by Susan McCarthy
Professional organizer Barbara Hemphill says that clutter is delayed decisions. So if you're struggling to declutter, it's time to develop your decision-making skills.
I was in my late 30s/early 40s when I started decluttering. I'd learned from my parents that you should hold onto everything because you might need it someday.
So, perhaps it goes without saying that I had no clue how to declutter. Oh, and I was wracked with doubt whenever I thought, "I won't need this. Right?" I decluttered slowly. Cautiously. Would I really lose weight and want to wear that skirt again? What if I wanted to read that book again. What if, what if, what if.
What knocked me out of that mindset was emptying my parents' house. Hauling stuff to one of the four 30-yard dumpsters that it took to empty that 800-square-foot house, made me see what happens when you hold onto everything.
After that, decision-making came a bit easier as I sorted through my stuff. Was I doubt-free? (Am I doubt-free?) No! But the thing about making decisions is that it's like exercising a muscle. Sometimes making a decision is a strain. Other times, I don't even register the thought process.
Was it a lack of decision-making skills that had my parents hold onto four (or was it five) broken toasters...just in case the new one they bought stopped working?
Making decisions still requires thought. Given the opportunity, I'll decide to not to decide...but I know that really just leaves me stuck in place.
Develop your decision-making skills and get organized
Whether you’re working on decluttering your space or your schedule, chances are you're asking questions like,
Decisions, decisions, decisions. And even if they aren’t life-changing questions (for example, will I ever wear this pink sweater again?), you must decide if you want to move forward. And if you spend too much time in the land of “I don’t know,” you’ll be busy, but nothing will really get done. This is both frustrating and exhausting.
Hot decisions, cold decisions
If you have difficulty making decisions, then you may end up in default mode, either making decisions too quickly...or too slowly.
Researchers have decided that if making decisions is a challenge, then we may make decisions that are either hot or cold.
If you’ve made hot decisions in the past, depending on the situation, you may appreciate how quickly you could think, or you may have regretted your impulsiveness. Grabbing the arm of the stranger you see about to step into traffic, fantastic quick decision-making. Agreeing to a project without considering your current schedule, not too great a choice.
Cold decisions are those where you dawdle making up your mind after considering too many elements. You’re burnt out from overthinking and you make a decision for the sake of having made a decision.
Unfortunately, by the time you make that decision, it may be moot – someone else has made the decision, the offer has expired, or all that thinking has drained the joy out of what you have opted to do.
Build your decision-making skills
So, can you become more a more decisive decision maker? When you're decluttering your home, you'll be making decisions about everything in your home. That can feel pretty overwhelming!
You start wondering if you'll regret getting rid of something. Then you start wondering about finding just the right person or place to give the things you no longer want. Even doing something like finding your important, favorite mementos for a keepsake can be a challenge. You know that you can't keep everything, but how do you choose?
Determine what's important to you
When you declutter, your focus isn't just on the things you don't want. Really, you're focusing on what you do want. You're not depriving yourself of the things you use and enjoy. By focusing on what matters most to you, you create more space for those things and experiences.
Listen to your intuition
It isn’t necessary to focus only on the logic of one choice over another. Notice how you feel when you consider your options. If you aren’t used to paying attention to your body’s responses to different thoughts, this can take some time getting used to.
As you hold onto an item, say something that was a gift, do you feel as if something or someone is pressing down on your shoulders or pushing against your chest or do you feel as if it is easier to breath? What choice, keep or let go, brings a smile to your lips?
Is this an irrational way to make a decision? If it isn’t going to harm you or someone else (and if it was, chances are you wouldn’t be feeling the happy, sparkly bubbles), then why not listen to what, deep down, you know you want.
Find a quiet space
It can be difficult to choose when there is a lot of visual or auditory noise and clutter surrounding you. Also, too much movement around you can also be distracting. Some of these things grabbing your attention might not have anything to do with the decision you're trying to make but they’re distracting you and making it more difficult to see what really matters.
