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…

Tool Cull

Taking me to the finish line…

tools that remain 316
(tools that I kept after my tool cull {#2921-3005; Freecycled})

The tool cull took me to the finish line in my third 1,000 things project. It’s worth a post of its own for that reason alone, but there are some other good reasons for telling you about it.

How it came about: I was getting down to the wire in terms of meeting my goal of getting rid of 3,000 things by February 25th. I eventually let go of reaching that deadline on time, but before giving that up, I thought of a few strategies that might help me get there sooner, even if not on time. One of those strategies was to identify groups of large numbers of things that would help me get rid of a lot of things quickly. One of them I used extensively: going through my home office with the goal of getting my documents truly, finally, organized. This worked quite well for me, and I only have a few more folders to cull through, and lots of space in my file cabinet.

The other large number of things I used to get to 3,000 was my set of tools. I knew I had an excess of tools which I would be more likely to find and use if I actually knew what I had and where they were. This became the “toolbox project”  with the goal of going through my toolboxes, creating two sets of tools to keep in two toolboxes (one for me, one for my son), and disposing of the rest. I knew I had a lot of extra tools of some types — wrenches and small screwdrivers for example. I didn’t really know if my son wanted a toolbox, but I figured it would be there if and when he wanted it, and if not, it would be easy to give away to someone else.

Another motivation for doing it this way was remembering my Dad’s tool collection. He had seven toolboxes — no, actually I can’t tell you how many toolboxes he had. There were at least seven toolboxes filled with tools, along with a voluminous amount of tools that weren’t in toolboxes. Then there were the numerous toolboxes filled with something else: the toolboxes filled with pennies, all rolled up and organized and labeled by year; and the toolboxes filled with all sorts of other things that I don’t remember now and really don’t care to try. I only have two toolboxes plus various other tools, but I’m still young relative to my dad when he passed away. Maybe he only had as many tools as I do now when he was my age. Maybe he got started down the path of tool hoarding with a collection of my size. Better to cut this off now while it’s still manageable. That alone justified for me the OCD overtones of going through every tool and sorting them out.

And so I did. I emptied my two toolboxes and collected all the others I could find, laid out all the tools where I could see them, and grouped the tools loosely by type. Then I started identifying the tools I wanted, starting with easy ones like hammers and screwdrivers. I took one of each (including variants, like a traditional hammer, mallet hammer, etc.); if I had two of something, the second one went into my son’s toolbox; anything left over stayed in a third pile. I also kept a separate toolbox for myself which I had taken from my dad’s collection and kept because it has a well-organized array of tools (socket wrench set, a few screwdrivers, toolbit disk, and a few other items) that wouldn’t all fit in my toolbox.

Even after filling two toolboxes, a fairly useful collection of leftover tools remained: a couple of hammers, various screwdrivers, pliers, and a wide assortment of wrenches, including an almost complete socket wrench set. Some things were new or almost new, like a set of open-ended wrenches. Some things were older or even a little messy like the socket wrench set, but they were still useful. I also decided to give away a couple of ‘vintage’ tools — an old Yankee screwdriver, a small metal plumber’s wrench — to add value in a different way: maybe the recipient would appreciate them more than I would.

Ironically, I gave away a toolbox during my first 1,000 things project (#599) about 17 months ago which I thought I didn’t need at the time. It turns out I could have used it now, but I didn’t feel any sense of regret at not having kept it.  This is a good thing and worth noting, so I’ll remind myself again here: getting rid of that toolbox was more rewarding to me than keeping it, even though I had to go get another one.  The notion of “you might need it someday” is often a myth, and keeping something can be more of a burden than getting another one. (More about that in a later post.) I thought about going to a thrift store to buy a cheap toolbox, but I decided to buy a new one at the local hardware store instead; it cost about $18, which with the time cost savings was probably a bit cheaper than driving to the nearest thrift store. I’d planned to replace one of my old toolboxes with this new one, but after trying out the new toolbox, I decided I actually like my old ones a little better — one is metal; the other is a plastic toolbox from the old Hechinger’s home improvement store, so it’s an antique of sorts 😉 .

