Note: This is a guest post by Ivan Chan. Ivan is the creator of Wealthy Without Worry, a Star Wars fan and a martial artist. In his latest quest, Ivan teaches professionals how to make smart money decisions that fit their lifestyles. Check out what he does here! (You might remember that Ivan previously shared 5 Devious Mental Blocks that Make You Procrastinate With Your Finances with us here at MvD!)
You probably have clutter in your home you just can’t seem to get rid of.
Some might have been given to you by a loved one. Some of it might be antique and could be valuable, someday. Some could become useful someday, but you’re not sure so you’re keeping it just in case.
Despite all this, you don’t think you’re a hoarder. After all, you do try to keep your home neat and tidy. And besides, you know people who are a lot worse than you when it comes to living with too much stuff.
Yet, every time you look at the clutter around your home, you feel a little guilty.
What will it take for you to finally tackle your clutter?
For most people, the challenge of de-cluttering is a lot like the challenge of dealing with money.
Simply having a list of tips on what to do or how to do something is NOT enough. You need someone to help you decide your course of action and then guide you through it.
That’s how I felt when I looked at my clutter. I was sick of having all this stuff gather dust around my home. But I didn’t know how to deal with it.
Do you feel the same?
A powerful thought experiment to help clear clutter
Forget just another list on how to de-clutter. I needed a way to help me decide what’s important and what I should dump from my life.
That’s when I came up with my Disaster Evacuation Test.
Imagine this scenario:
You’re about to lose your home to a fire.
You don’t know what’s going to happen to you or your family in the coming days. All you know is you have to leave your home immediately. You can’t possibly take everything with you. You can only take what you can carry.
Decide what is important enough to save and take with you. The rest, you will have to leave behind.
The clock is ticking.
Start the test by applying it to a single room first. Once you’re done, move on to another room. Do so until you’ve covered all of your living spaces.
Remember, you need to take this seriously for it to work!
What would YOU save?
I know this thought experiment sounds a little extreme, but it is meant to be so. A different perspective is crucial in waking ourselves up from the status quo.
The Disaster Evacuation Test forced me to look at my stuff in a whole new light. Up to that point, I did not have any clear criteria for deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. And since I have a hard time making up my mind, I ended up procrastinating on the whole exercise.
That’s why this test works. It provides you with a crystal-clear guideline to help you decide whether to keep something or throw it out.
By the way, the following is what I decided to take with me:
- Passports and other important documents
- Photos of loved ones
- Cell phone
- My laptop
Did most of your stuff survive the “fire?”
Or perhaps, just like me, you now see your stuff in a whole new light.
The surprising realization (and 8 lessons we can learn)
This exercise of evaluating each item I own helped me realize something profound.
I can live just fine without the vast majority of my stuff.
Chances are, only a small fraction of what you own actually adds value to your life. The rest of your stuff is simply clutter taking up space without providing much benefit.
What else can we learn by applying the Disaster Evacuation Test?
- Your stuff isn’t your life. In the famous words of Tyler Durden, “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your f%^king khakis.” Tyler is right. Now, I like fancy gadgets as much as the next geek. However, material goods should not define who you are. You are more than just another designer label walking on the street among a sea of other designer labels. You know you are.
- Clutter costs you your life. Most of us have to trade our time for money. The next time you’re tempted to buy something on a whim, calculate how much this object will cost you in terms of time. If something costs $150 and you make $15 an hour, that works out to 10 hours. Is this purchase worth slaving away 10 hours of your life? How about 100 hours? How about 1,000 hours (roughly half of a working year)? You decide.
- You can’t take it with you. My mom told me I can obsess about stuff all I want, but I can’t take it with me when I die so I should just give it a rest. Being short-sighted and foolish, I didn’t listen to her when I bought my top-of-the-line Android phone on a 3-year contract. That stupid thing became obsolete 6 months later when a newer model came out. Wise money spent? Heck no. Wise lesson learned? Indeed.
