December 30, 2015

End-of-Year Leave-Behind Ritual

A successful new year is not just a matter of starting new things, but also of leaving old things behind. This can include physical decluttering, throwing away unneeded materials from a project that was completed or abandoned sometime during the year. It also extends to more spiritual matters, which at the most basic level can mean wanting to stop worrying about problems that were substantially resolved in the old year.

At 1 p.m. ET on New Year’s Eve I will be doing a ritual to leave behind the unwanted problems of 2015, not just my own but those of the community and world as well. If you want me to include any problem you got tired of seeing in 2015, let me know by commenting here or on Twitter using the hashtag #leavebehindin2015.

November 03, 2015

How Advertising Creates Overconsumption

Not everyone notices the role of advertising in creating clutter. It takes an marketing expert to point out how vulnerable people are to advertising messages that create links between our emotional needs and shopping desires. Former advertising writer Greg Foyster puts it this way:

This is now advertising’s role in the economy – to convince people that non­material happiness can be gained through material belongings.

Desires for material things have limits – most people really only want or need one dishwasher, or one or two cars – but desire for emotional needs like status, love, acceptance and autonomy are bottomless. Tying material goods to nonmaterial desires ensures people are never satisfied with what they have. It’s how we’ve convinced some of the most materially rich citizens in history that they don’t have enough.

Read the whole story at The Guardian:

June 13, 2015

Why To-Do Lists and Clutter Don’t Mix

The book Fear of Nothing makes the bold promise of “no clutter” and “no to-do list.” This promise is only half as big as it appears. That’s because you probably don’t have both clutter and a to-do list at the same time, even though it sometimes appears that you do.

It is virtually impossible to be living with clutter and work your way through a to-do list. If you have enough clutter that it gets in the way sometimes, then your to-do list can’t proceed the way it’s intended. With clutter, a to-do list is little more than wishful thinking. Conversely, if you have a to-do list and work through it item by item, that means you didn’t run into much clutter along the way. If a to-do list is effective, it shows that you have been able to remove yourself from clutter, at least for the day.

June 03, 2015

The Junkyard Life

No one would want to live in a junkyard – but homes resemble junkyards and junkyards resemble homes more closely than we would care to admit.

I had a chance to think about this last week when I visited a junkyard. I drove in with an old car that will be sold on as scrap metal. I had a moment to look around while I was there. When you look at the way it really works, a junkyard is not quite what culture and literature tell us it is.

May 30, 2015

The Spare Car

For two months I had a spare car, a second car standing by in case my first car stopped working. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t recommend having a spare for anything so large, but on the other hand, you can often find a better deal if you go shopping when you’re not up against a deadline. That thought is especially significant with a car. It is easier to go car shopping if you have a car already. I wanted to do my car shopping before my car actually died at the side of the road somewhere, and I didn’t want to risk missing a critical appointment with a dead car. My old car had just passed 208,000 miles and the roar of the engine was getting louder by the week, so I wasn’t sure how much time I had before I would have to replace it.

May 08, 2015

‘Stamp Out Hunger’

If you are in the United States, you have an easy way to give away your unwanted durable food items on Saturday, May 9. Letter carriers will pick up food while delivering the mail that day. For details see:

March 31, 2015

Wrapping Up March of Trash

I took a photo of my garbage can, but the picture did not look so impressive. You just see a plastic container and you cannot guess what is in it, or indeed, whether it is full or empty. In a way, this mysterious container is a good symbol to wrap up March of Trash with, with or without the photo. That’s because after you have correctly identified something as clutter, once it is out of sight in the trash, it may be surprising how quickly it is forgotten. A high school yearbook? Ah, yes, I think I had a high school yearbook at one time, even if I don’t remember exactly when, or what was in it.

March 28, 2015

March of Trash, day 28

“What do I do with an old cell phone?”

Clutter-busting goes more easily after you form a very clear question. The question above, for example, is one that you can take to a search engine such as Google, where you will at least find other people’s answers and suggestions.

March 25, 2015

March of Trash, day 25

What can you do about clutter when you are not at home?

It’s a fact of life for many of us that our responsibilities take us away from home for days at a time. This presents a challenge not just in the March of Trash challenge, but whenever you want to change your lifestyle by taking on new habits. How can you build a new habit when you’re out of your usual environment?

