Spring is around the corner! In a previous entry, I talked about using the “Eisenhower Method,” to prioritize your to-do list with labels like “urgent” and “important.” One priority, often labeled “important” and rarely “urgent,” is cleaning house! This post explores some ways to free yourself of clutter!

Many of use have different words for this process: cleaning house, decluttering, spring cleaning. The last of these especially reflects the attitude that this should be a once-a-year (at most!) process, something to get over with in time for summer. While some folks have mastered the art of continuous decluttering, many of us (myself included) postpone until the itch strikes. This ties into security in several ways:

  • Misplaced bills and forms can lead to service charges and late fees.
  • Dust can accumulate in hard-to-reach areas, triggering respiratory issues.
  • Scattered items like loose scissors or cleaning supplies can cause injury or worse.
  • Flammable clutter can pose a safety risk, especially if escape routes are not easily accessible.
  • Visitors who stumble and fall, or who suffer claustrophobia, may be reluctant to return.
  • A cluttered home by definition contains more things to steal and may attract thieves.

My wife used to tease me about my collection of computer supplies, little things like old computer keyboards, power cables, and replacement parts for devices long gone. When pressed for why I keep some item or other, I would respond, “Well, it might come in handy someday!” This is the crux of the problem for me. While reasons vary widely, “future use” is a really easy way to convince yourself to hold on to things. It makes sense for supplies such as lightbulbs or batteries, so why not for all these other things?

When I reluctantly agreed to get rid of maybe just a few supplies, I felt an immediate sense of loss. Just sorting through them was like wading through molasses! Emotionally distraught, I thought about my poor keyboards and cables for a day or two, wondering if I could get them back. After a week, my feelings changed to disappointment that I hadn’t been able to use the items, as though I had challenged myself and lost. It took a whole month before I could stop thinking about them.

The emotional drain of sorting clutter was too much for me. I needed a system to give me permission not to feel guilty. To help cut through my possessions, I started applying this simple three-prong test:

  • Do I use it?
  • Do I need it?
  • Do I love it?

Your toothbrush probably falls under need and not so much love, while your car might fall under both use and need. Work clothes are a use, need, and (if you’re lucky) a love. Your favorite novel is probably a love and occasionally a use. A winter coat you wear only part of the year might be use and love. Overlap is natural and expected.

Using this methodology, I was able to easily ditch an old computer mouse: I neither used nor needed it and only liked, not loved, it—I certainly wouldn’t have wanted it on display! Old keyboards I neither used, needed, nor loved. And so on. When I look at an item now I can immediately evaluate it.

These criteria aren’t enough by themselves. Suppose you have three copies of your favorite novel, and you only read from one. Consider whether you can share your love of reading with someone else by giving away one of your three copies. Maybe you switch off between two winter coats and really need only one of them. Consider whether a shelter might use the other—you might even save a life!

In this post, I examined one way to help cut through clutter. I have related tips I’ll discuss in the future. Please let me know what you think in the comments!