With the current decluttering trend, we have what I might call “an embarrassment of riches”. There are tools that help you declutter (such as totes, bins, and various nifty storage systems). There are books that teach you to declutter. There are even entire blogs devoted to the topic (like this one!).
There’s nothing wrong with any of that; decluttering overall is good. The problem is, many people interpret “decluttering” as “finding ways to store stuff”. There’s a twisted sense of accomplishment in organizing all of your stuff into bins, boxes, totes, racks, and elaborate “organizing systems”. It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something.
But is your investment in storage actually causing you to have more clutter, rather than less?
Let’s take an example. I used to have a bin of cables. This was a real bin, in my closet. It was a medium-sized grey Sterilite storage tub. In it were probably close to a hundred miscellaneous cords, power adapters, converters, etc. This bin had its space in the back closet where it belonged, and we didn’t usually find cause to complain about its presence. It was a leftover bin from the last time I moved, and I needed a place to store a couple dozen extra cables. Into the bin they went.
The problem with the cables stored in the bin is that almost all of them were unnecessary. Most are duplicates of other cables. Duplicates are fine if they’re in use (or are rotating in and out of use on a frequent enough basis) – but in what parallel universe would I need 30 standard USB cables of varying lengths?
The real question isn’t how many cables were in the bin, though. The question is, how did the cables accumulate in the bin? The answer is simple. The bin, in a passive way, caused the accumulation of the spare cables. It had plenty of extra space. It was given permission (by me) to take up the space that it occupied. And it was all downhill from there.
Electronic items all come with cables. As the items are disposed of and removed, some leave cables behind. Other cables were given to me by friends who would otherwise be throwing them out, and I frequently didn’t know if I had a spare cable of that type (as the spares rotate in and out of use). Since the bin had extra capacity and it was “where cables go”, it’s where all the cables wound up.
This doesn’t mean that I didn’t choose to add each and every cable to the bin – of course I did. But having the bin allocated, having the substantial surplus space allocated, and having the usage of that space allocated to cables allowed me to add items to the bin without having to think about what to get rid of. A smaller, more appropriately-sized bin would have forced me to make the difficult choices about what to keep and what to toss when I went to add things to the bin.
One weekend, I sorted the cables into piles by type, decided what I was going to keep, and hauled the extras off to the local thrift store. Then – and this is important – I found a bin for whatever was left that was slightly larger than necessary (in case I really do need to add another item or two to the bin in the future), but not so much larger that it could hold all the extra junk that was filling it.
In short, I needed to revoke the cables’ permission to occupy a large bin in my closet, and relegate them to a smaller area where they can be stored efficiently.
So now, I still have a cable bin. Being a person who owns electronics devices, I think that’s inevitable. But it’s smaller, much more contained, and is easier and faster to go through because I’m more cognizant of what goes in it in the first place.
Which is, of course, the goal of decluttering, isn’t it?
What about you? Do you have any items that you’ve unintentionally given permission to occupy far more than their fair share of space? Sound off in the comments!