Tough calls and hard decisions

When you work to clear the clutter from a space, I recommend that you sort objects into three piles: keep, purge, and other. The keep pile is filled with things you plan to keep, the purge pile is filled with things you wish to get rid of (trash, recycle, donate to charity), and the other pile is for things that require additional action (return to library, take to tailor to be hemmed, take to cobbler to be resoled, etc.). Unfortunately, there is usually a fourth category of items — the tough calls.

I’m of the opinion that it’s okay to keep tough calls, at least in the short term. When it comes time to put things back to their permanent homes (a place for everything, and everything in its place), you’ll know if you have space to store the item. If you don’t have space, get rid of the object. If you have space, put the object in a box and seal up the box with tape. Write the date on the top of the box and what you would do with the item if you got rid of it (sell on Craigslist, give to Aunt Lynda). At some point in the future, six months is usually a good length of time, if you haven’t opened the box just do whatever the directions on the box tell you to do. Except for items you plan to sell, you don’t even need to open up the box and look at the item before getting rid of it.

As far as tough calls are concerned, I’ve found that they reduce in number the more uncluttering you do. The temporary holding box is a reassuring safety net when you’re first getting your footing. I think it’s an excellent way to help others ease into uncluttering, too.

16 Comments for “Tough calls and hard decisions”

  1. posted by Michele Connolly, Get Organized Wizard on

    Hi Erin,

    I like your idea of writing instructions on the ‘tough call’ items – it gives you a safety net without keeping the stuff around.

    I have a similar idea in my ‘three-bags-and-a-basket’ decluttering method (described in detail here: http://www.getorganizedwizard......-and-home/).

    The basket is for stuff you don’t need but are reluctant to release from your life. After the ‘three-bags-and-a-basket’ decluttering process, you send the basket to a friend’s garage for six months – by which time you’ve forgotten about it and your friend can send it the way of all trash.

    Of course you need to be kind and choose a friend whose garage isn’t worse than yours. 🙂


  2. posted by becoming minimalist on

    absolutely. great advice.

    i’ve found that it is the “tough calls” that can really slow down, hamper, or frustrate the minimalizing process. giving yourself permission to hold onto the item for a set “trial period” allows you to move past the item in question onto other items and rooms.

  3. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    Excellent advice. Having a safe holding place for those things you are truly conflicted about helps you keep up your momentum — you don’t have to stop progress on everything else to spend twenty minutes debating whether you should keep Grandma’s teacup because it’s the only thing of hers you have or move it along because the gold-gilt roses really don’t go with your midcentury modern decor.

    Pick the low-hanging fruit first — get rid of the easy stuff. Purging is a process, not a one-time-only event.

  4. posted by Loren on

    The things in my ‘tough call’ usually gets given to people that I think will enjoy them. Box of comics and book that used to hold real sentimental value, but I have room for and hadn’t looked at for years, went to a good friend and his nephew.
    I keep a small box in the closet next to the goodwill box of things that someone I know would probably like, if they don’t want or need it, it gets moved to the goodwill box.

  5. posted by Eleanor on

    Agreed. Another benefit of keeping certain things out of the ‘purge’ box is being able to sit and go through the ‘tough call’ box when you’re in a more contemplative/creative state of mind. When calmly going through one of my ‘maybe’ boxes, I was inspired to turn an old teacup into a ring holder for when I’m doing housework, and to turn an old doily crocheted by a relative into an embellishment for a cushion. In the midst of purging, it’s unlikely I would have thought, ‘I could keep that, and sew it to a cushion’.

  6. posted by Molly on

    Ha! My family and I have “boxes of crap” exchanges, in which all the likely “tough calls” go to another’s house. They can get chucked/saved/donated as desired. No hard feelings. And HILARIOUS to go through!

  7. posted by Catherine Cantieri, Sorted on

    This is such great advice, Erin. I think of the tough calls as being the one-handed push-up of organizing. There’s no shame in not being able to do it off the bat, and the more regular push-ups you do, the easier that one-handed sucker becomes.

  8. posted by Susan on

    I’ve used the bag it up, date it process several times when trying to pare down items in my clothes closet. Warning – this only works if you do NOT open the package before followng the instructions on the specified date. Open the package and all is lost.

  9. posted by Farrah on

    Definitely agree with this. I’ve been living in summer housing (I’m in college) and didn’t see the point of unpacking most of my stuff. I just have a bunch of boxes around and only my essentials are out. Made me realize how much I don’t need all that stuff in all those boxes.

  10. posted by Jeanne B. on

    Thank you. I needed permission to have a Tough Call pile. Now that I do, the sorting prospect doesn’t seem so final and scary.

  11. posted by Gladys on

    The Touch Call pile is excellent advice! About 18 months ago, I began a major shift in my life which included major decluttering. Still, there were some things I was reluctant to let go of. About 6 months ago, as more shifting occurred, I found I could easily let go of it. This is encouraging to me, helping me to realize that just because I’m not ready to let go of something today doesn’t mean I’ll never be able to let go of it.

  12. posted by Marie on

    Boxing things up and forgetting them is the only way I can get my husband to part with anything. If it’s right in front of him, he swears it’s essential, no matter how many inches of dust it holds.

    I do it with books, and then take the unopened box to the library.

  13. posted by Julia1060 on

    I love the idea of boxing, labeling and (advance) directing as well. As a teacher of theatre, I can (fortunately or not) see a use for nearly everything that comes through my work or home space. This method bypasses those sneaky triggers (visual) for holding on, keeping back or avoiding letting go. And, it represents a SMART goal – yay, Erin!

  14. posted by Sean S. on

    This is certainly practical advice, but it seems to betray the nature of the problem. The very fact that an item is a “tough call” necessarily means that it is difficult to throw away. Lack of space might nudge you towards discarding it, but the powerful emotional weight of keeping it will easily pull it back. How do we overcome this?

  15. posted by Business Development | Social Media Literacy | » Productivity Recap- July 31st/09 on

    […] Erin of Unclutterer discusses how to decide what to keep and what to throw away in her post “Tough calls and hard decisions”. Discusses the process of sorting clutter into three sections, plus the extra forth, the tough call pile. […]

  16. posted by Maega on

    Thanks for this!!! I have been wondering what to do with some (very un-needed) items that I have emotional attachment to. This gives me “permission” to take my time parting with them.

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