Take a deep breath and find a quiet space to decide. (Yes, the bathroom is an acceptable option if there's a lot of people around.) If you’re decluttering and are overwhelmed by all the stuff in the space where you’re working, drape sheets over the stuff that isn't part of your current project.
Temporarily covering the piles of paper stacked on a table allows you to focus on the stuff on the desk in front of you. You aren’t ignoring the other stuff but instead acknowledging that you aren’t working on it right now.
Set a deadline
If a task or project doesn’t come with a deadline, you’ll want to set a due date and put it on the calendar so decision-making doesn’t become a never-ending, open-ended process. With a due date, you’ll be far more focused and motivated to decide than if there is no timeframe.
If you keep saying that you want to hold a yard sale, set the date, make the signs. If you've been dawdling with decluttering, this deadline will prompt you into action.
And don’t go crazy trying to decide on the right due date! If this is becoming a sticking point, ask a friend, coworker of family member what they suggest and go with that.
Get others involved in the decision-making process
As the previous tip suggested, sometimes you can ask for help in choosing what to do. Depending upon how important the decision is, you could ask one person or several. Not certain whether that dress is a keeper? Put it on, snap a picture, and then post on social media asking whether it’s still fashionable and let others chime in.
However, and this is the important part, you are simply getting the opinions of others – they aren’t making the decision. So, it’s still your responsibility for making the choice that’s right for you. There’s no complaining that everyone told you to ditch the waffle iron when you know you'll use it six or eight times during the year.
List the pros and cons
If you’re trying to decide what to do with a collection that you've gathered over the years, grab pen and paper, divide the page down the middle and in one column list the benefits of keeping it and in the other column, list the negative points of holding onto it. Think about what you’ll gain ( or lose) by making a particular decision.
And, really, write this down instead of allowing the thoughts to bounce around in your mind. Writing things down forces you to get clearer in ways that simply thinking of something doesn’t.
Give yourself more time
I remember working for a manager who was forever backtracking on the answer he’d give to a question. I started prefacing questions with, “I don’t want an answer now, but could you tell me by Wednesday if this will be possible.” Even still, he’d answer right away and then two days later tell me how he’d changed his mind. Frustrating? Yup.
If you aren’t certain what to do…or you know that you usually regret your initial decision or action, give yourself some more time. Be specific about when you’ll decide – in a few hours, the next day, the next week.
Pop items in a box and label it with the date you'll return to the items. I find that I need to keep items someplace visible...each time I walk by it, it gets me thinking if I want to hold onto it or let it go.
Determine when you'll stop gathering information
Whether you’re thinking over a decision or gathering information to make an informed choice, at some point, you’ll need to stop collecting data, and make an informed decision based on what you have.
Remember, it’s impossible to look at every option. You might base how much research you’ll do in relation to the amount of money being spent. For example, you’d spend more time looking at a new closet system than a scarf hanger.
In fact, giving yourself too many options will only make it more difficult to choose what you want. Consider some of the other tips already covered here to help you stay focused, like determining what’s important or establishing a due date (even an arbitrary one.)
Plan for repeat decisions
Are there tasks that come up every year that require making a decision? Put the task on your calendar so you don’t forget it and don’t waste time deciding to do it. You know you’re going to contact the accountant about doing your taxes, so put it on your calendar and when it pops up, you’ll schedule that appointment and start organizing your papers.
Decide that you'll do the seasonal switch of the clothing in your closet on the first day of the season. Make every Wednesday evening the time you file the paperwork that's come in during the previous week. This eliminates the "should I do this now or later" decision-making that takes up your time and mental energy.
Practice your decision-making skills
Get in the habit of writing down your options or even talking out loud. While your thoughts can swirl around your skull, all demanding your attention, you can only write or speak one option at a time. This helps you focus.
Some research suggests that we make 35,000 decisions a day! You aren’t indecisive about every choice that comes your way (otherwise you’d still be in bed) so don’t worry if some decisions take more time than others.
Decluttering is a great way to practice decision making (just stay focused on things that belong to you). You’ll create some extra space while becoming more comfortable with judging what works for you.
How to develop your decision-making skills