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.”
This series of clutter articles is just awesome. I completely identify with those thoughts/rationales for stuff – both in the woodshop and in my home. This is what I needed, when I needed it, to move me forward on decluttering.
And keep the woodworking and tools postings coming!
Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the posts.
When I cleaned up my Dads workshop after he moved on to the big one in the sky I found hardware which he had kept because it was too good to throw away. I remembered some of it from when I was in primary school ! …..40 years ago. Suffice to say I pulled out all the things I could actually use. Then I loaded up about 120kgs of hardware and dropped it off at the local Mens Shed. It was all good stuff, it just wasn’t all good stuff for me. The old fella organising it all threatened to strangle me with a grin on his face. If I have a use for something I have stored I try to use it as soon as the opportunity arises. I still have a lot of stuff.
You bring up a great point–it’s good for us to deal with some of our clutter now, rather than passing it on to our children. And it’s definitely better to pass on stuff that others might want, rather than let it rust unused.
Well said. Many of the parts ring true. When my grandmother passed away in the early 2000s, I recall talking to my dad that my two brothers and I had just bought homes. Not that I or my brothers would go out and buy this style. However, we do have homes in need of furniture and if he was ever planning to give it to,us, this would be the time to do it. He didn’t as having the house unchanged, made him feel as if she had gone on a vacation. Since he lived next door he was in the house frequently. I was totally fine with that and ultimately it is his and not,ours. Unfortunately fast forward 20ish years and our homes are all furnished. Sadly when he passes, most of,those,items will go to an estate sale. You are correct in giving things away sooner rather than later. None of us are upset by it. Just if you wait too long, those that you plan to,give,it,to may not longer want or need it.
I am so guilty of the “I might use it one day….” fantasy. A question that has helped me release lots of unused textile supplies and tools is this: “Would I rather spend my limited time organizing stuff I might use one day, or actually sitting down to work at my sewing machine / loom / knitting?” After 20 years of these crafts, I ought to know the difference between something I actually will use and something that is utterly aspirational.
It also really helps that here in Austin, there’s a thrift store called “Austin Creative Reuse.” They only accept and sell craft supplies, and so volunteers who staff it, as well as the customers, know the value of materials. It makes it much easier to donate high-quality supplies when I know that the person who finds it will be excited, for example, to find real wool yarn.
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