In her insightful book “Let Go of Clutter,” professional organizer Harriet Schechter shares a helpful practice. Do this in your own life and you’ll find it easier to keep clutter at bay. (See pages 150-153 in her book for more details.)

Determine your defining elements.

What does this mean?

It means figuring out the following for each category of “stuff” you have:

  • The things you really LIKE
  • The things that work well
  • The things that AREN’T clutter

Then look at these particular items and determine WHAT specifically you like about them.

Moving forward, don’t buy anything that doesn’t fit your “Defining Elements” criteria.

Here’s an example from Schechter’s book where she shares her own “Defining Elements” in various categories.

Defining Elements - Harriet Schechter

Inspired by another rockstar professional organizer (Marie Kondo of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up“), I recently embarked upon a room-by-room decluttering sweep of my own house.

Employing Kondo’s take-no-prisoners approach combined with Schechter’s “Defining Elements” wisdom, I purged a surprisingly large amount of clutter from my home (2 large garbage bags of trash, and 13 paper grocery bags of donations…and counting!)

This is what I learned about myself in my own “Defining Elements” process:

  • PENS – I only like writing pens that are click pens…don’t like ones that you have to keep track of the tops.
  • COOKBOOKS – I only like cookbooks with pictures. Except for my incredible “Vegetables Every Day” cookbook, pictures are non-negotiable.
  • CLOTHES
    • I don’t like a lot of patterns…I overwhelmingly prefer solids, with maybe 1 out of 20 items being patterned
    • Preferred colors: Black, White, Pink
    • As much I like St. Patrick, I’m never going to wear emerald green so I will no longer buy clothing that color!
    • I like more modest cuts.
  • BOOKS
    • As “green” as they are, I don’t read e-books. I’ve tried and I can’t make it work.
    • I do, however, like audio books and now try to get every book first on audible.com before I considering buying a hard copy.
    • I will get any fiction books I want from the library. Not a good investment for me as I’ll only read fiction books once (as opposed to non-fiction books that I actually refer back to).
  • STRING CHEESE – I know this is a funny category. I’m a huge fan of string cheese, but I finally figured out the kind I like best: Kraft. I don’t care if another kind is on sale. Kraft is hands down the best. Now that I know my favorite kind, I buy only that.

If you take the time to figure out your “Defining Elements” in key categories of your possessions, you will ultimately SAVE so much time and money. You’ll buy what you actually love and use and because you KNOW already what that is, you’ll be more efficient in the buying process.

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