Book Review: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life

shed your stuff book cover

More good advice and tips (five stars); self-help slanted method (three stars); worth the read overall (four stars).

SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck by Julie Morgenstern is clearly more of a book about changing your life, for which shedding your “stuff” is the means to that end. Indeed, the author conceives of decluttering as a process of letting go, and her method converts this process “into an opportunity for self-discovery and healthy growth” [Kindle location 209]. Given this emphasis, it’s not surprising that Morgenstern makes some pretty big promises about what the SHED method can deliver: “Clarity, lightness of being, authenticity, and living as your most genuine, fully engaged self” [210].

The SHED process itself consists of four parts:

S = Separate the treasures
H = Heave the trash
E = Embrace Your Identity
D = Drive Yourself Forward [203-04]

The theory behind this process is “releasing your attachment to obsolete, tangible items in your space and schedule” will provide “the energy, insight, and clarity to make decisions about the big stuff” [98]. SHEDing is about creating both physical and psychic space — creating the space to think and move” [119], the process of which “fortifies your identity and eliminates old, unhealthy belief systems” [98] and helps you build a new theme to your life. The book deals with three types of stuff, and the book chapters are organized around them: material things, time, and habits (or “objects, commitments, and behaviors” [727]).

As a resource purely for dealing with your physical stuff, the “SH” method (“Separate the treasures, Heave the trash”) is a more accurate description, and only Chapters 1-4 and 7 of SHED Your Stuff apply, although you might find chapters 4, 5, 8, and 9 (dealing with your time and habit stuff) to be worthwhile as well. You can skip the rest of the book if you’re not feeling stuck or the need to change your life, although of course it’s there if you wish.

Even though the 1000 things project was also born of a personal desire to get unstuck and help me make some changes in my life, the SHED method struck me as rather over-engineered and overly prescriptive for my purposes. So again, I found value in the book through culling its contents for specific tips and advice that resonated with me. As a resource for decluttering, I found SHED Your Stuff to be a mixture of good and not-so-good advice.

For instance, Morgenstern offers a concise definition of clutter as “anything that no longer serves you” [741], which matches well with my goal of living in a home where everything I own has an identifiable purpose or value, that is, serves me in some way. However, the SHED method is a little too focused on the short term with its emphasis on “eliminating the obsolete” [296] so you can “identify and unearth the gems that energize you and have true value for the next chapter of your life” [315]. Fair enough as far as it goes, but what about the items that are inert now but might be useful in a future chapter down the road? The SHED method doesn’t seem particularly helpful for distinguishing between those items you should keep for the longer-term future and those that are simply just getting in your way.

I also haven’t figured out yet how to use Morgenstern’s notion that clutter’s most telling characteristic is a “feeling of stagnancy” or that stagnant spaces are “points of entry” which offer opportunities for change [741-43]. Perhaps this is because SHED Your Stuff promotes a more actively self-help approach than I’d been taking, and maybe a little too much for some people’s tastes. (By contrast, you can do a 1000 things project for many other reasons.)

My reaction to the notion of disengaging your identity from your stuff is similarly mixed. While it may be true that “you are who you are wherever you go, regardless of your possessions, habits, or roles” [124],  why disengage your identity from your stuff instead of mining it, curating it, drawing strength from it? Your clutter may provide tangible clues to old belief systems which “you can examine and expunge” [130], but for me it’s not just a simple expunging, reinvention process, or at least it doesn’t have to be.

Morgenstern also believes that being organized is more important than being streamlined; she asserts that you are sufficiently well organized “if you can find what you need when you need it, and are comfortable in your space,” no matter how much you own [261].  She further asserts that streamlining your belongings is not a requirement for being organized [260], which is almost the opposite philosophy from that in Magic of Tidying Up, which asserts that streamlining is essential and being organized is counterproductive since it results in packing up things you don’t need. You may feel differently, but the notion of being able to find what I need when I need it, and being comfortable in my space resonates more for me and allows more latitude in keeping things as compared to more minimalist approaches such as the joy-based sorting method at the heart of Tidying Up.

The SHED method itself is a also little too detailed for my liking. Keeping “a running list of the points of entry in your physical space, noting what percentage of each area is stagnant, how big a space you would create by releasing the clutter there, and the strength of your emotional attachment to each object” [872] is a bit too persnickety for my tastes. The “Selecting your treasures” step features six questions to help you distinguish “true” treasures from “maybes,”  including practical value, need, and relevance to your vision [1379]. These questions might be good for occasional reference, but asking each question is too much to ask for each object you encounter IMO. While Morgenstern’s two basic types of treasures (practical and meaningful) are also very similar to very my criteria of ‘identifiable purpose and value,’ I don’t think everything we own has to be raised to the level of treasures. Then again, this technique is meant to be applied to “points of entry” rather than an entire house, so I found the methodology itself to be less than useful for my purposes.

The “Heaving Your Trash” step was similarly over-engineered for my purposes. For example, the SHED Heave Worksheet [2077], on which you track name of resource, contact info, timing, quantity, and disposal method, seems excessive to me. Recommending that “heaving is usually best done in two- to three-hour sessions” [2102] seems like a good tip and is more moderate than trying to do it all at once (a la Magic of Tidying Up). I haven’t really tried it yet, though, although I recently did 100 things in one day (having organized said things for several days beforehand).

Morgenstern also rightly warns that it’s a careful balance between getting rid of too much or too little stuff, and you might have to start from scratch unnecessarily if you focus too much on simply tossing stuff.  The SHED process includes “consciously evaluating what’s truly valuable and what’s not,” but again the focus is on preparing you to “move forward into the next phase” of your life [1052], and a life phase change may be more than you were planning or bargaining for. In this context, Morgenstern’s stated target of aiming “to keep only 10 to 20 percent or a handful of items at most” or else “you won’t be able to create enough space for objects and activities that support your new theme” [1066] may be a little too extreme for some, even if that target only relates to items that you find in your ‘points of entry.’

Most of the rest of the book soon departs from decluttering and into self-help land. I found some of Morgenstern’s ideas to be intriguing and potentially helpful, and I might even return to the “ED” sections of the SHED method at some point. Overall, however, while I found the SHED method to be somewhat more sensible and less onerous than the KonMari method, it’s not a method I plan to apply in toto. I will be a little more assertive in questioning whether some of my possessions still need to be in my life, but I found the process I developed through the 1000 things project to be a better fit for my own purposes.


3 thoughts on “Book Review: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life

  1. Pingback: Book Reviews: Books on Decluttering | Ideaphoriana

  2. Pingback: Some tips on decluttering | Ideaphoriana

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