Decluttering Magazine Articles

It’s  now December which means I turn 40 this month. It’s by that date that I vowed to myself I’d have all my possessions pared down to what I really want to own.

I’ve been doing quite well with decluttering my “stuff stuff” but had somehow declined to remember that in our 2 drawer file cabinet I had quite a bit of “paper stuff.” I waded into that mess today and have compiled a sizeable pile of personal papers that I need to go through this next week.

The point of this blog entry, though, is to share a de-cluttering tidbit that I just discovered today. I had saved in the file cabinet about a half dozen articles from magazines. They contained information, stories or interviews that I wanted to be able to reference. In fact, while looking at them today I still wanted to keep them for reference.

I initially sat down on the couch to read them all again and reassess whether they were worth scanning into my computer. Then, on a lark, I decided to google the articles. That turned out to be a great idea. Not only was I able to find the online versions of articles from 2007 but I was able to find online versions of articles from 1999!

I compiled the web addresses and info into an email, emailed it to myself for archival storage in a Gmail folder and I also stored the info in a Simplenote on my iPod Touch for reference whenever I wanted.

So, I saved time from having to re-read them, saved time from having to scan them and am now able to recycle the physical paper articles and get rid of more clutter from the files.  Win, win, win!

Toss the Rewards Cards

…but continue getting your discounts and points.

These days there are rewards cards for everything: gasoline, greeting cards, sporting goods, book stores, pet supplies, office supplies, groceries, auto parts and coffee. Also, there are gym memberships and other entry points that use a barcode system.

If you were to carry all those cards around you’d need 3 wallets. Luckily, there are a few tools available to help you decrease that wad of cards immensely, if not totally.

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Paperless Banking

I saw this bank sign as I drove by last week and simply had to stop and snap a picture.

More and more banks are following the lead that airlines took a few years ago by increasing or creating new fees to charge their customers. My own credit union sent out a letter last week with a complete list of all the fees they will start charging at the beginining of March. A new one on the list that immediately caught my eye is that they are going to charge $1 per month to mail out a monthly statement. We already use online banking for transferring money and making payments so I guess we’ll just move to paperless statements too. I can use $12 a year for something else and won’t mind saving space in my file cabinet at the same time.

More fees will be raised or newly instituted as banks try to cope with increased federal regulations and loss of other income like overdraft fees. It’s becoming commonplace that banks will charge $1-2 for mailing a paper statement and $2-3 for mailing that statement with check images.

Watch out for the fineprint and watch your wallets.

This Blog Has a New Mission

…well not new, perhaps more focused would be the way to describe how I’m going to start blogging from this point on.

The header to my website used to read: My thoughts on minimalist living, simple living and American-style consumerism in the 21st century.

It’s now going to state: Follow along as I declutter by age 40 and teach my children about “stuff” as I do. Minimalist living is my goal.

(that sentence may get adjusted slightly as we go, but it’s a start)

I’ve always liked to write blog posts but there have been times when I just run out of subjects to write about. A blogger of any kind should be able to write with passion about, well, whatever the heck it is they created a blog for. I believe the phrase is “write about what you know.” Now I will.

I’m 39. I turn 40 in December 2011 and I aim to have myself decluttered by the time that day arrives. The year 2011 on this blog will be spent writing entries based on how I have decluttered, what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I’ll also continue to write about minimalist living, simple living and my thoughts on American style consumerism. (<- thanks to Dave Bruno for introducing me to that term.) I’m almost finished reading Dave’s book “The 100 Thing Challenge” and it’s really hitting home. He just makes a helluva lot of sense to me. I don’t know what number of possessions I’ll have when that day in December rolls around, it could be 300 or it could be 800 but I will have a number. I want to count what I have and I will certainly know that on that day, each item I claim as my own will indeed be something valuable to me that I want to call my own.

So there it is, now I’m off to write.

Rich Rodriguez Simplifies

…and why wouldn’t he? Fired after 3 seasons as the head football coach for the University of Michigan, Rodriguez has no desire to hang onto clothing from his former employer.

