I have hoarder tendencies. If there were a Kinsey Scale of clutter (from zen minimalist to star of A&E's Extreme Hoarders), I would be just right of centre. Not quite all the way to crazy cat lady, but certainly someone who has to work to keep her table top clean and whose bookshelf could use a good thinning.
I like to collect things. Not ALL things, but specific categories of things. Because the end game to the collecting is sorting. (So, I actually like to SORT things.) And to sort, you have to have things .. hence the collecting. I blame Herman Hesse for my collecting. Hesse wrote The Glass Bead Game which I read as a young person. Well, tried to read - I checked it out of the library and got a few dozen pages into it. It was largely beyond my ability at the time and I missed most of the point of the book, but it didn't stop me from fantasizing about what the titular game would look and play like … a synthesis of human learning along different themes, drawing from examples of art, music, literature, philosophical thought, science theories, etc.
All represented by beads.
I imagined a complex, multi-dimensional abacus of filaments and beads. I even convinced my father to help me build such a device. It ended up being much less complex than my imagination (more like a multi-string, 2 dimensional abacus rather than a multi-dimensional one), but still a device that I delighted in stringing and restringing with various patterns of beads. I wish I had pictures of this device and its various incarnations. But, alas, I grew up in a time when we didn't document every waking moment. But my bead collection was prodigious.
Though the years, these hoarder inclinations have taken various forms. The worst was when I filled up a basement with old computer parts I was going to turn into art. Absolute nightmare. Currently, I have way too many envelopes of chiyogami paper. I find some of these papers so beautiful, it almost makes me ache to look at them. I've been actively trying to resist hoarding these papers, trying to find projects in which to use them. I used a few on the Christmas cards I made this year.
When I get in this hoarding mode, I remind myself of something I read in Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. In her chapter on money and its relation to happiness, Rubin discusses about the idea of "spending out" …
A few years ago, my sister gave me a box of beautiful stationery for my birthday. I loved it, but I'd never used it. When I was mailing some photos to the grandparents, I hesitated to use the new stationery because I was "saving" it; but to what better use could it be put? Of course I should use those notes. Spend out.
Rubin further expands "spending out" to our generosity with time and ideas. And in all things "trusting abundance". (This whole chapter on happiness and money is excellent - I really love the entire book, but she really crystallizes some ideas for me around money and material things). I try to remember to spend out .. with my chiyogami paper and other ways … by remembering to use the good china, drink the good wine, eat the gourmet chocolate, write with the good pen. Rubin quotes one of her blog readers who commented on a post about spending out "Life is too short to save your good china or your good lingerie or your good ANYTHING for later because truly, later may never come."
I've been thinking even more about spending out because I am reading Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors - a fascinating book that documents the key findings of a social science research project by researchers at the Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF): tracking the daily lives (through interviews, photographs, videos, and other ethnographic methods) of 32 families in Southern California. All of the families in this book have a clutter problem .. in varying degrees. But it seems 95% of North Americans have a clutter problem. Too much stuff. We see this in the rise of personal organizers and decluttering experts (my personal favourite, Peter Walsh from the old TLC Clean Sweep show - he's still helping people get organized - he did a FANTASTIC declutter project called #31days2getorganized on social media in January). And in the abundance of aspirational magazines like Real Simple.
Below is an episode about clutter in Americans' lives, made by the researchers from the CELF project. An observation made by one of the researchers, Anthony P. Graesch - Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Connecticut College and an ethnoarchaeologist …
We have many mechanisms by which we accumulate possessions in our home, but we have few rituals or mechanisms or processes for unloading these objects, for getting rid of them.
As a former ritual theory major, I find this comment quite telling (it's at about 3:20 in the video - the whole 6:30 are fascinating and worth watching - actually ALL the videos in this series (3) are worth watching). One of the participants in the study appears in the video right after Graesch and describes how things come in: birthdays, holidays, relatives, school and found "treasures". But Graesch's point is well made .. we don't have well-defined occasions or processes for letting go and getting rid of things. On Clean Sweep, fully half (if not more) of Walsh's time was spent as therapist - helping people understand that objects were not the same as people - and as priest - giving people ritual (sometimes a brutal process and sometimes a game) that helped people sort and purge. The #31days2getorganized challenge I mentioned above is a further testament to his ability as ritual tender.
Another welcome entry into this area is the new holiday of Discardia - created by Dinah Sanders 10 years ago as a reminder to let go of what (stuff, habits, ideas) wasn't making her life awesome. Sanders also wrote Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff which contains three key principles and numerous practical tips to celebrate this new holiday and address specific issues, carve away the nonsense of physical objects, habits, or emotional baggage, and uncover what brings you joy. Discardia happens four times a year; Sanders keeps celebrants on track via Facebook and Twitter. Sanders' ebook version of Discardia is only $2.99 - totally worth it!
Aside from my spending out struggles, I do try to find my own ways to declutter. Both Rosemary and I try to do a bi-annual (winter and summer) clothes review. We've held two book swaps over the last year and plan to do another one in the spring (maybe not 100% oriented towards clutter reduction, but at least clutter rotation :). And I'm hoping to create a Little Free Library this spring as well which may help a bit more with book sharing as well.