I noticed a huge spike in the number of visitors to this blog on January 1st. My guess is that there are lots of people who have a clutter problem in their home, made a New Year's resolution to get rid of it this year, and stumbled upon my blog while searching for resources to help them clean up their home.
Do New Year's resolutions (NYRs) "work"? Well, truth be told, most people give up on them by March, maybe even February. My friend Tania wrote a great post on her own blog on "New Years Resolutions and Lame Excuses", expressing the frustrations of seeing her gym clog up with the NYR people. (And I'm borrowing her "NYR" abbreviation here -- thanks, Tania!)
Now I'm certainly not here to discourage people. Plenty of people have been able to set a goal and achieve it, whether they started on January 1st or some other date of the year, and whether or not it was getting rid of overwhelming clutter in their homes. So what made them different from the people who didn't meet their NYRs? I suppose the obvious answer is "Well, they just didn't give up!", but that seems a little too simple to me. A buzz phrase like "Be motivated!" is easier said than done.
So for what it's worth, here's my advice on how to actually see your NYRs through to completion. Yes, I know that some of this is going to sound trite, or "obvious", or "common sense". Yes, I know that you've probably read a lot of these points elsewhere before, whether it was on somebody else's blog or at some "goal-setting workshop" seminar. But maybe that's because there's really some truth to it.
Write it out. This goes for the next two items, at the very least. You may say, "Oh no, I don't have to write it out. I've got it." No, write it down. That means turning away from a screen for 5 minutes, grabbing a pen and a piece of paper, not opening a new window and typing. "Uh, well, my handwriting sucks." Well gee, maybe that's because you don't write enough. Hey, maybe improving your handwriting -- to the level of legibility -- should be one of your goals this year. Look, you don't have to write an essay, here. Just half of a page may do. If you can't even do something as mundane as that, then what makes you think you can accomplish the goal you have in mind? When you write something out, you're not only being more affirmative with yourself, but you also won't fall into the trap of rewording the goal in your mind as the year goes on. And these next two things are the things you'll write down:
Have your goal(s) be specific and objectively observable/measurable. That's because if your goal is really vague, then you're not really going to know if and when you've met it, let alone if you're headed in the right direction. I know lots of people for example make a resolution "To lose weight". Or rather, since most goal-setting programs will tell you to reword things in the grammatically positive: "To be thin". OK, but what does that mean? Do you know how much weight you want to lose? When to lose it by? Those are things that you can actually measure along the way. Have you checked with a doctor or some other health professional (read: not some random free BMI website that you found) to make sure you're not being too unrealistic or risky, like thinking you can lose 50 pounds in a week? Regarding clutter, the same goes for resolutions like "To get my house clean". That's great. But again, be more specific with yourself. Maybe there's one specific room that needs the most attention. Maybe getting all non-furniture items off of the floor in one room would be an amazing enough goal itself. But I'll talk more about individual tasks in the third point.
WHY do you want this? No, really: why? As silly as it sounds, you'd be surprised how easy it can be to get so caught up in tasks that you overlook why you're doing them in the first place. Then you can fall into the trap where you find yourself doing tasks just for the sake of doing them. Think of the great things you'll gain by meeting the goal. Then think of some more. Write them down (yes, short-hand and sentence fragments are OK, just get them out of your head and on to paper, where you can look at them). This not only helps you keep things going in the right direction, but also gives you the drive in the first place. Maybe you want your home to be clutter-free because you want to be able to have friends over the house. And you don't want to have to keep on tripping over stuff. You're sick of not knowing where things are. You know there are buried treasures underneath all of those papers that can get you money on Craigslist. You know that you deserve to have a home that you can be happy about having. Whatever the reasons, write them down. It shouldn't take too long.
Break your goal down into smaller goals. Another problem with a vaguely-stated goal is that it can sound really huge. It's generally easier to do a dozen small tasks than it is to do one giant, intimidating task. So break down your goal into parts. For example, maybe "Clean my house" breaks down into: 1) get all the papers off the floor in the bedroom, 2) clean my shower, 3) go through the things in this stack of boxes, etc. If you're a real ADHD type, maybe you can break them up in some way that isn't necessarily sequential. For example, break things down into 20 different parts that are pretty much independent of each other, so that you can pick different ones to work in different orders on a whim. Of course, still have something like "Complete 3 of these tasks by the end of the month, then 5 more next month, etc." as your goals.
