One of my favorite clutter-clearing sayings comes from Gail Blanke, author of Throw Out Fifty Things: You can’t grow if you don’t let go. Sage advice, whether you’re clearing out ill-fitting suits, getting over a breakup, or starting a new career. But we all have trouble prying our fingers from the stuff we love, even when it doesn’t suit us anymore. And when you cling to ideas that don’t serve you, you’re putting yourself in an emotional and spiritual straitjacket.
At the heart of any clutter habit is fear, and that fear manifests as indecision—which is why you keep two yoga mats and an old pair of boots that you don’t wear but can’t part with. And so you do nothing, decide to decide later, or not at all. But even indecision is a decision.
The result is another source of stress. You might think stress hits when you don’t have enough of something—money, time, or control, for instance—but too much of something can also clog up the works and create a negative stress response.
If you’re clinging to old things, whether they’re actual objects or outdated ideas of yourself, you’re staying stuck right where you are. And it’s keeping you from moving forward into the life you want.
Cut Through the Clutter in 3 Steps
You can become so accustomed to your stuff that you cease to see it or how it’s holding you back. Here’s a short guide to figuring out where to focus your energies and why.
1. Do a walk-through.
Start from your bed and follow the typical path of where your morning routine leads you—to the bathroom, then to the kitchen, maybe the laundry room, and so on. Do this at another time (not when you’re actually trying to get out the door). Pretend it’s your first time doing it. Where do you get slowed down? What piles or unsorted stuff gets in your way? Where are you compromising the straightest, easiest path from A to B to C and why? Jot down those areas that are speed-bumping your morning and address them—by sorting it, storing it, or giving it away. Repeat in reverse, from where you walk in at night.
2. Assess your schedule.
Take a look at your calendar for the next month. Where will you be spending your days and evenings—and thus your time? How much of it do you want to do, and how much is a complete and total drag. Also: How much of it is the same as last month? Identify the wiggle room, the negotiable spots, and some time that you can cordone off for your own goals and initiatives. Decide now to make some changes, whether that means shifting things around, or straight-up canceling on the things you frankly don’t need to do anymore. Reschedule your way out of the rut by guarding your time a little more jealously.
3. Do a thought scan.
Take five minutes right now to write down top three things you want to do, achieve, or have happen in the next six months. How much closer are you to doing them than you were six months ago? What excuse have you been using? Next to each goal, write down all the excuses, and the thoughts and fears that come up when you consider going for them, such as: I’m too old, I don’t know where to start, or I’m afraid of embarrassing myself. Question those thoughts (find out how negative thoughts hold you back). And then? Take those tiny fears and old thoughts and toss them out, along with the unworn boots, the books you’ll never read, and the suits that simply don’t fit you anymore.