The Latin phrase tabula rasa translates into English as “blank slate.” Philosopher John Locke described tabula rasa as a person who is similar to a piece of paper void of any characters. Poet William Blake wrote about it as innocence and said its opposite is experience. For our purposes, we’re going to use the phrase to represent a room empty of everything except for its permanent fixtures.
When uncluttering and organizing a room using the tabula rasa method, you start by moving everything — absolutely everything — that isn’t affixed to the walls, floor, or ceiling out of the room. As you’re pulling out the items, group them together by type on your dining room table or on a tarp covering the ground in your garage or back yard (assuming it’s a day when it’s not expected to rain). Shoes should be piled with other shoes or can openers with other can openers.
Once everything is out of the room, assess the space: Are any of the fixtures damaged? Does any paint need to be applied? Is every surface as clean as possible? Do any light bulbs need to be replaced? Do you need new storage shelves? When the room is empty, now is the time to address these structural issues.
After making repairs and cleaning, walk through the space and evaluate how you use it: What do you do in this space? How could you arrange the room to best meet your needs? Using sticky notes, label zones based on what you do in that area. If working in your bathroom, the sink area might be labeled “Toothbrushing, makeup application/shaving, hand washing.”
Next, head to your stuff that is in piles. Take with you a trash bag, your recycling bin, and two large boxes with one labeled “Donate/Sell” and the other “Special Attention.” Diligently go through each pile of your stuff and sort its contents into: Keep (simply leave it in the pile), Trash (put it straight into the trash bag), Recycle (put it into the recycling bin), Donate/Sell (put items you will donate to charity or sell into this box), and Special Attention (only put items in this box that need you to do something specific with them that doesn’t fall into the other categories).
After everything has been sorted, return the Keep items to their new storage area closest to their use zone in the room.
When all of the Keep items are in their new homes, you still aren’t finished uncluttering and organizing the room. You still need to address the Trash, Recycle, Donate/Sell, and Special Attention containers you created earlier. Obviously, put Trash with your other trash, and return your Recycle bin to its place. Then, sort through your Donate/Sell box and handle these items as necessary. Schedule times to drop off the charity donations at the collection site and immediately list sell items on eBay, Craigslist, or whatever system you want to use to sell your things. Finally, sort through your Special Attention items and do whatever you need to do to take care of these items. If you need to repair or return objects, do it right now or get it scheduled on your calendar. Don’t let these items continue to clutter up your life, just in another area of your home.
Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s easiest to do tabula rasa uncluttering and organizing projects when you have the entire day or weekend to focus on the project. If you schedule only a few hours, you leave out the final step of addressing the Donate/Sell and Special Attention boxes and these items will continue to weigh on you. When you give yourself a day or two, you can complete the project from start to finish.