Luke 12:15 “And he said unto them, Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
People collect all sorts of things. It’s downright freaky what some people collect.
There’s a list of 25 things – strange things – people collect. A guy named Graham Barker started collecting bellybutton lint in 1984. He’s got 3 jar’s of it. Eeewww!
Phil Miller started collecting sugar packets in 1978. Phil is more sane than Michael Lewis. Michael collects moist towelettes.
In Sacramento, California you can visit The Asphalt Museum. I don’t know why anybody would visit it, but it’s there for all the weirdos who want to. But The Asphalt Museum might be more appetizing than the Museum of Burnt Food built by Deborah Henson Conant. One night in the late 80’s she put on a small pot of Apple Cider to heat, but forgot about it when she got a long phone call. The cider became a cinder and her museum was born. Good on her for making something we could all appreciate.
Do you remember all those CD’s that AOL used to send out in the mail? Lydia collects those. She’s got over 2,500 unique AOL diskettes (remember those?) and CD’s. It just thrills me to think of the fun times Lydia must have admiring her collection.
Becky Martz collects banana lapels. She’s got over 7,000 of them and I could not be more proud of her.
I have a collection of fortunes that come from fortune cookies. No, I don’t put any stock in them. I just find them entertaining. And small. Here’s a picture of my entire collection. There are few hundred crammed inside a little shot glass that I got as a souvenir years ago. I don’t drink. Never have had. But somebody gave me this glass from the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York. It holds the fortunes. It’s about at capacity now.
The good thing is my entire collection will fit in my hand. It’s not a large footprint.
Collecting Free Space And Margin
That’s what I want to collect now. Space. Open areas. Enter the movement toward minimalism.
Now it’s no secret that I’m a music fan. I first heard the term “minimalism” associated with music. The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Brian Eno and David Bowie were early proponents of it. According to Fact Magazine, minimalism in music dates back to the 60’s. I was more a Lou Reed fan, but I don’t claim to have enough sophistication to have comprehended minimalism in music. Certainly not at the time. I was just a teenager. Today, I still don’t really comprehend it.
The art world also ventured into it. Pop art was never my cup of tea, but artists would go with some basic colors on canvas. I’m a music guy and a cartoon guy. When it comes to fine art, I’m more of an Andrew Wyeth guy, not a Jackson Pollock fan. I once threatened to put my dog’s feet into some paint and have him walk on a large canvas. I was convinced it would be more artistic than anything Pollock ever came up with.
Robert Hood, a music producer out of Detroit, properly defined minimalism as well as anybody.
Minimalism is not going to stop because it’s a direct reflection of the way the world is going. We’re stripping down and realizing that we need to focus on what’s essential in our lives.”
I can’t really pinpoint when the current minimalism movement took root. You know what I’m talking about. The notion that less is more.
I was in the consumer electronics business for years. Japan was, and largely still is, at the heart of that industry. I remember seeing typical Japanese living quarters when I was just a kid. The spaces were really spartan by American standards. When you realize how many people are crammed into a fairly small space you begin to understand why. Appliances were smaller. Rooms were smaller. Furniture was smaller.
I’m guessing the whole eastern Zen philosophy had something to do with it. My only exposure to Zen was the book, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. I was in high school when I first read that book.
Enter the Internet and a guy from Guam named Leo Babauta. He started a little website called Zen Habits. Somehow I found him early on and started reading his stuff. As a guy who writes a lot and reads a lot I was happy to find him. And I watched his story unfold as he grew in popularity and eventually found himself moving to San Francisco. I confess I don’t follow him as closely as I once did. It’s sorta like finding a little obscure band and following them everywhere. Then, when they break through and make it big you lose interest. It may not be fair, but so it goes.
I don’t consume everything they do, but I do follow them on social media and I’m in and out of their email newsletters. Randomly I’ll read their blogs. I’d classify myself as a wannabe minimalist. I’m in love with the idea of becoming minimalist. Some might call me a non-practicing minimalist. Non-practicing is an odd idea to me. I’ve had people introduce themselves to me as non-practicing Jews or non-practicing Buddhists.
