How to De-clutter

Posted by Ben Thompson on 04.17.11



I have been on a quest to de-clutter our home. For me it all boils down to this mantra, “If I Don’t Need It I Don’t Want It.” I took a few steps closer to the outcome of my mantra this weekend. Mind you, this was my birthday weekend…so that either means I really want a life less cluttered, or I don’t have any hobbies. The main goal of my birthday was to clean my basement. That’s what I spent all of yesterday doing. I spent 3 hours this afternoon picking up where I left off yesterday.


Idea 1 – Remove multiple landing spaces. I often wear a pair of pants multiple times between washings. I take my dress shirts to the cleaners. I can wear most of my shirts twice if I hang them up right after work. The problem I found was that I had this convenient coat tree in my bedroom that I would use instead of hanging up my shirts on hangers. I have an organized closet, and I have four hanging hooks in my closet and I was short circuiting my system by using the coat tree. So I removed the coat tree from our room and put it in the donate section of our lower garage.

Idea 2 – Remove trash. My first pass at cleaning the basement was to locate and eliminate trash. I threw out a shoe organizer I made in 6th grade wood shop. At the office we keep a pile for scrap metal that we return periodically for our breakfast fund or for money to buy company owned tools. I loaded up 70 lbs of iron weights and an incredibly heavy drafting table we got for Kristin when she was in art school at Kendall College. I moved fast and in an hour I filled the floor space of a cargo van with trash.

Idea 3 – Make a Goodwill run. I was pretty tired at the end of the day yesterday after I got rid of the basement trash but I decided to make a run to Goodwill to donate stuff. Instead of writing every item for donation I took the video camera on my phone and narrated the items for donation. Saying and showing 10 boxes of books takes literally 3 seconds. Speaking of books. My rule is if there is less than a 70% chance I will want to read the book again, then I donate it. Reviewing my library reminds me how many cool books I do have and instantly re-energizes my reading list.

Idea 4 – Buy cool gear. I asked for a $100 rolling storage rack for my birthday. I got one Friday night. If you want to get organized, buy some cool gear. If you want to organize your office, again, buy cool gear. I find that “fun” & “cool” supports not too fun goals like being more organized. I contend that all of those people at the gym are at the gym because they have sporty costumes. Health is the byproduct, whereas the costumes are the real motivators. Boom, a secret to human behavior exposed!

Idea 5 – Set a time limit. A few weeks ago I put on my home projects list to spend 15 minutes organizing paint cans. I didn’t write down, “CLEAN basement.” I wrote down a time bound, finite deliverable. ”Remove non-current paint cans for 15 minutes.” I started with that easy to achieve goal and kept going all afternoon and decided to go back for a few hours today to “finish.”

Idea 6 – Be okay with progress. The outcome of my weekend cleanout was substantial but I still have 35% of the stuff in the basement storage room that I have to sort through. All of our stuff is now in zones. The next step is working my way through each zone.

Idea 7 – Sweeping makes a huge difference. If you only have 5 minutes to spend on your basement then stack stuff up and sweep the walkways. The act of sweeping feels really good. It’s a quick win or finishing touch to any organization project.

Idea 8 – Backlog sucks energy – My favorite accomplishment of my weekend basement clean up was to go through a few boxes dating from as far back as 1996. The 10 boxes had papers, pictures, college essays, and memories. I was able to have some fun reliving the past, and it felt great to throw out trash. After all, how many copies of my senior pictures or an ex-girlfriend, do I need? But it sure was fun to relive the summer Kristin and I first met! 10 boxes became 1 box of keepsakes.

So that’s what I did on my birthday weekend. My mom called yesterday to wish me a happy birthday yesterday. I asked her what it said about me that I was choosing to clean my basement on my birthday. Her response, “You’re an adult.” Just so that I can finish this blog post with a few cool points, I did plan a weekend away for Kristin and I next weekend up in Traverse City, MI sans kids.

Remember: “If I don’t need it, I don’t want it!”

Topics: Love Where You Live, Basement, cleaning, de-clutter, Goodwill, declutter, how to