Then I filled the new toolbox with the culled tools, along with a bag which included a funnel and boxes of various fasteners (nails, screws, etc.) and put it on Freecycle. As you might expect, this was a very popular offering, and I found a recipient quickly. I even got a response from someone  who didn’t want the tools but simply wanted to acknowledge my generosity:

“Hi neighbor, Very generous tool freecycling you have got going there! I am not really in need but I thought I would let you know I think that is a pretty cool gift.”

So in this way the tool cull was a highly fitting end to my third 1,000 things project because the tool cull had it all:  stories, inner voices, possession, treasure, gratitude, curation, thoughtfulness, and of course completing the cycle on several levels.

Where am I now, and where am I going next? Good questions — reflections on that in my next posts…

Getting down to the wire — sort of….

Time to admit that setting deadlines based on numerical targets doesn’t really work for me…

(Shredded documents, #2571 – 2640 range, February 2016; recycled)

It’s getting down to the wire now in terms of meeting my goal of getting rid of 3,000 things by 2/25. I’ll be gone on the 23rd-25th, so I really only have less than a week to get rid of 360 more things. Complicating matters is the fact that I have gotten rid of most if not all of the easy stuff; another complication is that this is the busiest time of the year for me work-wise. How am I going to do this?

One distinct possibility, of course, is that I won’t; it will become simply another deadline that slips. But despite the obstacles, I’ve felt motivated to try.

I’ve made a lot of progress in the past week or so, focusing mainly on office stuff, which explains all the bags of shredded documents (#2,571 – 2,640 range; see pic above). More on that later on in this post.

Nevertheless, it is extremely unlikely that I will meet this deadline now, which has caused me to realize a more important thing about myself: that setting deadlines based on numerical targets doesn’t really work for me. I set them; I try to follow them; but I never meet them when it comes to my 1000 things projects. I’ve missed all three of my major deadlines, and I’ve pretty much missed every intermediate deadline I’ve set for myself as well. Why does this happen? Why don’t they work? What would work better instead?

One reason setting deadlines based on numerical targets hasn’t worked for me is that numerical targets are really not that motivating, even for someone like me who’s been using this counting approach in the first place. Numerical target deadlines are too abstract; ultimately, they conflict with some of my more important values such as thoughtfulness.  It’s more important for me to get rid of 1000 things as thoughtfully as I can than it is to get rid of them by a certain date. The date itself is arbitrary; the meaning of the things is not.

So, for example, at the beginning of last week, I set a goal of getting rid of 45 things in one day (because that would get me to an even number, 2,600), by cleaning up the piles of papers in my office, going through my folders, and getting things more organized. I got rid of three things. What went wrong? Clearly I don’t care about the number 2,600. So my stated goal and my target led me astray.

What do I really care about? I care most about being able to find things in my office when I need to; I’d like to know where every item is, or at least know where to look to find it quickly. It bothers me when I find a folder or document and don’t really know where to put it, or when I think it belongs somewhere, but I don’t remember where. I would like to have things more organized than that; I would like to be able to find and file important papers and documents and folders quickly, but even after all the culling I’ve done in my office, I’m still not there yet. So that’s a more motivating goal than getting rid of 45 things.  That’s a goal that can last beyond counting.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to give up counting yet; counting is still good for me, because it gives me a sense of the vast volume of stuff I’ve accumulated that has kept me from being where I want to be. But I think it’s a goal that eventually I can outgrow: there will be little or no need to count once everything I own has identifiable purpose or value. Conversely, one of the reasons that counting 1,000 things (or whatever the target number is) is helpful is that it provides a structure for getting to the point of knowing where or not something I own has purpose or value. And it is still motivating for me as a measure of progress — just not as a target.

In this regard, another recent insight that I’m finally putting to good use is the difference between an aspiration and a goal.  I’ve aspired for some time — years really — to have my office be a place where I know where every item is, or at least know where to look to find it quickly. But, I recently realized, it has always remained an aspiration because I hadn’t really resolved to do what I needed to do: go through every file cabinet drawer, stack, and pile and systematically cull everything out that I could, and do a little organizing in the process. I’d been doing it selectively, but not comprehensively; in particular, I’d been skipping over the difficult places.

