Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action.
I’ve pretty much always known I needed to “get organized”. I was a messy kid and I’m still a somewhat-messy adult.
Back in 2006, I was still solidly mired in my packrat’s nest of clutter when I stumbled upon a book by a guy named Don Aslett. The book was called Clutter Be Gone, and I bought it for two of the top packratty reasons to buy anything – “because it’s on sale”, and “because I might use it someday”. Besides, everybody knows that you don’t actually have to read books – just owning the book is enough….right?
$3.99 and a drive home later, the book was tossed on a pile by the door. I did actually intend to read it – really! But it never happened, and piles do what piles do – grow, shift, and move.
Fast-forward two years.
I’m digging through my front closet (aka “the mini junk room”) looking for something else, and I stumble upon the book. I remembered buying it, I remembered that I’d intended to read it, and I decided to take stock of my current situation.
- An apartment full of stuff
- Stuff in an office downtown that I’d rented but currently wasn’t using
- Stuff in a storage unit
- Stuff in a former apartment (where a friend of mine still lived)
- Stuff in somebody else’s storage unit
I needed to do something. I read the book over a weekend, and formulated a plan to get things under control.
Since the apartment barely had room to for me to move around, I had to go through and do a pretty serious declutter before I could reasonably bring anything else in. Then came the stuff from my storage unit. Then the stuff from the office. Then the stuff from my friend’s storage unit. Then the stuff from my friend’s place.
I literally decluttered the same apartment five times in a row. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say there were lots of garbage bags, lots of trips to the thrift store, and lots of time (think months, not days) involved.
The Lessons From That 5-Pass Declutter
Sometimes simplicity is found only after making a long trek through complexity. If you’re trying to simplify your life, there are some things that are in your future – you might as well plan for them now.
I had hard questions. It’s not just “do I need/want this?” It’s “why?” It’s “am I being realistic?” It’s “what choice would (fill in a famous minimalist blogger or two here) make?” And then it’s “why do I care what other people think?” There are dozens of questions, and not all of them have easy answers.
I had downright depressing revelations of how much junk I’d accumulated. I must’ve handled over 50 computer power cords during my decluttering efforts. Not 50 types of power cords (although I could say that too!); 50 of the same type of cord. Each time I encountered one I rationalized that I needed a couple spares, so into the cord bin it went. It wasn’t until I went to declutter the bin that I discovered just how many spares I had.
I had mental wars due to wanting to give stuff good homes, but wanting it out of my space. Wanting to re-home electronics that I was no longer using caused me to save two piles – devices in need of wiring, and wiring in need of devices. It wasn’t until I knew every device and cord were accounted for that I felt I could safely throw away extras.
I came to grips with the fact that my space will probably never look like those pictures in the magazines. My computer desk, for example, will never be completely clear. It’s the home of the chargers for my phone and headset, a portable hard drive, an external monitor for my laptop, and a few other work-related gadgets. I have, however, purchased appropriate-length cords, connected them so they don’t dangle, and minimized the amount of things that I have to disconnect to take my laptop somewhere.
But It’s Not All Dark & Dismal
As I got further along on the journey, the questions have gotten easier. I’m finding myself less likely to buy excess junk, because I know what it looks like. My wife put it perfectly one day. She was looking at a bunch of tchotchke-type items on a shelf at a store, and said “there’s just nothing here that I don’t see winding up in a pile for my parents’ next rummage sale”.
My spaces are getting cleaner and more functional as time goes on. There’s definitely light at the end of this tunnel!
And there’s light at the end of your tunnel too. Your road to simplicity might make a beeline through the valley of complexity, and that’s both normal and okay.
Keep moving, keep progressing, and keep your head up. And if you’re having a hard time with those, feel free to stop by my blog, Cluttered to Clean, and drop me a line. I’d love to be able to help!