How to finish a 1,000 things project fast(er)…

Reflections on finishing the third 1,000 things project (#1)…

Objection Manual 2786 AF 216
(Excerpt from Objection Manual, American Future, 1973, #2786; scanned/recycled)

My third 1,000 things project is now complete. I finished it on Saturday, March 5th, when someone on Freecycle picked up a toolbox and tools that were the result of a massive tool cull. That was nine days later than my goal of finishing by February 25th, but it was still a lot faster (a little over 4 months) than my previous two 1,000 things projects in 2014 and 2015, which took about 8 months and 9 1/2 months respectively.

How was I able to finish this 1,000 things project so quickly? There are several reasons:

  1. I’ve gotten better at this. No two ways about it: I am much better at the process of getting rid of stuff thoughtfully. Have I gotten good at this? I don’t really know what that means, but I suppose that’s true.
  2. A lot of the things in this round were office documents. (For example, see #2786 above.) As I’ve noted elsewhere, I tend to count office documents either in terms of folders or files, depending on what I do with them. Although I’ve found it’s not easy to get rid of a lot of office documents that quickly, it’s pretty easy to go through them at a steady clip in concentrated periods of time, or sprints.
  3. It can actually be easier to get rid of things that have some value or meaning to me — mementos, collections, or simply items I’ve had for a really long time. This one surprised me; as I neared the end of my 3rd and final 1000 things project, I got to the stage where many if not most of the things I was going through fell into these categories.  I wanted to sort through them thoughtfully but thoroughly because they were meaningful, and also because I learned that the process was worthwhile to me. So I thought it would take more time, but what happened instead was that I was more likely to count individual items as one thing rather than as a group of things. For example, the document pictured above was a sales training manual for a summer job I had selling cookware (don’t call it “pots and pans!”) during college. It triggers lots of memorable stories for me; the inner voices I heard were more questions than commands (“Is this document worth anything to me or anyone else if I keep it? Nah, I don’t think so…”), and I scanned a copy of it for digital posterity. So of course I counted it as one thing and value the time, energy, and attention I spent on it individually.
  4. Going through items which were numerous and needed to be considered separately also sped up the count.  The tool cull was the main example of this; I treated each individual tool or box of fasteners as a separate thing, so that there I ended up putting 85 separate items in the tool box and then giving all of them away at once through Freecycle.

You might feel differently about such things, and to some extent it makes the distinction about what one ‘thing’ is to be fuzzier again. But that’s OK; as I’ve said before, what counts as a “thing” to count is to a large extent a personal decision. Given that one of the key lessons of my 1,000 things projects has been the power of possession — things embody our time, energy, and attention — it makes sense for me to explore that and to take that into account as I get rid of things.

Another reason why this works fine for me and doesn’t seem inconsistent is that some items are presenting me with the opportunity for more detailed reflection. For me this is part of the process of letting go; it’s the ‘acknowledging’ part that some other books I’ve read on decluttering also recommend. But I take it a little further than some others recommend or might prefer; instead of a sort-of generic ‘thank you for your service; bye now’ acknowledgement, I’m spending some time looking at some of the items in more depth, as with the Objection Manual pictured above.

This also makes sense for the collections I’m getting rid of because they embody a lot of me: memories, identity, etc. So for me it’s worth the time to go down memory lane with them. This makes it harder to get rid of things more quickly, but in terms of the count, it still speeds the process up overall as far as I can tell. It’s also particularly easy to do with items like journal writings, personal notes, and these collections because they retain a lot of value for me; there are things I can learn from revisiting them that have been, and can be, very useful for informing my current life and plans moving forward.

Speaking of moving forward, what’s next for me? More on that in my next post…

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