in Daily Life

Project De-Clutter

I’ve been working with my wellness coach, Lauren, again for the past few weeks. Though we both went into this expecting to focus more on physical fitness, our sessions have actually taken a surprising turn toward mental fitness. As a result I’ve been led practice meditation, to determine my personal priorities, to cut back on blogging, and, most recently, to de-clutter my environment.

As most of you are aware, I’m a clutter kind of guy. I accumulate stuff. I always have. When I was a boy, I had what my parent’s called a “rat’s nest” — a closet filled with whatever I could find and hoard. I still have packrat tendencies.

I collect comics. I have several hundred record albums. I have thousands of books. I’ve kept every letter or note ever written to me, from fifth grade until now. (Well, some have been lost, but only accidentally.) I keep every receipt. I gather free literature on roofing, on rototillers, on automobile tires. I collect this stuff, and I bring it all home.

I’m like a black hole for junk.

Obviously, this stuff all needs a place to live. Most of it lies buried in closets and sheds, but some of it — the most recently used stuff — has a tendency to collect in piles on every open surface. Since we moved to this house, we’ve managed to keep the downstairs mostly clutter-free, but the upstairs is a haven for the stuff.

Now, this might not be such a problem — I might be able to live a happy cluttered life — except for the fact that it really detracts from my ability to concentrate. If I sit at this desk and there are papers scattered everywhere, and there are things on the filing cabinet, and the coffee table is piled with books, and there’s stuff all over the floor, well then it becomes difficult for me to focus. I can’t write.

When I complained about my cluttered life at the Get Rich Slowly forums, several readers recommended Clutter’s Last Stand by Don Aslett. I got a copy, but I haven’t been able to read it yet because Kris took it and has had it ever since. It must be pretty motivational, because it’s prompted her to action. She spent the weekend de-cluttering whatever she could.

Though I haven’t had a chance to read the official de-cluttering techniques, I’ve made a start on my own projects. This office is now mostly clutter-free. I do still have one stack each on the filing cabinet, the bookshelf, and the desk, but that’s a vast improvement from before. (And, to be honest, as I look around at these piles right now, I feel the urge to stop and sort them.)

Andrew Cronk goes through periods in his life where he purges things. We’ll get together and he’ll say, “Here, J.D., I have some things for you.” He’ll hand me random stuff: a science fiction book, a computer game, a fishing pole. My understanding is that when he does this, he’s basically de-cluttering his life. Now, for the first time, I can really understand his motivation.

Don’t be surprised if, the next time I see you, I hand you a stack of comic books or some REO Speedwagon LPs.

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  1. We’ve been “editing” our household a bit too while we are preparing to sell our house. One good thing about moving every few years is that it forces you to sort through things (or, at least it does for me). Part of our wish to move is to find a smaller, more efficient house–less space to keep clean, less space to heat, less space to fill with clutter. Every once in a while we talk about really scaling back and living in a loft or on a houseboat. My problem is that I really want a garden, and, well, we can buy a single family home in Portland for less than a loft and houseboats don’t have the same financial benefits of land-based dwellings.

    One rule I try to live by, not always successfully, is that if there isn’t a spot for something to be put away, then (1) a place needs to be found/cleared for that item or (2) a new home needs to be found for that item. I’m struggling with paper and basement items. We don’t have a good filing cabinet and the basement is one large room with no shelving or cabinets. We are taking temporary measures for both, storing records in cardboard bankers boxes and basement items in plastic tubs (we’ve been doing this for years, but they get messy after a while and need to be reorganized). Getting these items in order will make our eventual move easier. One of my goals for our next, much smaller house, will be to have proper storage for these items. I want to be able to put my hand on a tool the moment I need it or find some necessary, but seldom-used document that I’ve been hauling around for years.

    Good luck with this!