Similarly, break it down into time segments. Instead of having one goal for this calendar year, you can break down down month by month, or into quarters (that means four 3-month periods, for those of you who suck at math). It's good to have at least some kinds of deadlines other than December 31st. This makes it less likely for you to blow things off. You know that terribly cliche job interview question of "Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?" Well, try that with "3 months", "6 months", "9 months" and "1 year".
Get some resources. Maybe you know some people who have the same things you want to achieve, and they'd be willing to give you some advice or guidance. Maybe you need to get a book or two on the topic, or find places where you can take lessons on something. Chances are good that other people have done whatever it is you want, or at least something very comparatively similar. Make use of that information. But only really listen to the ones who have results to show, not some random stranger from the internet.
Make the work desirable. Now here's something that they usually don't tell you at all of these fluffy goal-setting seminars. If you view the upcoming work ahead as being an inconvenient pain in the ass, then you're probably not going to really work at it. Make the work an indulgence, not an act of self-loathing discipline. This does NOT mean you have to be self-deceiving. I'm not telling you to get on the treadmill until your heart is about to burst, and try to tell yourself that you love it. You can however think of going to the gym as the time when you get to get out of the house and away from most of the people you have to deal with, and a time that you can listen to your favorite music without interruptions. Maybe there's a similar way to take an activity you need to do, and view the same exact activity as the opportunity to simultaneously do something you enjoy. As I've said here in the past, this blog helped me finally get off my ass and clean my house because cleaning something meant having something to blog about, and a good excuse to be my usual witty wise-ass self to the public by writing things like this.
Plan it out. Schedule time to work on it. I'm not saying you have to schedule things down to the nearest hour, although I'm sure that approach works for some people. But at least start getting some of the specific tasks planned out by setting aside days and at least rough blocks of time for doing what you have to do. Don't find yourself stuck in March saying, "Gee, I really oughtta start doing this sometime."
Document progress. This is vital for two reasons. First of all, you can't recognize progress if you don't have an earlier point of reference. Maybe this will be "before" and "after" photos. Maybe if your goal is to get thinner, this means recording your weight every week. The other reason to do this is because it motivates you more. You can look back and see that what you're doing is "working", because you're doing better than you were doing before. This also goes back to the point about specific goals: if you try to oversimplify your body as either "fat" or "skinny", or your home as either "cluttered" or "clean", then invariably you're going to see that things aren't perfect, and thus mistakenly think that you're still in the former category, and thus think that you're not making any progress. You're not going to accomplish everything in one day.
Again, I know a lot of these may sound lame, but I think these are the sorts of things that separate a person who makes New Years Resolutions and meets them, from the majority of people who make them and never go anywhere beyond that. Which one are you?
Some of you might assume that this is going to be a rant against Black Friday and shopping. Well, it isn't. In fact, I think all of that I-boycott-Black-Friday blogging from people gets really old really fast.
I don't know who's the most annoying of the annual Thanksgiving Weekend protesters:
The loud-mouth vegans who, every year, proudly have to inform the rest of us that Thanksgiving is an evil holiday of meat eating (and probably don't have any friends or family who'd invite them to their house anyway)
The honky college students who, every year, proudly have to inform the rest of us how Thanksgiving is oh so evil to Native Americans, or...
The self-righteous technophobic twits who, every year, proudly have to inform the rest of us that they refuse to do any shopping on Black Friday. (As if they had the money or the good will to buy a TV or a computer as a gift on any other day of the year.)
Some people might think that Black Friday goes hand in hand with the problem of having too much stuff than you can use, but that's not really the case. I suppose that if you're an impulse buyer, then Black Friday may be something you should strive to avoid. But very few Black Friday shoppers are hoarders, and little if any of the stuff overcrowding a hoarder's home was bought from a Black Friday deal. If you do have your sights on a particular upper-cost item (TV, computer, etc.) for yourself or for somebody else, that you want brand new, and that you think will really, really get a lot of use, then maybe plotting out a killer deal on a Black Friday is the way to go.
So having said that, here are a couple of meme pics I made.
Happy Turkey Day! If you came to this site looking for stuffing recipes, well, this isn't the place. This "A Place for My STUFF", not a "A Place for My STUFFING".
Still reading after that terrible observation joke? Good, then lets continue.
