The many ways to categorize your stuff

How do you choose to group things when you’re putting them on shelves, in cabinets, in closets, etc.?

I recently watched a video from the Field Museum’s Brain Scoop series with Emily Graslie where she dives into taxonomy: “a totally complicated, really interesting field of science responsible for the naming and classification of things.”

To do this, she had four taxonomists, who usually deal with things like beetles, discussing the taxonomy of candy.

And the taxonomists had fun with it. Olivier Rieppel said, “Organisms you classify according to their evolutionary relationships. With candy or office furniture or whatever you classify according to similarities.” So they wound up suggesting classification based on contents (chocolate covered or not, for example), by shape, by size, and by color.

Margaret Thayer didn’t think much of using color, though. She said, “That would be like taking a whole bunch of different red birds and putting them all together because they’re red, but one of them is a cardinal and one is some kind of duck.”

But Larry Heaney, who suggested grouping by color, said, “That’s the thing about candy. You can put it together, you can group them any way you want.”

Besides making me crave some candy, the Brain Scoop video made me think about the many ways you might choose to group things in your home of office. Just as with candy, you can use any groupings you want, as long as they work for you.

For example, books can be classified using the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress classification system, or by any other method you like, including:

  • Genre (science fiction, historical fiction, history, art, etc.)
  • Alphabetical order by author
  • Size
  • Color
  • Chronological order, especially for series or any books by a single author
  • Status: read vs. not yet read
  • Owned vs. borrowed: library books, books borrowed from friends, and books you own
  • Language, if you have books in multiple languages
  • Owner, in a multi-person household

These classifications can be nested (by author within a genre, for example) and combined. Sometimes you might need to compromise from your ideal grouping to accommodate the storage space you have, especially when it comes to oversized books.

While some may question your choices — as with the candy, some people mock those who group books by color — whatever helps you find the right book when you want it is the right system for you.

Similarly, clothes might be classified by:

  • Type: pants, T-shirts, coats, etc.
  • Use: work vs. non-work, for example
  • Color (which can make a lot of sense in this situation)
  • Season (winter vs. summer clothes)
  • Fabric (because some fabrics may require different storage solutions)
  • Size (for those whose size tends to fluctuate, or for children’s clothing when you have clothes for both the current size and the next ones, or if you’re storing clothes for a second child)
  • Length (to accommodate items needing a long-hang area)
  • Freshly washed vs. worn but still clean

If the groupings you’re currently using for your books, clothes or other items aren’t working for you, think about what might work better and give it a try.

Organize goals with the SELF Journal

There are numerous tools on the market to help you organize your goals, and I’ve recently began to use one that might also interest you: The SELF Journal. This little notebook is something I backed on Kickstarter back in 2015. After receiving my journal in December, I used it to successfully plan and implement a new season of my podcast. The experience was so positive, I’ve decided to share it with you.

Are you setting goals effectively?

The problem with goal setting is that many people do it in a way that doesn’t help them to achieve their goals. Many set unrealistic goals (run a marathon next weekend without any training), underestimate completion time, or fail to review progress.

Another big hiccup is not having a plan. Let’s say you set a goal of organizing the garage, top to bottom. Simply saying, “I’m going to organize the garage this weekend,” isn’t enough and probably won’t work. The SELF Journal, aside from being well-made and attractive, features a built-in system for moving toward a goal effectively, day by day.

The SELF Journal method

When my journal arrived last December, I was ready to dive in. I had a project that needed a lot of time and attention, and the journal seemed like a perfect fit for helping me to achieve it. In a nutshell, the book uses these methods:

  1. You create a 13-week roadmap. Many poorly-crafted goals lack a distinct beginning, middle, and end. The SELF Journal helps you to create this timeline and write it down.
  2. A procrastination-busting calendar. You’re encouraged to fill every working time slot with a relevant activity. No, “just checking Twitter real quick” does not count.
  3. Prioritized planning. You’re meant to plan tomorrow’s tasks today, so you’re clear on what’s to be done in the morning.

