Thursday, May 13, 2010

Deciding Not to Clutter

How do we keep from becoming clutterers/hoarders? Call it a disease or call it a bad habit, cluttering is a threat to many of us because of the increasing volume of our possessions. We must be diligent in removing any excess we have. As I said in my last post, only when we’ve divested, detoxed, and learned how to avoid our acquiring triggers can we face who we want to be and how we want to live.

If we don’t want to slide into becoming clutterers (and then hoarders), we have to make decisions about the things we keep. We can’t keep acquiring without deciding. That’s the basic. Every item we already own must constantly be subjected to a test: Is this useful to me today? Today, does this bicycle work? Today, will I eat off this chipped plate? Today, is this silver tray adding beauty to my world?

Beauty has as much right to be in our lives as utility. I have a silver tray sitting in my foyer, and that’s where we put our outgoing mail. Since I was a child watching movies, I’ve wanted a silver tray to hold my mail, and friends gave me one. Every time I see that tray, it delights me. Don’t be afraid to keep your own version of my silver tray. Just remember I’m talking about one tray, not fifty.

Ah, multiples. If one tray is good, surely two are better? No. I bought another silver tray at a thrift store. Now I have two trays, almost exactly alike. The sad truth is that I have little or no use for that second tray, and every time I look at it I am reminded that it is an extra I don’t need. Maybe once or twice a year, for a party, I’ll find something to put on it. Is it worth keeping for years under those conditions, especially since it has no personal associations? No. Even though a tray hardly takes up any space physically, it does take up psychic space, and I am responsible for keeping this additional possession in good condition, for displaying, storing, and using it. It’s a burden. It is clutter. I could declare that I am a collector of silver trays, but that would be pointless. These trays are manufactured in the millions, and they all look the same, and a stack of silver trays is neither more beautiful nor more functional than just the one I use every day for mail. Substitute any other possession for my second silver tray and subject it to the same test. Do you use it daily? Does it add beauty or merely a burden of upkeep to your life? Do you have space for it in your home?

Some of us imagine that by saying we collect certain items, we are free from making any decisions about them, but this is not true. Collections should have upper limits, and proper collections are well maintained and displayed. If something new comes in, something old should go out. True collectors constantly cull their treasures and keep only the best. Most of us collect items of mass manufacture, so by definition it is impossible to own them all. We can’t own every coffee mug that was ever made, and why should we? By keeping up with the quality of our collections and removing the least attractive or least functional items, we can ensure that they don’t turn into an ocean of clutter. Yes, Star Trek fans, I am talking to you.

A third type of clutter is junk. Junk mail, old wrappers and cartons, stuff that doesn’t work, and so on. We don’t need to spend a lot of time thinking about these possessions. We simply have to decide to get rid of them. Strangely, a lot of us don’t, not even our junk mail. My mother used to ruthlessly rip junk mail in half the moment she recognized what it was. Today, you may want to send all your junk mail through a shredder, but the concept is the same: ditch it fast. Have the shredder set up right next to where you open your mail. There even are special junk mail shredders that can handle unopened junk mail if opening it is an issue. As for the rest of the junk, with all the recycling available today, few of us have any excuse for stockpiling empty cartons, dead batteries, broken appliances, or any other category of of useless possession. If you don’t have curbside pickup for everything, there’s probably some place nearby where you can take the rest of your junk. Just load up and head out. And don’t visit any thrift stores or yard sales on the way home.

You say it’s not that simple, that you must think about this. That’s the road to cluttering, which leads to hoarding. We can let go of our unneeded possessions and trust in the universe to deal with them. We are not responsible for their ultimate destination. My second silver tray can go back to a thrift shop. It’s shined up now, so perhaps the charity can get a couple more dollars for it the next time around.

2 comments: said...

One thing that is worth mentioning is that letters from charities sometimes include small pieces of metal. I have gotten pennies, nickels, religious medals in begging junk mail. When I shredded them without opening them I trashed the shredder. So I always check my mail carefully before shredding. Just feeling along the length of the letter often isn't enough. I've come to the conclusion this is a gimmick to get you to open the letter, so that you are much more likely to see their pitch.

Poison Ivy said...

I agree. Marketers also deliberately fill the envelopes with different sizes and colors of paper, with phony "handwritten" notes, and more. They know that with each piece the target (that's you) handles, the chances of making the sale increase.

The cheap gifts are worthless, but they make the target feel guilty.