By Dirk Zeller

To declutter yourself, you need to remember this simple rule: Put the important things where you can remember where they are and where you can get to them quickly. Here’s how the decluttering process breaks down:

  1. Figure out what you can get rid of.

    Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself:

    • Do you really need this? Really?

    • Is there value in saving this item? (If the answer isn’t a definitive yes, toss it.)

    • What happens if you don’t keep this?

    • What’s the worst that could happen if you throw this away?

    Never throw away important documents, such as tax returns and business receipts. The IRS requires you to retain tax records and all supporting material for seven years. Before you toss, think carefully about whether an item has future value and whether copies are filed elsewhere so you can access them if you need to.

  2. Condense the offending material into smaller piles by selecting items to go into a single master important pile.

    Many piles are simply files in disguise: documents that haven’t been put away where they belong. By collecting the most important items into a single pile, you get an idea of how much time you need to dissolve this pile into nothing.

    At first, you may not be able to do much more than create your master important pile. After all, you still have meetings to attend, emails to respond to, and work to finish. However, the master file ensures that you tackle the important stuff first; the smaller, less-important items have to wait.

  3. Schedule an appointment with yourself in the next 48 hours to rid yourself of your master important pile.

    You don’t need to be in tip-top mental form to file. Set your filing appointment toward the end of the week, preferably in late afternoon when your energy level is low. Friday afternoons are a good time to file with comparatively few interruptions. Don’t worry about your other piles yet. Using the filing system you chose, focus on the most important pile until it disappears.

  4. After making your master important file disappear, go back to your remaining clutter and repeat the process.

    Start a second most-important master file and move all most-important items into that pile; then file them. Then make a third most-important master file. By now, you can probably see the surface of your desk, and you may even have a substantial area cleared.