I was in the ladies’ locker room in the gym last week and overheard a woman in her late sixties confessing to a friend that she was so frustrated by her husband’s unwillingness to let go of old journals stored in the basement, she had surreptitiously begun putting them in Safeway’s dumpster when he wasn’t home. The prevalent cultural view is that of the male who has a few prized possessions and is indifferent to other non-essential items.  Yet organizers say it’s the man of the house who is usually less willing to declutter and part things he’s had for years than woman.

Wherever you are on the spectrum, when you are moving out of your marital home or dividing things up with your spouse, what’s the most efficient and emotionally balanced way to decide what to keep and what to throw in the trash heap?  The answer is a simple one: get help doing this. If you want to do it alone, here’s how:

  1. Start with a bracketed time and place. Do not exceed 3 hours in one sitting.
  2. Have several empty boxes. Label each one either, Yes, No, Maybe.
  3. Get 3 large post it notes in three different colors. Label each color either Yes, No, Maybe.
  4. Have a table to work on.
  5. Put one item at a time on the table in front of you. Then, ask your body, yes your body, to say “yes”, “no”, or “maybe”. No other answers, no stories, no well, what if’s. Just yes, no, or maybe.
  6. Put the item in the appropriate box or stick the corresponding post it note on it.
  7. Move on to the next item.
  8. Stop the moment you can’t think straight anymore. Decision fatigue is setting in. Walk away, get a snack, a change of scene, go outside, etc. for at least one hour.
  9. Have reasonable expectations: you may not get through an attic’s worth of possessions in one sitting. You may feel emotionally raw during or after this.
  10. Get care. Once you’re finished for the day, treat yourself to a meal, a movie, time with a buddy, whatever feels good and isn’t self-destructive ; )