Rethinking Junk

July 15, 2010

Stuff should be there to USE, not to keep for its potential!

Felt inspired by an article on zenhabits called “The Clean-Slate Guide to Simplicity”.  It was about putting everything away in boxes, and only taking something back out when you really need it.  The idea is to minimize using a strategy of addition instead of subtraction.  I wanted to try this on the junk in my desk.

I opened all the drawers in my desk, looked at every little thing in there.  Put some things in a cardboard box, then one by one put it all back.  There’s so much stuffed in there that I don’t have any place to put it when it’s not in the desk.  So… strategy didn’t work this time.

For example I have three full boxes of staples.  I hardly ever attach paper together with a stapler anymore, so this is more than a lifetime supply.  But what should I do with extra stuff like this – brand new in box products.  Toss it?  If I somehow run out of staples I can spend $2 to get more.  Or rethink my need to staple things.  I use less paper today than I used to, and mostly use paper clips.  Do I need to have a stapler at all?

Much of this uncertainty comes from the temporary nature of my living situation – renting a room.  I don’t have a kitchen, so all my most treasured kitchen tools and dishware are packed in boxes, unused and out of sight.  I’m pretty sure that at some point in the future I’ll have my own place with a kitchen.  But I don’t know when that will be.  So would it be better from a minimalist viewpoint to get rid of everything I’m not using, and replace it with new things if/when they are needed someday?  Or just continue to keep the boxes with me so my potential future kitchen will have a few special homey items?  Much of that stuff is already gone, I kept only things with strong memories attached.  Rethinking the need for these is harder than office supplies because I’m fond of them.


Eye Glasses

November 29, 2009

All the eyeglasses I’ve worn since I was in 6th grade are still in my storage.  The frames that is.  There was a pair of loose lenses that were removed from a set of frames and replaced with newer lenses (no idea why I kept the old ones).  Those lenses were thrown out during the Great Purge of 2008.

I had three pairs of “reading glasses” that came with an eyesight improvement program I bought.  They had been in my car for a couple months along with some empty glasses cases.  The intent was to put them in a drop box next to the grocery store, to donate them to charity.  I finally did donate them last week (minor declutter victory).

By the way, I do have an opinion about these programs that claim you can improve your eyesight with exercise and relaxation techniques.  I was able to move my prescription from about -8.00 to -7.25 over 1.5 years, so there is some truth to the idea you can change the shape of your eye through natural therapy.  However, most of the eye’s structure is developed while a person is young and their body is growing.  So for an adult with very bad eyesight like myself there is a limit to how much improvement is possible.  Therefore I believe natural vision improvement therapy is most useful for children.

So I have all these old eye glasses.  These are kept for two reasons – they can potentially be used as spare glasses, plus they have a sentimental value from being a part of how I looked for the years I wore them.  There’s only six pair (instead of like 15 or so), because there was a period of time in my 20’s when I just wore contacts.  Also during the time I was down and out, when new glasses were needed I couldn’t afford them.  Only six of them now, but maybe they should be given to charity too.  I only wear the most recent pair.  Keeping one extra as a backup might make sense, although keeping spares isn’t very minimalist.

One reason a hoarder keeps everything at home is that it makes them feel safe.  All objects are kept because you might need them someday.  It’s reassuring to know that if you need a tool or a part of something you can pull it out of your piles of stuff, instead of having to deal with the uncertainty of trying to get it from somewhere outside your control.

I believe that being a minimalist – choosing not to keep any extra things – improves the quality of a person’s life.

An example:  Someone visits me after shopping and has a bag of loose leaf tea they want to try.  She asks me if I have a tea strainer to borrow.  If my minimalized kitchen has no tea strainer, this forces a decision.  We can go out together to shop for a tea strainer, or we can go without tea and drink something else.  Either choice is more interesting than just pulling one out of a drawer.

It may make a person feel more powerful or secure to be prepared for any possible situation.  (You need a strainer? BAM! THERE IT IS!)  But it also makes that person’s life boring.

If you can think of a better example of this idea, please comment.


September 13, 2009

Some things I have held onto for a very long time, recently was able to let go and give them to a church fair.  I put them in the box of donations, and even then could not believe I had done that, perhaps thinking of just taking them out again, restraining myself and letting them stay.

Telephone – This was the last wired land-line phone that I had.  A nice quality AT&T phone in perfect working order.  The house where I’m staying had a cordless phone system installed a couple years ago, so it went into storage.  I probably kept it this long because I’ve been using it since the early 1990’s, and it could potentially be used as an emergency phone in case the cordless phones stop working.  But there are other phones in the house to use in emergencies.  I also have a mobile phone which is my main number.  So this telephone was not necessary.

Clothes Iron – The old metal ironing board from my Grandmother’s house is still here.  But I decided to let the iron go.  It was not something I chose – the iron was given to me when my Mom got a new one for herself.  Most of my clothing was chosen partly because it does not require ironing.  If I start ironing clothes again someday I’ll get a new one.  Maybe now I’m closer to being able to give away the ironing board?

The pile of audio tapes I had set aside for donating went to the church.

Also, just found out that someone at work is collecting books to sell as a fundraiser for charity.  When I read the sign I thought about my “on the cusp” pile of books that I still want to keep but would not be devastated if they were gone.  I decided while I was at work that I’ll just donate the whole pile.  Not looking at the books helped to make the decision.  Never finished reading some of them, but I really don’t have room for them all here.