March 22, 2015

March of Trash, day 22

“I’m sick of looking at my stuff,” Brett writes. “Sometimes I think it would simpler to just throw it all away and start over.”

If you’ve been following along in March of Trash from the start and taking a critical look at your stuff every day, it’s understandable if you’ve reached the point where you just want to get away from it — to “throw it all away,” as Brett suggested, or perhaps to run screaming out of the house to a place that isn’t so cluttered.

It’s understandable if you feel that way — but please don’t actually do that.

March 20, 2015

Spring Arrives at March of Trash

Today is officially the Northern Hemisphere spring equinox and the unofficial start of the spring cleaning season. This makes it a good moment to remember one of the ultimate goals of clutter-busting: with less clutter it becomes practical to keep your place clean, and with cleaner surroundings you’ll live a healthier life. That, as far as I know, is the original idea of spring cleaning. In keeping with the tradition of spring cleaning, my local Goodwill is holding its “Epic Spring Donation Drive” today. Their announcement gets into the spirit of the season:

March 13, 2015

March of Trash, Day 13

I can’t write about clutter on Friday the 13th without mentioning tradition and bad luck. The habits we have about what to keep and what to throw away are created mostly out of tradition, and it’s our bad luck to be living in a time when items we would traditionally expect to keep last two times as long and come to us numbers 25 times as great as they did in the periods when these traditions were formed. As I like to say, clutter is a problem your grandma probably doesn’t have the answer for because clutter as we know it today didn’t exist in the twentieth century.

March 10, 2015

March of Trash, Day 10

It is the miscellaneous nature of clutter that makes it a challenge. You can’t erase clutter with a few proclamations. Every item requires new thinking and a fresh decision about where it goes.

Some decisions are easier than others, though. One of the easiest actions to decide on is to return something you borrowed to its owner after you are done using it. It might be embarrassing if you have held the item for a long time for no particular reason, but regardless of the details, returning it is still the obvious thing to do.

March 07, 2015

March of Trash, Day 7

A light-bulb moment — realizing that the oversized bulb perched precariously on the old piano (that’s another story) was a standard, working 100 watt light bulb, ready for use in a porch or garage fixture or perhaps a lamp that would accommodate its oversized globe shape. No one seemed to know what lamp the bulb had come out of or why it was sitting on the piano, but that didn’t really matter at this point. Placing the bulb in the cabinet where light bulbs were normally kept, it was ready for its next use.

March 04, 2015

March of Trash, Day 4

Halfway through the first week of the March of Trash, the obvious enemy is the tendency to postpone action until later. The idea of this month-long clutter challenge is to create a habit of addressing clutter. To make this work, you may have to uproot an existing pattern of thought. Whenever you put off action in a specific area, it is based on the assumption that, in the future, action will become easier. But is this idea true? Ultimately, no. It is action itself that makes further action easier. The mere passage of time actually makes action harder.

March 01, 2015

March of Trash, Day 1

The March of Trash kicks off today. Participants are setting out to be “everyday clutterbusters” for the month of March. With less than four days of planning and preparation there wasn’t time for a big buildup, but even so, I have heard of at least six people participating. I consider that a pretty strong expression of grass roots support, considering how few people have heard of the challenge at all. If you’re just getting started, visit the March of Trash Challenge page to get the details and download your scorecard.

I started my March of Trash by tossing some of my leftover food containers. These are the polypropylene tubs and lids that restaurant food arrived in. They are dishwasher-safe and microwave-ready, so it’s useful to have them, but I need only a few. I kept the best ones and threw the rest in recycling.

There are two pieces of clutter — not mine, but from today’s efforts — that are worth looking at. I think they represent some of the most immediate challenges you face when you look for clutter. The decorative border shown here looks like it ought to be good for something. It’s a wall decoration that would typically go along the top of a wall where it meets the ceiling, perhaps above the wallpaper on a well. But it is a piece only five yards long, effectively shortened by stains near one end, so it is not so easy to imagine what room you might decorate with it. It is “new” in the sense of never having been used, but it has been sitting around long enough to be considered old. No one knew where it had come from. It looked like something to donate to Re-Store or Goodwill, where someone might find a use for it.

February 28, 2015

Introducing the March of Trash Challenge

This March, I’m challenging you to throw junk away every day for the entire month. Read all about it: