Wade-Bennett Yes/No technique


The Yes/No technique can be described in one sentence.  You make two piles of your belongings; what you want to keep and what you don’t. That simplicity is always there for the person doing the exercise.

However, for the enabler/ assister/ health worker/ clutter consultant, it requires:
  1. Listening to the client; how stressed are they?
  2. Looking at the situation, is this a huge overwhelming clog where it is impossible to enter the living space? Or something smaller?
  3. Some thought, and some planning. The process is laid out chronologically. The consultant may need to mix it up; move around and change direction. Entertaining the client, by keeping it all light and non-threatening, is important. When Yes/No is done well, the results can be surprising and dramatic.

Preparation: Sorting

Preliminary sorting: paper with paper, clothes with clothes etc. The client, in most cases, is quite happy to do this. It does not need great thought or discrimination. Start with large categories and then refine in stages. For example:

Clothes, then


In tops:


In t-shirts:


In short-sleeved:

By colour

The sorting process is generally quite relaxing for clients.  The decisions are easy: Is it an item of clothing? Is it a top or a bottom? Is it a t-shirt?  There is no talk of getting rid of anything at this stage.  However, even the clients who booked us saying that they don’t want to get rid of anything at all, that they only want to sort and organize, will throw away approximately 10% during the sorting.  They will pick things up and say “I don’t want this” To which the response is: “Fine, do you want to throw it away or give it to charity?”

When chaos has taken over, the person often doesn’t know how many of a particular thing they have.  With clothes; they have been buying things because they can’t find anything clean to wear. If, for example you hold up a black t-shirt, they will say 'I want that, black t-shirts are always useful, I need a black t-shirt, I’ve been looking for a black t-shirt'.  The t-shirt may be very old and tatty with a bleach stain, but they will want to keep it.

However, once the preliminary sorting is done and 47 short-sleeved black t-shirts have been piled up. The client will look at them and say:

'I didn’t know I had that many'
'I don’t need that many'
'There are 12 brand new ones, I don’t need to keep the worn out ones'

A high functioning client with no hoarding tendencies can do the Yes/No piles alone.   They will whizz through them. Sometimes, they will ask: Can we have a laundry pile?  Can we have a pile for my sister?  Can we have a gift pile?  Can we have a charity pile? etc. The very high-functioning client can keep as many as 6 or 7 piles on the go.

Our clients comment that we put the process into manageable comprehensible bites.   The better the preliminary sort is, the better the outcome.   Sorting and deciding at the same time is very difficult.   We have had clients with tiny amounts of clutter who have found this so hard that they don’t know where to start.

Action: Yes/No

The client is instructed to divide a pile of their belongings into two piles as quickly as possible:
  1. Yes, I want it.
  2. No, I don’t want it.
It is not necessary to say that the 'No, I don’t want it' pile will be thrown away, given to a friend or donated to charity. The client knows that. It is not useful to talk about that at this stage. This is simply the first part of the process. Nothing is set in stone. Things can be recovered from the No pile, if the client wants to do that.

Inevitably, the first question will be 'What about the maybes?' The answer is 'Put them in the yes pile and keep going'

The instruction to put maybes into the yes pile further emphasizes speed.  Speed has the effect of breaking the initial inertia and building momentum which is its principal purpose, however, we have hypothesized another possibility:

Speed, going with the immediate gut response keeps the client working on the visual more spatially aware right brain.  In general, clients who are visual who have beautiful houses and things underneath the clutter are easier to help than those who get their pleasures from the written word and/or sound (music). Pushing for their “gut”, avoiding long conversations and justifications keeps them out of the left brain.

If the client looks like they are going to have trouble, the consultant works with them holding up each thing and asking; 'Do you want this?' The consultant doing the holding and touching means that the client doesn’t have a chance to re-connect physically with the object.  Even with the help of a consultant, the real compulsive hoarder can be exhausted by the process.   But, equally, they are exhilarated by their achievement.

Yes/No without sorting

It is possible to do Yes/No piles without doing preliminary sorting. There may not be enough clear space to sort.

The most basic version is to ask the client to identify what they consider to be trash and to just separate those things out, effectively creating a no pile.

These no piles may be as simple as:
  • candy wrappers
  • used window envelopes
  • plastic bags that have started to degrade and are shredding
On one level it can be said that this is a non-threatening way to start the process.  More importantly, the client is exercising control and rebuilding those muscles and impulses.  We ask them, 'What do you consider to be trash?'.   Some hoarders will then give us permission to throw away a category of thing.  It might be the used window envelopes, for example.   Usually, this can’t be done on the first visit.  The client has to trust the consultant not to throw away anything without permission.  All our clients have to approve throwaway piles.  From our point of view, anything that painlessly reduces the volume of stuff is helpful.

There is an interesting and important side-effect: Everyone unconsciously has a hierarchy for their belongings.   At the very top of the ladder are things like: last picture of father before his death or the wedding ring.  At the bottom is the trash.  The status of an individual object is often established by what is above and below it on the ladder. Those things at the bottom are ‘vulnerable'.  Once the 'trash' has been removed, the items on the next rung up have lost their status.   They have become trash.  This is why multiple passes through things can be so productive.   In the first pass, there will be things in the “yes” pile that are barely better than those in the “no”.   These might have been the maybes.  Doing the first pass allows the client to relax.  When they re-look at the yes pile, they will almost always pull something else out, something which has now lost its status.

A diagnostic tool?

Because we frequently find ourselves in places that appear to be hoards, we are very interested in simple diagnostic tools.  We would be interested in measuring how a person does Yes/No and whether it could be a criteria for hoarding.

© Wade-Bennett 2010

profile views counter