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My War on Clutter

As I mentioned the other day, I learned about the anti-clutter book, _It’s All Too Much_, when its author, Peter Walsh, was interviewed for the Unclutterer site.

Well, the timing must have been right, because I bought a copy, and by the time I'd finished the first chapter, a switch had flipped in my head. I say "timing" because, while the book is pretty good (if perhaps not particularly groundbreaking), the author's observations on why people allow themselves to live with too much crap were an overdue existential bitchslap for me. And, I'll admit, he has simple cures for dealing with this seemingly intractable challenge, and for me that's a hard combination to beat.

Clutter of every kind has been the default state of my physical world forever. Although no official record of the conversation exists, I would not be surprised to learn that I tried to talk the staff who delivered me into letting me keep my first diaper; just because -- y'know -- you never know when it might come in handy. Bad habits formed early, bad habits stuck, and, for the most part, bad habits remain intact to this day.

It's All Too Much
by Peter Walsh

I lugged unnecessary crap through 3 moves a year in college, then entered a young adult life of unopened cardboard boxes and the omnipresent cruft of consumer existence. In addition to being a bit of a pig, I was also what Cory Doctorow calls "a craphound." I had ersatz collections of stuff everywhere. But it wasn't just ephemerabilia -- I also lived with last week's dishes, last month's beer cans, last year's TV Guide. You name it, I was not throwing it away.

Despite at least two purges of epic proportion in the late 90s, I moved to California with a lot of those same boxes -- still unopened -- and, although I did leave the empty beer cans in Tallahassee, the bad habits happily flew cross-country with me. Today, despite 7½ years of gentle intervention from a wonderfully tidy woman, I can still see ample evidence of my bad decision-making, twisted sentimentality, and utter failure to sensibly incorporate my worldly belongings into the space that's available to contain them.

This bit from Chapter 3 of Walsh's book is typical of the sections I'd credit with highlighting my awareness of the need for a change:

The things you own are a distraction to getting started on the right path. The key to getting -- and staying -- organized is to look beyond the stuff and imagine the life you could be living. Put most simply: It's about how you see your life before all else.

Good stuff.

The problem is about more than just cubic inches of physical space -- it becomes about cubic yards of mindshare when the state of your surroundings starts to define the promise of your future. The mindless junk of your past crowds out opportunities and sets pointless limitations. Pretty soon those "collectibles" start to seem a lot less valuable, and the baseline junk begins to look a lot less harmless. At least that's been the revelation for me: clutter is not without its very real costs every day.

Anyway, this is all in the service of saying I've now spent the better part of the last 5 days throwing out crap, and I'm just getting started. This has been so alternately exhausting and exhilarating that I wanted to share some of it with you.

So over the next couple days, I'll be writing about and linking to ideas that might help you wage your own war on clutter. Most of this won't be brand new insight by a long shot, but if you have the clutter (and the ears to hear about some solutions), maybe you can join me in digging a tunnel to a more crap-free life.

Gabe's picture

One breakthrough for me (though...

One breakthrough for me (though it is of course an ongoing process) was the realization that so much of the stuff I wanted to save was redundant. So what if I do decide, three years from now, that I wanted to re-read that cover story from the July 12, 1997 issue of the Nation? Someone else is worrying about keeping that available -- the Nation's website, the local library...I can probably get it if I need it. Start with: How much time/effort/cost would be involved in replacing the item as opposed to storing it?




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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