Category: efficiency

For Decluttering to Really Work, We Need to Cut It Off at the Source

I’m taking about 50,000 Magic: The Gathering cards off to sell at a local store today, bringing to a close a two year project I took on when I bought around 100,000 of the things for $100. (All told, I think I’ll have made around $1,000 off the purchase, so I didn’t do too bad for myself, financially speaking. But was it worth all the time and headache? I’m not sure.)

Now that I’ve got them out of the house, I can turn my attention to decluttering other things. I really like the Marie Kondo “Spark Joy” mentality, though I recently came up with a different approach on my own. I take a look at the stuff I have and ask myself “If I lost this in a flood or a fire or some other accident, how upset would I be?”

In some cases, I’d be pretty upset. If I lost some of my favorite shirts or my media collection or favorite books, I’d be really bummed. But there’s plenty of things (*plenty*) that I’d just sort of shrug and not worry about for another second.

Why in the world do I still have those things, then?

Some of it is due to the cost of having to make decisions about things. I don’t just want to get a big dumpster and toss in everything I don’t want. I want to get rid of things responsibly. Some things we’ve been working on selling: furniture we’re not using anymore, high quality things that would be worth something to someone else. We’ve made some significant progress with that. But there’s a lot of stuff that’s hard to sell, or that really isn’t worth much to begin with. There are also things that aren’t important to me, but which might be important to someone else in the house. It’s hard to just go through and get rid of things left and right. Each item turns into a committee of decisions.

But really, one of the biggest things to help cut the clutter would be to just not buy the stuff in the first place. That’s an area where I have issues (obviously: if I have clutter, it’s coming from *somewhere*.). Many times I’ll buy something because I want it, or because buying it makes me happy. (Let’s not get into a psychoanalysis of where that consumerism comes from for now.)

So what steps can I take to make sure I stop buying things today that I’m going to just want to get rid of tomorrow? As I’ve thought about that problem, I’ve come up with a few approaches:

  • Look at the things I’m needing to declutter. Stop buying more of those things. This means board games that I’m not 100% sold on, kitchen gadgets of questionable worth, clothes that aren’t needed, and pretty much anything I’ve bought on an impulse. (So I’m going to need to work on impulse control, as well. Great.)
  • Add a mandatory waiting period before I buy something. Ask myself if it’s something that’s going to replace something I already have and use (in which case, I need to discard the thing that it’s replacing once it arrives.)
  • Don’t buy things for birthdays and holidays just so I can give something. This might be one of the biggest offenders. Kids have birthdays. I want to show my kids I love them, so I want to get them something. They’re American kids, so they want to *get* something. But a lot of the times, “something” just ends up being nothing more than that: a thing they get and then don’t use. Sure, giving money seems like a cop-out, but one thing I’ve never felt like I’ve had too much of is money. I could also give stocks or experiences.
  • Don’t bring home presents for the kids when I go on business trips. I’ve started bringing home a box of Dunkin’ Donuts instead. That usually goes over just as well, and it automatically declutters itself within a day or so.
  • Conversely, I shouldn’t ask for things for my birthday or holidays just so people have something to give me. This is actually one area where being a Magic: the Gathering collector has really helped. The things I really want tend to be no bigger than a playing card. I get them, and I’m happy, even if the people who give them to me don’t understand why.

It’s easy to look at my kids’ stuff and tell them they need to declutter as well, but I personally don’t feel like I have the right to do that until I’ve decluttered my own stuff. How can I tell them their room needs to be spotless when my own room is littered with Stuff?

In the end, I’m sure if I can just cut the source of the clutter out, then I’ll be able to get on top of things over time using normal decluttering approaches. I still have plenty of low hanging fruit. The biggest offender I hold onto is stuff that I keep “just in case.” Chargers and cable connectors that I “might need one day.” Almost everything I buy ends up coming with its own cables and chargers. And what’s the worst case scenario? I have to buy one thing one time?

I think that’s a risk I can handle.

Anyway. That’s where I am mentally around decluttering today. I’m looking forward to getting more stuff out of my house and freeing up more space inside my house to just live and relax. As long as I keep that vision in mind, it should be easy. Right?

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By the Power of Procrastination!

I’m a big fan of lists. You already know that. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, one of the first things I do is sit down and make a list of every little thing I have to do, no matter how small. A comprehensive list lets me see all my troubles at once so that I have a complete picture. Once that’s set, it’s just a matter of going down the list and crossing things off. (That’s one of the reasons I even put down the easily done tasks like “eat breakfast” or “write my journal.” Once I have that master list, every single item on there appears to have equal weight. They each get one line. So when I cross something off, I feel like I’ve made significant progress. Much of my problems with feeling overwhelmed usually stem from inertia. I get feeling like I’m swamped, and so I do nothing. Start overcoming that inertia, and it all begins moving again.)

Anyway, one thing you begin to see when you make lots of lists from day to day is that there are certain items on those lists that never seem to get crossed off. I’m talking about big, overarching goals. They’re usually the ones on my work list, and they get passed off from day to day. Bitter items that won’t go anywhere until they’re addressed. But sometimes they’re tasks around the house I need to get done, and other times they’re just things I don’t feel like doing right away.

That’s where the lovely principle of procrastination comes in.

I don’t mean simply putting off those tasks until later. Rather, my experience has led me to understand that I like to procrastinate the things I least want to do. And that when I’m procrastinating, almost anything else becomes preferable to whatever that thing is I don’t want to do. I remember on my mission having a conversation with an Elder once who was frustrated. His companion never wanted to go outside and do missionary work. Instead, he’d come up with a whole slew of things they needed to do instead. My favorite that I remember was, “We can’t go outside yet! We haven’t cleaned the oven!”

