Destress, Declutter, Donate: One Pile at a Time

February 29, 2016

“Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers…when nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it.” – Phillip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The Office of Sustainability and Being Well at Yale are co-sponsoring a Declutter-Destress-Donate campaign. Given the wellness benefits of having a clean space, we’re carving out time from March 1 – March 14 to clear out our spaces and keep them free of “kipple.” Throughout the week, Goodwill donation bins will distributed throughout the residential colleges and in various campus buildings to collect unwanted items and contributing it to the community.

Once you declutter, show off your accomplishment! Stitch together a before and after photo of decluttering your space, and email it to, with the subject line #DDD.

Eager to get started? Follow the suggestions below and you’ll be one (technically, six) steps closer to a clutter-free life!

Adapted from Leo Babauta and Zen Habits Handbook for Life

First, take everything on your desk and put it in one big pile. Put it in your “in basket” (if it doesn’t fit, pile it next to your desk or something). From now on, everything that comes in must go in your in basket, and you process everything as below.

Process the papers from the top down. Never re-sort, never skip a single piece of paper, never put a piece of paper back on the pile. Do what needs to be done with that paper, and then move on to the next in the pile. The options: recycle it, delegate it, file it, do it, or put it on a list to do later. In that order of preference. Do it if it takes 2 minutes or less to complete. If it takes more, and you can’t trash, delegate, or file it, then put it on a list of to-dos.

Decide on knickknacks. Pick off one item, and decide whether you really love and use it. Have you used it in the last year? Is it incredibly important to you? If not, get it out of your life! Give it to someone else, or a charity, or sell it. Put it in a box for that purpose. The keep pile should be small. Make quick decisions, and move on to the next item.

Find homes. Take everything in the keep pile and create a home for each item — a place where the item will go from now on. Designate that spot carefully in your mind, and tell everyone else where that home is, so they know. Now always put that item in that home, always, so you never lose it. If it’s important enough to be in your life, it’s important enough to have a home. Note that you can find a home for items elsewhere — it doesn’t have to be the space where you’re decluttering.

Repeat at least once daily to keep desk clear. The end of the day is best, but I tend to process and tidy up as I go through the day. Once you’ve processed your pile, your desk is clear. You’ve trashed or filed or somehow put everything where it belongs (not on top of your desk or stashed in a drawer). Keep it that way. You must follow the system above: put everything in your inbox, then take action on each piece of paper in the inbox with one of the steps listed. If an item is on your to-do list, you can keep the paper associated with it in an “Action” folder. But you must regularly (daily or weekly) go through this folder to ensure that everything is purged.

Use the same method to declutter your drawers and file cabinets. It will bring you that much closer to a clutter-free office!