It seems easier to give things away if they’re going to benefit a church or raising research funds to fight a disease.


March 17, 2009

Years ago I had a massive set of keys that I carried everywhere.  The size of my key set was an indicator of how complex my life was.  My belief was that my life would be streamlined by letting go of the need to hold so many keys.  It has been simplified a great deal since then.  Right now I have four keys on my key ring.

1. car
2. house
3. mailbox
4. storage unit

I used to drive a Plymouth that had separate keys for the locks and the ignition – so I carried two keys for one car.  My current vehicle uses one key for everything, which I prefer.  There’s a keyless entry gadget too, but I hardly ever take it along because of the bulk and the batteries don’t last.

The mailbox key I really don’t need to carry with me because it’s only used once a week.  But I do like to have all my keys in one place so they’re easier to keep track of.

The storage unit key will be gone after I stop renting the unit, hopefully this year.  Going from 4 to 3 keys will be a significant improvement!

No fob.  I stopped using a key fob to make the set lighter.  I just use a simple metal key ring.  Also stopped carrying junk like a little jacknife, flashlight, screwdriver, etc.  Just keys on the key ring.

Four More Friend Boxes

March 1, 2009

A couple weekends ago I went to the storage unit.  Usually I avoid it in the winter because water flows to the walkways and turns to ice, which of course is tricky to walk on, especially if I am carrying something heavy.  This time half the parking area and all the walks were coated in thick ice.  The snow had been removed, but still very slippery.  I went there to bring back a small bookshelf.  I also grabbed four of the boxes which belonged to the friend that disappeared and may one day return.  At first glance they appeared to have kitchen stuff in them, which I thought would be easy to sort through and donate.

Today I cleared the bed to use as a workspace, set up a card table, and opened them up.  Right now I’m midway through the third one, just looking at what’s inside, but I had to stop.  My objective is to reduce volume of stuff by getting rid of the “junk” and keeping only what (in my judgment) he might think has true personal value.  About 80% of this is guesswork, and I may be guessing wrong.  But I have to do this because I want to stop renting the storage unit and I have no place to put all these boxes.

There were some drinking glasses, bowls, and trays (the kitchen stuff).  Mostly it was small miscellaneous items.  He’s a packrat too, and I’m at a loss over these things.  A couple obvious keepers, like a silver tray, antique opera glasses with an handwritten note from a relative, medals, family photos.  Some “merchandise” still in the package like small toys, games, fancy pens.  Souvenirs from vacation trips.  Old measuring tools. And so forth.

Now I’m at the point where I want to shove it all back in the boxes.  It’s too much to deal with, and the musty smell is starting to make me feel sick.  I have to get this off the bed where I sleep before the sheets absorb the odor.  Organizing my own stuff is hard enough, doing it for someone else seems impossible.  I wish he could advise me on what to keep, but… I know he would want to keep everything.

One Computer Initiative

February 14, 2009

A couple years ago I had a fullsize desktop computer on my desk, a second desktop in boxes, and some old laptops.  Plus some extra monitors, peripherals and cables that hadn’t been used in years.  My usual process was to upgrade to a new computer and keep the old one.  The One Computer Initiative is an idea I came up with to simplify my collection of computers.  The older systems were kept for the usual reasons (it still works, perceived value, emotional connection, etc).  Because of my “long-term-temporary” living situation, I wanted to reduce the electronics bulk so it would be easier to move when I got a place of my own.

I liked them all for different reasons, and if I bought another one I’d probably like that one as well.  How many computers do I really need?  I like having different operating systems and keyboards available to me.  I would also like to have a four wheel drive truck with a stick shift.  I’d like a convertible sports car and a cargo van.  However I only have one car.  So why have four computers?

The initiative was about critically evaluating what I use a computer for and finding one laptop computer that can do everything.  Then sell off everything else.  Even if that meant spending more money and having less flexibility and a smaller screen.  Later on after the move, I could get a new desktop computer which would be better than the obsolete junk I had been holding onto.  It took more than a year, but eventually I got it down to a new MacBook as my main computer, and an old iBook G3.

The iBook stayed because it runs older software which won’t work on the MacBook.  Theoretically I could take the time to rebuild the documents and data in a newer program on the MacBook, but I really want to keep the iBook.  I like the shape and rubberized texture of the case, the sturdy keyboard, long battery life, reliable wifi signal.  Also I spent a lot of time and money upgrading it over the years.  I may just keep this one forever.

The last one to be sold was a IBM Thinkpad built in 2002.  Selling that one was tough.  It was relatively modern compared to my other stuff, and was solidly designed.  Beautiful screen, wonderful keyboard.  I considered using it as my main computer instead of buying the MacBook.  But, it duplicated tasks that I was doing on other computers so it wasn’t really NEEDED.  Getting rid of it was me putting the NO SPARES philosophy into action.  I let it go for FAR less then it was “worth” to me.  Even though I miss it, having the extra clutter gone is appreciated.

Have been thinking about this recently because it’s now two years later and the MacBook is getting old.  I may upgrade to a new laptop similar to my old Thinkpad, but faster with more memory.  The money has been saved up, but I’m hesitating because a new computer is a want, not a need.  My present system does everything I need.