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  • Three tips for decluttering your email inbox

    I recently whittled two email inboxes down from thousands of emails in each inbox to less than 30. It took a lot less time than I expected, and was way easier than decluttering paper (more on that another day). Here are three tips that worked for me:

    1. Make the most of the organizing tools at your disposal. Gmail has labels and an archiving function, so you can make it easy to find emails you you want to keep but don’t necessarily need in your inbox. Other email programs offer similar functions (Yahoo uses folders, for instance). Use these tools to “put away” email that doesn’t need to be in your main inbox.

    2. Start at the end. I found that it was easiest to start with the oldest emails, because it was easier to decide whether to delete or archive them, using one of the functions described above.

    3. Keep the task manageable. When the count at the top of your inbox tells you there are 2400 emails, it can be overwhelming. So just dispose of 100-200 at a time. It’ll go faster than you think!

    A Reader’s Advice on Decluttering

    Last month, I mentioned that I have been decluttering like crazy and listed some of the items I’d gotten rid of. Reader Harvey emailed me with a few good points that I wanted to share:

    On expired medication, he said:

    I hope that you removed your name from the label leaving the description of the medication intact and then returned it to a pharmacy. Pharmacies are supposed to accept expired medicine as they have procedures for proper disposal. These medicines just cannot be thrown in the trash or flushed down the toilet as they will eventually get into our water supply and food supply.

    I didn’t know this! I’ll do this from now on.

    On expired food, he said:

    Expired food is still good – unless it is spoiled (bulging can and jar tops, “pasta bugs” in the pasta, etc. It appears that in the past you liked to shop (probably for bargains on sale) but then you did not make a concerted effort to eat what you bought. Unfortunately, food pantries don’t normally take donations of past the use-by date food. I would have used it up. I just used a can of soup
    that was several years expired and it still tasted fine and I am still here to write you this e-mail.

    And on food we’re unlikely to eat, he said:

    Again, the product of buying something on sale, I would assume. You should challenge yourself to use up all your food on a regular basis.

    I like to buy bargains – with coupons – and I like saving money. Sometimes, that becomes just a thrilling recreation. I know that if I were a compulsive bargain hunter, I would probably develop a close relationship with my local food bank. If I could buy several hundred dollars of food for a few dollars, it would all go to the food bank. Then I would make a tuna salad sandwich using up one of the cans tuna of my two year supply in the cupboard.

    I can’t remember exactly what food I tossed, but a lot of it comes down to now using up what’s in my pantry. After decluttering, I’m more aware of what’s on hand, and I can make a more concerted effort to use what we have before it expires. But I do need a better system for keeping track of what I have on hand – the rotating-old-food-to-the-front thing just doesn’t work for me!

    I actually end up sharing a lot of food bargains with friends, and sending non-perishable convenience food via

    Thanks for these insightful tips, Harvey!

    I’m not done yet – I’ll have more on decluttering later this week!

    The Decluttering Continues

    As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been decluttering the house, from top to bottom, and I’ve even shared ten decluttering tips that have worked for me. Much of my inspiration has come from Flylady, who has been instrumental in helping me to stop being such a perfectionist. Much of my decluttering has been done in small chunks of time – 15 minutes here, 10 minutes there, even 5 minutes just to clean out one file in my filing cabinet. But all of those small chunks of time have added up – here’s just a sampling of the things I have removed from our house:

  • A banker’s box full of papers, which have been shredded (and all of my file purging has nearly filled the box up again!)
  • Two bags of kids’ clothing
  • Two bags of adult clothing
  • A juicer that I never used
  • The Aerogarden that never fulfilled my dreams
  • Some jewelry I’m never going to wear (I passed on a bracelet to a friend’s daughter, which was so fun because she loved it!)
  • Unopened toys that my boys never played with
  • Plastic cookie cutters I never used (kept some for Playdoh, tossed the rest, and opened up space to store my waffle maker out of sight!)
  • A crock that held kitchen utensils (I had two crocks on the counter, but seldom used half of the utensils so they would get dusty; I put the less-used half in a drawer and donated the crock)
  • A TV (replaced by the one we bought from Amazon during the holidays)
  • Three suits (they didn’t fit great, and I don’t need to worry about having a variety of suits for court appearances anymore!)
  • A full shelf’s worth of reusable plasticware that I didn’t use anymore
  • Old plastic cups that we didn’t use
  • Expired medication
  • Expired food
  • Food we’re unlikely to eat
  • Extra sheets (I kept one set for each bed and got rid of the rest)
  • Extra towels that we are unlikely to use (in the process, I found infant towels that weren’t used through two babies)
  • Old phone books (and man, they’re heavy!)
  • Japanese calligraphy supplies (I haven’t used them in years)
  • Cheap wrapping paper that I avoided using because it tears so easily
  • Stationery that I won’t use (and I know that because I haven’t used it in the ten years it’s been sitting around)
  • What’s really astonishing is that we’re not pack rats, so there isn’t an overwhelming amount of clutter. But when I delve below the surface, I find that there are lots of things I can happily live without. I love reorganizing as I purge, and making the house more functional. It’s easier to find what’s left, and it looks so much nicer!

