Sync to Swim

Spring Cleaning: Getting Rid of “Extras” in Your Life

The theme of this month around the Addison household is “spring cleaning” as we prepare to move our household from Hawaii to Texas. We do this every Spring, but before a move we start about six months out to get rid of the stuff we don’t need–preferably to a good home, recycled or donated, and into the landfill as a last resort. It’s a good way to get ourselves ready for an organized move–after 16 moves we have this down to a science and we execute each move with military precision! It’s also an exercise in removing distractions from our lives and prevent ourselves from accumulating what my wife charmingly calls “crapola” in the house.

What Do You Actually Need

The very first thing we do is take an inventory. What is it that we have: what do we actually need at the next place, are our clothes, furniture, home decor, tools, etc. relevant in the next locale? This move is a special case, because we don’t yet have a “final” landing spot but we usually have a floor plan and sometimes photos of our new house by now so we can begin to plan out the furniture layout, decide who gets what room, etc. But even without a physical move it’s possible to do some planning in April and May that has bearing on how you’ll live in the next 6-12 months.

Think critically about what you actually need to live and work in your home. If you’ve got two of the identical item, think hard about whether you really need two or more of them. Clothes are the same way. It’s easy to collect t-shirts you never wear or socks with holes, or pants you can no longer fit. Think about climate, social events, formal and informal. What do you need to live your life?

Sorting Your Stuff

Approach Spring Cleaning in your household as if you were going to move into your house as its unoccupied. Take an inventory of your stuff and bin everything into three categories: (1) Stuff we need here, (2) Stuff we like but maybe don’t need, and (3) stuff we don’t like or need.

Category 1 is easy–that stuff goes into the house. It might be in the same place it is now or it might be time to move it somewhere else, but it stays.

Category 3 is also easy–get rid of it! Take it to the local thrift store, donate it to the DAV, give it to a friend or family member, or throw it out. But once you decide you don’t like or want something, get it out of your life! Again, if you haven’t used it, worn it, or played with it in a year–you don’t need it.

OK, so Category 2 is definitely the most difficult because it’s stuff you like but you might not need. We all love our favorite jeans, but if you can’t wear them out of the house because they’re full of holes–well, then maybe those need to go to the rag bin. That shirt Aunt Susie gave you that’s still in the wrapper? Yep, Goodwill Store. That lawn mower you’ve been planning to fix? The one that’s been sitting in the garage for 2 years? Get it out of the house. The point is, Category 2 requires a person to look himself in the mirror and answer the Do I need this? question honestly. This category is an opportunity to be a gift to another person, provided the stuff is worth giving away, or at least declutter your life if it’s not.

Follow Through

The most important part of any spring cleaning is to follow through. It serves no purpose to simply move things from your closet to a pile to the garage, you have to get the extra stuff out. No matter how often I do this, the feeling after getting rid of the “extras” in my life is always surprising lightness. It truly feels as if I’ve unburdened our household and my life. It feels good to come home to a clean and uncluttered house. It’s true in life and work as well. When we unclutter our life through personal “spring cleaning” we can really reach for high performance.

This Applies to All Aspects of Your Life

A horse runs faster with a lighter jockey and a car gets better mileage when it’s lighter as well. That principle applies to our life, too. Uncluttering your life by removing “stuff” is powerful, and uncluttering your life by removing unnecessary distractions, commitments, and sometimes even negative people is even more powerful. Always strive to be a friend and a peacemaker, to serve others, and be useful–but if all else fails, get it out of your life. You’ll be the better for it, and so will those around you.


Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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