So, my new goal is this: to have my office be the first place in my home where I can say that everything I own or have there has identifiable purpose or value.  Call it the proof of concept area if you will. I think this goal will help me move forward more effectively than a deadline based on a numerical target. It might also help me move forward in other rooms of the house. I can see myself working through this process spatially; since my home office is in an upper corner of my house, I can imagine myself moving spatially from room to room, next my bedroom and then the bathroom and then the music/exercise room and onward, sweeping through the entire second floor and then down to the first. Well, it’s fun to think about anyway. In practice I might find myself choosing the next easiest place next. And there are still a few stubborn nests to contend with in my office: the electronic stuff, the books, and especially the mementos. So I’m starting with the papers, and I’ve made a lot of progress — hence all the bags of shredded documents — and there really is an end in sight: three and a half more file cabinet drawers, three file holder racks, and three piles, and that’s it for the documents. It’s certainly a far cry from where I started.  So reaching that goal is more important to me than reaching my 3,000 target by my previously set and admittedly arbitrary deadline.

The question still remains: by when? Although setting deadlines based on numerical targets hasn’t worked for me, maybe setting deadlines based on a desired goal will work better. So I think that will be my new target for February 23rd: finish the process of going through my papers. For me, that would be a very inspiring goal to reach…

Accuracy vs. Inspiration: The magic of moving to action

dartboard accuracy 216    teardrop Munro Mizuno
(photo sources: see below)

From accuracy to inspiration: the magic of moving to action…

As I noted in my review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I am not at all impressed with the KonMari method. In fact, I think it’s a bit stupid, and it would never work for me. Take my clothes (please — Purple Heart, Vietnam Vets, Goodwill — and thank you!) for instance: if I truly and faithfully applied the KonMari method to my clothes, picking up each item and only keeping the ones that brought me joy, I would have no socks to wear. Because socks have never brought me joy. Some slight satisfaction, maybe now and then. But not joy. And let’s not even talk about underwear…

Perhaps, you might say, I am being too uncharitable. Perhaps you think I need to be a more joyous person, or that at least I should entertain a more expansive meaning of the word “joy.” While there may be some room for improvement for me in this area, philosophically I must disagree. I am perfectly fine with liking some of my clothes. I am even fine with the notion that some of my clothes might bring me joy now and then. But not my entire wardrobe. I wear clothes for other reasons besides joy: function, warmth, adherence to social norms. I value these other values, and I don’t believe that my entire life needs to be infused with joy, nor that everything I value or wear has to be labeled as joyous. Satisfied, content, grateful, obliviously taken for granted — these all work well enough for me.

So I reject the notion of a totally joyous wardrobe because, in case you hadn’t gathered already, I’m a bit of a stickler for accuracy. For me, it’s not just naive or woo-woo or disingenuous to espouse a tidy, joyous clothes closet; it’s also sloppy, misleading, and inaccurate. I take pride in being able to describe my relationship with my things with a broader and more nuanced palette and to capture that relationship with greater fidelity. To be honest, I think I’ve got a better approach on how to relate to my things than anything the KonMari or someone else’s method will give me. I think I’m more right.

Which brings me back to that room for improvement thing.

Recently I’ve seen several friends on Facebook talking about buying the Magic of Tidying Up book and using it to get them started on their own decluttering or tidying projects. And my first reaction was, why aren’t they buying my book instead? Well, my book’s not out there yet for one thing. So I sent them some of my blog posts, and they said thanks and seemed to appreciate what I sent. And then they went back to talking about the Magic of Tidying Up book.

This bothered me a little bit. What’s going on here? But this also reminded me of my experience with my first book on online education. Lots of my peers raved about it; I felt and still feel that it’s a valuable, accurate depiction of the present and future of online education. But its impact on the world of education at large, as far as I can tell, has been negligible. It may be accurate, but something was missing.

