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Merlin's Review of "It's All Too Much" on Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools

Cool Tool: It's All Too Much

As my battle with clutter continues, one of my favorite people (and one of the smartest guys writing for the web, period), Kevin Kelly, noticed my efforts and took note of my affection for Peter Walsh's wonderful book, It's All Too Much.

My review for Cool Tools is indeed adapted from a few posts that originated here, but I think it's worth pointing to because, a) that book has had a huge influence on how I think about my relationship to "stuff," b) I'm honored that KK liked what I'd had to say about it, and c) if you aren't already reading Kevin's sites -- particularly his consistently insightful The Technium column -- you'd do yourself a favor to get acquainted fast. Kevin's the real deal.

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Simplicity must be possible.

Two stories that I know I should be learning from:

  • Paul Graham on overcoming distractions. By creating an Internet-Only computer.

    I now leave wifi turned off on my main computer except when I need to transfer a file or edit a web page, and I have a separate laptop on the other side of the room that I use to check mail or browse the web. (Irony of ironies, it's the computer Steve Huffman wrote Reddit on. When Steve and Alexis auctioned off their old laptops for charity, I bought them for the Y Combinator museum.)

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Links and Resources for the Chronically Disorganized

N S G C D | Home

I'm still in a de-cluttering mode these days (more on that soon), so I was intrigued by this resource, which arrived this morning via Mrs. Folders.

While primarily a trade group for "professional organizers," the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization site has some handy documents and links to help with identifying and solving pathological problems with clutter and hoarding.

If you can tolerate the site's gruesome ardor for PDFs, you'll find some informative and eye-opening stuff. From their fact sheets page:

I really liked some of the Tips for Overcoming Procrastination for the Chronically Disorganized Individual or Household (excerpted):

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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:

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More from Peter Walsh on clutter, quality of life

Oprah's Clutter Man: "It's Never About the Stuff"

Clean Sweep's Peter Walsh (previously) has a new book out, and Mediabistro had the chance to chat with him while he was out promoting it.

While I wish Peter had held out for a more cromulent title ("Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?" Ouch.), I so admire this guy's grip on what clutter does to your mind. Or at least what it does to mine.

Typically swell quote:

Our show was never about the stuff. I told the producers early on that you can only organize so many closets and garages before people lose their minds... We all have stuff. What we had to do was tell people's stories through their stuff, and see them realizing what their relationship to the stuff had become.

and, later:

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Ask MeFi on sane solutions for book clutter

Advice for clearing literary clutter | Ask MetaFilter

There's a thread on Ask Metafilter about book-centric clutter that's getting lots of good comments right now. It started when matildaben asked for "practical and creative systems for reducing the number of books I own," saying:

The vast majority of my possessions by weight and volume consists of books. I would like to develop a system for getting rid of them that will have a very practical, behavioral, methodical approach to the emotions that compel me to keep them...

The solutions people offer are thoughtful and suggest that many of the better ideas are coming from fellow bibliophiles who've struggled with The Book Problem.

Like several folks in the thread, I think this comment from occhiblu gets to the heart of what makes clutter such an emotionally complex problem:


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Dick on Kipple

There's the First Law of Kipple... 'Kipple drives out nonkipple.'

...Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday's homeopape. When nobody's around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you to go bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up there is twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.

No one can win against kipple, except temporarily and maybe in one spot.
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick, 1968

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Why Are You Reading All That News?

When I wrote about my method for controlling RSS overload a couple weeks ago, 43 Folders user terceiro left a comment that put me in my place:

You’re feeling stress about your RSS feeds? Talk about self-created problems. The real solution to managing RSS feeds is to stop reading RSS feeds. It’s simple ... when a purely optional “convenience” technology is causing stress, it’s time to re-evaluate at a pretty fundamental level.

I read this and thrashed and spluttered like Yosemite Sam for a while before I admitted it: he's right. It is a self-created problem, and I need to understand what makes me feel the need to consume the equivalent of a Carnegie library every day, instead of just finding a more efficient way to choke it down.

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Jacob Marley vs. Bob Marley: Shutting Out the Ghost of Music Past

In the few weeks since I wrote my first plea to trim the fat from your iTunes library, I've continued purging my own collection. On the first pass, I simply deleted the clearly objectionable stuff, things that I couldn't understand what made me want to keep them in the first place. It was rather easy, and like I said, it slimmed my corpulent media collection by a third.

Now though, it's getting down to brass tacks, and I'm making some hard decisions about what to keep. I don't need to do this for disk space, mind you, but as I've been trying to do a better job of organizing all my music and video with smarter lists and ratings, I've come to a simple conclusion: even if I still think it's good, I just have too much.

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Put Your iTunes Library on a Diet

My music buying habits have slowed considerably since my college days, when I'd rush down to the music store every Tuesday and spend every penny I hadn’t guzzled through a beer bong the previous weekend, but I still managed to amass a rather prodigious CD collection. When I got a Mac and an iPod, this turned into a rather prodigious iTunes library, and quickly became a major thorn in my side.

Having suffered through a couple hard drive crashes, upgrades, and subsequent backing and re-backing up lately, I've really been feeling the weight of that 100+ GB media millstone around my neck. I felt so great when I ripped that last CD and put all those unsightly jewel cases into storage, thinking it would simplify my life. Instead, it just created bigger headaches.

I know, I know, there are a bazillion ways I can slice and dice my iTunes library, storing it on different drives, shunting the videos off to a server, pimping out my machines with terabyte drives, etc, but it begs the question: do I really need all that crap in my life?

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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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. »