There are two more aspects that I really like in the journal. The first is tracking and reflection. The journal provides space for you do reflect on your wins for the day and what you’ve learned. The wins emphasize the last aspect of the system — bookending your day with positive psychology — while the opportunity to record lessons learned informs future work.

The book’s morning routine emphasizes the preparation and work, while the evening routine highlights reflection.

I’ve been quite happy with it and I suspect others will also find it beneficial. Its current price is $31.99.

Uncluttered and minimalist aren’t the same

Some people are happy living in a minimalist space. I recently read a blog post by Derek Sivers that described his home:

I live in a little pre-furnished apartment with no stuff, and I love it this way. I have no books, knicknacks, decorations, and really no personal items at all. Just some minimal clothing, my laptop, headphones, and not much else. All the kitchenware and furniture just came with the place, and will stay here when I leave.

There are certainly benefits to owning fewer things. Derek moves every year or two, so owning very little makes those moves easy for him. Owning less stuff also means there’s less to collect dust, which can be important to those with allergies. And you can choose to rent or buy a smaller home, thus saving money. Of course, you also save money by buying fewer things — or you might spend the same amount but find you can afford to buy things of higher quality.

But many other people would feel unhappy living as Derek does. They would agree with the woman who created the website entitled Stuff Does Matter, where she wrote, “Stuff has the power to nourish us physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.”

And you certainly don’t need to be a minimalist to be uncluttered and organized. If everything you own has a home, can be found when you need it, and makes you happy (or serves a vital purpose), you’re doing just fine.

Some people like a house or apartment that’s sparsely furnished while others enjoy filling their homes with art, books, music, mementos, cherished collections, etc. That’s a matter of personal preference, and people on either end of the spectrum can be organized.

Of course, having fewer things can make it easier to get organized and stay organized. It’s easier to find a place to store everything when there isn’t as much to be stored. It’s easier to put something back into a closet or drawer that has plenty of empty space than into one that’s close to full. If you want to do any home projects such as painting the walls or replacing the carpet, those projects will go quicker if you don’t have as much to box up and move out of the way — and then move back and unbox.

On a now-defunct blog I’ve had bookmarked for years, someone wrote about his approach to his possessions, which he called mediumism. As he explained, “I buy only what I need, but I have no desire to live with just 100 things. I watch very little television. … I still plan to keep my 32-inch LCD for now.” If minimalism feels wrong for you, maybe mediumism will resonate.

Just remember that the idea behind uncluttering is to have a home that pleases you and supports you in achieving your goals. That may mean you own 150 things, 1,500 things, or 15,000 things. There’s no magic number — there’s only the answer that’s right for you.

Being early

As the person who was voted by his classmates “most likely to have a tardy slip” in eighth grade, I’ve had a lot to overcome when it comes to punctuality.

If someone were to ask me about why I was often late, my most common answer would have been some variation of “I ran out of time.” Does this sound familiar? Additionally, I thought that arriving earlier than I needed was a waste of time. Why sit in the parking lot and do nothing for 15 minutes? Also, there’s a rush that can accompany sprinting out of the door at the last second.

I believe that I was into that rush for a while, at least subconsciously. Waiting until the last possible second generated an adrenaline release that accompanied the sudden, pressing flurry of activity, and that was something I enjoyed. Once I recognized that’s what was going on, it was time to address it.

And, surprisingly, all I did was create a simple pro and con list regarding my persistent tardiness. On the “pro” side (if you can call it that) was the thrill of adrenaline and the other reasons I already mentioned. The con side was much longer, and much more convincing: chronic stress, disappointing others, disrespecting others’ time, shoddy work, etc. With that in mind, I decided to be chronically early.