I’m not sure if we can be defined by things we don’t actually do. If we can, then I’m a non-practicing cartoonist and guitarist. I think I’ll start using that.
Free space and margin are intriguing ideas to me. Probably because they’re so foreign to me.
Is your life filled with stuff? Clutter?
I’m not a hoarder, but I may as well be. Okay, it’s not anywhere near that bad, but some days it feels like it.
I’ve performed a number of business turnarounds in my life. The very first thing I do is walk around and inspect. Then I call a cleaning party where it’s all hands on deck and we clean, sort, organize and throw away all the crap. Nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, energizes a team of people more. When the job is completed everybody steps back and looks on the accomplishment with pride. I’m imagining that you know the feeling, even if it’s just cleaning out a closet, a garage or a room.
It’s refreshing. Invigorating. I love the feeling.
I just evidently don’t love it enough to embrace that lifestyle 100% of the time. But I’m leaning in that direction. Hard.
Too Much Stuff
In business I always followed some tried and true systems. When it comes to paperwork I’d review it, then toss it or file it. I only had two ways to file something. I’d file it to archive it or I’d file it to handle it. That means I’d have to actually do something with it.
You’ve likely heard people – mostly professional organizers – encourage people to toss out anything they haven’t looked at, used or worn in the last 6 months. Or the last year.
Me? I’ve got stuff I haven’t looked at in years. Clothes I haven’t been able to fit into for decades. Underwear that hasn’t been replaced in 10 years. Okay, too much information…along with too much stuff.
It’s the foolishness in our head that hinders the process of clearing things out. “I’m liable to need that,” is what my dad would often say. Yeah, right. You know what he’d say that about. A pigtail kinda of a thing I’d be holding, asking him why he still hung onto it. He’s cut off the electrical plug of a cord that had gone bad. So I’d be holding a plug with about 6 inches of wire. That’d be it. A little 6 inch wire with a plug on the end. I mean, what are you gonna do with that…safely do with it? NOTHING. It’s a fire hazard or worse. You’d shock yourself trying to cobble together some electrical item.
But that attitude, “I’m liable to need that,” drives all of us to keep stuff that should have been thrown out long ago.
I’m A Craigslist Wonderland
I’ve probably got $250,000 worth of junk that I could convert into 25 dollars cash money. Reminds me of that line Steve Martin used he first hit the national scene as a comedian. “I’m the author of the recent best seller, as soon as you all go buy one, “How I Turned A Million Dollars In Real Estate Into $25 Cash.”
Okay, I’ve over estimated the worth of the junk. And probably the scope of it, too. But I’ve got way more than I need. Or use.
Everybody I know complains of the same thing. The only people who don’t are young married couples who buy their first house. Just give ‘em time. They’ll quickly join the rest of us and clutter their home with too much furniture and too much stuff.
I’m looking around the Yellow Studio and here’s the furniture…JUST the furniture inventory:
- One floor lamp
- One 2-drawer lateral file cabinet
- One large CD holder (it’s about 5.5 feet tall, rotates and has 4 sides)
- One 3-shelf bookshelf
- Three 4-shelf bookshelves
- Four 6-shelf (floor to ceiling height) bookshelves
- One media cart with pull out keyboard shelf
- One letter sized file cabinet with 2 shelves (on casters)
- One broadcast table (it’s really a conference table)
- Two black chairs
- One Herman Miller Mirra chair
Too much? You think? But there’s more. Every bookcase is full. Every CD shelf is, too. So are the filing cabinets. And don’t even get me started on the stuff on top of the filing cabinets or bookshelves. I’ve got stuff piled on top of more stuff.
We’ve got a local bookstore chain called Half Price Books. They’ve got a terrific business model. They’ll give you about a dollar a book, if you’re lucky. Then they’ll price the book at half or one third the list price. I envy their profit margins. But I just can’t bring myself to part with books for a buck a piece. Just looking at them on the shelf inspires me. That’s what I hate about Kindle or digital books. No book spines sitting in a shelf to remind you of what you read, or to inspire a new thought. Oh well, I’m waxing sentimental I guess.
