Spring Cleaning: What to Purge and What to Keep

April 2022

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One of my favorite April activities is spring cleaning. It’s not that I enjoy sorting, donating or tossing and then cleaning down an area from ceiling to floor. I just love how I feel when the annual task is done, and I again enjoy my freshly scrubbed surroundings.

With so many of us now permanently working from home or some hybrid, it’s easy for papers, boxes, files and dirt to pile up. Here are some tips to help you decide what to purge and what to keep.

Weigh every item.

The first step to approaching any room is to either gather everything in one place a la Marie Kondo or go inch-by-inch, drawer by drawer until you’ve covered an entire space. I don’t hold to the one-year rule (if you haven’t used it in a year, donate or toss it) because sometimes disuse has to do with poor access or memory. But it is a good idea to take in the life you lead now and decide if an object still fits. We all change, and so should our wardrobes, electronics, food and room decor.

You also can’t purge in a sentimental mood. That’s why you’ve held on to those old conference programs and lanyards you’ve had for years. Unless they can be creatively displayed to invoke some creativity or productivity burst, why let them take up space?

Because so much of our work lives are online, it’s important to purge unnecessary emails. If you must retain records, try keeping the last thread that shows the entire conversation, including who sent what when.

You also need to declutter your files—not just those in a file cabinet but those on your desktop, folders and reading lists. Are there duplicates? Bookmarked sites you barely visit now? E-newsletter subscriptions you never have time to read? I even drill down to waiting lists at my library, paring back on my to-read and on-hold lists to what is manageable based on my life now, not when I clicked to reserve.

Go deep.

Just as you evaluate the worth of every object in a cabinet, cupboard or banker’s box, you also need to go deep into other areas. For instance, I live where wildfires are common now, and a few hasty getaways led me to corral all the sentimental items in one area so we can just grab and go. [Note: I can fit everything in one car with passengers; that’s saying something.]

From a work perspective, do you have the files you need in a place where they are easy to retrieve? Is your data strewn over numerous devices—phone, laptop, desktop, tablet? Clean it up and clear it out. Again, spring cleaning doesn’t mean shuffling your stuff from one place to another—it’s getting rid of it if it no longer serves a purpose. Set up secured cloud storage, such as Dropbox or Google Cloud, for items you may need at a future date or are obligated to retain for regulatory reasons.

Give everything a good scrub.

In addition to cleaning walls, floors, furniture and appliances, you need to think more broadly about relationships. Has the pandemic taken a toll on your interactions with co-workers? Slowed down a promotion? Led to new leadership? Has it changed your social circles outside of work? Have you changed?

One of the common denominators of people who live happily into old age (as opposed to those who do so both sick and sad) is putting in the work to cultivate stable, long-term relationships. That includes letting go of those that generate chronic stress. This is, of course, difficult on many levels. If severing a relationship is impossible, there are experts who can help you, so the relationship doesn’t compromise your own health and happiness in the long term.

Speaking of happiness, few things bring so much joy as shedding “stuff” that proved a burden and allowing more breathing room in daily life. It frees creativity and improves moods. It saves time and opens space. So set aside a few hours here and there to dive in, clear out and clean up. Your future will be grateful.

Thank you for reading this,