Ultimately, I discovered that being early can actually save you time. Here’s how:

  1. You have time to relax and prepare before an event. Arriving 15 minutes early isn’t a waste of 15 minutes, it’s a gain. Look over your papers. Review what you’re going to do or say in your head. Or, just sip your coffee or tea and breathe.
  2. Good things pop up. I’ve been in situations where someone has said to me, “Oh, since you’re early do you want to help me with something?” I was able to provide a little unexpected something extra to someone else, which they won’t forget.
  3. Bust out some email replies. When I pick up my daughter from ballet classes, I like to be a good 15 minutes early. The waiting room is quiet and cozy with lots of comfortable furniture — perfect for replying to a few email messages. Again, that’s 15 minutes gained, not wasted.

Finally, and this is my favorite reason to be early: it gives me time to connect with others. “Why are we so early?” my kids often ask. The answer is so we can talk. Or laugh. Or discuss school or friends. Even 10 quiet minutes in the car or a waiting room can be so nice.

Some organization is required to join the perpetually early. Commit to working on projects well before they’re due. Leave the house earlier than you think you need to, and ensure that bags are packed and ready to go the night before they’re needed. You’ll be sipping tea and chilling out while everyone else is speeding along, stressed to the gills in an attempt to show up on time. Welcome to the early club.

Creating a schedule to reflect your priorities

One of my resolutions for 2016 is to get a better handle on my time. I created this resolution because I noticed in the last three or four months of 2015 that the vast majority of my days were spent catching up or just going with the flow instead of actively participating and pursuing what matters most to me. It’s not that I was neglecting my priorities, rather that I was being passive about them.

To help work toward my resolution, I bypassed traditional goal-setting and went straight for creating a list of to-do items. For my first to-do item, I wanted to track exactly how I was spending my time — from the moment I woke up in the morning until I went to bed each night. I grabbed a stopwatch and a notebook and recorded what I did each time I changed activities. Some things I left a little vague, such as “got ready for the day,” since brushing teeth and getting dressed aren’t things I’m going to remove from my daily routine. But for the most part, I kept detailed notes of how I spent my time like, “checked Facebook on phone” and “read 2 pgs. of a book while standing at bus stop waiting for son.” After a week of recording data, I felt that I had a decent idea of how I was spending my time (and I was bored out of my mind with writing down what I was doing). If this is your first time recording data about how to spend your time, you may wish to log your activities for two weeks because often the act of logging what you’re doing influences how you spend your time. Once the novelty of tracking what you’re doing wears off, you’ll get a better idea of how you’re really operating.

My second to-do item was to sort through the logs and label the activities. I chose three colors of highlighters and swiped a color over each activity. Yellow were for activities fully in line with my priorities and my time commitment to those activities or actions taking care of my responsibilities (like depositing money into my retirement fund — it’s not a task I particularly enjoy, but it’s one that takes care of a responsibility that is in line with my priorities). Pink highlights were for activities not in line with my priorities or actions that were in line with my priorities but taking up more of my time than I wanted (like staying in touch with my family and friends is a priority and reading and posting to Facebook is one of the many ways I fulfill that priority, but I don’t need to check in with Facebook four times a day when two times is sufficient). Green highlights were for things in line with my priorities that I wanted to spend more time on than I was (one example that fell into this category was that I was lifting weights three times a week but I wanted to start training for a triathlon, so I needed to increase my numbers and types of workouts to better reflect this priority).

My last to-do item was to create and begin to follow a new schedule that more accurately represents my priorities. I chose to make a weekly calendar, broken into 30-minute increments, to help me with this process. In addition to chores, wake up and bed times, and most of my life’s set activities, I’ve mapped out blocks of time that are more open ended but still have direction. For example, after cleanup from dinner but before it’s time to start getting the kids ready for bed, there is usually an hour of “free” time. Each night I’ve made notes on the calendar for ideas of things to do during this hour that reflect my priorities. Instead of plopping myself down in front of the television (which is not a priority for me on weeknights), I now have a list of things I can do that I know bring me much more happiness than squandering that time (like working on a puzzle with my kids or having a living room dance part with them or playing flashlight tag in the yard if the weather is cooperating or Skyping with my parents).