So I decided that maybe I was, in fact, being a bit too uncharitable, and I decided to listen.  When someone mentioned the Magic of Tidying Up book, I asked them what they liked about it. A pattern started emerging: the book was inspiring; the book inspired them to action, to do something about their stuff. That’s the magic of The Magic of Tidying Up as far as I can tell: it helps some people put into action their desire to change their situation. It’s more about the hook than the book. It doesn’t really matter all that much how accurate the method is; it matters how inspiring it is, and few people are inspired by accuracy. On the other hand, while inspiration alone may not produce over three million copies sold, it certainly can help get you there..

My room for improvement, then, is this: getting better at inspiring people. Even though my initial inspiration for writing about my 1000 things projects was seeing people’s reactions when I told them about it — discovering that the 1000 things project is an appealing hook — on some level I’ve lost that focus. I’ve reverted to my usual tendencies of focusing on being accurate — on describing what happened accurately, on providing tips which will be helpful because of their accuracy, etc.  I still believe that accuracy is important, but I also need to focus more on the inspiration part. I don’t really understand what makes The Magic of Tidying Up inspiring, and I’m even less sure how to be inspiring myself. But I will make inspiration more figural in my writings on the topic, doing my best to figure out what that means as I go along. (Suggestions are always welcome!). I’m starting with some artwork that I consider inspirational, just as a reminder of where to put my focus…

photo sources:
[2] Mineo Mizuno, “Teardrop, Multi-Color on White #3” (2010), Crocker Art Museum; photo by John Sener

Throwing Your Life Away

What to do when getting rid of your things feels like throwing a part of your life away…

ult frisbee cleats bottom
(#2311: soccer/ultimate cleats; trashed — also see narrative details below)

Do you hold on to some of your things because you’re afraid of throwing a part of your life away?

During a recent meeting of one of my writers’ groups, someone said that she felt as if she was throwing a part of her life away when she was getting rid of some of her items. Though this was not the first time I’d heard this sentiment, it struck a chord with me this time. In fact, to me it’s another one of our more common inner voices — You can’t get rid of that; it’d be throwing a part of your life away!

I’ve been hearing this inner voice a lot lately since I’ve been working so much on getting rid of mementos. Of course there are some things that we want to keep for sentimental reasons. Or maybe we think we’ll find a use for it someday, or gain an important insight or memory or moment of happiness or joy.

At the same time, when my fellow writer said this, I heard an inner voice with a different view: you may think you are throwing a part of your life away, but you aren’t really.  There are, in fact, multiple meanings to “throwing (a part of) your life away” besides the fear of losing something valuable or important to one’s life.

In my experience, a more common and insidious version of throwing your life away is to hold onto things in a way that prevents one from realizing their value, whether it’s having too many things or they’re forgotten or never used. Instead of holding our lives, our things end up blocking our lives; they get in the way instead of becoming part of the flow.

Another, more obvious meaning is that “throwing your life away” can be something you actually want to do.  Several books I’ve read on decluttering emphasize the value of doing this to make space (physical, mental, and emotional) for new and wonderful things in your life, or as a way of getting unstuck from old patterns and forming new ones.

These alternate meanings suggest to me three useful and related strategies for dealing with this issue. One is to consciously let go of some things and to separate the wheat from the chaff. I’ve also found this to be particularly useful for more difficult mementos which reflect parts of my life which were once very important to me such as teaching ESL, aikido, college papers, or journal notes. Sometimes this is relatively easy, for instance the soccer cleats I wore to play ultimate frisbee (#2311 above) back in the day. The cleats were at least 35 years old, and the dirt has been on them for close to a decade at least; a cleat is missing, and they even have a tear on the side. I’ve only worn them once in the past 20 years, and I don’t plan to wear them again. So this pair of cleats was relatively easy to throw out.  Even for more difficult mementos, a strategy of culling artifacts has helped me get rid of most of them, while keeping some as reminders and others for which I’m not quite yet ready to let go.

