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You Are Here: Home - Newsletters - "Get Organized" - Article

Take An Inventory

Does taking an inventory of all your stuff sound like a daunting task? If yes, then you have too much STUFF! After all, what you have after the purging process is what is important to you. If it is important to you, it is worth documenting. If you don't feel it is worth documenting, then take another look at it.

Use paper index cards or a computer spreadsheet. For each item, list this information:
  • its common name (as you refer to it)

  • a more complete DESCRIPTION (brand name, model number, and serial number)

  • the amount you PAID for it (estimate the cost if it was a gift or you can't remember) -- the date and store where you bought it (again estimate if you don't know or remember)
Put down a question mark for information you don't know. You can write out a group card for small items of the same type. For example, just make out one card for your socks, or a single card describing your knifes, forks, and spoons.

If the work of writing down the inventory information for any item seems like too much of a hassle, this is a sign you probably don't need or want the item. Rank items in your inventory based on how much they support your GOALS. For example:
  • 0 = no support
  • 1 = least support
  • 2 = little support
  • 3 = some support
  • 4 = good support
  • 5 = strongest support
This ranking can help you decide which items to keep and which you can DISCARD in situations where you need to pare down on your stuff.

The stuff inventory is an important record that you should store carefully. Store a copy of your stuff inventory outside of your home in a SAFE DEPOSIT box or with a trusted friend. This could help you with INSURANCE claims.

Reduce the amount of stuff you have by examining each item you own and asking yourself if you really need it. Consider an item that you have and ask yourself these three questions:
  • Have I USED this item recently?
  • Does this item help me in my life's GOALS?
  • Do I need to OWN this item?
  • Can I rent, borrow, or improvise when I need it?
If the answers to these questions are not yes, yes, and yes, then the item you are considering is not helping your life, and you would benefit your life by getting rid of it.

You'll have to use your judgment in answering the first question, "Have I used this item recently?" How much time is "RECENTLY"? Every item has its own use pattern. Seasonal items don't get used for months, but think back to last winter -- did you wear the gloves? Did you wear the coat? Other items, like dishes, might be hard to track when you use them. You can place such items in a box and put them away and see how much time it takes before you need to use them again.

The second question goes to the heart of why you have anything -- to support your life's goals. You have to KNOW what those goals are, but a way to think about this is to imagine yourself having achieved a major life goal. Do you see this item in that picture? Is this item INSTRUMENTAL in that goal? Do you see yourself carrying this item on that journey to your goal? This might be a hard series of questions for mundane items. For example, you might not imagine carrying a broom to your goal of being a bank vice president. But a broom is going to help you keep a tidy home along the way -- yes, it supports your goals. However, you might get rid of an expensive electronic video poker game because you don't see it part of the lifestyle of a bank vice president.

Never get rid of anything you GENUINELY want -- it will cost time and energy to replace it. For items that you want, you should answer "yes" to question 2. You may be sentimentally attached to an item that you just can't part with even though it is a hassle to keep (like old photographs or children). I don't suggest getting rid of these items, as they do support your life's goals of sentiment or connection with others -- they do serve a purpose in your life.

The third question is what I call the "anti-warehouse attitude." By this attitude, you acknowledge that you are not trying to PACKRAT every item you could conceivably need in your life. You can always improvise, borrow, rent, or buy used when you need some specific item.

Cut through your stuff by regularly performing the clutter triage on one SMALL area of your home at a time. For example, work on a single closet, a section of a room, or a storage area. Don't say, "I'll clean the attic," or "I'll clean the basement." By choosing just one area of the attic for one dejunking session, and saving the rest for the next time, you'll do the job more thoroughly and you'll feel a greater sense of accomplishment.

Consider disposing of extra versions of items that you can only use ONE AT A TIME. For example: pairs of shoes, clothing, coats and jackets, sunglasses, belts, and hats. You certainly will want to have a variety of clothing for seasonal weather or style variations, but do you need three winter coats? Do you need four pairs of boots? Four belts?

Check through your home and dispose of items you tend to ACCUMULATE, but can always get more. Then dispose of all but a much smaller supply. Examples include: paper and plastic bags, plastic containers, cardboard boxes, and glass jars. When disposing of these items, first pass them on to someone else for reuse before recycling.

Pay particular attention to getting rid of items that are useful, but not in the QUANTITY you may have accumulated. For example, pots and pans. You certainly need them, but do you need five saucepans or three frying pans? Other examples include: pencils, pens, radios, clocks, chairs, extension cords, lamps, luggage, and calendars.


John December is president of December Communications, Inc. -- an online Web publishing, presentations, and consulting company. He is an experienced writer, teacher, software developer, and freelance writer. John is also the author of "Live Simple". You may contact him at

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