Use It or Lose It: The Importance of Pruning and Purging

Desk. Pantry. Wardrobe. Garage. All potential caches of clutter. If you’ve accumulated enough accoutrements to see out the apocalypse, this one’s for you. And even if your living and working spaces are more minimalist than a monk’s, read on. Because with the ever-increasing deluge of information we receive these days, it doesn’t take long before even the most disciplined of us starts to feel swamped.

Consider this statistic: the US Department of Energy reports that 25% of people with two-car garages don’t park any cars in their garages – and only 32% have room for one car. Or how about this: one estimate (from the American National Soap and Detergent Association, no less) suggests that culling clutter would eliminate 40% of the housework in the average home. (If the statistic itself doesn’t interest you, surely the existence of a “National Soap and Detergent Association” does. Who knew?)

In other words, the need to create a habit of regular “purging and pruning” has never been more relevant. While this behaviour is one of the most important ones we teach at PEPworldwide:nz, this time, we’re not just talking about your workspace. The following principles apply just as readily to organising your garage, or your wardrobe, or your pantry:

Only keep what you use.

Pretty obvious, right? But we bet that you have at least one piece of clothing in your wardrobe that you haven’t worn in over a year. Challenge yourself, advises PEPworldwide:nz managing director Kathryn Anda. “Did I wear it? If not, why am I keeping it?” In a work context, she says, “Ask yourself: Have I used it? Am I likely to use it? If I need it in the future, can I access a copy? If so, delete it.” If that’s just too panic-inducing, at least archive it until you’re sure it’s redundant. But here’s another estimate to bear in mind: 80 percent of filed papers are never looked at again. So make sure that that archive folder doesn’t quietly morph into another repository of random relics. Which leads us to:

Schedule a regular cull into your calendar.

You know how big we are on planning ahead. Well, plan in some regular pruning and purging time, too. “If you want to create only one new positive behaviour, then commit to either pruning and purging on an ongoing basis, or commit to do it at a certain time,” says Anda. “It doesn’t matter which approach you take. Just make it happen.”

As the concept of “treading lightly” – minimising our personal and collective impact on our beleaguered planet – gains traction, there’s never been a better time to liberate ourselves with a “less is more” approach. Whether you’re a habitual hoarder or an unwitting victim of information proliferation, ditch the detritus. Start small if you must – one drawer of your desk, the shoes in your wardrobe – but start you must. Anda concedes that this won’t come easily to those of us who struggle to embrace our inner ascetic. However, she says, “It’s like pruning a plant: once pruned, it grows back stronger. Ultimately, it’s empowering.” Try it and see.