What’s cool though is that he presented the 400+ items to a nearby Salvation Army. The Detroit Free Press reports:

(he) was cleaning out his closet last Monday while thinking about how he might do the most good with some exciting pieces associated with his recent position as Coach of the Michigan Wolverines.

That’s when he arrived at The Salvation Army in Wayne with 12 bags of Michigan Football clothing from his personal wardrobe.

And the Detroit News states the inventory as:

23 shorts, 23 pants, 139 T-shirts, 15 long-sleeve pullovers, 96 polos, 22 sweatshirts, 30 windbreakers, 31 button-downs, 6 midweight jackets, 7 misc new shirts, 2 tank tops, 26 caps, 6 hats, 1 pair of gloves, 1 hand towel, 1 jersey, 1 wool varsity coat, 1 Gator Bowl polo, 1 button-down Rose Bowl shirt.

(Maybe he’s actually getting ready for Project 333)

My question is why haven’t we heard of other coaches, pro or college, that have done this? These guys get fired all the time, what happens to all their stuff? Rodriguez’s donations will be auctioned off tomorrow and will likely raise lots of needed funds for The Salvation Army. Way to go Rich Rod, congrats on decluttering for the greater good!

Facebook: Good or Evil?

Sam Spurlin wrote a recent blog post explaining why he deleted his facebook account. I was typing a comment to his post and then saw how much I was typing. It was long enough to warrant it’s own post on my blog…so I copied and pasted.

I’m not beating up on Sam for his decision, he makes very valid points as do the commenters on his post about why facebook is or isn’t important to them. Sam’s point is that he allowed reading someone’s facebook status and perhaps commenting on it to replace having a real meaningful interaction with that person and developing or deepening his relationship with his friends. He writes:

I allowed it to trick me into thinking 1,000 Facebook friendships are suitable replacements for 10 real relationships. I’ve been lulled into the false sense of security that tells me because I can instantly communicate with all the people in my life, I don’t need to right now. Not talking to you right now, even though I could, has turned into not talking to you for 6 months. And then a year. And then two years.

Facebook has become much less about communicating meaningfully with people and much more about knowing what everyone is doing. And it’s not you, it’s me.

I care about you as a person and for me, Facebook is becoming extremely adept at removing your humanity. Instead, you are just another line of information in an endlessly updating stream flowing in front of my eyes as cheap entertainment. I don’t want that and you don’t want that.

I have facebook. I love facebook.
When my wife and I first got our accounts we went nuts trying to find people to “friend.” We had a bit of a competition to see who had a bigger number of “friends.” (I think I fell back into my old habit of trying to collect things. In this case, people) We delved into other people’s friend lists to see if they knew someone that we knew too. We were wasting time trying to unearth names from old workplaces, college, high school, etc. I let my facebook account pile up with junk and likes and acquaintances for several months, maybe even a year or so until it all got to be too much. At that point I was equating the value of facebook with volume. Quantity over quality.

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Unused Cord Clutter

We all have some versions of cord clutter in our homes. There’s the entertainment center clutter: cables running from the TV to the cable box to the DVD player to the VCR (yup, still have one) to the game system to the power strip and finally to the outlets. And I don’t have to remind you about the cords required for your computer, printer, monitors and hard drives.

But, that’s not the cord clutter I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about the perfectly good cords that we accumulate when we purchase or replace electronic items. When you buy a new DVD player, for example, you just unhook the cords from the old player and plug the new DVD player right in. What you’re left with are the new cords from the new DVD player and they are “too good to throw away.” I learned at an early age that keeping extra cords and wires around was always a good idea because you never know when you are going to need one.

  • This I learned from my dad.
  • This became my own habit.
  • This filled a shoebox and a half in one of my closets.
  • This cluttered collection disappeared last night. (sorry Dad)

I thought I’d check out what I had in those boxes and see what I could declutter. I found a lot to declutter…this much in fact:

…and this picture doesn’t include the items I decided to keep.

