Don’t Bring a Trash Bag to a Clutter Fight

trash bag

Image courtesy of patpitchaya /


In the movie, The Untouchables, there is a scene where an assassin comes to kill the Sean Connery character, who (after a derogatory remark) notes that he has brought “a knife to a gun fight.” He then shoots the assassin. I am reminded of this scene, every time a client tells me “You wouldn’t believe how much I have already thrown out.”  In the war on clutter, the trash bag is not the right weapon.

Why? Because clutter is not the same thing as trash.  Clutter is the excess stuff in our lives, that gets in the way of what’s most important. Just as we all have different definitions of what is most important, we also have different definitions of excess.  To arrive at this definition requires a process. Here are some key steps in that process:

1. Clarify goals

Whether it’s creating space for a new home office, or clearing a home to sell, or anything else, it’s good to get clear on that goal, before you begin decluttering. When you get clear on what you are gaining, it becomes easier to give up items.

2. Establish exit zones

Since it’s not all trash, create exit zones for donates, sale items, give-aways, and storage. You will move much faster, if your choices go beyond just “keep” or “toss.”

3. Be systematic

There’s two parts to being organized: getting organized and staying organized. When you are in the process of decluttering, you should just focus on getting organized. It will help you move more quickly and finish more quickly. Only after decluttering, should you focus on assignment of items and systems to stay organized.

4. Get the right tools for the job.

Save your back by processing on a small (2’x4’) folding table. Sort temporarily with medium sized boxes (12x10x15). I like the ones with lids, so you can stack and save space. Finally, I recommend 3×3 Post-It’s and retractable Sharpies, for temporary labeling.

Of course the trash bag represents one of the weapons in your arsenal for the war on clutter, but if that is where your weapons end, that is where your progress will end.