Thursday, August 17, 2017

'Quirkz Handbook' Excerpt: Day 6 - Prune

Today’s goal is to declutter, or simplify, which is another way of saying, “Get rid of some junk.” I think the title of today’s exercise, “prune,” is an apt one. (More so if you have old fruit to throw away.) Pruning is about improving what is left behind by selectively getting rid of things that shouldn’t be there.

Most of us have too much junk. Stuff piles up pretty easily, often unintentionally, although we do live in a society that puts a lot of value on collecting material things, so in many cases the pile of excess is all too intentional. But I’m not here to take you on a guilt trip, nor is my goal to analyze society at large (there aren’t enough days in the year for that job). The point is to simplify your life, just a little, by shedding things no longer wanted or needed.

A lot of declutter programs get pretty serious. I’ve heard of one that requires disposing of so many pounds of stuff before the challenge is over, and another that demands trashing something every day for a month. Really strict anti-clutter activists may make a policy of finding something to get rid of before they’re allowed to bring something new into the house. Don’t worry, I’m not going there. It’s easy enough if you’re replacing a shirt or coffee mug, but if I had to dump something every time I bought a new book, I’d have a pile of books and nothing else.

Today’s challenge is to spend about half an hour grabbing some immediately apparent stuff for an easy win. Come to think of it, “Go for the easy win” would make an awesome tee shirt.

Some things to consider:

  • Old electronics. It’s easy for this stuff pile up, especially if your state has a mandatory electronics recycling program. Maybe now is the time?
  • Old clothes. (Confession: I realized I have six highly impractical tiers of tee shirts: 1) shirts I really like and wear any time they’re clean, 2) shirts I go to when the good ones are used up, 3) special shirts I wear on rare occasions (a sports jersey, say, or the slightly racy band memento I can’t wear in polite company), 4) junk shirts suitable for when I’m doing dirty projects like painting, 5) other shirts that I don’t really like or don’t want to wear but I keep in case the washing machine breaks, I can’t make it to a laundromat, and I’m stuck like that for three weeks, and 6) a whole stack of shirts, mostly gifts, that I wish I could wear but they’re the wrong size, so I don’t want to throw them away even though they’re worthless. Obviously, number 5 and 6 are good candidates for disposal.)
  •  Kitchen gadgets, appliances, and utensils. Look especially hard at cracked items, sets with missing pieces, and gifts that you never use.
  • Furniture. Maybe there’s a broken piece you haven’t thrown away because You’re Going to Fix It One of These Days, Really (TM). Maybe it’s unnecessary or in the way, like the rocking chair we keep in the guest room, even though nobody ever sits in it, which we have to move every time we get into the closet.
  •  Expired goods. Medicines; food; dried-up pens, markers, or paints; ancient bathroom or cleaning supplies; dietary supplements from your last self-improvement program in 2003; and so on.
  • Unwanted decorative items. Old posters or pictures, random kitsch that doesn’t represent you any longer, gifts that you don’t really want. (Right now I’m looking at a plant that died 6 months ago, but I haven’t fully admitted it because it still looks green-ish.)
  •  Books or periodicals that you’re not going to read. Be honest with yourself: if you’ll never get around to reading them, or if you read them once and won’t ever read them again, why keep them?
  •  Leftovers from hobbies you’ve discontinued, or half-completed projects you’re unlikely to get around to finishing. (Alternately, this could be a good reminder to get serious about finishing the project. Because of this I found something I was working on for one of the kids that has been languishing for more than a year. Okay, two years.)
  • If you have a “junk drawer” (or junk closet, or—God forbid—a whole junk room), go through that and get rid of anything that isn’t useful, and put the useful stuff where it belongs.
  •  Kids’ stuff. I don’t mean their belongings (decluttering someone else’s items is cheating, plus it should be up to them to choose what they don’t need anymore), but if you have old accessories or equipment (a high chair, old car seats, toddler-sized camping gear, ten thousand sippy cups in the pantry) those are the things that can go. Or maybe it’s time to sort through the pile of mementos and drawings, filing away the good stuff and letting the lesser items go.

That’s just a starter list, but it should be enough for a first pass. Try to get at least 10 items (use grocery store express lane item count—a box of a dozen light bulbs for the lamp that broke three years ago is 1 item, not 12, whereas 3 pairs of pants is 3 things, and you’ll need advanced calculus to decide how to count the 4 pens and a broken pencil you pulled out of the junk drawer), but if you haven’t done a declutter before, I’d bet you can double or triple that pretty easily. If you like the results, nothing’s stopping you from going further now, making a regular habit of decluttering (like a monthly pass-over, say), or turning it into your next project when this is done (more about this on Day 24). Still, if you hit half an hour or 10 items and want to call it quits, I’d say that’s mission accomplished.

Don’t assume you have to throw away your stuff. In approximate order of personal utility you might be able to:

  1. Sell it (Craigslist, eBay, yard sale).
  2. Give it directly to someone else who really wants it.
  3. Donate it to someplace that will put it in the hands of someone who wants it.
  4. Recycle it.
  5. Trash it.
  6.  Shoot it into the sun with a doomsday cannon.

Just make sure that your plans to get rid of an item productively (like selling it) work out quickly, so you don’t end up holding onto it forever.