Thursday, May 5, 2016

Save or Toss?

By now I’ve learned that de-cluttering is like a fight with several rounds. Just as rockets drop stages as they move into outer space, I’m noticing that more and more stuff gets dropped as I move into further rounds of de-cluttering. First I got rid of the basic junk (clearly defined junk). When I changed rooms, that was round two, and I got rid of more. When I emptied bookshelves for new flooring, more went out. When I returned from New York appalled at how much I owned, I got rid of more. Just move the same shit around a few times and you start discarding more of it.
Now I have to move everything out of my studio/office to tear up the old, dead, beyond-its-Third-Third carpet. Occasionally, I feel productive and attack the job with great energy. But then the dilemmas surface and grind me to a halt.

This is a dilemma: I have copied interesting passages I found in books. If the passage is short, I copy it, cut it out, and paste it in a scrapbook of Interesting Bits I’ve Found. If it’s longer, I just have the 8½ x 11-inch pages. So as I’m clearing out stuff, I came across an interesting piece on translation I’d saved for my sister, a translator. I’d sent her one copy, but it was so interesting – how you capture the spirit of the author even if it means departing from the actual words, and what is the “spirit” anyway? – I saved one for myself, too.

Now, what do I do with that copy? Toss or save?

Toss or save?

Save or toss?
Well, for now, just leave it on the floor until a solution presents itself.

Last de-cluttering round, I came across the posters I made for the freshman dorm for which I was an R.A. in 1973. It has photos of all the kids. I saved it because I thought, wouldn’t it be great to send it down for their college reunion? It sat on the floor for a long time. It was a dilemma.

Last week, I happened to come across the address of a member of that dorm and their next reunion is scheduled for October. Perfect! I’ll send them the poster and it will be the hit of the reunion.

Except that I have searched high and low – where did I put that poster while I was de-cluttering?!? Where? I’m beginning to worry I may have recycled it after all. It sat on the floor for so long, didn’t easily fit in a file drawer, and besides, what would I have filed it under? I’m pretty sure I made the bold decision to get rid of it.

I could have been the hero of the day, and now I’m just the goat. So much for bold de-cluttering decisions.

Today, I was talking with my friend Constance and the subject of translation came up. She was wondering about the same things that piece I’d saved was about! She would really find this interesting … but I’d finally picked it up off the floor and put it in recycling.

Miraculously, I had not taken it to the recycling center yet so I could fish around in the recycling box and find it! I have it in my hands right now. I’m going to give it to Constance and the order of the universe will smile: a saved treasure met its purpose in life, to live again as treasure.

If I were using Marie Kondo’s standard of only keeping those things which give me joy, how do I account for “future joy”? Do I hold onto things because I have an idea they’ll be the perfect treasure once the opportunity presents itself?

You see the problem here? This makes it very, very hard to get rid of stuff. Lots of dilemmas end up sitting on the floor. My clutter is waiting for Godot.


  1. I also find it very difficult to get rid of things. Since January I have gotten rid of about 50 boxes of stuff from our basement. There are several categories. 1) Things I don't want, but may have value to someone. These are going into the "garage sale" pile. This includes a box of "freebies" for the garage sale. 2) Things I wanted 20 years ago, but don't want now and have no value to anyone else. They include articles and papers that have become irrelevant, things that are now obsolete or out of style, things like old art supplies that are all dried up. 3) Things to give to specific people 4) Things I am not sure about. I will come back to them after I have gone through the first round. The key to this one is that I don't have to decide now. It allows me to keep moving forward. 5) Things to save for posterity, such as photos of the kids. Maybe I will have these digitized some day. 6) Things to save because I actually use them but don't have storage for them upstairs.

    I don't go through more than one box a day. It can be very emotionally draining to let go of stuff. Sometimes I get through a box in five minutes. That feels really good.More often it takes longer. This is not easy for me.

    1. Let me know when you hold your garage sale! I'm feeling a little better: there's no way I've ever reached 50 boxes. Two file cabinets, less than 5 boxes, but a lot of stuff just strewn around. Maybe this is more do-able than I thought.

  2. No, you're making this much more difficult than it needs to be. There are some simple rules to follow:

    1. If you don't want it, toss, of course.

    2. If you don't know if you want it, toss it.

    3. If you think you might need it some day, toss it away.

    4. If you wonder why you got it | bought it | was given it, toss your worries away.

    I have several more but this gets rid of lots of stuff and you can cry later, and then write about it!


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