That story has stuck with me, and it’s given me the key to one of my approaches to getting the few last items off my list. It’s a principle I use in writing, as well. Whenever you want an unlikable character to be more relatable, all you need to do is surround him or her with characters that are even more unlikable. Voila! They seem like little darlings in comparison. (Seriously. Look for this any time you’re watching a movie with a criminal as a protagonist. They do bad things, but as long as there’s a villain who does even worse things, you don’t mind.)

How does this apply to lists? When I want to finally get something done that I’ve been pushing off, I add something worse to my To Do list. Seriously. “Clean the garage.” “Organize the recycling.” There’s always a few chores I’d really never want to do. If I stick those on my list, suddenly the thing I’ve been procrastinating seems far preferable than the new thing.

Inertia overcome.

Of course, this also means I eventually have to clean the garage, but such is my lot in life as a person who sometimes likes to procrastinate . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

How Long Does It Take You to Get Dressed?

As part of my continuing quest to try to understand what other people go through in life, I’ve turned my attention to the very important topic of “How long does it take you to get dressed?” This came to mind this morning, as I was staying home to be with MC while she’s sick (poor thing). Denisa was getting ready to go to work, and I watched her try on probably six or seven different combinations of clothes before she found one she was happy with.

Is this a normal thing?

My “get dressed in the morning” routine involves the following:

  1. Put on a clean pair of jeans. (Or at least pretend they’re clean enough.)
  2. Go to the closet and grab a shirt on the left. (I put fresh shirts on the right of the closet. This way, I continually cycle through clean shirts.)
  3. Add socks and shoes, and I’m good to go!

The whole thing takes about a minute. Granted, there are some shirts I like more than others, and so now and then I’ll skip to the next shirt for one day. But other than that, that’s the full extent of what I do to pick my clothes. Denisa thinks I’m strange. I think I’m efficient.

That said, I suppose when I get dressed up, it takes a bit more time. I have to pick between three different jackets I could wear, two different pairs of pants, and a number of ties. But even then, I usually default to picking what’s closest.

Remember: on my mission, I wore the same time every day for . . . about 18 months? I wore it until my mission president suggested I ought to stop, because it was scaring children. (Or something like that.) I didn’t wear it because it was a rule. I wore it because it involved less thinking. I literally couldn’t care less what clothes I have on. If I bought them at some point, I’m good with having them on me, so long as the occasion is right. (Wearing shorts to a formal dinner isn’t something I would do.)

But let’s calculate this out a little. It takes me around a minute each day to select my clothes. It takes Denisa around . . . 7, I’d guess. Over the course of the year, I spend 6 hours picking out what to wear. Denisa spends 43 hours. This means that since we’ve been married, I’ve spent 4.3 days picking out clothes, and she’s spent 30.2 days. I’ve had almost a complete extra month of my life, free to kick back and play games, read books, and goof around.

No wonder she’s so stressed. 🙂

How about you? How long does it take you to get dressed?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. Plus, did I mention the sweet perks like exclusive access to unpublished books, works in progress, and Skype visits? Check it out.

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Silverware Days and Dishes Days

Denisa made a comparison the other day that stuck with me. “This was a silverware day,” she said.

I had no idea what she was talking about, so I asked what she meant. (Always a good call.)

“Some days it ends up looking like you got a ton done,” she said, “even though you did the same amount of work as other days. Some days it’s the other way. It’s like when you’re emptying the dishwasher. When you’re putting away the plates and dishes, you get a whole ton of the dishwasher emptied, really fast. And then you get to the silverware, and it takes much longer to do just a bit of dishwasher space.”

And that’s really true. I’ve heard it expressed as the 80/20 rule (80% of the work can be done with 20% of the effort, and then the remaining 20% of the work takes the other 80% of the effort), but there’s something about the repetitive task of emptying the dishwasher that makes this much easier to understand.

So when you have a good day, but it looks like at the end of the day you didn’t get a whole lot done, just remember it was a Silverware Day and give yourself a break. And the next day, if you want to feel better about things, why not try getting some of the Dishes done that day instead?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $8/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Value of a Deadline

Well, I’m back from Utah and Boston, but I’m on my way to a library meeting in Bangor today. No rest for the wicked (though I plan on taking some days next week to catch my breath and get my bearings.)

Anyway. Not much time to write, but that made me think about how great deadlines can be. I’m a tinkerer. I like to dabble in this and that, and I can easily get distracted by everything from the news to books to Wikipedia articles. Yesterday at the airport in Boston, I had about an hour and a half. I checked my work email and decided that I’d see how much work I could crank out in that 90 minutes.

The answer? Quite a bit.

Deadlines help me get things done. Not just big deadlines, but little ones too. When I know I have a half hour to do my writing in a day (no more, no less), I’m usually able to get my fingers flying and meet my 1,000 word goal within that time period. When I know I have no real limit? It can take three times as long to get it done.

Just like this blog post. Not a lot of time to write, but if I give myself a set limit to get it done, it’s much likelier that it gets finished. (Even if my brain is mush when I’m typing it.)

Anyway. That’s all I’ve got for you today. Not up to too much abstract thought. Glad to be home and only dealing with driving, not flying today. Thanks for all of your kind words of support, and I’ll catch you next week!

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