43 Folders

Back to Work

Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

Join us via RSS, iTunes, or at 5by5.tv.

”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Clutter War II: Attack of the Giant Baby

As of next Sunday, our lovely daughter will have been with our houshold for six months (Happy Half-Birthday, Eleanor). It's a good arrangement, and we're all pretty happy about the whole thing so far. But, to look around our house, you'd think we were raising a small army of babies, each of whom has their own Amazon Prime account and an addiction to things that are shaped like giraffes.

Oh my, the stuff. The baby stuff. Everywhere. Means of conveyance, swingy seat, Bumbo, squeaky toys, fuzzy toys, toys for biting and bending, jammies, jackets, socks that do and don't look like shoes, amusing hats, blankets, books, rattles, pacifiers, cleaning supplies, extra diapers -- plus of course, there's the raw tonnage of stuff belonging to the caretaking adults that has been displaced or disused as a result of the occupying baby's needs. It is a scene, man, I can assure you. And there's not an iota of blame to place on the actual baby; it's all us (and mostly me). [By the bye, for an illuminating look at the perils of the creeping ParentCrap industry, have a look at Parenting, Inc. It's chilling. And, for me, personally damning.]

At any rate, as we approach that august 183-day mark in our little girl's life, you might be able to guess where my head is right now. Yep. It's on clutter, and on what I need to do to get my face back into Peter Walsh's excellent de-cluttering book as a means for regaining domestic sanity and striding toward the possibility of a life without tripping, piling, or losing what's left of my sleep-deprived mind.

But let's start with first principles:

It's All Too Much
by Peter Walsh

Well, obviously for me, it starts with re-reading It's All Too Much (isbn.nu | library search). As I've said before, this is a fantastic book that distinguishes itself by helping you understand why you have clutter, rather than just trying to help you find new places to store and "organize" it. Author Peter Walsh encourages you to imagine the life you really want, and then ruthlessly purge the items that are keeping that vision from becoming a reality. Pure gold.

Now, if you don't have the time or inclination to look at the book with me right now, or if you're one of those smarty boffins who points out that this would represent yet another piece of clutter -- or even just to bring existing Peter fans back up to speed -- here's some posts from my previous excursion into the world of It's All Too Much. It was a bracing sprint that helped me rid myself of crap that had been doing nothing for my life for years:

  • My War on Clutter - "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."
  • My War on Clutter: Never "organize" what you can discard - "The truth is that this is like covering your tumor with a bandage, and without thoughtful paring-down, all those crates and boxes and storage spaces do nothing to improve the basic problem."
  • My War on Clutter: The Tools to Purge BIG - "I cannot overstate the importance of making a zone like this early in your project. You must know without hesitation that whatever you run across — no matter how big or bulky — will find a temporary home in your dump zone before quickly being whisked out of your house forever."
  • My War on Clutter: Inspiration for Independence Day - "If my own clutter war is piquing your interest in improving your surroundings, tomorrow could be the occasion for you to put a few minutes toward making a dent in your own pile."
  • Vox Pop: Converting clutter from trash to treasure - Readers share their excellent suggestions on responsible, useful ways to repurpose trash into someone else's treasure.
  • More from Peter Walsh on clutter, quality of life - "Capacity is only worth building when it’ll be used in the service of stuff you really want."

Thing is, I now return to this book and this mission with a renewed level of resolve because I have to face the previously unthinkable; we must convert Dad's entropic home office into a nursery suitable for a shiny little baby who doesn't appear to enjoy sleeping on USB cables and books about developing in ShockWave (yes, thanks, there's still lots of "low-hanging fruit" remaining).

So this new adventure begins. I hope to share some of this parent-focused de-cluttering with you over the next couple weeks, so pop back by if that appeals. For what it's worth, I hope it will also have tidbits that appeal to the child-free or child-neutral amongst you.

As I returned to It's All Too Much in the last week, I was struck by a line that sounded like something straight out of my Time & Attention talk. In introducing a chapter on the excuses most people give for suffering clutter, Peter Walsh says:

Everything in your home is there with your permission.

And it's true. Or putting just a slightly sharper point on it, it might be said that "Everything in your home remains there with your permission." That clutter becomes a tiresome houseguest that you just don't have the heart to throw out. And he keeps inviting his messy friends who also have decided to camp out on every available surface.

So, if you're the sort of put-together life hacker who would never accept a lame project or a pointless task, what sense is there in not applying the same rigor to your surroundings? Exactly.

Anyhow, here I go. Wish us luck. And, as ever, I hope you'll share your thoughts on how you beat the crap back after your little one arrived and took over. I'd love for Eleanor's second six months to take place in a comfortable, clutter-free house that baby, parents, and giraffes alike can enjoy.

mclazarus's picture


I have two little ones 3 1/2 and almost 2. and am just starting to figure out some of the keys. Here are some tips based on things that have worked for me.

  1. crap toys: fastfood, freebie toys. Keep a little container where these tend to live, once a week dump it. Don't let these get a foothold.

  2. thrift store. Find one or many, find out their policies for types of toys and when to donate. If you are like me and have lots of family, they all buy stuff for the little ones. If it has been around for 6 months, and it isn't one of the absolutely favorite toys. It's had a good run.

A good way to start selecting candidates is introduce a second toy box with a lid. After a few weeks the bottom of that one will be full of toys that haven't been touched in months. Take em to the thrift store.

  1. straighten up the play area, do it every night. It makes life feel better when the little one is sleeping. You can also sort of make a game of the clean up too. This helps you have a real idea how much stuff there is, what is getting played with and what isn't. And when you put it away the height of the piles let you know that it is too much better than, there is stuff everywhere single pile in the room.

  2. Be ruthless about what your life is now. If you think you are going to build that tiny little amp in an altoids tin, or some kind of little robot. Forget it. You will not get to it. Your fake hobbies (the ones you think you wish you had) are no longer a priority. You also can't read everything. Don't be afraid to part with books. Yes I said it books. If you look at it and don't think I can't wait to read this again. It needs to get sold or given away. Pronto, before the value is zero.

good luck.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


Subscribe with Google Reader

Subscribe on Netvibes

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe on Pageflakes

Add RSS feed

The Podcast Feed


Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »