I have spent a lot of time recently compressing and optimizing my life: files, books, ornaments, mementoes, and random clutter. Moving house was a convenient opportunity to cut down on the proliferation of sheer stuff. In doing so, I have learned an important lesson: there are four distinct types of stuff:
- Stuff you still need. Easy to deal with: keep it.
- Stuff you don’t need any more, and to which you are not emotionally attached. Also easy: toss it.
- Stuff you don’t need any more, but you are emotionally attached to. This takes longer to deal with, because you spend time reminiscing about it. But you should keep it.
- Stuff you don’t need any more, but have kept around because you think you have an emotional connection to it, or even worse: you think you should have an emotional connection to it.
It’s the Type 4 Stuff that takes up all the time. Maybe it’s a collection of oddly-shaped seashells, stuck in a box in the back of your desk. You collected the shells as a kid, and have never thrown them out because, well, you’ve always had them around, and they’re a connection to your childhood. But do you really remember the beach where you collected them, and does seeing the shells remind you of that holiday?
Maybe it’s a stash of crystal wine glasses tucked away in a corner of your kitchen and never used. You haven’t thrown them out before because, well, they were wedding presents. But do you still remember who gave them to you?
Do you really intend to re-read those old class notes from college? Will you ever look over all those old birthday cards again? Worst of all is your kids’ early artwork. If it’s the first recognizable stick figure your child drew, that’s significant. But what about all the other random swirls and hand-prints? How certain are you that they were made by your child, and that the nursery didn’t accidentally give you another kid’s paintings?
It’s an agonizing and painstaking process, but if you don’t want to end up drowning in a sea of random clutter, every now and then you have to be ruthless and say: what does this item really mean to me?
If the answer is “nothing”, that’s a strong argument for throwing it out.