Cascading Decisions

Downsizing and organizing projects, no matter how seemingly small, are a series of cascading decisions. Most are mundane, many are tiring or tricky, and some are emotionally weighted.

No wonder most people quit, if they’ve even managed to start.

Decisiveness is not everyone’s strong suit and not everyone is adept at making certain types of decisions. Maybe it’s easy to decide what career to pursue or where to go on vacation. But you may be paralyzed by the thought of choosing a new health insurance plan or deciding between the chicken and the fish. Decisiveness comes in different shades.

Beginning a project with the acknowledgement that you will be confronted with a stream of decision points is best. Understand that one decision may hinge upon the next. Your project may start small and narrow, and then expand when you move one item into another room to, let’s say, put it on a shelf, only to discover that said shelf is packed too tightly and you need to remove items from it. In doing so, you rediscover a book left by an old friend you always meant to return. But finding their address is difficult because they moved recently and you only have their old one. You don’t want to reach out because a phone call will eat up another hour. You know they take a long time to respond to emails and don’t want to wait because now your living room has piles on the floor and you know you won’t be able to make it to the donation center for two weeks. These pesky, relentless decisions have cascaded down and you give up. That’s one way that disorganization happens and stays that way: the paralyzing nature of too many decisions. 

I don’t say this to dissuade you. It is necessary to highlight the truth in the pursuit of a solution: a little planning, a little patience, and a little rule making can go a long way.

Before you begin a project, be clear on your intention and how it connects to the broader goals and priorities in your life. Come up with corresponding rulesets. For example: I will use the library for books from now on. I will only keep books that I use for reference and that I haven’t read yet. I will donate all other books to the library because giving back to my community is an important priority in my life.

Pick a time to organize when you know you have some wiggle room if things go awry. Build in some minutes at the end of your session to clean up. Pre-assign bags/piles/boxes in the following categories for quicker follow through on your decisions: donate, give to a specific person, sell, trash, recycling, special disposables (ex. household hazardous waste, scrap metal, bulk items), and a “to do” box (ex. get batteries for an item, bring something to the dry cleaners). Acknowledge in your plan that, once your items are sorted into these categories, you will need additional time for follow through.

Decisions can be sticky but don’t let yourself get stuck. Get into the mindset and rhythm of decisiveness, even if that’s not your proclivity. Attitude is something you can adjust along side proper planning. Become a decision-making machine. It gets easier the more you do it and, with all the little decisions you make, you are sure to get in your practice.