Book helps you let go of clutter

By Michelle Singletary, Columnist

Spring, with its rebirth and warm days, is as a good as time as any to get busy throwing out the stuff clogging your home, office, mind and spirit.

I’m going to do it. I’m going to throw out 50 things. That’s the seemingly simple advice in Gail Blanke’s new book.

Blanke, a motivational speaker and president and chief executive of Lifedesigns, has written “Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life” (Springboard Press, $13.99). It’s the Color of Money Book Club pick for April.

You may be wondering what this book has to do with personal finance.

Actually, quite a bit.

Many of the people who have financial issues got into their money mess because of what Blanke calls life plaque — bad memories from childhood, a sense of entitlement, awful money habits and old debts. If this describes you, aren’t you tired of holding on to that baggage?

Why 50 things?

It’s not an arbitrary number, Blanke promises: “Once you make it to 50, a kind of wonderful momentum takes over; before you know it, the throwing-out thing becomes a habit, an ongoing mindset.”

So what do you toss?

Blanke answers this question by giving you the “rules of disengagement.” They are:

Rule 1. If the item, memory, job or even person is weighing you down, get rid of it.

Rule 2. If the thing is not contributing something positive, let it go.

Rule 3. If it takes you a long time to decide whether something needs to be tossed, throw it out.

Rule 4. If you’re afraid to throw out something, get rid of the fear.

One of the chapters that really hit home for me was “Letting Go of Needing to Feel Secure.”

“There was this idea that if you worked and saved and kept a lid on your wildest dreams, not to mention your expenses, you’d be fine,” Blanke writes. “Well, all those securities are, if not totally defunct, more than a little iffy these days.”

The recession has made many people — myself included — realize that security can’t just come with the job you hold or the emergency money you’ve saved. Both can vanish sooner than you think. Blanke says don’t covet and cling to security — especially financial security — to the point that when it’s taken away, you crumble.

Blanke’s book is divided into four parts. In part one, you get rid of the unused stuff in your house. No more junk drawers. In part two, you attack your office or desk or the part of your house designated as your workspace. “Throw out all the debris that’s accumulated there, which just might be slowing your ability to gain traction in a new assignment, a new company or even a whole new career,” she says.

In part three, you get rid of the mental mess. You might be surprised (although I’m not) at the emotional junk you’ve collected. Finally, after you’ve made it to 50, with added space in your home, office and mind there’s room to contemplate what you want in life.

So are you ready to throw out 50 things? If so, I have a challenge for you. As you think about the stuff you need to pitch, may I suggest that you put on your list at least five financial things?

Among them, get rid of a lingering small debt. Throw out old financial documents you no longer need (that pile of papers counts as just one thing). Shed the anger of a lost job or home.

Here’s the thing about Blanke’s book when it comes to your finances:

People want higher incomes so they can live a better life, and this often just means having more stuff and the debt that goes with the accumulation of it.

But what if you started throwing out things? What if the purging process makes you more appreciative of what you have? This has the possibility of making you realize you can make do with the money you have.

If you decide to throw out 50 things, join me at noon Eastern on April 29 at www.washingtonpost.com/discussions. Blanke will be my guest. I want to know what you threw out and why.

Washington Post Writers Group

Michelle Singletary’s Book Club

It’s easy to be a member of the club. Just read “Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life” and, if you choose, join Singletary and the author for a live online discussion.

Every month, she randomly selects readers to receive a copy of the featured book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win Gail Blanke’s book, e-mail colorofmoney@washpost.com with your name and address.