7 Steps to Declutter Your Wordrobe

To Marie Kondo, a woman of few words

Illustration @go.nima

This exercise will help you let go of words that no longer serve you, create space for new ones, and offer you a new wordrobe that best reflects your current self.

A word of advice: the exercise is planned for three days, yet depending on the size of your wordrobe, it may take a bit longer. During the exercise, you will not have access to your words; you will be wordless. It is recommended that you do this practice alone, reserving at least three days in which you will not need words. Please also note that, during this time, you will not be able to use your bed. Plan another place to sleep, such as a couch.

Day One

  1. Remove all the words from your head, and spread them out on your bed. Leave none inside.
  2. Create three piles, label them: ‘Keep’, ‘Give Away’, and ‘Discard’. The Keep and Give Away piles will remain on the bed. The Discard pile is on the floor.

Pick one word at a time, bring it to your heart, close your eyes and pronounce it aloud three times. Ask yourself, “Do I still need you?” If you respond, “Yes,” place the word in the Keep pile. If it belongs to your past, but you still like it, drop it in the Give Away pile on the bed. If you don’t want anyone to use it, throw it in the Discard pile on the floor.

To illustrate I pick up multilateral, I bring it to my heart and repeat the word three times, multilateral, multilateral, multilateral. I ask myself “Do I need you?” In my case multilateral goes in the Give Away pile. It has served me well, it has value, but I doubt I will need it for the rest of my journey.

Remember, this is a personal exercise; what you wish to keep is not necessarily what I wish to keep. There are words we feel protective of for sentimental reasons. Take for instance the word panfluta, which is how my son misspelt and mispronounced the Spanish word pantufla, slipper, until he was four years old and his sister succeeded in “correcting” him. I will not discard panfluta.

Take your time with each word. Breath it in, smell it, savour it. In my case, I will donate impact. I can’t wear it anymore. I’ve overused it and it doesn’t fit me any longer. But it’s a trendy word, I’m sure it will find its way to someone else’s wordrobe soon, and make them happy.

Be brutal, shed words, give away or throw them out. You’ll discover the benefits of owning less words; you’ll spend less time deciding what word to use. A good rule of thumb is, if you haven’t used the word in more than one year, it is likely outdated, and irrelevant to you. Let it go.

I also give away sustainability, development, empowerment, diplomacy, and international. They suited me well in previous decades of my life, and they are useful, but I don’t want to wear them anymore.

Don’t forget the acronyms, they use mental space too. I own so many I could write books with only acronyms. Some are outdated like GATT, I’ll discard that one. Some are trendier like WHO, some are in permanent flux like LGBTQ, some I’ve long forgotten what they stand for, like AAA.

Discard words and phrases that you hate, and don’t want to hear from anyone’s lips like Hijo de Puta. I’ve never understood why that is an insult.

If you are a woman, I recommend keeping words that cut, like sword, assertive, bold.

Day Two

You have created space in your wordrobe for new words.

3. Bless the space by performing a ritual of your liking, such as burning an incense stick, lighting a candle, making a prayer.

4. Upcycle and transform Take a pair of scissors, thread, ideally red, and a needle. Use the words in the three piles for this exercise. Let your imagination thrive, cut and paste to combine old words into new ones as in wordrobebeyondness and perronalityskinscape, my most recent creations. I am particularly fond of perronality stitched together from the Spanish word perrodog, and personality, because indeed, dogs have personalities. There are meanings out there in search of words. Baptize them, give them a name.

Be mindful as you craft new words. Ask, will you bring value to my life? Again, eyes shut, breath the word in, savour it in your mouth. If it does not feel right, let it go.

5. Burn the Discard pile be aware of the restrictions to open fires in your vicinity. Light the fire and feel the warmth, the energy freed. These are words that are better destroyed, let them go, be grateful for the liberation, the lightness.

6. Give Away There are many ways of passing words on, you can leave them lying around on a bench, stick them on post-its in public toilets, or bring them to a charity or a collection point. Don’t look back, remind yourself that many men and women, children too, are short of words. Words that are always well received are: Thank you, you’re welcome, darling and fine. They are easy to wear, in every weather, in every mood. But you will find grateful recipients for less handled words such as cryptocurrency, volatility, or charlatan.

Day Three

7. Welcome your new wordrobe into your head, organize it. First, make yourself a cup of tea or a coffee, sit next to the pile of words you have chosen to keep and welcome them anew into your life, both the old and the newly created words.

In this, the final step, you will store them back in your head, one by one. This step is also critical, and it’s also very personal.

There are many ways to categorize and cluster words. You will find your own way.

One option is to separate them into their function: Verbs, Nouns, Prepositions, and Adverbs. You can also arrange them by colours or moods or themes, remember to label the compartments clearly: ‘Earth and sky tones’ for instance; ‘Words for cocktail parties’ (provided you didn’t discard them); ‘Words for job interviews’, ‘Casual wear’, ‘Formal attire’ (such as Ladies & Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to, without further ado).

If your mind is a structured, cartesian mind, you may wish to store them by size. In this case, long words such as unconstitutional are best hung, to avoid wrinkles, unless of course, you store them by their parts.

You might want to create subcategories, separating proper names Salomé from common nouns, girl.

Prepositions are best stored in a drawer, they are small and easily misplaced.

Nouns with an even number of syllables are easier to fold than those with odd numbers.

A note for those of you who are bi- or multi-lingual, two options exist. You may do the exercise separately for each language you possess, or alternatively, you may store the words by their function (or whichever clustering criteria you select). In the latter case, you will mix the languages in the compartment, so that maison, casa, and house would be in the Common Nouns section, for example.

Congratulations! You are ready. May you enjoy the benefits of a lighter mental load. With fewer words in your head, you will find words more easily. You have more brain space for creativity.

For those of you worried about the lightness of your new wordrobe, know that as easily as you shed words, you can acquire them. Therein lies the magic of a circular wordrobe. Words, a critical resource of our societies, need to circulate too. Instead of storing words and keeping them to ourselves, we aim to share them, pass them on to others. If, later on, you are in search of a word, you can attend a conference (many university conferences are open to the public), go to a library, or eavesdrop on the next table at the restaurant. If you give away a word, thinking you’d no longer need it and suddenly you do, like heartbreak, remind yourself that it is replaceable. In this specific case, it can be stitched back together from its two components. It’s better to re-acquire words we need than to have kept words not used and out of circulation.

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