Keeping Up with Keeping Up

08 May

The downsizers’ dilemma is that in addition to trying to rid ourselves of possessions, we must deal not only with the daily influx of new clutter, such as magazines, newspapers, catalogs, and mail, but also the less tangible but no less time-consuming, ever accumulating clutter that we face in our high-tech world. Email, of course, can be the most bothersome. We also have clothes and dishes to put away on a regular basis.

I know that for me if my daily clutter starts to get out of control, I can’t begin to focus on the long-term tasks. I’ve tried to develop some ways of managing some of this creeping intrusion, but the fact is that my compulsiveness about reading what comes into the house is one of my Achilles heels. So, this post will be another confessional about some of the less than stellar habits I am trying to break to lead a simpler, more organized life.

Magazines and newsletters. The only paid magazine I receive now is one that I assign to bathroom reading.

BUT, I still receive magazines and newsletters I don’t subscribe to from schools and college I’ve attended (5), institutions where I’ve worked (2), professional and other organizations of which I am a member (6), and organizations I donate money to (3). Some of these are monthly, some bi-monthly, and some are quarterly, totaling about 70 issues a year!  I find most of them quite interesting. I wish I could just give these a quick skim, but it’s a hard habit to break. I hope one day I will be able to ask these organizations to stop sending me their literature.

I make my task harder by reviewing the glossy magazines for images I might want to use in my collages, a task best done while half-heartedly watching something on TV.

Newspapers. A few months ago, we cancelled our daily newspaper as it was taking up too much of our day. I don’t care for on-line news as I find it hard to read, but John is content with that. I listen to the news on the radio when I am doing other activities that don’t require high concentration, such as cooking, or watch a bit of news as I am trying to complete my 10,000 Fitbit steps for the day.  So much of what is in the newspaper is not really news anyway. I figure if it’s important, I’ll find out about it somehow. The upside is that there are fewer papers to obsessively sort through prior to trash/recycle day. Plus, we save a lot of money and a lot of trees. I don’t miss it. A small victory over clutter

Mail. I receive many fewer catalogs than I used to, and since I am buying much less, it is easier to send these to the recycle bin or use them in my collages. I also throw away pleas for money as I have a set list of organizations I donate to.  The unsolicited credit card offers must be shredded.  I still like paper copies of bills, even though I pay them online.  Again, I know I could get off these lists, but it is one more chore. I put these aside to deal with a few times a month.

Greeting cards. I’ve put this one in its own category because sometimes cards are given in person and because they have greater potential sentimental value than other mail. You may be one of those people like my friend who wondered the other day how long one had to keep a greeting card so as not to offend the giver. Once seen, she was anxious to throw it out. Or you may be like me and hang onto birthday cards forever, especially from loved ones. Over a lifetime, that’s a lot of cards to store.

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately, depending on your point of view), people rarely send letters or postcards these days. (But if, like me, you used to be a letter writer, you probably have a big stash somewhere of letters received in response.)

Email. Email is invisible clutter, demanding time. As soon as I unsubscribe to one list, I seem to appear on another, like a game of whack-a-mole.  I know some people answer what needs to be answered and never touch their inbox otherwise. Personally, I like to keep my inbox below 50 messages that are there to remind me of things I need to follow-up on.  That means spending time deleting and filing in folders those messages might want to keep. When I switched computer systems, I vastly simplified my filing system—many fewer categories.  But it’s still an albatross.

Clothes. When I was a teenager, I would let a week’s worth of clothes accumulate until I hung them up. Now if I don’t do it at night, it’s the first thing I do in the morning. I put clean laundry away as soon as I bring it up from the basement. I’m generally on top of this one. Now, I just need to downsize my wardrobe even more than the 2-3 times a year I donate items to charity or send them off for consignment. The seasonal switchover, from winter to summer and vice versa, is a convenient time to consider what to keep, but it also adds another task to the list. Some may suggest that if you keep your wardrobe small, you don’t need to bother with this one at all. But I still feel it’s a good habit to clean the winter clothes and keep the woolen ones from the moths even if you can keep them in the same closet or drawers.

 I've definitely made strides in keeping this activity under control. Not so many years ago, I stored my off-season clothes in our attic with its pull-down ladder. I had to lower the clothes for the upcoming season in a bag attached to a rope and then climb down the ladder to untie the bag and fill it up with the outgoing season's clothes and clamber up again. Before winter, those clothes that had been stored with mothballs needed to be hung up outside to air. It was a full day's job.

Filing. The bottom line is that I keep too much. And the more you keep, the more difficult it is find things and to stay on top of the paper. My worst habit, which I have been trying to break myself of, is clipping things that interest me from the aforementioned magazines and newspapers. These might include plays I want to see, recipes I want to try, places I want to visit. How often do I ever refer to these? Rarely! A better approach would be to make a note of each item rather than to physically keep it. I’m working on it. The key with filing is having a system that allows you to find things. But the other important tenet is to periodically purge. I get a D on this one. The topic of files, since I have so many in my basement, is worth its own future post.

I know all about time management rules for handling papers—I used to teach it, remember? I just don’t follow them very well. My feelings about anything to do with downsizing is that you have to do what works for you. One person’s system is another person’s nightmare.

A time management principle that I will repeat like a broken record is, don’t let the seemingly urgent get in the way of the important. In other words, don’t let your daily clutter keep you from dealing with your longer-term downsizing goals and tasks. Sometimes it’s okay to leave the daily mess a little longer than you would like to make inroads into the larger mass!

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