when in doubt, throw it out

“anyone seen my glasses?” asked daily by my dad, that question is my family’s version of Wall Street’s opening bell.  let the games begin.  (“keys” and/or “phone” can be used in place of “glasses.”)

“seen them?” i’d fight the urge to ask, “i’ve been watching them, Dad.  they’re riveting.”

despite our blatant lack of sympathy, he’d grill my mom and me about the last time we saw his missing essentials with the intensity of a police chief desperate for clues about a missing human

even worse, he’d enlist our help.  my mom and i refused but houseguests didn’t know the drill.  they took his predicament seriously, and, worst of all, occasionally joined the hunt.  inevitably, he’d find them and alert us to call off the search party.  har.  although i don’t live with my parents any more, i guarantee the tradition continues.

you’d never know i’m his daughter.  minimalism makes me salivate.  i can’t read an article about it without leaping up to evaluate the contents of at least one drawer and throwing things out.  

most recently, saliva gathered while i read “7 Ways Clutter is Ruining Your Life” by Stephanie Vozza on FastCompany.

it examines the usual problems associated with too much junk: more cortisol, less focus, wasting time and money (and the patience of family members) while looking for the crap itself.  but there were two other issues worth exploring.

accumulated stuff represents “delayed decisions and delayed actions,” according to Lorie Marrero, author of The Clutter Diet.  while true, it’s easy to forget, because “i’m not finished with it yet” sounds reasonable.  combine that pseudo-explanation with how royally objects sit around, almost like they own the place, and soon enough, they will

my aunt once described how my parents drop stuff wherever as “leaving things where they landed.”  it’s very apt.  plonk.  the remote decided to take a break.  or, whoosh, the hairbrush crash landed on the bathroom counter. 

when you look at it that way, it gets embarrassing.  fast.  not every horizontal surface needs to double as a runway.  @@leaving things strewn about is a non-decision that, with time and repetition, becomes one.@@

another problem is clutter sticking around past its expiration date.  Vozza describes clutter as “a way of clinging to the past.”  @@it’s a habit to keep things just as much as it’s a habit to get rid of them.@@ 

an amusing part of throwing things out is how we almost never regret the act.  more often, we uncover items we didn’t know we (still) owned.  my first minimizing breakthrough happened after my junior year abroad.  i reentered my bedroom, where everything was as i’d left it almost a full year earlier.  i looked in my closet and saw a tote bag i forgot existed. 

i was stunned.  i’d lived nearly 52 weeks without this item.  it was erased from my memory.  i might as well have donated it. 

you think you’ll miss stuff you throw away, but most of the time, you immediately forget what you got rid of.  even if it seemed significant when you chucked it. 

solutions to reducing both kinds of clutter, the “landing” kind and the “clinging” type—come down to two questions: where to keep? and what to keep?  ask them ruthlessly and often.

handling “where to keep”:

possessions come with responsibility.  the key is deciding where things should stay when you acquire them and repeat the action.  robotically, blindly, routinely put them where they belong.  unless you realize another place makes more sense.  then move it and don’t think about it again until yet another location seems better.   

handling “what to keep”:

if the object provides meaning, ask why.  and more importantly, does it still?  or is its appeal the fact you own it?  do you like the continuity provided from keeping it around?  for these objects, “but i like it there,” or any variation, will not suffice.  they just mean you’re used to the concept of the item. 

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