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Simplify and de-clutter to clear the way for improvement

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Simplify and de-clutter to clear the way for improvement

Scott Miker

Life is complicated.  Every day more information is shared online, on TV, through conversations etc.  Scientists are always stretching human understanding.  Professors are always finding new ways to research what makes life tick.  Startups are constantly finding new innovation and pushing technology past our wildest dreams. 

With this expanding knowledgebase, it is no wonder why life is complicated.  We all experience the complexity of life on a daily basis.

We have all heard that it is important to simplify.  But somehow we still complicate our lives and ourselves.  We know we should simplify but we don’t know how.

The problem is that from 10,000 feet the concept of simplification is easy.  It means we just get rid of things we don’t need. 

Where it gets tricky is when we try to actually execute on the simplification strategy.  We can’t let go of something that might hold some value in the future.  It’s as if we don’t want to kick ourselves later when we really could use that thing we got rid of.

This could be something emotionally, some piece of knowledge in our head that we don’t want to forget, stuff around our house etc.  One step that could help is to de-clutter the living spaces around you. 

When I was younger I worked at a storage facility.  The job entailed cleaning the out the units and setting up new customers with a unit but most of the job was a type of collection calling. 

We would call all of the people that didn’t pay their monthly rent.  We would charge them late fees, lien fees and tell them if they didn’t pay we would auction their stuff off.

Once I called someone at the very end of the process, right before we auctioned his stuff.  He said, “good you deal with it, its just garbage and I never felt like cleaning it out.”

Confused I asked him what he was talking about.  He said his garbage was full so he rented the unit to keep his garbage until he could take it to the dump.  I was shocked.  This was someone who I was told we called monthly for years.  He always paid late so he paid late fees and lien fees all the time.  He paid thousands of dollars over the years just to keep his garbage that he couldn’t get rid of. 

I always remembered that interaction for the lunacy of it.  But over the years I started to realize how much stuff I keep that doesn’t have any value.  Then I spend time trying to store it in my house.  I dig through it when I am looking for something. 

I know the value of simplification.  Yet I can’t even get rid of certain items that I know I will probably never need again. 

It is because simplification is harder than it sounds.  And this doesn’t just include the clutter that we keep around the house.  We do this with past emotions, poor career choices, relationships etc. 

We just can’t seem to follow the concept of simply in order to improve.  Instead we want to keep everything and keep everything so complicated and disorganized.

For me what I finally realized is that keeping all of that stuff wasn’t actually free.  I was paying for keeping it by having it take up space that could be used for other stuff.  So I didn’t think, “should I keep this, I might need it someday?”  I would think, “Do I really want to keep paying for this?”  It might be worth it to keep it if it doesn’t cost me anything to keep around, but when I associate a cost to keeping it suddenly the decision was easier to pitch it. 

Once I put a cost on it, it made it easier to see that it was costing me. 

So what emotional pain are you holding on to despite the cost on your happiness?  What poor choices are you not willing to accept as wrong and move on?  What complexity are you adding to your life by not clearing your mind, your heart, and your home?  Start to cut out that and the simplification of other areas of your life will follow. 

Simplification is a very valuable method for clearing the way for what is important.  But it entails getting rid of stuff you don’t need.  If you are a business and introducing a new product, how can you cut out most of the features to focus on the few features that truly provide the most value?  How much better can you make those features when you get rid of all of the other features that take time and resources to manage?

If you find yourself frustrated with the complexity and disorganization in life, then look to first de-clutter your living spaces.  Then expand to other aspects of life that can get cluttered (metaphorically).  Doing so will allow you to focus on the most important aspects of your life making them better and better.