It’s All Too Much

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I moved to California hauling a lot of boxes still unopened from at least two previous purges of epic proportions. Sound at all familiar?

It’s All Too Much is a terrific book that inverts the typical approach to dealing with existential kipple. Rather than helping you find new places and novel ways to “organize” all your crap, author Peter Walsh encourages you to explore why you ever kept all that junk in the first place. Does it reflect a fantasy waistline or a long-abandoned career? What about this “priceless” relic of a late loved one that’s been sitting in a moldy trash bag for 10 years? Be honest: what place do these things have in the life that you imagine for yourself? Because, if the stuff you accumulate isn’t actively helping get you closer to a life you truly want, then it’s getting in the way, and it needs to go. Period.

The biggest change in attitude this book made in my life was to teach me not to generate false relevance by “organizing” stuff I don’t want or will never need. Organization is what you do to stuff that you need, want, or love – it’s not what you do to get useless stuff out of sight or to manufacture makebelieve meaning. For me, this is about the opposite of organizing; it means disinterring every sarcophagus of crap in my house and, item by item, evaluating whether it’s making my family’s life better today. And if some heirloom really is precious to me, can I find a better home for it than a shelf in the back of my garage?

You can’t believe how emotionally complex this process is for a craphound like me, but once I get started, it’s completely exciting – the illusion that all this junk is making me happy melts away with every scrap of paper or broken piece of equipment I can get out of the way.

That’s been this book’s revelation for me: this is about calculating the very real cost that clutter incurs every day, then deciding what you can tolerate _not_ doing about it. The mindless junk of your past crowds out opportunities and sets pointless limitations. Move out the junk, and you create room for the rest of your life. Ultimately, it’s not just a question of tidying your house; it’s a question of liberating your heart.

– Merlin Mann

Merlin Mann‘s review turned me onto this fantastic book. We’ve rethought our household because of it. We were reminded that life is not about stuff; it’s about possibilities, which the right tools can enable. For a world of expanding stuff, this book is the necessary anti-stuff tool. If you are reading Cool Tools, you need to read this. It will help you distinguish between that which is fabulous for you personally and that which is just more junk to organize. I’ve learned so much from the author that I’ve excerpted it generously in the hope that even if you don’t read the book, you’ll glean a bit of its wisdom.

– KK

 

It’s All Too Much
Peter Walsh
2007, 230 pages
$11

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Imagine the life you want to live. I cannot think of a sentence that has had more impact on the lives of people I have worked with. … When clutter fills your home, not only does it block your space, but it also blocks your vision.

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You need space to live a happy, fruitful life. If you fill up that space with stuff for “the next house,” your present life suffers. Stop claiming your house is too small. The amount of space you have cannot be changed — the amount of stuff you have can.
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I know it sounds strange, but if you start by focusing on the clutter, you will never get organized. Getting truly organized is rarely about “the stuff.”
This is the bottom line: If your stuff and the way it is organized is getting you to your goals… fantastic. But if it’s impeding your vision for the the life you want, then why is it in your home? Why is it in your life? Why do you cling to it? For me, this is the only starting point in dealing with clutter.

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If it’s taken you ten years or more to accumulate your mess, it’s impossible to make it disappear overnight. Letting go is a learning process. You might need to start slowly, and it may take time to discover that not having things makes your life better, not worse.

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Most things that you save for the future represent hopes and dreams. But the money, space, and energy you spend trying to create a specific future are wasted. We can’t control what tomorrow will bring. Those things we hoard for an imaginary future do little other than limit our possibilities and stunt our growth. When I urge you to get rid of them, I’m not telling you to discard your hopes and dreams. It’s actually quite the opposite. Because if you throw out the stuff that does a rather shabby job of representing your hopes and dreams, you actually create room to make dreams come true.

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It’s easy to accumulate things, but hard to let go. Trust me–if you always add and never subtract, you will eventually bury yourself. You need to set limits, and the limits are easy to create. They are determined by the amount of space you have, your priorities and interests, and the agreements you make with other members of your household.

Clutter takes over. One thing that constantly surprises me is that regardless of the amount of clutter in a home, the homeowners often express some surprise at it being there — almost as though someone filled their home with stuff while they were away on vacation! People freely admit that it is their stuff, but in the next breath they tell me they are confounded by how it got that way.
You own your possessions. What you have is yours, or is in your case. It’s your responsibility. It’s your doing.

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Get rid of the trash to make room for the treasures. Let the things that are important take center stage.

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In my experience, close to half of what fills a kitchen has not seen the light of day in the last twelve months. Face facts: If you haven’t used an item in the last year, it is highly unlikely that you really need it or that you are going to ever get enough use from it to justify it cluttering up your home. Take the plunge and get rid of it!