- Even after you pay it off, your stuff will still cost you. Having lots of stuff means you’ll have to spend lots of time and energy maintaining and organizing it. The headache gets worse if your stuff gets damaged/lost/stolen. Do you still feel like hanging on to all that clutter around your home? Furthermore, studies have shown the happiness you get from buying stuff doesn’t last long. For all the money and time you spend, that sucks bigtime.
- Your stuff is holding you back. Remember how I said our human nature is to stash stuff away for a rainy day? While that habit can be useful, it can also backfire. That’s because the more you stash, the more reluctant you are to part with your stash. Yes, you’ve put in all this time, money, and effort to build it up. But is it really that important?
- Your stuff is money sitting around. I know not everything you own can be sold for money. But I’m sure some of it can definitely be turned into cash. If it’s just sitting around your home, then it’s idle money and it is doing you no good. During all this time, that money could have helped you pay down your debt or live your dream. Seriously, do you need any more motivation to get rid of your crap right this second?
- Life is too short to be chasing stuff. We all have a limited amount of time and money. Whatever time you spend on chasing material goods is time you wouldn’t have for doing other things in life. The thrill and happiness you get from buying stuff disappears quickly. Don’t get into a vicious cycle where you have to buy increasing amounts of stuff just to keep experiencing that thrill of purchase. That’s not a fun way to live.
- Stuff can be replaced. But you can’t do that with people. The people in our lives are way more important than any thing can ever be. As long as my loved ones are safe and sound, I know I can give up all of my material possessions if I absolutely have to. But if my loved ones weren’t around, then there would be absolutely nothing in this world I would want that could possibly make me feel better.
8 simple ideas to start clearing your clutter today
Now that you’ve decided what is really important to you and what is mere clutter, it’s time to take some action! Do the following to remove your clutter starting now:
- Start with 5 minutes. Leo Babauta suggests starting small when it comes to clearing out the clutter from your life. Not only is working in 5-minute sessions easy to fit into your schedule, it also removes the intimidation that often prevents people from getting started in the first place.
- Tackle one room/area/spot and STOP. This is as simple as it sounds. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do too much at once. Limit the scope of your clutter-clearing missions and celebrate once you’ve achieved your objective.
- Get rid of one thing a day. Still can’t get started? Remember that taking action on one item is way better than intending to take action on a whole bunch of items (and never actually getting around to doing so). Consistency is the key. You can get rid of one thing today, can’t you?
- Remember to look at all places. It’s easy to focus on one area and forget about that nook or cranny around the corner. Make sure you don’t let any clutter hide!
- Give your stuff a time-out. If you’re just not sure if you can part with something or not, put it in a box. Label the box with a date that is a year from today. Put the box away and come back in one year. If over the next year, you did not have to touch that box once (or even remember what’s in the box), then throw the box out. Do NOT open the box to see what’s inside. Just get rid of it.
- Sell it already! Check here for all kinds of useful tips and advice.
- Give it away. You certainly wouldn’t get any money with this method, but at least you’re getting rid of your crap. Besides, perhaps someone else could put your clutter to better use than simply having it as massive dust magnets.
- Have a bonfire. Hopefully you wouldn’t have to resort to this. After all, it’s kind of hard to make money from your stuff after you’ve burnt it. But sometimes drastic situations require drastic measures. If everything else fails, this will be your ultimate weapon to rid yourself of clutter.
If you’re anything like me, you may be tempted to procrastinate at this point. Don’t. That’s not what you want to do. You didn’t read all this way just to click away and do nothing.
Putting your stuff through the Disaster Evacuation Test is the first important step. Now that you know what clutter is and what’s actually important to you, you need to take the next step.
That’s why I gave you all those tips above. You might not need them all. But try at least one today.
Trust me; you’ll feel a lot less guilty once you do.
And be accountable – tell us what you did in the comments!
Go, go, go!