Keep, Get Rid Of, Or Not Sure?

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Cleaning out can seem overwhelming -- especially if it's been a while since you've done it! But there is a very simple process you can follow that will A) help you sort and separate your belongings into manageable piles, and B) keep you from completely tearing up your house while you are cleaning out! When you begin clearing area, you should have three large boxes close at hand. One box is labeled "Keep" -- one is labeld "Get Rid Of" -- and one is called "Not Sure" (we'll talk about other possible sorting categories later on).


"Keep," is meant for items that you have defined as either BEAUTIFUL, USEFUL, or LOVED. Deciding which items are "Keep's" should be fairly obvious -- if you use it all the time or consider it a cherished memento, that's a "Keep." You may even want to have several boxes of "Keep's" -- each box labeled for a different area in your house. That way, you can take all of your "Kitchen Keeps" and "Bedroom Keeps" and "Basement Keeps" to their respective homes without making 30 different trips.


This box is for those objects that you are certain you don't want any more. This should not be a hard decision -- you should be able to look at a lamp or an old book and know if you don't want it. You may want to break "Get Rid Of" into some smaller categories -- such as "Throw Away" for the trash, "Give Away" for those things you would like to donate, and a even a "Sell" box for anything you think might be worth money. We will also cover a few other "Get Rid Of" categories later on.


It's best if you can try to keep the "Not Sure's" to a minimum. This box is supposed to be for belongings that you can't rationally justify keeping -- but some gut feeling won't let you part with them yet. Remember, your "Not Sure Box" isn't a DUMPING GROUND for things that you just don't want to take the time to think about. The last thing we want to do is ask the same questions about the same objects over and over again. Try your very best to make a solid "yes or no" decision about your belongings the first time that you pick them up.


If you honestly can't decide what to do with an item, put it in "Not Sure." When your box is full, tape it shut and label it. Make sure you list the contents (kitchenware, books, clothing), the date you packed it away, and any special storage instructions on the outside. Then, I want you to stash your box in the garage, attic, or basement ? some place out of the way. Trust me on this one. I actively want you to forget about this stuff for a while. Just make sure that you put your box where its contents won't get ruined (if you are storing something that is easily damaged by heat, don't place it in an attic that has no air conditioning!)

Make a note in your calendar (you are using a calendar, right?) to check back in 6 to 12 months. If, during that time, you haven't needed anything out of your box, it will be a lot easier to let go of those "Not Sure's." If you still can't part with an item, that might be a hint that it is more beloved than you first thought. Either way, this will help you make a final decision about what to keep. You may also choose to create some additional boxes for a few special categories of items:


You may locate a few stray objects that are missing a part or in need of an accessory. Of course, you would be perfectly happy to use these items -- if you only had those essential lost components. Put these fabulous finds into a box labeled "need to buy," and make a list of all the parts and pieces you are looking for. Then you can take the list with you on your next shopping trip.


I have been incredibly guilty in the past of hoarding half-finished projects, in the hopes that I would someday feel inspired to complete what I had started. Any item that requires modification or repair before it can be used goes into a container labeled "Projects." However, this box is not intended to be a graveyard for past guilt. Ask yourself if each task is still as meaningful as when you first began working on it. Macram? potholders may have sounded like a good idea 10 years ago, but? And it's okay to admit that you will never write the great American novel. I hereby grant you permission to let go of outdated interests, and to focus on activities that bring you joy TODAY. And if it sits in the project box for more than a couple of months, reconsider how important the task was in the first place.


If you are like every other person on this planet, you probably have custody of at least one item does not belong to you. These orphaned souls create a sense of guilt, of incompleteness, and of loose ends to be tied up. How freeing would it be to rid yourself of other people's clutter? Let's put these in a box labeled "To Return."

Once you have freed yourself of everything that doesn't belong to you, doesn't serve a purpose in your life, or really doesn't mean anything to you, you will find it much easier to organize the rest. And you will have taken a tremendous weight off of your shoulders -- the weight of unnecessary clutter. Just be sure to go through this process at least once a year to keep that clutter trimmed back!

Ramona Creel is a Professional Organizer and the founder of -- a web-based one-stop shop offering everything that you need to get organized at home or at work. At, you may get a referral to an organizer near you, shop for the latest organizing products, get tons of free tips, and even learn how to become a professional organizer or build your existing organizing business. And if you would like to read more articles about organizing your life or building your business, get a free subscription to the "Get Organized" and "Organized For A Living" newsletters. Please visit or contact Ramona directly at for more information.

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