Last time I mentioned a big bag o' stuff and the strange things in it. Here were some of the other items:
Tiny black top hat. Was this in case any spider monkeys or lemurs come to visit for a formal dinner? No, it was something I bought in a craft store for a Residents-related project that I just haven't gotten around to. Maybe a doll of sorts. In any case, this can be placed in a better place than at the top of a bag in the middle of my floor.
Giant magnifying glass. I'm not sure what prompted me to get this. Had I been working on some kind of tiny electronics or something? Or did I just like the elegant look of it? Well, I'm putting this one with the rest of the office/desk supplies.
USB Car charger. Good to have, I suppose. But I have a separate drawer that this sort of stuff goes in now, so that's where it's going.
CD labels. Oh but not just any labels. No a few sheets of GLOSSY labels! Wow! Well, time to put these with the other few CD labels I have.
Diablo II info. All about runes and rings and necklaces, etc. from the game Diablo II. Maybe this could come in handy if I start playing the game again. But since I don't know when that would ever be, and since I could find this stuff again on-line just like I did the first time around, there's no point in holding on to this. Into the trash you go.
Eddie Izzard "Sexie" 2-CD. I was wondering where this went to! Promptly ripped and put back on the shelf with the rest of the Eddie Izzard, which is with the rest of my stand-up comedy CDs.
If you read the title of this blog entry and thought I was plotting to kill my grandmother, well, you'd be wrong. One piece of stuff that I've been ignoring for at least a year or two (probably much longer) has been this giant paper shopping bag in my main "computer room". It has been sitting behind my chair for quite some time, being an obstacle between two halves of the room. In fact, what actually prompted me to get rid of it is the music stand behind it, on which is a music book with exercises I've been wanting to go through, probably for even longer. It's about time I took a look inside the bag.
Judging from the contents, I'm guessing it's unrelated stuff I picked up and threw into one bag while I was moving. Here were some of the many oddities inside:
Exercise from What Color Is Your Parachute. Back in 2009 when I was laid off and furiously trying to get a new job in my field in the midst of a shitty economy, I had some career center or another recommend the book What Color Is Your Parachute. It's a book about job hunting and career building, updated every year (mainly to keep the suggested website links and what not all up-to-date). And well, I thought the book mostly sucked. However, there were some exercises that seemed worth doing. I photocopied these sections, and bought a poster board for the exercise too. Then I never ended up doing anything with them. I can't remember what happened to the big green piece of poster board, aside from collecting dust in my bedroom.
Readers' Digest. I bought this at an airport, probably in that same year because I was unemployed at the time. The cover story was "The Best New Jobs". This is worth a second reading, then probably throwing away. I'm going to do that tonight. No sense in waiting longer to do it; that's how things like this end up hanging around for so long.
Middle School newspaper. Volume 1, Issue 1 of my middle school newspaper. I entered sixth grade in the mid 80s, namely the same year that all of the schools in my area got rid of junior high school and created middle school. Now this is a fun piece of nostalgia, and not junk that I'm going to just toss away. My wife will be pleased to know that Jon Bon Jovi won the sixth grade polls in three categories (favorite group: Bon Jovi; favorite song: You Give Love a Bad Name; favorite male singer: Jon Bon Jovi).
EIDOS Interactive catalog, '98. This was the company that made Tomb Raider, and most of the catalog sold related items. This included stuff like a briefcase ($74) and sunglasses ($199). But a 1998 gaming catalog looks like modern technology compared to the next item.
Turtle Commands for Logo. Wow, the Logo programming language. Move the turtle forward 30 pixels, turn right 90 degrees, and repeat those commands until you've drawn a square. Here was a collection of commands I got at the time from my babysitter up the street. All of those secret special commands they didn't teach you in computer class or on the tutorial diskette!
Bad date's phone number and email address, among other things scribbled down on the same piece of paper. I had met this lady though the long defunct website longhairedmen.com, "The site for long-haired men and the women who love them". I met quite a few dates through that site, actually. It was great while it lasted. Unfortunately this was one of the not-so-great dates. I must have been saving the piece of paper for one of the other phone numbers or notes on it, whose meaning has now been long lost. Goodbye, piece of paper!
It's been a while since I found something of the "Why the hell do I still have this?" category. But I found it. It's a stick whittled to somewhat resemble a pencil. And it looks like I've had it for a long time.
