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Declutter your home with the Outbox Method

(declutter your home)
Here are some easy ways to reduce the clutter at home by means of an "Outbox". It's a box for things that you think you might not need, that you then periodically empty. [4 minutes]

Why we gather clutter

Homo Sapiens descend from Homo Habilis, the tool user. One of our adaptations was to become emotionally attached to our possessions because what few tools we had were critical to our survival. We feel loss and sadness when letting go of something because we think of the sunk costs acquiring it, that we might need it, that we aspire to use it, or that we have memories attached to it. In this consumerist age, that old adaptation leads to a lot of clutter now that possessions are cheap and plentiful.

"The things you own come to own you" ... overabundance of possessions creates a burden, a psychological and physical weight, a waste of time and energy tidying up and packing things away and looking for something specific amongst all the stuff you never use. There's also the unsightliness of the clutter that lies about outside the storage areas.

Drastic decluttering

The drastic way to declutter is to move house and limit what you can bring with you. When I moved from Cape Town to Ireland, I limited myself to the 150k airfreight allowance and 30kg checked luggage. I ended up using only 100kg of the airfreight. The furnished apartment started out pretty bare, but after discovering Amazon I quickly accumulated all sorts of gadgets and furnishings that seemed fun or useful. But, if you move every few years, you will find that a rolling stone gathers no moss.

However, moving is very stressful, and letting go of most of your things at once is also stressful. We need something less drastic, a low-stress decluttering habit to make part of your life that also makes you think twice before acquiring something likely to turn into clutter.

The Outbox Method

The insight behind the Outbox is that it's much less stressful to let go of things gradually, and that it can become a habit. When I come across something and think "I haven't used this in years" or "Am I really going to get round to using this?" - it goes in the outbox. Sometimes I go through a cupboard or box to toss things into the outbox. It's psychologically easier because in the The Outbox nothing is gone just moved - you can always take it back if you find you need it! But, once the Outbox is full it's it time to close your eyes and haul the whole thing to a charity shop, perhaps sending some things to recycling and putting others up for sale.

For 4 months preceding the move to Ireland I took a box to charity every 2 weeks or so.  After moving here I've probably filled an outbox every 3 months on average. To think I'd have 20 more boxes of stuff in a one-bedroom apartment now if I hadn't.

Acquiring less clutter

The outbox also helps one to avoid acquiring clutter in two ways. Firstly, when faced with a purchase decision, I find myself asking "Is this just going to end up in the Outbox in 2 years time and take up valuable closet space meanwhile?" ... if I'm not confident of using it regularly, I don't buy. Helps me avoid the sunk costs.

Secondly, with clothing especially, with the Outbox I apply a "one in, one out" rule. Are those jeans getting tattered, but I can't do without a pair of casual jeans? As soon as I buy the new pair, the old ones go in the Outbox. I just have to buy that great shirt? Guess what, my worst or most-worn shirt is going in the Outbox.

Dressing better without going shopping

Applying the Outbox to my wardrobe, I've discovered that after giving away about half my clothes I don't suddenly find myself with nothing to wear. Instead, I find myself wearing better clothes on average - because the bad purchases and worn-out clothes are no longer in rotation! It also helps to get a wardrobe consultant to put together a set of clothes that almost all work well together, so it's less of a gamble as to whether you pull a decent combination out of the closet. You might also check out my advice on extending the life of your clothes.

P.S. After you declutter your home, how about decluttering your to-do list with some sysadmin's advice for time management, or maybe declutter your blog?

Do you have some decluttering tips to share? Comment below!


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