Make a list, check it twice

I use the phrase “what matters most to you” in many of the blog posts I construct on Unclutterer. They’re just five words that don’t mean a great deal on their own, but used together can be the recipe for a remarkable life.

What matters most to you is your motivation for getting clutter out of your life. Your spouse, your children, your creativity, your career, your spirituality, your sense of security, your quality of character, your desire to laugh, your health, your ability to provide for others, or maybe even your love of a hobby might be some of the millions of possibilities that make it onto your list of what matters to you most.

On the bulletin board hanging immediately above my computer monitor is a list of what matters most to me. Every time I look away from my work, I’m reminded about these important things. I remember why I’ve chosen my career, why I write about uncluttering, why I work from home, and why I do everything I do. It’s hard to lose track of my priorities or lose motivation with such a concrete reminder in front of me.

One of my listed items is “embark on new adventures.” I thrive when I’m planning a new project, preparing to cook a new dish, plotting my next vacation, or learning a new skill. Embarking on new adventures isn’t just something I like to do, it matters a great deal to me and I prioritize it above many other things. At least once a week (and usually more often that that), I try something new. Some of the new things I have done this month: built a robot, learned how to operate a dSLR camera, visited Philip Johnson’s Glass House, eaten a meal in a taxidermy-themed restaurant, and successfully made meringue. It’s not that these things were difficult, they were just things I had never done and wanted to do. In doing these things, I also made some sacrifices: I didn’t get the small dent removed from my car’s bumper, I didn’t buy a new dress for an event I attended, I didn’t attend my home owners’ association meeting, I didn’t go to visit my parents (I’ll visit them next month), I didn’t respond to every e-mail in my inbox, and I didn’t go to an acquaintance’s baby shower. I focused on what matters most to me, and I prioritized my attention accordingly. When you focus on what matters most to you, you will do the same.

If you haven’t completed this task before, let me recommend that you open up a new document on your computer or get out a sheet of paper and write down the things that matter to you most. What is included in your remarkable life? What isn’t? Can you envision a life for yourself where you are free to pursue those things that matter most? Create the list and then reference it as often as necessary. As the days go by, you may realize that you put some items on your list that didn’t really matter to you but that you thought should be on there — scratch them off and reconfigure your list to represent the life you desire.

Then, get rid of the clutter, and focus on what matters most to you.

11 Comments for “Make a list, check it twice”

  1. posted by Michele Connolly, Get Organized Wizard on

    Hi Erin,

    I’m also a prodigious maker of lists as a way to focus attention on things that matter and things I want to achieve.

    One of my favorite lists is my ‘Happiness Strategy Pleasure List’, which I use to remind myself of the things that cheer me up and feel good.

    There’s a free downloadable copy for you here:

    Hope it makes you happy, too!
    Michele 🙂

  2. posted by ainara on

    Thank you! The article is motivating, I think 🙂
    Making such a list can be onerous, but it really important to know why one should do his work, get up early every day or get rid of the clutter.

    And doing new things is a great, too! For me it’s a chance to discover what other people like to do – maybe I can enjoy doing it too 🙂

  3. posted by Dawn on

    It’s a tradition for my husband and I to sit down together every New Years Eve and discuss what goals we have for the upcoming year – not really resolutions, but more like goals and desires.

    We make our Family Goals List into 5 columns: 1 for him (research for Florida trip, make healthier snack choices, etc.), 1 for me (scrapbook once per month, read 6 new books, sign up for bone marrow registry, etc.), 1 for our son (like teaching him how to ride his bike or researching private schools, etc.), 1 for our house (install new gate in backyard, paint office, etc.) and then 1 for financial goals.

    It’s fun to review our previous years successes and missteps and look ahead to a new year full of promise and opportunity. We look at our list throughout the year and occasionally make changes to suit our current situations. Marking off completed items is such a joy!
    Personally, putting my goals/dreams/desires down on paper helps me remain focused and driven – and happy!

    Thanks for this post today! I feel motivated and encouraged to continue helping myself and my family achieve their goals and live happy! 🙂

  4. posted by Lose That Girl on

    Just the motivation I need! A little focus is always a good idea. Thanks!

  5. posted by Louise on

    Love it! I also love that you decided yesterday that playing referee on a post’s comments wasn’t enhancing your life and you just turned them off.

    If it isn’t making your life better, if it isn’t furthering your goals, get rid of it. Period.

  6. posted by tbfamily on

    After reading Dawn’s post mentioning her personal goal of joining the bone marrow registry, I simply had to post and say “thank you”.

    I know this is all about each individual reader’s personal goals, and I highly respect (and agree) with that. But I simply have to say that nothing makes it more personal than when someone you love needs a bone marrow transplant (“BMT”).

    Our 15-year-old son was diagnosed “out of the blue” last June (2008) with a rare form of blood cancer. His only hope was a BMT and no one in our family was a match. We were blessed to find a match through the national registry.

    Tragically, our son Eric did not survive his transplant due to a cruel fungal infection that invaded his lungs during his treatment, and he passed away November 7, 2008.

    The loss of our beautiful, red-headed, first-born son has been (and continues to be) devastating to us. However, without the kindness and selflessness of his unknown donor, who at some point made it a personal priority to register as a potential bone marrow donor, he would have never had even a small chance of survival, and we are very grateful to this unknown person. BMT’s save thousands of lives in this country every year, IF a marrow match can be found.

    I know this may seem an unlikely place to post this information, but I simply felt compelled to thank Dawn and to urge everyone who reads this to try and make signing up with the marrow registry a personal priority. You never know when it may become VERY personal for you or your family, or someone else you care about.

    There are many misconceptions about bone marrow registry and donation. Please become more informed by visiting the Be the Match registry website at

    If you are interested in reading more about what happened to our family, what could conceivably happen to any family, please visit the on-line journal I kept during Eric’s treatment at Please make this a personal priority – you have an awesome opportunity to possibly save someone’s life.

  7. posted by Amy on

    This is a great idea.

  8. posted by Little Lovables on

    Thank you so much for the post, as well as those who have commented.

  9. posted by Jude on

    As someone who is not planning to be around in 3 years, my motivation is to not leave a mess for anyone to clean up after I’m gone. None of the reasons you mentioned have any meaning for me, but my mother trained me as a child to always clean the house *before* going on vacation so you could come back to a clean house.

  10. posted by Setting Goals « Northwest Lutheran Blogoboard on

    […] We’ve written in the past about how determining what matters to you most is an important aspect of uncluttering. Not only does focusing on what matters most to you keep up your motivation, but it also helps you to decide priorities for your time, energy, money, and space. “How to Set Goals When You Have No Idea What You Want” is a great resource for getting you thinking about the day-to-day things that are important to you. […]

  11. posted by Elaine on

    Discovering what matters to me is a continual process, but it’s starting to take shape. One way I clarify my values is to look over items in Evernote, and how I tag them. Recipes, politics, history, and yes, organizing, are subjects that I take time to clip articles on for later reading. Knowing what’s going to capture your attention in the news is a big clue. Trimming down the clutter and getting rid of things that don’t reflect your interests or concerns can open your life up to help you focus on, well, the things that matter!

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