Variations on the Four Box Method

One of the standard techniques for cleaning or decluttering in a problem room is the four box method. Used on scales as small as an overstuffed desk and as large as the homes that are featured on TLC’s Clean Sweep, the four box method is one of the most recommended ways to clean.

Some of that popularity can be ascribed to the simplicity of the technique. All you need to use the four box method is, as you may have guessed, four boxes. Each box gets a label: “put away,” “give away,” “throw away,” and “not sure.” Everything in the room then gets sorted into one of those four boxes. When you’re done, you put away the things in the put away box, toss the throw away box into the trash bin, drive the give away box to your local Goodwill, and put the not sure box somewhere out of the way. After a month or two, anything you haven’t found yourself needing from the not sure box goes to the Goodwill too.

The standard four box method works great in a variety of situations, but sometimes you’ll be in a situation where you need to add another box. For example, if there’s a good used bookstore in your area and you’re cleaning out a room with a lot of books, you may want a “sell” box next to the “give away” box. There are certain kinds of books no used bookstore will take off your hands, so there’s no point putting all the books in the “sell” box, but putting them in the give away box gets them out of sight and out of mind before you have a chance to feel guilty about parting with your beloved pages.

Similarly, someone cleaning out a particularly difficult closet might want to augment their “give away” box with a “sell” box for the sorts of gently-used designer clothes that you might want to trade in at your local Plato’s Closet or other upscale used clothes shop. The whole point of the four box method is to get everything sorted in one go, after all — using a sorting method that will require you to go through them again later defeats the purpose.

During my recent experience moving, my roommate and I hit on yet another variation on the four box method uniquely suited to moving. Replacing the “put away” box with a stack of boxes for packing helped us do double-duty, packing and decluttering at the same time.

It’s easy to look up an organizing system, try it, and realize it doesn’t suit your needs, but that doesn’t mean the system itself is useless. Most of these systems are popular because they’re universal enough to appeal to a lot of people. Take a second look and you may see that the system would be perfect for your job with just a little tweaking.

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