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zen habits: Edit Your Life, Part 2: Your Rooms

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Edit Your Life, Part 2: Your Rooms

Quick note: Every Thursday is Simplifying Thursday, and for the next few weeks, these posts will be a series called "Edit Your Life," looking at ways to simplify different parts of your life.

I'm a former newspaper editor, and one of the things I learned was to edit brutally (no sarcastic comments about why I don't do that with my blog posts). Cut out everything that's not necessary, and you've got a more meaningful story.

I highly recommend editing your life.

Today's edit: The rooms in your house, one at a time.

Are you surrounded by clutter in every room in your home? Clutter is visually distracting and stressful -- every item that you see demands your mind's attention, and no matter how short that attention is, and despite that it is subconscious, these little distractions add up. It's difficult to have peace and to focus amid this clutter. Add to this the wasted time and energy needed to look for things, to maintain things, and to clean things, and the more clutter you have, the more energy it will take to have it.

So, I recommend that you edit each of the rooms in your house, one per week, until you have de-cluttered your home and made it a peaceful and calming place to be.

Here's how:

  • First, choose a room to do this week. Don't try to do your whole house at once, as this can be very time consuming (unless you just have a lot of time on your hands -- in which case, go for it!). Focus on one room, and try to do 15 minutes a day (unless you get carried away and feel like doing more). Work on one room each week.
  • In the beginning, skip the closets and drawers that are out of sight for now. We'll tackle those in next week's Edit Your Life. Focus for now on the things you can see.
  • Start with the big things. Is there too much furniture in the room? If so, edit them. What is necessary, which furniture do you love, which stuff is just too distracting. Also consider removing other big items, like boxes full of stuff.
  • Clear all flat surfaces. Desktops, tabletops, countertops, etc. Remove all papers, piles of stuff, little junk, knick-knacks, anything. Put it on the floor. Now get a trash bag and two boxes. Sort through everything in your pile(s), one item at a time. Each item should be either thrown away in the trash bag, put in one box to give away (to friends, family or charity), or in the other box to put in another room in the house. Put back only a couple select items on the flat surfaces, such as a family photo or something that functionally belongs there. But as much as possible, leave the flat surfaces as bare as humanly possible. "Stuff" doesn't belong here -- you need to find a drawer, shelf, or container for whatever stuff you've removed. When you're done sorting through the pile, put the recycle box in the trunk of your car and drop it off the next time you go out to do errands. Throw away the trash bag. Take the other box and put the stuff where it belongs elsewhere in the house (don't put it on flat surfaces unless absolutely necessary!).
  • Repeat this process for any other "stuff" in the room, including stuff on the floor.
  • Now go around the room, clockwise, and edit what's left. This might be stuff on the walls, posted to surfaces like the refrigerator, stuff under tables or desks, etc. Only leave the stuff that's absolutely necessary. I mostly have blank walls except for a few choice paintings or drawings (by my dad, an artist). All my flat surfaces are bare. It's nice.
  • Be merciless. Edit brutally. The more you can get rid of, the better!
OK, your room should look pretty good now. If so, you should feel pretty great! Sit down, relax, look around, and enjoy the peaceful goodness. Savor your triumph.

Now, this editing process is not a destination, but an ongoing process. It won't last long if you don't have a system and develop habits to keep it de-cluttered.

Here's the system:
  • A place for everything, and everything in its place. An oldie, but valuable nonetheless. Are you about to put something down on a flat surface? Stop yourself. Think about where that item belongs. If it doesn't have a home, find one and stick with it. Always put it in that spot. For example: I have a tray for my keys, wallet, etc., and when I first get in the house, I put these things in this tray. Every time. So I always know where it is. And when I leave, it's as simple as grabbing my stuff from the tray.
  • Have an inbox for your home for ALL incoming papers. And a filing system for documents you need to keep, from bills to important documents to taxes to kids' report cards. Put all incoming mail, school papers, receipts, etc. into the inbox, and process it once a day (or every other day, but not much longer than that -- otherwise you're just creating a pile). When you process, don't leave stuff in a pile to be filed later -- file it immediately. Trash other stuff. Pay bills immediately or put them in a bills to be paid folder. Don't leave papers laying around elsewhere.
  • Clean up at night and before you leave the house. If you've developed good habits, you may not need this, but no one's perfect, and if you have kids, you'll definitely need this, because kids certainly are not perfect at this habit. Just take 5-10 minutes to pick up stuff and make sure your flat surfaces are clear.
  • Every six months (or a year), de-clutter. Despite your best efforts, new stuff just accumulates. You need to have a regular binging process every now and then.
See also:


Alex Shalman said...

Thanks for the post Leo, I look forward to more simplifying Thursday posts. You've just inspired me to do a little cleaning up, but i'm not even at my own house... hope they don't mind ;)

Leo said...

Lol. Thanks for the great comment Alex. Don't worry ... I'll never simplify so much that I'll eliminate the Simplifying Thursday posts!

Teri said...

I wish. 8 by 24 foot trailer. There simply isn't a place to put everything into. Even a minimal wardrobe won't fit into these closets. And there is absolutely no book space. I probably moved 30 books from the storage shed to the trailer and there's no place to put them.

So, if you are struggling with space, really you are in better shape than you ever imagined. You've got no excuse!

Leo said...

Great comment, Teri! I've heard the same kind of things from people who live on boats (like my stepfather). Small spaces force you to simplify.

I'd love to hear more about how you make do with that kind of space. Email me at zenhabits (at) gmail (dot) com if you're interested in writing a guest post on the topic for Zen Habits. Thanks for the comment!

Bengt W said...

A great post in an interesting series. Feng Shui in practice, de-clutter to feel better.

It is also the old WYSIWYG, what you see is what you get. If you see a mess it does not give a comfortable feeling.

Leo said...

Hi bengt w ... thanks for the comments. However, one friendly note: while I appreciate readers providing useful links, you've posted this link on multiple posts now, so I ask that you refrain from doing so any further or I'll regrettably have to start deleting your comments. Thanks for understanding.