Since creating the new schedule, I’ve been much happier and feel more like I’m actively participating in my life. I’m not rigid with the schedule — if something falls through the cracks or I come down with a migraine (like I did on Saturday), I’m not freaking out about abandoning the schedule for a bit. It’s there more as a guide than a law, and this attitude is working well for me.

How do you ensure that your time is focused on what matters most to you? Do you think a similar schedule would help you to feel happier and more comfortable with how you’re spending your time? A few changes might be all it takes to get your life more in line with your priorities.

Put things away, right away

The advice “put things away, right away” seems so basic it feels almost ridiculous to share it on Unclutterer. We all know the benefits of spending a few seconds to put something away as soon as we’ve finished using it. So why is it this advice is often so hard to follow?

My assumption is that there are two reasons. First, human beings will almost always choose the path of least resistance. It’s just how we’re wired. Putting a book back on a shelf is easy. Placing it on the coffee table is even easier. We choose the easiest option, even when it’s to our detriment.

Second, we have a limited amount of self-control each day. Think of self-control like a pitcher of water you drink from throughout the day. At some point, the pitcher is empty, usually in the evenings. You’ve made tough decisions and focused all day and by the time you get home you’re just done. It’s so easy to just plop the book down when you’re tired.

I’ve come to a compromise with the temptation to not put things away: the “outbox.” I’ve put one by the end table at the bottom of the stairs to the second floor, and another near the door to the basement. The idea is simple: If you’ve got something that needs to go upstairs, put it in the basket by the table. Likewise, if something needs to go downstairs, put it in that outbox. (Don’t put these boxes ON the stairs, though, as you want to be safe.) At some point, when the container is full but before it’s overflowing, you transport it and put everything away at once.

It’s not perfect — ideally, I’d just put the things away — but it’s also a decent solution if you’re truly exhausted and putting things straight away isn’t going to happen: items are neatly organized, out of the way and ready to travel to their final destination.

Finishing tasks: The key to less mess in your home

In a rare moment of solitude a few weeks ago, I found myself stomping through my house being extremely frustrated. Wood puzzle pieces were strewn across the living room floor where my two-year-old daughter had been playing earlier. Dirty clothes and a wet towel were next to the hamper in my six-year-old son’s bathroom. A lone plate sat on the table in the kitchen from a snack my husband had eaten earlier. And MY makeup was left out on the bathroom counter from that morning. I was annoyed with the mess, and I was as much responsible for it as everyone else in my house.

After I calmed my inner-Hulk down to a constructive level, I immediately identified the problem. No one in the house was properly finishing anything they were doing:

  • Taking a shower isn’t finished until the towel is on the towel bar, the wash cloth is wrung out and hanging on its clip to dry, dirty clothes are in the hamper, the bathroom lights are turned off, in addition to all the other obvious post-shower activities like getting dressed and brushing teeth. For a shower to be finished, everything has to be reset and ready to go for the next time someone comes in to use the bathroom.
  • A snack or dinner isn’t over until all the dirty dishes are loaded into the dishwasher or washed and put away, cupboards are closed and ingredients properly stored, the table and counters have been wiped down, the floor has been swept, all leftovers have been put into the refrigerator, and there are no signs that anyone had eaten a meal there except for maybe a lingering smell. Dinner isn’t over when you stop eating.
  • Playtime isn’t over until all toys are put away in their proper storage areas. This one is tricky because it requires continuous planning — time has to be set aside for picking up before going to the next activity. Until a child’s age is in double digits (and maybe even after that), it may require an adult to give a five-minute warning to allow time for toys to be put away. Or, in the case of small children like in our family, adults may need to participate in the five-minute pick up process.
  • And, obviously, I’m not finished getting ready in the morning until my makeup is back into its storage container and my hair dryer is stored beneath the sink.
  • It seems so obvious, but making sure tasks are finished greatly reduces messes in your home. It’s not rocket science, but the simple shift in perspective results in much less stress and a less messy home.

