide to clearing clutter and forming new habitsAndrew Mellen


A clear, quiet mind and an open heart
Whether or not you’ve achieved a degree of organization in the past or consider yourself to be chronically disorganized, set aside all previous assessments of your condition. Good, bad, clumsy, awkward, successful, disappointing—from this point forward, you should focus on “how.” Let “why” or “why not” fall away.

Give yourself a few minutes to quiet your mind and open yourself up to the possibility of having everything that serves you within easy reach. Imagine a space where everything has a home and you actually know where that is. Nothing is obscured, nothing is compromised, and everything has a purpose—whether that purpose is purely aesthetic or purely practical or a happy hybrid of the two. Imagine yourself building or assembling this space where harmony and efficiency are happily coupled and nothing that might detract from that harmony is allowed to encroach upon it. If there is any pushback or resistance to this image, remind yourself that creating this space is completely possible— and achieving it doesn’t require you to live like a monk.

Now that you’re centered and you’ve visualized the space you’re going to create, you are ready to begin the process of eliminating any historic or accumulated clutter. If you are diligent in establishing and sticking to the following process and utilizing the recommended tools for creating a simple and useful space, you will never again create a cluttered environment.

The Organizational Triangle
The Organizational Triangle allows us to find anything we’re looking for in 30 seconds or less. It informs us how to begin to dismantle accumulated clutter.

The first leg of the triangle is “One Home for Everything,” and it is what ensures that the “30-second rule” mentioned above always works. Because once everything has a home, it can only either be in its home or in our hands being used.

The second leg of the triangle is “Like with Like,” and that guides us to group all similar items together. The word “all” is very important here. One of the surest ways to slow down the release of historic clutter while beginning to accumulate new clutter is to not group like items with their siblings. It doesn’t take long to find yourself surrounded by duplicates and redundancies, since you have prevented the true volume of any kind of thing from being known by storing parts of the group in several locations.

The third leg of the triangle is “Something In, Something Out.” This final concept centers on achieving what I call stuff equilibrium. Once you have enough of everything that serves you, you are now also clear on what no longer does, and it becomes that much easier to let things go that are redundant, obsolete, or painful to spend time with.

There are no quantified rules about what “enough” looks like. Available square footage and your core values will inform your decisions about your version of “enough.” Be mindful of trying to cram too much stuff into too small a space. Your feelings may attempt to mislead you, but math and square footage will not— feel free to fall back on them if confusion arises. Likewise, feel encouraged to redesign the space in alignment with your core values. If books and reading are core values of yours and you don’t use a traditional living room for entertaining, consider turning your living room into a library. The point is to allow yourself to think outside rigid rules of how space should be used to think of how space might be used to serve you and your values.

While you’re establishing new habits, with a goal being to prevent future accumulation of stuff, you’ll want to allow enough time for these habits to take root. Experts say it takes between 30 and 90 days for new habits to become ingrained, so keep that in mind if or when you find yourself reflecting or analyzing your feelings around this process. Remember, we’re no longer interested in why, only how.

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