Friday, July 2, 2010


Some quick thoughts on de-cluttering, following up on my recent entry wondering why we only put our living spaces right just prior to moving out.

Assuming you have a clutter problem, consider these thoughts:

1. You know your inflow: mail, deliveries, stuff you buy, stuff you read. It fills your house like data fills a hard drive. But what is your outflow? As with calories in/calories out, it all boils down, in the end, to striking a balance. So how much trash do you take out per week? Could you find a way to make the outflow feel as satisfying as the inflow (it ought to, considering that outflow, like weight loss, is the solution to a critical problem)? Every item directed to trash makes your place less cluttered...and it's so much easier than losing weight. So pay much more attention to the outflow (controlling the inflow is harder)!

2. Buy a big box of those really large black Hefty trash bags (not the cheaper generic ones; spring for the big, thick, tough ones with the handy drawstrings). And fill one per day. Make it like a game - you absolutely must throw out one full bag every day. Also: get in the habit of filling all your waste baskets much more quickly.

3. That last suggestion will make you change your attitude toward your possessions. Cluttered people ask themselves "Do I really need to throw this out? I might want it one day!". But now you'll shift the question to "Do I really need to keep this? I want an uncluttered living space more than I want to keep on hand every object I might conceivably want!" You will come to look at possessions with a greedy eye re: their trash-ability.

4. We live in an amazing world where everything is easily found and purchased (often cheaply on eBay or craigslist). Books you don't read and music you don't listen to can always be re-purchased if you ever really need them (and I'll bet you don't wind up repurchasing more than a tiny handful, if even that). If you like to buy and store big packages of everyday items like toilet paper from Costco to save money, that's one thing. But anything you're saving for "just in case", which you haven't touched in a few years, is best trashed and maybe repurchased later. Because you may never need it. And if you do, you can just buy it (it seems uneconomical, but bear in mind that the storage incurs a cost, as well). And chances are that if you did ever need it, you'd be unable to find it, anyway. Your future self, who you're trying to aid with all these stored away knickknacks and doodads, will not be grateful. Rather, she will rue the cluttered existence you've doomed her to! You're not being helpful!

5. As for memorabilia and sentimental objects, ask yourself whether the pleasure you derive from them is so great that it's worth crimping your living space to accommodate them. To your heirs, it's nearly all junk, and will be brought unceremoniously to the curb upon your demise. Repeat: your "treasure" is nearly all junk. You may have a murky vision of yourself tenderly enjoying these things one day, but when, exactly, will that be? Do you truly envision your elder self saying "You know, it was worth the sacrifice of a perpetually cluttered living space in order to reexperience, in my golden years, the sheer joy of this commemorative back scratcher from Pennsylvania Dutch Country and this junior varsity soccer trophy"? Sharpen that visualized scenario to reflect reality. And envision your heirs tossing the cruddy back scratcher and soccer trophy into a big black trash bag. With that image and that clarity, you'll know what to do!

6. The main emotional deep dark pit beneath all this is the scary thought that one day you actually may want to show your son or daughter your soccer trophy, but, gulp, discover that you threw it out one day. Well, yes, that would be sad, wouldn't it? But exactly how sad? Would it tear you up for days, or just mean a quick lump in your throat? And - here's the critical part - wouldn't you endure a few prospective throat lumps of regret for a sleek, roomy living space? Isn't that a worthwhile trade-off? If so, then err on the side of throwing out too much rather than too little. The perpetual stress of clutter is far worse than a few minor pangs of materialistic regret. The new mantra should be: "when in doubt, throw it out" (rather than the clutterer's mantra of "when in doubt, hold on to it!").

It's all psychological self-hacking, but sometimes that's what we must do to jar ourselves out of old habits and previous conditioning...

No comments:

Blog Archive