    Struggling with keeping a journal

    Two things I constantly fail at are keeping a journal and coffee.

    I don’t like coffee. I simply dislike the taste. Oh, I’ll drink a cappa-frappa-pumpkin whatever with whipped cream and more calories than a bacon cheeseburger, but that’s not coffee. That’s a dessert masquerading as coffee. It’s the hot water filtered through ground beans that I just don’t like.

    As someone who’s coffee-averse, I often feel like I’m missing out on a major social activity. People enjoy spending time together over a cup of coffee. Every few years I’ll try it again, hoping my tastes have changed, and every year the results are the same: I can’t finish one cup.

    I have the same relationship with journaling.

    I’ve read many articles and had several conversations with people, colleagues and those who’ve built careers around productivity and personal organization. They all say the same thing: It’s hugely beneficial to keep a journal. They’re not wrong, either.

    A Huffington Post article earlier this year outlined 10 benefits of keeping a journal, including:

    1. Promotes progress toward goals
    2. Boosts memory and comprehension
    3. Strengthens one’s self-discipline

    Academics agree, too. The University of Rochester Mental Health Center published an article on the practice of journaling and mental health, citing additional benefits. And writing down what you eat in your journal can even help you lose weight (if that’s something you want to do).

    I believe in the benefits, yet there’s a disconnect. Each time I try to maintain a journal in earnest, I fizzle out.

    Thinking the issue might be the tools, I’ve purchased very nice paper journals and top-rated software. I even got a special pen and designated a time of day for sitting down to record a journal entry. Despite these best efforts, a few things happened.

    1. I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say. “Drove the kids to ballet and soccer practice” is boring and, as far as I’m concerned, hardly worth putting in writing.
    2. I felt self-conscious, like a teenager keeping a diary.
    3. I decided to skip it because of either reason number one or two. Then I skipped another day, and another and soon enough I’m failing at journaling.

    In many ways, a to-do list and calendar can be similar to a journal. They certainly record what I’m doing and my commitment levels. But it’s not the same. In fact, keeping a journal feels like one more thing cluttering up my to-do list.

    Like so many things in life, keeping a journal requires motivation. So, if you maintain a journal, what keeps you motivated? Have any of you struggled to do the same, perhaps for similar reasons? Last, is it simply that journaling is not for me, and I should move on?

    Perhaps we can discuss it over coffee.

    How to remain a disorganized mess

    It’s Monday. We’re in a good mood, and we don’t know why. Instead of a heavy post to bog you down at the start of the week, we wanted to do something fun. Think of the following as an instructional manual for how to be overwhelmed by your clutter. Feel welcome to add to the list in our comments (and try not to take this too seriously, we’re just having some fun).

    • Aspire to unrealistic depictions of “organization” boards on Pinterest.
    • Walk through a model home and stress out about how much more clutter you have than the house where no one lives.
    • Understand that a stack of random school papers on the kitchen table is the end of the world.
    • Make a mental list of how you aren’t as “together” as [person X]. Review it daily.
    • Compare yourself to other parents/workers/neighbors.
    • Blow off the laundry for one day, toss up your hands and say, “Well that’s it, then.”
    • Realize that you’ll never be perfect, so there’s no use in trying.
    • Believe that an “organized person” = “good person.” The opposite is true, obviously.
    • Decide you have to be organized RIGHT NOW. It only takes 30 minutes on television shows!
    • Forget that organizing is a skill, attribute it to genetics.
    • Toss and turn in bed, mentally reviewing all the things you have to do tomorrow, and refuse to write any of those items down.
    • Stop inviting friends over because your house doesn’t look like a magazine.
    • Create a filing system based on a secret code you have to reference to be able to use.