Some of this stuff has never been used. I had USB to USB, USB to mini USB, several wall chargers that I have no idea what they go to, a few cigarette lighter adapters, some various versions of audio and video cables as well as some other junk. I categorized the wires and cables and kept a half dozen or so that I feel would be useful. The rest? After I double check to make sure the cigarette lighter and wall adapters don’t go to anything, they’ll all be hauled to my local Best Buy. Did you know that Best Buy stores have bins for recycling phones, cords, remotes, CDs, DVDs and such? And if you have larger electronics items, Best Buy will take them for free and send them to be recycled. So check all the closets and drawers, gather up those stray cords and, at the least, get them organized in one place, and at the most, make a short stop at Best Buy for recycling.

Donate Good Stuff in a Crisis, Not Junk

Each time a disaster occurs, like Hurricane Katrina, tsunamis and most recently the earthquakes in Haiti, the good people of the United States rush to help. That’s good, no, that’s great! The problems come when well intentioned, good hearted people donate stuff that is useless to the cause.

When a major disaster strikes somewhere in the world there’s a relief agency near my home that springs into action. They do a great job of getting money and supplies to places that really need it, they help lots of people and they do it quickly because they have a plan. After the Haiti earthquakes the general public went berserk donating money, cases of water, first aid supplies and cleaning supplies. I drive past this charity on a daily basis and at that time saw all the stuff that sat in the portable storage container serving as a drop off spot.

This charity receives clothing ALL the time, because it can be just dropped off in the storage container. This heap of clothing incrementally increases during a crisis. People donate clothing during a disaster, that’s just the way people are. Here’s the thing: clothing is NOT good for anything during these times of disaster. This relief agency does not have the time or people to devote to sorting clothing and packing it up in order to ship thousands of miles away. Back in January, right after the Haiti earthquake, I read a blog post on the United Kingdom’s Red Cross blog that described the problem. I encourage you to read the whole post but I offer you some of the more salient points:

First let me debunk a couple of myths, starting with the principle that “anything is better than nothing”. Trust me, it’s not. Relieving suffering should be guided solely by need and not what people have to donate. Humanitarian aid should also ‘do no harm’. Quite a lot of harm is done when unwanted and unneeded fresh food items rot in piles at the airports and seaports, stopping medicines and blankets getting through.

Storage space is scarce in every post-disaster setting. A huge influx of goods needs to be housed somewhere.  In Banda Aceh after the Tsunami, health centres had to sacrifice patient’s rooms to store inappropriate drugs. The irony is that the medicines sent in to help people instead reduced the number of sick people who could access treatment. Pharmaceuticals are very sensitive to light, heat and humidity. If they are not stored in proper conditions, at best they lose some of their effectiveness, at worst they become completely useless. You have no way of know where they have been and you can’t tell just by looking if these items are still going to work.

Medicines not recognised by local doctors could lead to fatal doses being prescribed. Patients face a bewildering and ever changing array of pills in different boxes and with different amounts to be taken. Often the packaging and instruction leaflet is in a foreign language.  The chance of accidently overdosing is very real. Also if the quality of the drugs or equipment is not acceptable for the UK then it is also not acceptable for Haiti.

Drugs that are not required, those that have expired or have no expiry date have to be destroyed. Incineration is preferred as this prevents the hazard of land filled medicines contaminating water supplies or drugs being collected and sold on the black market. In Eritrea after the war of independence, seven truckloads of expired aspirin took six months to burn. The real tragedy is the cost of this process. In the Venezuela floods in 2000, seventy percent of donated pharmaceuticals had to be destroyed. To be able to cover this cost, a support line to provide psychological support to the survivors had to be shut down.

So, the lesson here is not to suddenly decide to declutter your closet in the aftermath of a tragedy somewhere in the world. Don’t rush around gathering the 6 cans of 3 year old green beans and 2 boxes of stale crackers hiding in your pantry. Give money or take the time to find or purchase items that theses aid agencies actually can use. They always give lists of needed items to local media outlets. If you really don’t have money or supplies to give, then donate a couple hours of your time. Or, if you really do want to declutter your home then sell some of the junk and clutter from your house in a yard sale to raise money that you can donate to the relief cause. Have a sign up at your sale stating that the proceeds will benefit the aid agency of your choice. You might even make more money in your yard sale because shoppers will know where the money is going.

