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clean slate simplifying

As I’m composing a list for this weekend’s activities and tasks, I was emailed this article from the Zen Habits blog.  It’s a guest post by Jeffrey Tang of The Art of Great Things.  Here are my favorite parts.  The entire article can of course be read on the original post.


When we think about simplifying, we usually think about subtraction. Getting rid of excess stuff. Clearing away obligations. Deleting old emails.

We simplify by paring away the layers of something until we find the core. Too many books on the shelf? Give them away, one by one, until you’re left with a manageable number of the volumes you really enjoy.

But decluttering this way is hard. For example:

Do you really want to pull dozens of books off the shelf one by one, trying to decide whether to keep or sell each one?

Do you have the time to go through hundreds of backlogged emails, choosing which to save and which to delete?

And there’s another obstacle. When you’re forced to choose to keep or discard something, uncertainty rears its ugly head. “Can you really afford to throw this away?” it whispers. “Are you sure you won’t need it eventually? Sure, you’re on a simplification kick now – but will you regret it later?” Playing the willpower game with uncertainty gets exhausting.

Simplifying Backwards is Easier

If you’re having trouble deciding when to hold on to something and when to let it go, try doing things backward. Learn to add responsibly instead of subtracting.

I call it the clean-slate approach to simplifying. Here’s how it works, in three steps.

Step one: Take all the clutter you’re facing, useful or not, and put it away. All of it. Put the pile of clothes in a box; put the old emails in a hidden folder. Now you have a “clean slate” to work with, but you don’t have to throw anything away. Yet.

Step two: Go about your business as usual. As you discover a genuine need for something (genuine being the operative word), take it out of storage with a clear conscience. No more agonizing over what to keep. Life will show exactly which things you actually need, and which things you only thought you needed.

Step three: When you’re ready, sell, donate, or throw away the stuff in storage. It’s easier now, since you’ve had weeks or months to overcome your attachment to it.

And here’s a bonus: if you develop the discipline to only put stuff back in your life when you absolutely, positively need it, you’ll find it easier to keep from buying, collecting, or accumulating unnecessary stuff in the first place.

The remainder of the article gives four ways to put this idea into practice regarding your email inbox, books, computer and closet.

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