    (Today’s post inspired by Annie Mueller.)

    The importance of having tools you love

    Think about the tools you use every day: to prepare your meals, to do your work, to clean your home, etc. Given how often you use these kinds of tools, it’s wise to look for ones that you enjoy using. This makes every day more pleasant, and it often saves money in the long term since you buy something once and don’t need to replace it.

    What makes a tool enjoyable to use? Obviously, it must do its job very well. Good tools can make you more efficient and may also help you avoid procrastinating on a not-so-fun task. And sometimes one really good tool can replace a number of poorer quality tools, making your space less cluttered.

    Another aspect of an enjoyable tool can be aesthetics. And sometimes there are also less tangible elements. For example, a product might bring back good memories.

    You often don’t need to be extravagant to find such tools, either. The following are some examples I’ve come across recently:

    Timer
    I need a reminder to get up from my desk every 30 minutes and move a bit. I got the world’s simplest timer, and now I don’t forget. And it looks good sitting out on my desk, too.

    Dish towels
    Someone suggested flour sack dish towels to me some time ago, and I finally bought one. I really like it! I’m now planning to buy a few more, and pass my old towels along to someone else. Since my kitchen doesn’t have a dishwasher, I’m especially delighted to have towels that work so well for me, in a pattern that makes me smile.

    Printer
    Even though I try to go paperless as much as feasible, I still need a printer. I had an old HP printer that I could never make myself replace, even though it always annoyed me for purely emotional reasons. (I used to work for HP, and I feel sad about how the company has changed over the years.) When it broke a few weeks ago, I replaced it with an Epson, and now I wish I’d made the change earlier. I’m also delighted that the Epson is wireless, giving me one less cord needing to be controlled. I don’t know that I love this new printer, but I definitely like it a lot better than my previous one.

    Smartphones and their apps
    Sometimes the issue is not what to buy but how to configure the tool you’ve bought so it works well for you. I listened to a podcast where one speaker spent many hours arranging the icons on his iPhone based largely on functionality, but also based on creating a pleasing visual arrangement given the colors of the icons. The second part is not something I’d ever do, but I understand the aesthetic impulse. Getting the icon arrangement right was what he needed to do to make the smartphone a tool he loved.

    If you have examples of tools you love, I would enjoy hearing about them in the comments.

    Eliminating single points of failure

    Many years ago, I worked as the IT director for a school here in Massachusetts. It was a multi-faceted job that included maintaining a file server, a backup server, well over 100 machines and, finally, a help desk for about 125 people. I have some amusing stories from those years, as well as an important lesson: never have a single point of failure.

    Redundancy was the name of the game in my previous job. For example, our file server was connected to something called an “uninterruptible power source,” or UPS. A UPS provides electricity in the event of a power outage. That way, if a storm knocks power out, I still had time to get to our computers and shut them down properly.

    I also ran a backup server that saved its daily and monthly backups to several locations. If one of those backups failed for whatever reason, I could rely on one of the alternates to provide what I needed. What does this have to do with daily life? Plenty.

    As Leo Babauta once said on Zen Habits: “I’ve seen people pay $1,000 to hear speakers at a conference and only have one pen to take notes.” If that pen breaks or runs out of ink within the first five minutes, you’re out of luck. The simple act of bringing two or even three pens can eliminate a potential problem.

    Consider where there might be a single point of failure in your life right now. I did some brainstorming of my own, and came up with this list:

    1. More than one flashlight. Here in semi-rural Cape Cod, we lose power at the drop of a hat. Keeping three inexpensive flashlights in the closet eliminates some stress.
    2. Car keys. Most new cars are sold with a pair of keys. But that’s not always the case with used cars. If you’ve only got one key, spend the money to get a second.
    3. Charger cables. These things aren’t really built to last longer than a couple of years it seems, yet we don’t replace them until they become a frayed fire hazard. Keep a fresh one in a drawer so you can swap it out with the original before plugging it into the wall becomes an act of pure optimism. Additionally, having multiple charging cables in different locations (such as one at your home, one at your office, one in your briefcase) means that you don’t ever have to worry about forgetting a cable when you need it most.
    4. Important documents, like birth certificates, marriage certificates, social security cards, etc. My practice is to put the originals in a safe deposit box and keep photo copies on hand. If I lose/damage the copy it’s no big deal, and I can always retrieve the original if I need it.

