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Easy Outs

Almost every client I’ve worked with has had what I call an “easy out,” something that can be easily let go. Many people have one or two easy outs in several categories.

One of the key ways a professional organizer helps a disorganized person is to point out that not every decision has to be agonizing. If you handle the “easy outs” as soon as they identify themselves, the rest of the organizing project will not seem so daunting.

Mystery cords and tangles of speaker wire are in almost every client’s home. As it becomes apparent that technology is moving more quickly and is less expensive than we could have ever imagined, it is easier to let these cords go, especially if they have been snarled in a drawer for months or years.

The older the client, the more likely they are to want to hold on to miscellaneous cords—appliances and technology has not always been so disposable. Hoarders also greatly inflate the value of such cords and technical tidbits. Ninety-nine percent of the time, these cords are never needed.

When first doing a purge with a client, I help them gather all the mystery cords and tech bits and containerize them in a labeled box. Trying to make sense of cords during the initial push of an organizing session will bog you down. But if you have your space in pretty good order, go through the cords and toss any that go to gear you no longer own or are duplicates that you don’t need. Put the rest in a container and make sure to date the label. If you have not needed something in the box in six months or a year, let it go.

Old magazines are another toughie that should be an easy out. If you have a pile of New Yorkers from 2012 that you still haven’t gotten to, put them in the recycle bin. If you have shelter magazines with pages flagged for their home improvement ideas, tear out the pages, put them in a file and throw away the magazine.

Magazines are usually 50 percent advertising. Vogue can be nearly 80 percent advertising — check out the doorstop they call the September issue. I don’t like to share my precious storage space with advertisements and encourage my clients to keep only the few pages that inspire them, not the whole issue.

Magazines are not really collectible. A mint condition Life magazine reporting on JFK’s assassination and funeral can be had for $75 on eBay. Other issues range from $12-$15. Keep them if you love them and they add value to your life, don’t keep them as an investment. You will spend more time trying to sell and ship them than they are worth.

Bad photographs and photo negatives are a majorly easy out. Technology allows us to reproduce photographs without a negative (and obviously digital photography has made the negative issue moot for organizers of the future). Delete digital shots that are not flattering, are blurred or poorly lit immediately. Don’t wait until you load them on the computer — if you can delete them at the camera or phone level, do it.

If you are going through a bunch of old print photos, ditch any that are not high enough quality or flattering enough to include in a photo album. Also ditch any of a bunch of people you don’t recognize.

I really try to break through the sentimentality and nostalgia that comes up for clients who are confronted with years’ worth of unorganized photographs. They take up valuable physical and psychological space that could be given to life in the present.

What needs to happen in order for the photographs to get organized and into scrapbooks? For most of us, time would need to stand still for a few weeks or months. If that seems unlikely, why not pare your collection down to only the very best shots?

Other easy outs are shoes that pinch your feet, high school and college text books, chargers for phones you no longer own, expired medicines, unflattering lipsticks, VHS movies, cassette tapes, that third blow dryer, broken appliances, dried up pens and glue — the list goes on. Once the easy outs are gone, it is much easier to organize what remains.