I do have some things that I should list on Craigslist. Speaking of business models. Where would Craigslist be without our over abundance of stuff? I know they list jobs and various other sordid things. Are jobs sordid?
It’s Time To Enact A Plan
Here’s my plan. I’d love to hear yours…especially if you’ve done this before. I’ll warn you though. If you did it after 5 years of marriage and no kids, that don’t count. We’ve been married almost 37 years. We’ve got 2 grown kids. Stuff grows exponentially about every 5 years. So your 5 years is no match for my 37. Next.
Here goes. This is what I’m thinking about doing.
1. A room at a time. Is there a better way? I don’t think so.
Yes, a closet constitutes a room. And that may be the best place to start because it’s essentially a small room.
Even a small closet is like the VW Bug at the circus. Clowns just keep on piling out of the thing. “Man alive. How much more crap is in there?” It’s like there’s always just one more box. And it’s certain to be a box that isn’t labeled and one that hasn’t been opened in years. And you know what that means? You have to go through it. And that takes time as you sort through junk saying, “I’m liable to need that some day.”
No, you’re not. You haven’t needed it for years. And if you ever do need it, you’re not going to remember where to find it. Pitch it.
2. The 3 pile system works. No need to reinvent the wheel.
Keep it. Sell it. Toss it.
What more do you need? Don’t answer that. It’s a rhetorical question. The correct answer is, “Nothing.”
3. Look at everything with a VERY critical eye.
You’re not liable to need that some day. If you’ve lived without it for years, or even 6 months — you’ll never miss it.
Honestly, what are the odds you’ll need that item in the next 6 months. There’ve been many times when I looked at something and admitted, “I’m NEVER going to use this.” In years past, I think it was made more difficult because getting rid of your junk required having a yard or garage sale. I’ve worked more of those than I care to remember. I think I’m scared for life from working them as a kid. I hated them then. I hate them more now.
I know some of you love them. I even know people who venture out weekly to buy stuff at yard sales. Listen, I don’t even want my own junk. Why would I pay good money for your junk? I’m stupid sometimes, but I’m smarter than that. Besides, the point of all this is to de-clutter not re-clutter.
4. Donate or toss everything in that pile. Do it sooner. Not later.
I think the first move has to be this pile because the more you look at it, the more you’re going to be tempted to keep stuff. I know that look. I’ve seen it in my dad. I’ve even seen it in the mirror.
You start looking at stuff you’re planning to throw away and you end up taking stuff out of that pile saying, “I think I’ll keep this.” And you keep doing that until the pile is about half the size it was originally.
Speed is your friend. Act fast. If you’re going to take it to Goodwill, pack it up and head over there. Fast.
If you’re going to throw it away, get it to the curb and don’t look back. Do. Not. Look. Back.
And don’t go inside the house looking out the window at the curb wishing you’d kept something in that pile. Consider it gone.
5. Have a selling strategy for the stuff you’re gonna sell.
Why do we want to try to put a price tag on our junk before we ever look at the market value? Because it’s our junk. And our junk is worth way more than your junk.
This is not the time to be fixing prices on stuff. This is simply the time to organize and inventory what we’re going to sell. Here are some things I’m planning to do:
a. Take multiple pictures of the item.
In case one photo is blurry. Besides, I may want multiple angles of the item. If it’s a serialized item, meaning it probably has higher value if it’s still working (think camera, audio or video gear, computer stuff, etc.) then I’m gonna want the photo to show any damage or scratches, too. People want to know the condition of such items.
b. Get the boxes to electronics (or other items, if you’ve got them).
I keep boxes. Now’s the time to rifle through the boxes to match up the box with the item you’re going to sell. It’s also time to throw away the boxes of items you no longer have or items you’re tossing.
c. Keep accessories with items using plastic food bags.
Put electrical cords and other items (including owner’s manuals) in plastic food bags and keep the bag with the item. Take pictures of all the accessories that go with the main item you’re selling. It’ll help sell it.
d. Keep all the sales items together so you know exactly where they are.
It seems obvious, but I’ve done this exercise before where I took pictures, got things ready and then couldn’t find the item because of all the mix up in the clutter mess. Segregate the stuff that’s “for sale.” Put it in a place all its own. You’ll thank me later.
e. Write descriptions. Be honest.
