My mom is a type A person who’s also a neat freak. I love her to death and she’s my greatest role model but holy crap… She used to drive me INSANE because she saw everything as clutter.
One of her greatest strengths is her ability to take anything, regardless of how abstract it is and turn it into something concrete, simple to understand and she’s gifted at making stuff ridiculously actionable. I can’t even tell you how many little quotes and things that she’s given me that I find myself sharing with the world today.
When I was a kid, she gave me the four piles philosophy and man oh man, I still use this today. When I lived with my ex, we did this a million times. To me, this four piles philosophy was so simple and I assumed that everyone would know to do it… Except it wasn’t so I’m sharing it here.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to purge, clutter and organize because we would just be flawless and put every single thing that we touch back in it’s place. I don’t know about you but it doesn’t always work out like that… so when I need to organize, this is how I do it.
The Four Pile Philosophy for Dealing With Clutter
Pile 1: Trash
When we were kids, she would have us put everything on our bed so we could move through our rooms and we’d start with the trash pile. You know, the broken toys, ripped clothes, extra papers, whatever it is. Once you get all of the garbage away, it’s a whole lot less overwhelming to do the rest of it. You would be surprised how much of the clutter in your world is actually garbage.
Pile 2: Keep
Obviously, you’re going to have stuff that you’re going to keep. I know what you’re thinking…
“Alexa, why wouldn’t I just put the stuff away instead of making a pile of stuff to keep?”
I’m so glad you asked!
I was at a workshop a while back where the speaker asked for two volunteers. Each volunteer got pennies, rubber bands and paper clips.
The first volunteer was asked to stack one penny, tie one rubber band and clip one paper clip to another — one at a time in that order. The second volunteer was asked to stack all of the pennies, tie all of the rubber bands together and then clip all of the paper clips together.
As soon as the speaker said go, the first person struggled to get their ‘flow’ and the second one was off like a race horse. You could literally see in the first person’s face their frustration and stress — the second person looked relaxed and actually smiled when they were done. What was this representing?
Multitasking vs. single-tasking of course. The reality is, our brains do not multi-task. When we’re ‘multitasking’, our brains are actually single-tasking, it’s just switching between tasks quickly.
So, make a “keep” pile.
Once you’re done sorting all of the piles, come back to this part. If you’re not done sorting, skip ahead to pile 3. Now that all of your piles are done, everything should have a home. If it doesn’t have a home, make one for it. It’s home should be something that makes sense — you wouldn’t put your toothbrush holder on the opposite side of the room, so make sure that your “homes” are functional. If they’re not, that clutter and overwhelm feeling isn’t going to go away.
Here’s another quick tip that I found super helpful…
If there’s something that’s constantly annoying you, take the five or ten minutes to fix it. It might not seem like a big deal but those little things add to the frustration of an already hectic and jam-packed day. Take those extra keys off of your keychain, actually fold the clothes in your drawers, organize all of the Tupperware in your cabinet. I promise it will change your whole life.
Pile 3: Giveaway
Next up, is the giveaway pile.
I come from a family of all girls. Growing up, it was my mom, my two sisters, me and my little miniature pinscher, Rocky (he was the man of the house 😉 ). By the time we were in our teens, all of us pretty much fit the same size in everything so you can imagine there was a lot of trading clothes going on.
When one of us was tired of it, we’d give it to someone else who’d love it for awhile…. Sounds awesome, except once it’s been worn a few too many times, you end up with clothes shoved in the back of your closet, never to see the light of day again because you’re just plain sick of looking at it.
As we started getting older, we just had an ongoing “goodwill pile”. The more that we purged and got rid of stuff, the more stuff goodwill got (I’m pretty sure we were probably one of their biggest contributors, no joke).
So before you freak out about giving stuff away because you’re attached to your stuff, I want you to ask yourself a few questions…
- Have you worn/used it in the last 6 months?
- Does it have a specific home? (Throwing it in the junk drawer or at the bottom of your t-shirt drawer doesn’t count!)
- Does it fit you or still have use?
- Will you actually need it in the future?
- Does it have sentimental value or is it just clutter?
If you answered no to most or all of the above, you know that you’re just keeping it for no reason. If you can’t get yourself to part with it, I recommend putting it in a box or bag in the garage for awhile and giving it a few months. If you don’t miss it or need it, then you can give it away. That way, you don’t feel like you’re being forced to give it away.
If you want to take it to the next level and really get minimal, go ahead and check out my post about capsule wardrobes.
Here’s the caveat: you have to actually give yourself a deadline. Otherwise, before you know it, you have a garage, basement, attic, office, guest bedroom or storage unit that you can’t even walk in because you’re waiting until you actually need it. The more stuff that you have, the more stressed you’re going to be… So go ahead and give it away.
Pile 4: Take Action
The last of the four piles is the “take action pile”. This is for the papers that you need to scan, the clothes that you need to have repaired or tailored, the stuff you have to return, etc.
Once you’re done sorting everything (because our brains can’t multitask), go ahead and go back through this pile. Make a list in your to d0 app or planner of what you need to do and commit to a date to do it. After you’ve made a list for yourself, separate it by the type of tasks… If you have a bunch of receipts that you need to scan, go and put them by the scanner. If you have errands to run, put the stuff in the car, etc. Get it out of your space and that “clutter” feeling will go away almost instantly.
Our brain is a processing machine, not a memory machine so giving yourself a deadline and a cue to do it will make sure that it gets done. Next time you sit down to your computer and see the papers that need to be scanned, you’ll know to do that. If you drive past the mall and need to return that shirt that you weren’t even sure if you liked when you bought it, you can do that.
This concept is so simple but it’s so effective it’s not even funny. To make it even a step simpler, I made you a super simple worksheet that you can use to help you deal with your “take action pile”. It’ll help you make decisions faster and eliminate even more stress out of your life. Go ahead and download it here!
How do you organize and declutter? Do you use piles or do you just deal with it? Let me know in the comments below!