The story behind this? Damned if I know. I think maybe I whittled it in Boy Scout camp when I was 13. Maybe I used it to spool cassette tapes? Maybe I was planning on painting it like a pencil and using it as a prank item, watching with sadistic glee as people tried to write with it, only to hear holes in the paper? Did somebody else maybe whittle it for me? Or did I keep this for nothing more than the fact it was something I spent time on?
I have no idea. But if the item has absolutely no use to me, and doesn't even serve as a memento for anything, then I'd say it's safe to get rid of it.
I take a look at the stats of this blog from time to time. It seems that most readers these days are people who stumble across a page from my blog because they were looking for pages on something else. On the one hand, an old high school friend who I had lost touch with was able to reconnect to me. But then some of the sillier blog entries that I assumed nobody would ever end up willingly seeking out, ended up being just that.
A few years back I posted a Boy Scout camp story about DeMoulas Day. In short, I found stuff that I had saved from a weird event in Boy Scout camp some 20+ years ago, and as usual I took a photo of it, told the story and made the point of "Gee, isn't this stuff ridiculous? Well, now that I've told the story and took a photo, it's time to throw it away." I concluded the post with "There, now wasn't that a completely useless story?"
Well, if you haven't guessed by now, somebody recently found the post and asked me about it. He asked me if I still had the flier posted in the photo. I had to explain to him the same thing I explained to the barf bag collector, and tried to put it in a nice way. Not because I'm always nice to strangers; I'll treat people like shit if they're being ignorant pests. But because I realize that most people by far and large don't understand the underlying mentalities that packrats/hoarders have, and thus don't really understand why the last thing we need to hear is something that gives a feeling of regret for throwing something away.
Basically, I explained that one of the real points of this blog is to track my life as an overwhelmed packrat, and mark progress by being able to get rid of stuff. If you're a hoarder, then being able to throw stuff away without the attached feelings of "But what if I need that some day, or somebody else needs it?" is really a mark of progress. I know most people wouldn't see it that way, because it's "just one" piece of paper being thrown out. But keep in mind that I had literally tens of
thousands of other pieces of paper like this saved, to the point where I could barely walk around in my home. Obviously, the majority of it had to go.
The way I see it, telling a hoarder "Damn, I wish you had saved that! Hey, do you still have that thing? Can I have it?" is rather like reading about an alcoholic who blogged about dumping a case of wine, and asking him or her "Hey, do you have any more of those unopened bottles left?" Again, I'm not saying that this reader was an idiot, or triggered some sort of relapse for me. But hopefully I've made my point.
This story does have a happy ending, though. Even though I no longer had the flier, I DID still have the full resolution version of the photo I had taken. So I sent that to him.
"I think I am right in saying that the problem of intermediates is
inescapably, inherently a part of all taxonomic systems other than that
which springs from evolutionary biology. Speaking personally, it is a
problem that gives me almost physical discomfort when I am attempting
the modest filing tasks that arise in my professional life: shelving my
own books, and reprints of scientific papers that colleagues (with the
kindest of intentions) send me; filing administrative papers; old
letters, and so on. Whatever categories one adopts for a filing
system, there are always awkward items that don't fit, and the
uncomfortable indecision leads me, I am sorry to say, to leave odd
papers out on the table, sometimes for years at a time until it is safe
to throw them away. Often on has unsatisfactory recourse to a
miscellaneous category, a category which, once initiated, has a menacing
tendency to grow. I sometimes wonder whether librarians, and keepers of all museums except biological museums, are particularly prone to ulcers."
- Dawins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: Norton, 1987. p260
Recently I was re-reading The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. It's a really great book on evolutionary biology, written for the layman. Dawkins and Stephen J. Gould are biologists whose works I really enjoy, mainly because they both have a great knack for teaching otherwise complicated subjects, especially by analogies. But there's a whole chapter in this book on taxonomy, which is basically the
art of categorizing and classification. That's where I got the
quotation from. I read it and thought, "This would be good for the 'stuff' blog!"
I think his point is a notable one for people trying to tame their volume of stuff. When trying to get organized, it seems that some kind of filing system or other means of categorization is inevitably going to be needed. Though as Dawkins points out, one of the side effects to any filing system is that you usually wind up with stuff that falls into more than one category, which means you have the dilemma on where to put it. Also, you find that there's a "miscellaneous" category for the stuff that doesn't fit into the other categories. And he's right: that pile ends up growing.
