In my last post, I explained how the book Making Space, Clutter Free by Tracy McCubbin has helped me see that a lot of the clutter in my workspace isn’t going to be solved by getting more storage. I’m going to have to reassess the way I think about my stuff.
As it turns out, the key to effective de-cluttering is not to build more storage. It’s not to rent a dumpster and trash everything. Because even if you do that, the clutter will come right back. I know, because it keeps happening to me.
I DO have to deal with the physical items one by one, but as I do, I need to do some honest self-assessment about why I am really holding onto these objects. I have to consciously confront my own fear of being wasteful, my anxiety about the future, and even my tendency to avoid conflict. And all those things are hard. But so far, it has always been worth it.
One of my main clutter-creating habits of mind is “Someday.” When I hang on to stuff that ends up as clutter, it’s usually because I am telling myself something that may not actually be true.
My Inner Dialogue
I think, “It will come in handy someday!”
“Really?” I ask myself. “When? The truth is that a lot of “somedays” have already come and gone, and I now have a pretty good idea of what kinds of off-cuts and spare hardware I am likely to use, and which ones are just going to take up valuable space for years and years.” So I throw away those flimsy, extra screws that came with the window blinds, along with those door hinges covered with old paint.
I think, “Someday I’ll be skilled enough to use this nice/rare/expensive wood!”
“You are skilled enough now,” I remind myself. So I pull out some pretty mahogany from the bottom of my wood stash and make my wife a nice writing desk.
I think, “I’m saving this for a special project!”
“This IS that special project,” I remind myself. “Go ahead and use it now. It will look so much better built into a project than it will look on your lumber rack.”
I say, “Someday I’m going to get into turning/forging/marquetry/relief carving, and then I’ll have this thing….”
“No,” I interrupt myself. “You won’t. You know what kind of work you like to do, and even if you do one day go down one of those avenues, you won’t even remember that you’ve saved this stuff. If you need it then, you can acquire it then.” So the turning tools are still in a box in the attic, but since they’re not in the way they can stay there for a while.
I think, “I’m going to repair/restore this.”
“When?” I ask myself. “If it’s that important to you, schedule a day to work on it. If it’s not worth scheduling in, then it’s not that important after all.” That rusty axe head is going to the recycling center. I have a sharp felling axe hanging on the wall, and I haven’t used it in years. I have no use for a second one!
I think, “I’m going to eventually pass this on to someone else, like my grandkids.”
“Pass it on now,” I reply. “You have no guarantee that any of your grandkids will want any of this stuff. And if they do want something that belonged to you, they will want something they saw you actually using, not something that collected dust on a shelf. If it’s good enough to pass along, put it in the hands of someone who wants it now.”
What Counts as Clutter?
Now, I am not getting rid of all the wood in my lumber racks, nor am I throwing out all the extra nails and screws I have saved in tea tins and jars. I regularly dip into those places and pull out things that I need. Besides, those things aren’t in the way. They are not sitting in the middle of my bench or in a walkway. If an item is not getting in the way of my work, then it’s not clutter—even if I don’t use it for years and years.
But when I can’t bring good boards into my shop because I’m hanging onto cheap softwoods or boards with punky spots, then that’s clutter. When I can’t save a few nice brass screws because my wood screw canister is crammed with cheap drywall screws, then that’s clutter, too.
Because most of the stuff in a workspace is not in use most of the time, a lot of any workspace must be taken up with storage. Things that can be stored are not necessarily clutter, unless they are unused things getting in the way of your storing things you do use.
There is much to be said for efficient use of space, and you can get loads of ideas for shop storage from books, magazines, and social media sites. My theory is that anybody who is intelligent enough to make things out of wood has the brains to come up with a pretty good storage system. The hard part isn’t designing the perfect clamp rack or the ideal drill bit holder; it’s dealing with your mental clutter-creators.
My next post will be about the second mental clutter-creator: “Stuff I’m Convinced Has Value.”