Thursday, December 4, 2014

Under the Clutter


   What a way to launch the holiday season--I've just dumped 54 Christmas cards in the recycle bin. But let me explain.

   These cards date from 2010 and back. Messages older than some of the children the senders have since borne. I enjoy the holiday process of looking through cards from the previous year before I start sending this year's greetings to out-of-town friends. It's the first step in a yearly ritual I still find enjoyable.

  But five-year-old cards? Even I can't think of a reason to keep them any longer. And right now, I'm experiencing the added impetus of the "30-Day Declutter Challenge" goading me past procrastination and indecision. 

   This fall I read a blog post on that provoked this cleanup process. The blog outlined an interesting system for addressing those burdensome caches of old papers, photos, clothing, chipped dishes, etc--all that "stuff" that builds up in closets and corners.

   The "30-Day Declutter Challenge" begins with discarding on item on Day 1. Then two items on Day 2, nine items on Day 9, and so on, for 30 days. You can throw out, give away, donate, or sell the outcasts. It doesn't matter as long as you get them out of the house. 

   A systematic approach appealed to me. So did the promised outcome: By the time you finish 30 days of progressive discards, you will have chucked 465 items. Now that would definitely feel like an achievement!

   Like most everyone I talk to these days, I nag myself regularly about paring things down at home. But there's always an excuse. Not enough time. No energy. Where are we supposed to take those burned out batteries and light bulbs? Excuses, so far, have stalled any action on my part regarding those no-longer-useful items gathering dust at the back of drawers and shelves. 

   So imagine my delight when I realized that 54 Christmas cards, not counting envelopes or insert letters, fills the discard quotas for  Days 12,13,14, and 15. (Add it up!)  Of course, I questioned whether one Christmas card should have equal discard value with a flower vase or a sweatshirt, for example. But why not?

   Those questions just muddy the process and threaten to derail my momentum. Let's let a discard be a discard and keep moving! I'm on a roll here.

   When I set out on this challenge, I listed Days 1 through 30 on the pages of a yellow legal pad, leaving space as the numbers grew larger to itemize each discard. It motivated me to see clear evidence of my progress as the list of outcasts grew. At first, I moved systematically through each number, noting the discards day-by-day. 

   Quickly, I decided that it was the end result, not the order that mattered. On the day I culled 14 cookbooks from the kitchen collection I decided to jump ahead to Day 14 where I listed the books in triumph. They went into a box for donation to the library's annual sale. When I dug 19 old VCR tapes out of a living room drawer, I put the tally on Day 19. Single items I've been listing farther down on the list where numbers get larger and will require an accumulation of various discards. 

  Last week, I tackled a battered old briefcase full of yellowed newspaper articles from my early years in journalism. I paged through clippings from the 1969 Daily Northwestern in Oshkosh, WI where I earned my first newspaper by-line. I moved on through the 1970s with stories about politicians, holidays, women's rights and Midwest Native American cultures. All of them pieces I had written for the Wichita KS Eagle and Beacon.

   In the end, I had two stacks: one hefty pile of stories I was ready to part with and a smaller group to be saved a few more years. How should I measure these discards? I pulled out the kitchen scales and weighed them.  Five pounds of newsprint for the recycle bin. One pound back in the briefcase. With Day 5 done, they made a good start on Day 15! 

    I find I'm actually having fun at a process I avoided for years! In a burst of over-achievement, inspired by declutter momentum, I even discarded 1,732 old emails from the on-line server that stores these things. That didn't go on any of my lists. It's a freebie -- insurance to cover any short cuts or miscounts I may have made.  Still, it delivered a symbolic pat on the back that has me smiling still. 

       It's a good idea to take a short, brisk walk when the overwhelm of declutter decision-making threatens to derail focus and momentum. Ten minutes at a healthy pace boosts energy and mood for up to two hours--plenty to time for a few more cuts when you return. If you need encouragement, try this Mood-Mender walk. 


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