That's not to say that we should give up organizing all together. Just don't freak out when things aren't nicely fit into categories with 100% discrete grouping neatness. For people with OCDs, I know that that's easier said than done, and 90% just doesn't cut it, because it's not 100%. Well, it's still better than having only about 1% of your stuff organized, right? I'm sure I'll return to this concept in the future, because the topic goes deeper.
Well that's the only reason why I thought of the quotation. Now I'm going to babble about taxonomy in biology when I should be getting some sleep.
In older times, people had all sorts of ways of categorizing the different animals they saw. They may have grouped bats with birds, fungi with plants, or sharks with dolphins. It's understandable why people did that thousands of years ago when all they really had to go on were first-glance, external appearances. We know now from biology though that bats are actually mammals and thus much more similar to other mammals than they are to birds. We also know that fungi aren't really plants, and dolphins aren't fish.
The different taxonomy levels or taxa in biology, which form a nested hierarchy, are Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. Humans for example are of the domain "Eukaryota" (we're eukaryotes, meaning our cells have a nucleus and organelles), specifically of kingdom "Animalia" (we're animals), Phylum "Chordata" (we're vertebrates, not invertebrates), Class "Mammalia" (we're mammals, more specifically), of which we're primates (the Order), specifically great apes (Family "Hominidae"), of the Genus "Homo", species "homo sapiens".
When I first learned the term "vertebrate" in grammar school science
class, I wondered why we classified animals by whether or not they had a
backbone. Why was the backbone or lack of it used to define the
broadest of animal sub-categories, and not characteristics like color,
size, or number of legs? Why do we use the system described above instead? Well as Dawkins said, this system "which springs from evolutionary biology" doesn't suffer the problem of having organisms that could fall into more than one otherwise unrelated category. That's because it's all based on common descent, with how things are related to each other. Traits are inherited, which means that some organisms are more closely-related than others. This system fits everything living
now, and everything that has ever lived, into unambiguous categories.
The nice thing about Wikipedia's articles on different animals is that they include a column on the right showing the different taxa that the species belongs to. So you can click on each link to go up and down the different categories in the hierarchy. For example, go to the Homo Sapiens page, and try clicking on the right for "Primates", "Mammalia", etc.
Oh, and here's a helpful mnemonic for remembering "Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species":
To quote the article's summarizing rhetorical question, "What is [the deal] with [this fad of] adopting long forgotten technology that doesn’t work very well?"
Personally, I'm all for nostalgia and aesthetics. I really am. But I have to balance that with practicality and convenience. It's a personal choice where to draw that line. Even for the same person, the line is going to be in a different place when it comes to different things. I can think of plenty of albums that I bought on cassette back in the 80s, but have long since re-bought on CD and now listen to as mp3s which I personally ripped from those CDs. Why? Convenience! I like being able to carry my entire music collection in my pocket. I do NOT miss the days of having cassettes getting "eaten" by players, having to fast-forward and flip the tape after side 1 was done, and painfully trying to narrow down my cassette collection to a case of 30 tapes to take with me on vacation. If there's some sacrifice I'm making in aesthetics or audio quality, it sure hasn't stopped me from enjoying the music.
Granted, it can be fun to tinker with an old piece of technology and get it running for curiosity's sake. I was just at a party a few weekends ago where we listened to 78rpm records on a hand-crank turntable. It was fun, but I'd never want to do that as my sole means of hearing music, just as I wouldn't want to use an IBM PC Jr. and Word Perfect 1.0 to write this document. If you're going out of your way to watch most movies in BetaMax, or to use a quill for everyday writing, then at that point it seems to me like you're just inconveniencing yourself out of pretentiousness.
It's also not hard to relate this back to the topic of clutter.
Technology has given us movies and music in smaller and smaller-sized
media. We've reached the point where one can, ideally, keep his or her
entire music, movie, and book collection on a single hard drive. Granted, I'm not going to do that myself; I still like having physical collections of CDs of the bands I'm loyal to, and most of the books I read are mathematics books whose e-book equivalents simply don't have the equations and symbols rendered correctly. But when you have an entire wall o' stuff that you seemingly never touch, whether it's books, records, cassettes, etc., it's worth asking "Can I afford to store or get rid of at least SOME of this?"