Sunday, November 25, 2012

"If It Doesn't Add, Then It Detracts"

Tip of the Week, Early October 2012


Normally I'd take the opportunity this week to send you links to some of the most interesting organizing-related articles, stories, and ideas I've seen over the past month. However, when this article came into my Inbox this week (courtesy of Jim of the Clutterless group Pleasanton), I knew I wanted to share it with you in its entirety, as I love what the author has to say about how to choose what gets space in your home and life and what doesn't. And if you like this article as much as I did, I encourage you to check out Sharon Crosby's website, Mind Over Clutter, for more wise words. --Emily

Outta Here in X Amount of Time? by Sharon Crosby 

Most advice about clutter says that if you haven't used it in X amount of time throw it out. You haven't used that widget in six months so get rid of it. You haven't put on that gorgeous dress in a year, so let go of it. I agree that this method is good for many items, perhaps most.  But how many of us actually do that? Or even feel like we can? It seems like there are often exceptions to that rule.  Items that when we try to apply the rule of "Out of here in  X amount of time" we find it very difficult. We struggle and then give up. Or sometimes we end up throwing something out and really regret it. Why is that?

Conventional wisdom implies that if something was important to us we'd be using it. But conventional wisdom forgets that many of us often put what's less important to us ahead of what is really important to us. Time management experts are aware of this when it comes to how we use our time. But we usually don't realize that we do this with belongings too.

Based on my experience, I am recommending something a little different than the X amount of time method.

When I began learning how to become a writer, I learned this simple phrase about making my writing more powerful. "If it doesn't add, then it detracts." In other words, every sentence or word that doesn't add to what I've written actually detracts from the overall effect.

Similarly, Phil McGraw, author of Relationship Rescue, has an interesting statement about relationships. He says something to the effect that in any relationship you are either nurturing it, or you are poisoning it. There's no in between. I believe the same applies to belongings. We do have a relationship of sorts with our belongings. And those belongings are either nurturing you, your life, and dreams...or it is poisoning it. It is either adding to your life, or it is detracting from it.

This is what I believe should be the main basis of whether you keep an item or not. Is it contributing to the life you want? Does it add to your happiness or well being? If it's not then take a good hard look at why you're keeping it.

Forget about the X amount of time rule if it requires you to throw away something you love. Take the time to get clear on what you want and don't want. Listen to your instincts.  Become aware of what belongings are really important to you.  Then let go of what is not important. That way you have time for that hobby equipment that used to sit in the corner buried under other stuff you cared less about. What you care about will be more accessible with less stuff surrounding it or taking up your time or distracting you.

There is another X amount of time rule out there. This advice says, "If you find you can't part with it then put it in storage for X amount of time. And then if you haven't used it by the end of that time toss it."

The method usually involves putting stuff you can't seem to part with, despite not having used it in several months, in a box. You tape the box up, put it in storage and give yourself a date that you will throw it out by. If you haven't gone back to retrieve anything from the box then you are to toss it out at the allotted time. And you are not supposed to open the box before you throw it out because you just might keep what's inside after all.

Again, it's good advice because it proves to us that we can live without those things we don't use, but are afraid to get rid of. But putting things in storage can be expensive.  If you put stuff into a storage unit at $30 for six months that comes to $180. That's nearly $200 that I personally would prefer to spend elsewhere. Wouldn't you?

I also view this as a Band-Aid approach. If you feel the need to keep it after having boxed it up for several months then you obviously haven't dealt with the core issue of why you couldn't let go in the first place. Why delay it? Why not instead get straight to the heart of the problem. Why are you having such a hard time letting go?

This "X amount of time" method delays the process of becoming free of stuff that is dragging you down. It also delays, sometimes indefinitely, dealing with the emotions tied with the stuff and to letting go that drags you down too. It takes an inactive approach instead of a pro-active one such as really listening to yourself. Not only are you losing money if you put it in a storage unit, you are wasting time and perhaps emotional energy.

Let me explain what I mean by "wasting emotional energy."  If we are reluctant to throw things out there are reasons for that. And by just boxing things up and delaying when we toss it we don't face what those reasons are. The reason may be that we feel guilty about throwing away Aunt Myrtle's wedding present to us, or whatever. By keeping the stuff out of sight and then just tossing it out at the end of a time period we delay or never address the fact that we felt guilty about something we really shouldn't feel guilty over.

Anytime we feel we should keep something based upon a negative emotion such as Indecisiveness, guilt, guilt, fear that throwing it out might be a mistake, etc. It disempowers us. Also, when we are reluctant to throw something out because deep down we really want it, but think we *should* throw it out anyway, we are creating inner conflict. And inner conflict drains our emotional energy.

If you find that no other option works for you, should you truly find you can't let go, or you find you really do completely want this stuff, go ahead and put things in storage as a last resort. But wouldn't it be great to save that money and space if you can? Wouldn't it be great to stop struggling with something so simple as letting go of stuff you don't use or want? And in a matter of hours, or maybe even minutes, instead of months?

So what to do instead? I am not going to say just toss it.  You may be able to soon find yourself doing so without feeling pangs of withdrawal, but you'll probably have to do some other things first.

When faced with stuff you can't seem to let go of ask what you are feeling and what is at the root of it. You may find it easier to write your thoughts down in a notebook. Or you may wish to just have an inner dialogue with yourself. Or try talking with an understanding friend or counselor.  Allow yourself to say and accept whatever comes to mind,  even if it makes you uncomfortable. The importance here is not so much to let go of stuff as to face and let go of the uncomfortable feelings involved. It is only by facing whatever thoughts or emotions that holds us back that we can let go of those thoughts and emotions. And perhaps let go of the stuff as well.

By doing this you don't have to draw out the process of letting go. You can find yourself readily giving up things that moments before you were reluctantly clinging to.

So, asking yourself if you've used things in X amount of time and sometimes temporarily storing it away for X amount of time are important strategies to consider. But in many cases asking ourselves how important something is to us, our lives, our family and such could be more helpful. Now that you have done this you can make a more informed choice as whether to keep, toss or put it into storage. And all without having to face the two versions of "Outta here in X  amount of time" unless needed.

Copyright 2002 Sharon Crosby - Mind Over Clutter. All Rights Reserved.

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