If you’re tempted to keep something because it was expensive, remember the difference between value and cost. Value is what something is worth. You spent a lot of money on it. To throw it away would mean admitting that the money was wasted. Now you need to think about the cost. What is it costing you to keep this item? How much space? How much energy?

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There are only three options for each and every item you come across in this, your initial purge:

1) Keep. This is the stuff that you want to stay in your home. You use it all the time. It’s crucial to the life you want to live. Or (let’s be honest) you don’t really use it, but can’t bear to part with it just now.

2) Trash. Remember that every bag you fill is space you’ve created to live and love your life. Everything you decide to throw away is a victory. Make it a competition to see who can fill more trash bags.

3) Out the door. So you’ve had trouble getting rid of stuff because it’s “valuable”? Well, here’s your chance to either make a little money or let someone put it to real use. The items that go into the “out the door” zone are items that you are either going to sell–a yard sale, on consignment, or even online–or you are going to donate to a charitable organization. Other items here include things that are being returned to their rightful owners or to someone who has a real use for that item. Once in this pile, the item never comes back into your home.

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Instead of “Why don’t you put your tools away?” ask “What is it that you want from this space?”

Instead of “Why do we have to keep your grandmother’s sewing kit?” ask “Why is that important to you? Does it have meaning?”

Instead of “There’s no room for all of your stuff in there,” say “Let’s see how we can share this space so that it works for both of us.”

Instead of “Why do you have to hold on to these ugly sweaters your dad gave you?” ask “What do these sweaters make you think of or remind you of?”

Instead of “I don’t understand how you can life with all of this junk,” ask “How do you feel when you have to spend time in this room?”

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Mementos are not memories. Just because it was a gift does not mean you must keep it forever. If it is important, then keep it in a condition that shows that it is important.

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When the purpose of the room is lost, clutter inevitably follows.

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Put your relationship first. Preserve your sense of peace. Enhance your sleep. Find another place for it. Even if you live in a studio apartment, you must create a separate, sacred space for your bedroom. Put up a screen or a curtain. Use a bookshelf to create a wall if you can’t afford to have one built. This is too important to ignore.

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When it comes to clothes, it is seldom an issue of not enough space–there is never enough space. The real issue is simply too much stuff, and that’s where we need to look for the solution to the clothing clutter.

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Every single time I help organize someone’s closet, I find clothing that still has the original sales tags on it, clothing that has never been worn. When I ask about it, the response is always the same: “It was such a bargain, I couldn’t pass it up!” A Bargain. It’s hanging in the closet, unworn. Please explain to me how exactly that is a bargain? If you have unworn clothes that have been in your closet longer than six months, you should either give them to a worthwhile charity or sell them online where they will fetch the best price. Get them out of the closet and clear some space for the things you love and wear.

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Reality check — Giving to charities
Goodwill receives a billion pounds of clothing every year. Ultimately, they use less than half of the clothing they get. Clothing is cheap, and the cost of sorting, cleaning, storing, and transporting the clothes is higher than their value. If you wouldn’t give an article to a family member, it’s probably not good enough for charity. Sure, it’s great to get the tax deduction and it makes you feel like you didn’t waste money buying the clothes, but if you’re truly charitable, be sensitive to the needs of the organization. Charities aren’t dumping grounds for your trash. Talk to your local charities or visit www.charitynavigator.org. Find out what they can most use. Although giving to charities is a great way to get stuff out of your house, it’s far better not to let stuff into your house.

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Reality check — Collections
It’s a collection if:
it’s displayed in a way that makes you proud and shows that you value and honor it.
looking at it brings you pleasure.
you enjoy showing it to others.
it is not an obsession that is damaging your relationships.
it is not buried under other clutter.
it doesn’t get in the way of living the life you wish you had.

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Holiday in/out
Remember the In/Out Rule — you don’t want more to come in than goes out. But holidays tend to be one-way. Items come in, in, in! What goes out? Now’s the time to examine your haul and see what items of equivalent size and use can go.

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My job may be all about organization and decluttering, but I cannot say enough times that it is not about “the stuff.” I have been in more cluttered homes than I can count, and the one factor I see in every single situation is people whose lives hinge on what they own instead of who they are. These people have lost their way. They no longer own their stuff–their stuff owns them. I am convinced that this is more the norm than the exception in this country. At some point, we started to believe that the more we own, the better off we are. In times past an in other cultures, people believe that one of the worst things that can happen is for someone to be possessed., to have a demon exercise power over you. Isn’t that what being inundated with possession is– being possessed?