    What have you gotten rid of lately?

    Ten Tips for Decluttering Your House

    As I mentioned last week, I’ve been decluttering like crazy. But the wonderful thing is, I haven’t driven myself crazy doing it. Instead, I’ve embraced the Flylady tenet that you can do a lot in a little bit of time, and that you don’t need to be perfect. Here are some concrete tips that I’ve been following that have helped me get a lot done:

    1. Start small, and keep it small. I want to declutter my house from top to bottom, but that’s an overwhelming task. What’s manageable is decluttering one shelf, one box or one drawer at a time. Even one file at a time, which is how I’ve been going through my filing cabinet. It also means that I can declutter even when I have only five minutes to kill before I leave the house.

    2. Plan ahead on how to re-organize. Planning ahead will help you figure out what to keep, what to toss, and how to arrange the space as you purge.

    3. But don’t get caught up in perfectionism. Sometimes you just can’t figure out what the space should look like, or how it should function as you’re working on it. And that’s okay. I’ve been decluttering boxes by pulling out the things that I know I can get rid of. Since I don’t yet know what I’m going to do with the stuff that’s left, I just put it back in the box and stick the box back where it was. Eventually, I’ll figure out what to do with that stuff and it will be easier to put away because there won’t be unnecessary extras that I have to weed out.

    4. Use three groups: Keep, Donate, Toss. As you purge, separate your things into three piles: Keep, Donate and Toss. The Keep pile should be put away as soon as you’re done purging, even if, as I just said, it goes right back into the space. Keep it out of the way for now and find a permanent home for it later if you need to. The Toss pile should find its way into the trash bin immediately. For the Donate pile, you’ll need to find a system that works for you.

    5. Don’t procrastinate on the donating and tossing. As mentioned above, the Toss pile should leave your home immediately. I keep the Donate pile around for a while until I can create an itemized list for tax purposes, but I’ve learned not to wait too long or the Donate pile itself becomes an energy drain. If possible, plan a regular monthly or weekly run to Goodwill, or schedule a pick up so you have a deadline.

    6. Set boundaries on what you’re going to keep. Before you start purging, decide on the reasons something makes it into the Keep pile. Among the questions I ask are: Do I need this for legal reasons? (E.g., tax documents should be kept for at least seven years.) How likely will I need this? (I have a bunch of kitchen gadgets that I may not use often but will definitely use again, which makes them keepers.) Can I get another one? (I keep only a few extra towels and sheets, on the theory that it’s easy to get more if I end up needing them.) How many do I need? (I finally realized that I don’t need a hundred unmatched card envelopes!)

    7. Do little projects when inspiration strikes. On the spur of the moment, I have taken fifteen minutes to clean out dresser drawers, a box on my desk, a book shelf, etc. And I felt great afterwards.

    8. Shred as you go, or have a place for paper clutter. I am purging a lot of paper clutter, much of which needs to be shredded because it contains personal information. After Alex was born, I started keeping my shredder in a closet for safety reasons, so now I have a box under my desk for papers that need to be shredded. Every so often – preferably when the kids aren’t home – I plug in the shredder and shred a bunch of papers at once. It’s not a particularly fun task, but I can do it while watching TV, and it feels good to get all of those papers out of the house.

    9. Reward yourself. It always helps to have something to look forward to, so whether it’s sitting down with a cup of tea and a magazine, or buying something you love for your newly decluttered closet, plan to reward yourself when you’re done.

    10. Keep the end in mind. Having less stuff means your house is easier to clean, you can bless others with what you no longer want, you have less stress, your house is more comfortable and cleaner for your family, etc. I’m also finding that it makes me think twice about buying more things – even things that we will eventually use, like toiletries. I have a good stockpile thanks to The Drugstore Game, so I’ve decided that I can wait for absolute rock bottom prices (which often means free) on just about everything.

    The Psychology of Empty Space & Saving Money

    I’ve been on a decluttering kick for the last few weeks, and I’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff. Enough that there are now empty spaces throughout the house that previously used to be occupied.

    It was subtle, but eventually I noticed a subconscious urge to fill the empty space.

    And I had to remind myself that it’s okay to have empty space in the house.

    I think this is one of those times when I have to live with the discomfort, trusting that eventually it will feel comfortable. Because intellectually, I know there’s nothing wrong with some empty space. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, in which case we will eventually fill it with something that looks nice. But in the meantime, I have a lot more decluttering to do and it makes sense not to make too many changes until I’m done.

    It occurred to me that it’s a similar psychology for people who feel that if they have money, they should spend it. I don’t have a problem with saving money, but I know people who seem to feel compelled to spend every penny they earn (and then some, in certain cases). Maybe they would benefit from the corollary, It’s okay to not to spend money.

    And then they too would have to get used to the discomfort. As time passes, they would see that nothing bad happens when they save money, and that it’s actually really nice having some money in the bank.