Another strategy is to separate the thing from its meaning and value. Can you capture the meaning and value of an object by taking and saving a picture of it? Making a short video? Telling and capturing a short (or long) story about it? In other words, can you retain or preserve its meaning and value without actually having physical possession of it?

Even though I’ve done this a number of times now, it doesn’t cease to amaze me how little I miss most things once they’re gone. I rarely even look at the pictures or videos or stories, although perhaps some day I will.

Sometimes, I found that it’s enough to revisit the object one more time, remember it, and then let it go for good without creating any new artifact of remembrance. Going through mementos for a sustained period also satiates me; the process reminds me that I’ve been fortunate to have a rich life with lots of wonderful experiences. The resulting feeling of abundance makes me more willing to give more of my stuff away. It also helps me remember that I’m better off having fewer things and being able to enjoy them, rather than keeping so many things that their value and meaning get lost in the shuffle.

Curating is a third strategy. If there are many of the same item or set of items, can you cull or select a few that will represent the many?  Of course, some things are complete sets for which it doesn’t make sense to separate. But many items can be separated; currently, I’m doing this with my son’s artwork. In this case, I’m keeping most of it for him to look at because it is his stuff, but I’ve also culled out some pieces for which there are many other similar examples, which have been damaged beyond repair, or which I’m willing to guess that neither of us really needs to keep in physical form (for example, see #2486 below)— especially given that I’m still keeping hundreds of other pieces.

CHS star photo 3rd grade
(#2486: school art from 3rd grade; recycled)

Still, I’ve had many conversations with people who are so attached to their stuff that they can’t bear to part with any of it, even as they recognize that it’s getting in their way. I’m not sure my suggestions are very helpful for that level of attachment.  But, as a quote I read the other day so wisely puts it, “We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.”  More on that in my next post…

Inner Voices Redux: Strong as Ever…

The inner voices don’t go away — they just get stronger and more insistent…

xmas tree 3rd gr ca1820
(#1820: art work, 1962; recycled — also see narrative details below)

During my first 1000 things project, one of the first things I discovered was the presence of inner voices: an internal dialogue between me and my things which I encountered whenever I dealt with them. I learned that these inner voices were the most subtle but perhaps also most powerful attachment, and so I learned to listen to them and try to understand what they were saying.

They often took the form of scripts or mantras which I’m sure you’ll recognize (and indeed many of you have told me you’ve heard these same ones), such as:

  • “It might be worth something; I can’t just throw it out”
  • “I paid a lot for that; I can’t just give it away”
  • “My son [child, relative] might want that some day”
  • “This was my favorite [x] when I was a kid”
  • “I might want to look through those (papers, pictures, drawings, etc.) some day”
  • “This was so-and-so’s favorite [y]”

These inner voices also embodied certain larger themes for internalized rules about how to deal with my stuff, themes like “Just in Case,” “Get Maximum Value,” or “Some Day.”

Now that I’m well into my third and final 1000 things project, I’ve learned a deeper truth about them, which is this: The inner voices don’t go away. Not for me, at least. You might think that, after having gotten rid of so many things, I would have learned to manage the inner voices better or subdue them more effectively. But no. If anything, they are at least as loud as ever.

This phenomenon in itself is not new; I had previously noticed that my inner voices were stronger and more insistent when I dealt with things that had deeper attachments to me. But I’m finding that it’s more common now, probably because I’ve gotten rid of most of the easy things to get rid of, and the ones that remain have a stronger claim on me.

In particular, mementos require more attention and more difficult decisions. I’d already started this process in the 2nd thousand things project with many of my own mementos; I’ve disassembled trophies (e.g., #1750, 1774-75), thrown out moldy baseball caps (#1682-86), and disposed of a lot of old school papers (e.g. #1697-98, 1804-05). This process has continued in the third 1000 things project with certificates (e.g., #2042), art work (e.g., #2043 below), and high school handbooks (#2051, 2052).

js artwork date unknown 2043
(#2043: art work, date unknown (middle school?); recycled)

The process involved a fair amount of time discovering, reminiscing, and deciding, and parting was sometimes not that easy. I expect it will be even more difficult when I go through other remaining mementos such as photographs, some of my son’s stuff, and some of Martha’s remaining stuff.