    Finally, and you probably saw this coming, I’ll say please make multiple backups of your important digital files. A solution as simple as Dropbox makes it very easy to have files both on your computer and safely on their servers. Additionally, Carbonite and Crashplan will back up your computer in its entirety. (Erin wants you to know she’s a fan of Backblaze.)

    Make a list of the single points of failure in your life right now, and see if you can fix them. Someday you might be very glad you did.

    Uncluttering: Moving past the “what if” questions

    I’m in the process of cleaning out my garage — going through the cabinets and getting rid of things I no longer need or want.

    In many cases, the decision-making has been easy. For example, I don’t remember how I wound up with 15 packages of wood screws, but I sure don’t need them now. I freecycled them, so they’ve moved along to someone who does have a use for them.

    But other times I found myself asking “what if” questions, just as so many people trying to unclutter do. But when I really considered my answers, I wound up getting rid of almost everything I questioned. The following are some examples — I hope this will help others who fall into the “what if” trap.

    Item #1: Skunk odor remover
    I got this when I had an indoor/outdoor cat, but both of my current cats are indoor-only. But what if a skunk sprayed me while I was out walking at night?

    What I decided: That’s never happened in the 25 years I’ve lived in my house. If for some reason it did, I could always use the hydrogen peroxide/baking soda/dish soap mixture that so many authorities recommend. So I gave the bottled product away to someone with a dog that gets skunked every so often.

    Item #2: Various organizing products
    I had a collection of random organizing-type products. Some were given to me as samples, some were leftovers from a specific project, and some I can’t even remember how I came to own. I could certainly give them away, but what if I have a client in the future who could use them?

    What I decided: There are a small number of products I specifically keep on hand because so many clients find them useful. But these other items were all products I hadn’t found a use for in many years. And some of them, such as the legal-sized file pockets, would only appeal to a limited number of people. I freecycled the file pockets (which went to a legal office) and one other item, and donated the rest.

    Item #3: Phone bell
    I have a phone bell that serves as a replacement ringer for my landline phone, and I really like it. But somehow I wound up with a second one of these. I have no immediate use for it, but what if my current one broke?

    What I decided: The phone bell I have seems unlikely to break; it’s not a fragile kind of thing. And if it does break, it wouldn’t be a big deal, since I could just turn the normal phone ringer back on. I get fewer calls on the landline then I did when I bought this product years ago, given how many other ways we have to communicate now, so the annoying phone ringer wouldn’t be something I’d hear all that often. Therefore, I gave the extra phone bell away to someone who can use it now, rather than leaving it sitting on a shelf.

    Item #4: Heart-shaped glass bowl
    I got this intending to use it as a gift many years ago — so long ago that I don’t remember who it was intended for and why it never was given away. But what if I could use it as a gift for someone else?

    What I decided: While this is a beautiful piece, I can’t think of anyone for whom it seems like a perfect gift. (If I did know someone, I’d gladly give it to that person right now!) And I don’t like keeping generic gifts around to give to someone, someday — I prefer to choose something specifically for each recipient. So this item will be given away, too. It would be a shame to keep it sitting in my cabinet any longer when it could be used and appreciated by someone else, right now.

    In summary: I realized all my “what if” scenarios were unlikely to happen. And even if they did, I’d cope just fine. I didn’t need to keep things around indefinitely, “just in case.” I could let them go on to new owners, who would make use of them right away, and reclaim my storage space.