An axiom of organizing is that clutter often represents unmade decisions. Since decision-making is often difficult and time-consuming, it helps when we can have basic rules for whole categories of things, so we don’t have to make decisions about each item individually.
Here are some examples, just to get you thinking. Of course, your own basic rules might be very different from the ones I’m listing.
You might decide that news magazines only get kept for a week, because the information is dated very quickly. For other magazines, you might decide that the backlog of unread copies will be no more than five, because you’re never going to have the time to read more than that.
Dinah Sanders lists categories of books you might decide you can discard, ranging from out-of-date reference books to cookbooks that no longer fit the way you eat.
Some discards are obvious: photos that are out of focus, or ones that have people’s heads cut off. But you might also want to discard the ones that are unbecoming shots of yourself or others, the ones of acquaintances or co-workers you can’t even remember, and the shots of scenery when you know you could easily get better photos online. Then there are duplicates, or near duplicates, where you may want to say you’ll keep the best one or two photos. A more all-encompassing rule would be to get rid of all those photos that don’t have either personal sentimental value or great artistic value: the less-than-stunning photos of flowers, sunsets, the neighbor’s dog, etc.
Clothes that don’t fit
If you think you’re likely to lose weight and don’t want to give away all the clothes that don’t fit right now, you can still set rules for which ones are definitely not going to be keepers. Even if you do indeed lose that weight, you won’t want clothes that are going to look dated or that don’t fit the way you dress now. And you probably want to give away those that were never quite right: the color was wrong, the item was uncomfortable, it required too much care, etc. And you might set a simple rule like, “I’ll only keep the things that really inspire me to lose that weight, because I’d really like to wear them again!”
Old greeting cards
My own rules include not keeping cards that don’t have personal messages in them. And here’s a different sort of rule: I give myself a specific amount of space for these cards. Once the box is full, I need to be more selective, and keep fewer cards.
Food storage containers
You might have a favorite brand of storage containers, and decide to only keep those types of containers. Or you might decide to only keep square and rectangular containers, because they use space better than round ones do.
Things needing repair
You may want to say that if the repair doesn’t get done in the next three months, you’ll acknowledge it just isn’t likely to ever happen, and the item needs to be discarded. You might also set some basic rules about how much time you’re willing to give to the repairs; sometimes, the time investment might not be worth it to you.
If you have some basic rules that work well for you, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.