This isn’t sales copy. Yet. It’s a proper description of the item. Include the model number if you have it. I’ve even included serial numbers of electronics so people will have security knowing I didn’t steal the item. I’ll make note if I’m the original owner or not, too.
Make note of the condition. Does the item work? Is it heavily used? Does it look “like new?”
Write down exactly what the item is, but don’t embellish. This isn’t the time to write down, “Must see.” Just properly describe the item.
f. Go from highest to lowest price (or what you think will be highest to lowest).
You’ve got an idea of the items that will bring you the most money. Start with those items.
It may be furniture items. Or electronics. Whatever it is, select the item you think (that’s important, because you don’t yet know how much you’ll get for anything) will fetch the most money. Then work your way south.
g. Now for the un-fun part, research how much you can get.
Solicit your family to help. Divide and conquer.
Get online and find out how much the item is selling for. Don’t assume your item will sell for $200 if there are 5 of them in your area asking $75.
There’s priced to sell fast, then there’s priced to see how much you can get. That’s up to you. Again, your emotional noise factor can derail you here. Listen, this thing has been stashed away somewhere, unused for a long time. Why do you think you need to hold out for an extra $20? Makes no sense. But that’s your call.
h. Post the stuff for sale and don’t forget to hit up your Facebook friends.
I know many moms who have sold everything they had by posting it on Facebook. This may not work for everybody, but getting the word out among friends can be an easy route to clearing the decks of your “for sale” items.
There is one potential downside. Selling stuff to friends may not be what you want to do. “Hey, remember that car seat you sold me, well, the back strap broke.” Sometimes selling to strangers is a better way to go.
Write your copy, create the ad and get it posted. EBay. Craigslist. Wherever! That’s up to you. And I’m not about to dive into the ways you should protect yourself. Google it. But there are some serious things to consider. For example, do you want to invite people to come to your house or do you want to meet them in a public place with the item? Large items like furniture or appliances may not allow you any option, but you should figure out how you’re going to do it. What phone number do you post? Sort though all that and decide for yourself.
6. Put it all back together and enjoy your new-found space and freedom.
This is the invigorating part for me. I love this part of the process. I even enjoy the vacuuming behind furniture, touch up painting or anything else that is required to make the space feel fresh. It’s like a new start.
You’ve come this far so don’t short cut it. Vacuum those base boards. Paint. Move furniture around for a new, fresh look. Patch little holes where pictures were hanging (if you’re moving them).
Clean. Clean. Clean. From ceiling to floor. I suggest you do it in that order, too because dust from that ceiling fan will fall to the floor. Don’t clean the floor first.
7. I saved the hard part for last. Maintain it!
Somebody else can tell you how to do this because I don’t know any tricks. It’s just discipline. And even with discipline I fall back into habits of shoving items in drawers or closets.
I can tell you one thing I’m gonna try this go round. I’m going to go through drawers and closets every few months instead of waiting for some major overhaul effort. I think I’ll benefit from trying to do a little bit at a time to keep it the way I want it. It’s a pay me now, or pay me later kind of a thing. I’d rather pay a little bit as I go.
These things seemed so important at the time…
As I sort through all the clutter in my life I can’t help but remember how badly I wanted some of these things. Do you ever feel that way?
As I hold a piece of electronics, or clothing, or anything else…I take a moment and think, “I remember when I got this. I remember how badly I wanted it. Now look at it. Now, look at me!”
I have to consciously do this most of the time. And it helps me understand the truthfulness of that scripture in Luke. “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
It’s amazing how quickly things lose value. And how dissatisfied I can become with things I once longed to have.
And as I sit in a cleaned up space free of months of clutter I feel remorse for the money I’ve wasted. I think of the sum total of all the crap I’ve sold and tossed. And it makes me feel foolish. Deservedly so.
Starting this fall and winter…maybe I can lean more toward wisdom and be more responsible. Maybe more of us can understand the truth of all this and improve our lives. You know it’s not this stuff that makes our lives. It’s the people in our lives. I need to get this stuff out of the way so I can be better with the people in my life who matter!