Lessons from an Apple Store: The Literally Hands-Off Approach to Decluttering

Tuesday November 29, 2016

What a better topic to tackle this month than decluttering your home.

December sometimes feels like the long slog of purchases entering your home — from holiday decorations to gifts for other people to gifts for your people to holiday cards to purchases for yourself that you just couldn’t help because you’re already out shopping and SUCH GOOD SALES.

The clutter just builds and builds to a crescendo that can’t be ignored, mostly because you’re literally tripping over it. I don’t know what it’s like at your place, but by January every year, I start itching to throw the entire apartment out. (Fine, donate it. Same thing. GET OUT OF MY HOUSE.)

SO, let’s talk about decluttering NOW, before the holidays have really started, and try to get ahead of all the things about to flood in via Amazon Prime.

Most decluttering tips get a key element wrong — sorting through your things is the worst way to declutter. Did you know that merely touching something triggers emotional attachment? This is psychologically true. This is why Apple Stores position and angle their open laptops just so: to a) force you to see the screens as you enter the store and b) adjust the monitor so you can see it better. Sucker: you just touched it. Emotional attachment: triggered.

Even more critical, the duration of your touch correlates to how likely you are to walk out of the store with it. Touching it slightly and moving on, you stand a chance. If you’re sitting there, touching it for a long time, you have successfully not only triggered an emotional attachment, you’ve also created “an ownership experience.” Basically, you’ve already bought it, you just don’t know it yet.

So, what can this teach us about decluttering? DON’T TOUCH THE STUFF YOU’RE TRYING TO GET RID OF. Merely touching it will flood you with emotions or memories. Then, good luck tossing it in the donate pile.

Which brings me to my decluttering technique. Which should only take you about 20 minutes to pull off.



1. Pick a room

2. Find a small box and a large box

3. Put anything that doesn’t belong in that room into the small box

4. Put anything that you don’t love into the large box

5. Don’t think too much about it. If you’re not sure whether something should go in the box, put it in the box.

6. Don’t make any judgement calls about whether you’re donating it. You aren’t tossing anything out or donating it. You’re just putting it in a box.

7. Small box: put things back where they belong

8. Put the large box out of sight. If you need anything out of the large box, though, you can take it out.

9. A week or a month or even longer later, to the point that you’ve gotten used to how the room looks without all The Stuff, take a look inside the large box. Put back anything you’ve missed.

10. Donate the rest



This should be a very quick process. You can do it in the time it took you to read this. Decluttering doesn’t have to take up a Saturday.

The major key here is: don’t think too hard, don’t linger. If you’re on the fence, put it in the box. There is no pressure here. If you miss it later, you can always retrieve it. Then, take things out of the box that you miss, ignore the rest.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to apply this to your living room. It’s frankly the easiest room to start with and the one that’s most likely getting filled up with holiday tchotchkes as we speak.

As always, please share your decluttering techniques in the comments!


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