In some cases, encountering these objects evoked instant strong memories of something I may have remembered now and then over the years, for instance Little League and Teener League baseball team pictures (#1836, which was a bit moldy; I have kept the others for now).

indians bball team pic 1836
(#1836: Little League team picture, ca. 1965 ; trashed)

In other cases, the memento evoked a long-forgotten memory, for example the faux stained glass X-mas tree I made out of tissue paper in third grade (#1820). (For me, third grade seemed to be a big art year.) In still other cases, I had no recollection of the object, and seeing it did not evoke any memory for me, for instance a letter I wrote to my mom in second grade (#1830) asking her to make sure I got enough sleep so that I could do well on exams the next day.

js note to mom 462 ca1830
(#1830: letter to my mother, 1962 ; recycled)

There were also some new inner voices, or at least some which I had not paid any attention to previously. For instance, I recently got rid of some comic books. Most of them were in decent shape but certainly not in mint condition; they’re mainly Archie, Jughead comics from the 1960s (only 12 cents!). I listened to the inner voices and followed their guidance for awhile. They could be worth something. Maybe one of them could be worth a lot of money. So I looked on eBay — eh, not so much. Maybe someone else will value them. So I visited a local comic book store while out doing some errands nearby (I’ve learned from the previous projects that they weren’t worth a separate trip!). Not interested; ‘try this other local store, or there’s a place in Waldorf’… So I called the local store; not interested either, ‘but there’s a place in Falls Church that might take them; or there are a couple of places online…’ Falls Church? Waldorf?? Online? Now we’re talking entirely too much time and effort; if two comic book stores won’t take them, then maybe I should just — Still, It would be a shame just to throw them out. The inner voices are strong and insistent. So I went on Freecycle — any comic book collectors out there? Turns out there were plenty who were interested in them, and they found a good home, with my efforts producing a little more gratitude in the world in the process.

Speaking of process, the process of dealing with these mementos is helping me develop my own process for getting rid of things more quickly and effectively (at least in the long run!). More on that in my next post…

Thoughts on Doing a 3rd (& final!) 1000 things project

(Just!?!) one more time…

2070 corkscrew honeymoon
(#2070: part of a corkscrew (other part missing); recycled 10/30/15)

As noted in my previous post on this topic, the total number of items in my 2nd 1000 things project carried me well past the 2,000 mark, which has started me on another 1000 things project. To be honest, this decision falls somewhere between a plan and a rounding error. My last haul to Goodwill put me at 2,037; with such a great start, how could I not keep going and count 963 more?

If the logic of that escapes you, well, let’s just say it’s not entirely logical to me either. Clearly there’s something deeper at work here which on some level is worth my knowing. But I do have my limits, so I’m calling this 1000 things project the 3rd and final one for a few reasons:

– I’m starting to get a little tired of counting at this point. The phrase “blessings beyond counting” has been recurring in my mind lately, and I’ve been playing with its possible dual meanings: ‘blessings that result from reaching numerical targets’ and ‘the blessing of finally being free from the need (desire? compulsion?) to count.’ The longer I keep counting, the louder the voice which says “are you crazy? OCD? obsessed with counting? weird?” [etc.]  Writing about it and sharing my thoughts with others has the same effect. I find myself wondering if I’m somehow revealing some deep secretive part of myself, at once aware of this in the abstract but blind to what’s actually being revealed. At any rate, I don’t want counting to become counting for counting’s sake. I’d also like to avoid the same OCD trap that seemed to afflict several of the authors whose books I read over the summer.