I think I did the right thing after the earthquakes struck Haiti. I donated some money, a hand crank powered clothes washer and 2 small camping tents to the aid agency near my house. I like to think they were useful and not detritus. Maybe, maybe not.

I thought my stuff was gone, and it was ok

Pre-story side note…I realize it’s not hard to take a picture of an item, list it on eBay and then ship it. But I’ve also realized I’m too lazy to do that as many times as I have stuff to sell so I’ve opted to use an eBay reseller thereby ensuring that my clutter leaves the house.

After taking the first load of about 20 items to their store I waited a month or so and then received a nice check in the mail. Easy peasy. That check prompted me to take them another load of 20 or so items. Because there was no communication with them while they sold my fist batch of stuff I occasionally checked their eBay store to see how my items were doing. For the second batch I did the same thing. But one day I clicked on the link to their store on eBay and it opened with this message: “Sorry, this store does not exist.” Hmm, weird.

The next time I rolled through town I stopped at the business. The sign on the building was gone, the signs in the windows were gone and I sat there a minute thinking about the whole thing. Someone with materialistic tendencies might feel panic or anger that their valuable possessions had suddenly disappeared, but all I felt was curiousity. I didn’t care if someone had taken off with a bunch of my “collectibles” I was just wondering what happened to the business.

I then saw a small sign on the door. It simply stated that the business had moved their store to a neighboring town. They were taking all their clients’ stuff with them and will sell it when the new store opens in about a month.

I felt no attachment to my “stuff.” And that made me proud of myself.

This means that getting rid of the rest of my junk/clutter/stuff should be easy. I’ve been contemplating having a yard sale when the annual town wide yard sales happen in a month or so but I was wary. The thought of getting all that junk out of the attic, pricing it and sitting there while I try to sell it all didn’t seem too bad. But the idea of putting the remnants back in the attic made me shudder. Deciding whether to waste 2 valuable days of my life trying to sell a bunch of crap is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

So I’ve decided what to do. I’m gonna set up a good looking yard sale with everything priced and sell it traditionally the first day. The second day though will be a clear-it-all out sale, pennies on the dollar. I want nothing left and this oughta do it.

“The things you own end up owning you.”        -Tyler Durden / Fight Club


Nothing really to “watch” here, this is about an actual watch.

For the last 10 or years (or more) I’ve always been a watch junkie. Always had it on at work, sometimes wore it in the shower, wore it no matter the temperature even when I was working in a warehouse during the hot and humid Ohio summers.

And then…

I took it off.

When I started getting more hard core in my decluttering and minimalistic tendencies I realized I didn’t need to wear a watch. I always have my mobile phone with me and it obviously has a clock so I’m all set. The first day it was just on a lark wondering if it’d feel weird to go watchless. Then the next day I purposely did it again. Now, about two weeks later, I don’t miss it at all!

It wasn’t an expensive watch, it was given to me, and it’s still sitting on my dresser (the only thing on the dresser by the way.) But I can’t imagine when I’ll be putting it on again.

UPDATE:  April 27, 2010

3 months later I still don’t wear a watch. I’ve discovered a nice benefit: the hours seem to go by faster, this means I must have been looking at my watch a lot more often than I thought I was. I work a second job at a friend’s business a couple days a week and while I don’t mind the work I would occasionally look down at the watch and think “Oh man, 3 more hours.” It wasn’t that I wanted to get out of there, it just seemed like the hours were dragging by.  Now that I don’t wear a watch and have to purposely go find the time somewhere I just don’t do it. These days, by the time my eyes glance at a clock usually a whole hour has gone by. It’s really nice!  I’ve worn the watch once in the last 3 months and it no longer clutters the top of my dresser…it’s sitting in a drawer.