– At the same time, I’m curious about just how many more things I’ll need to get rid of to reach my stated goal of living in a dwelling where everything I own has identifiable purpose or value. Will 3,000 get me there or within sight of it? Only one way to find out…

– The notion of forcing the issue seemed appealing to me lately. I’ve derived this notion from watching the experiences of several people I know who have moved or are in the process of preparing to move, whether a downsize or a move to a faraway location.  The appeal of forcing the issue is to speed up the process; it makes getting rid of things a high priority, and thus it’s easier to get rid of a lot of them relatively quickly. When my older sister recently moved, for instance, she told me that she got rid of about one-third of their things over a several-month period. Then there’s the extreme, “natural disasters” version which I encountered recently at a conference, where I heard three different stories from colleagues about losing home possessions from a fire (in which they lost almost everything), flood (of a basement, but lots and lots of things had to be thrown out), and lightning (they had to throw out about 25 bags of clothing, and all of their remaining clothing had to be dry cleaned).

Despite this appeal, having to move usually means not having the time to be maximally, or even satisfyingly, thoughtful about each thing you own. I don’t want to abandon being thoughtful about the process, so I really don’t want to force the issue — but I don’t want another project to drag on for another nine or ten months either.

As a result, for this project I intend to focus on how to accelerate the process without forcing it — get rid of stuff more systematically and quickly, yet thoughtfully.  I intend to apply what I’ve learned from my first two 1000 things projects, including my readings and learning from the stories and experiences of others (which includes many of you who’ve told me such great stories and shared such wonderful tips!), toward developing and testing out one or more specific processes for doing this. I’ve already started identifying some of the steps and testing them out, trying to learn as I go. (More on this in later posts.)

This 3rd and final 1000 things project also appears to have several other important characteristics:

Awareness of (almost) everything I own. Now and then, I still rediscover a stash of forgotten things, most recently the stack of music, song, and lesson books stashed inside the piano bench. While this briefly makes me wonder if this will ever stop happening, I really have just about run out of such places. While I can’t tell you what’s in every single box or bin yet, and there may be a few more surprises left to rediscover, there is no area of my house that remains unexamined. For me, this awareness of all my things is a major milestone towards being able to identify their purpose and value. Which brings me to the next step:

What does “identifiable purpose or value” really mean anyway? — I’ve treated this goal as if I know what it means — that I’ll recognize it when I see it, that I can define it in concrete terms, and that I’ll be able to tell you and others when I’ve reached it. But I’m starting to realize that this goal may not be quite as clear as I’ve been treating it. So there may be some interesting surprises and insights in store for me here.

Tougher decisions about getting rid of stuff. I’ve gotten rid of most of the easy stuff by now, which means that the decisions about individual items are getting tougher. The corkscrew cover (#2070) pictured above was missing the actual corkscrew, but it was a somewhat tougher decision since the Cartwright Hotel was one of the first places Martha and I stayed on our honeymoon to Northern California 26 years ago. (Still, I don’t need the actual thing now that I have the picture and the reminder now.) Even relatively easy ones like the old high school student handbook below, with its explicit instructions for disposal (read the notes in red) still required a momentary stroll down memory lane.

(#2051: CVHS student handbook, 1971-72; recycled 10/27/15)

This reality directly opposes my intent to get rid of things more quickly, but it does feed into my being more systematic and still thoughtful about it. The resulting conflicts are already interesting: I’m starting to hear newer inner voices, and the familiar ones are becoming louder and more stubborn; the embedded stories are more numerous and compelling; the attachments are stronger and often more deeply buried; and I’ll need to up my game in the curation and gratitude departments.

Curiously, the one area where I feel things getting easier is with “completing the cycle”: I don’t feel any urge to fill the newly emerging spaces in my home with things; instead, I feel stronger, cleaner, and leaner every day as another small pocket or space is emptied.

Overall, though, it will be interesting to see how the conflict between tougher decisions and more effective disposal plays out as I move forward.

More blog entries and writing in (near) real time. Up to now, I’ve been playing catch up most of the time with my chronicling of the 1000 things projects. There was no chronicling for the first project since I had no intention at the time of doing so; most of my chronicling during the 2nd project was about the first project, with the exception of a new stories and the book reviews, which were only a couple of months after I read them. I still have a lot of catching up to do with the second project, but I will be making more of an effort to chronicle in (near) real time what happens in this third (& final!) project.  Starting with my next post…