Observations on Junk, Actual and Virtual

We’ve lived in this house for 30 years, and hope to have another 20 before we “downsize.” Thirty years is more than enough time to accumulate a lot of useless stuff, and it’s best to get rid of it before the downsizing is imminent. Last September a large bin spent a week in the driveway while we deposited stuff into it. Soon after that, we did a run to a recycling yard with 150 kilos of old magazines, the kind with shiny, clay-infused paper.

But the house is still full of junk.

I will now share a few belated insights:

  • The fatal phrase, when it comes to surplus stuff, is: “It might come in handy someday.”
  • If anyone still has subscriptions to paper magazines or journals: read or at least scan them soon after they arrive. Keep an issue only if it contains information essential right then. If not, bin it, especially if you catch yourself saying or thinking “This might be worth keeping until I feel like reading it.” Get rid of the current issue before it becomes a past issue.
    • Think hard before buying or otherwise acquiring anything that isn’t edible. If in doubt, don’t. Or at least put the purchase off for a week. You may find you don’t need the item after all.
    • Resist mightily when family members offer you items from their own dejunking projects, along with a dose of guilt. “It’s been in the family for decades,” or “They don’t make these anymore,” or “The fabric is really good and it might fit you someday.” Nope. If there’s no other solution, pretend to accept the item and hustle it to the nearest donation centre forthwith.
      • There are times when one is motivated or forced to dejunk, as in getting ready for renovations or repairs. Seize those opportunities and make the most of them!

      The hardest items for me to dispose of are: a) useless, ugly objects freighted with sentiment, such as those family heirlooms; and b) clothing and textiles that can no longer be described as “gently worn,” but retain enough integrity that putting them in the garbage feels wrong. Recycling of textiles isn’t a possibility as yet where I live, and not every worn garment can be used as a cleaning rag.

      I think it’s easier to get rid of things once you reach a certain age. An object fuzzy with dust because it’s been untouched for a couple of decades looks more like trash than treasure. The space occupied by things becomes more valuable than the things. I often look at a room or a closet or a drawer and envision it unburdened from some proportion of its contents. Luxury is an empty space, not one crammed with stuff; it’s a shelf with one valued object, not a dozen useless, dusty items. This is worth remembering when looking at things begging to be bought. Space is indeed the final frontier.

      Books, of course, are the great exception.

      There is another form of clutter I am guilty of amassing—scraps of paper with thoughts, ideas, and observations. Yes, it would be better to have a notebook for that purpose, but there’s not usually one nearby when a noteworthy idea comes along. But there’s almost always a piece of paper handy–a receipt or envelope or piece of junk mail. So the brilliant idea is scribbled upon it. In time, a small heap of such idea-scraps forms, but unlike a compost heap, it doesn’t transform into something worthwhile all by itself.

      The other day, I spent several hours squinting at scribbles on scraps of paper, reading them, deciding whether they were worth keeping, and if so, where they belonged. Quite a few came from when I was writing books I’ve since published, so I put them in the recycling bin. Some were ideas for works I may write someday, so now reside in an envelope labelled Ideas for the Unwritten. Another batch relate to my completed but as yet unpublished novel, Winter Journeys. Sorting the scraps was worthwhile, but surprisingly tiring.

      I won’t even mention electronic clutter, such as the overflowing email inbox, the ever-expanding TBR in the e-reader, or all those bookmarks.

      65 comments

      1. As a habitual skip diver, I often retrieve useful items to use and repurpose. I always ask first, but I’m always amazed at the usable stuff that ends up in landfill.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Eeek. The declutter.
        We’ve been working on that for two years now. I thought Ebay might help but 1. the market on books can’t compete with the big second-hand seller. 2- The bottom seems to have fallen out of the UK used Craft Stamping items (That’s Sheila’s) 3. Same with used Board Games (mine).
        We will have to hardened our hearts to sentiment and purge all unnecessary papers, trinkets etc.
        Hard times indeed.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. As someone who has moved more times than they can remember, I marvel at your 30 years in the same house. The issue of downsizing is one I can relate though as I am currently preparing to move to a place smaller than my already small house. I’ve been sorting stuff out for weeks. I tend to put ideas in notebooks but, rather like your paper scraps, I end up with a pile of notebooks. My latest idea is to use ones with spiral binding. When the mood strikes I go through them discarding ideas/notes I no longer need – moving individual pages from one notebook to another and generally sorting through them. I’ve come to think of it as part of my creative process and can lose whole days shifting through old poems, ideas, scraps of stories etc.
        Like you I feel incredibly guilty when I have to throw cloth out because it’s become too worn to use or recycle. I save the best bits to use in slow stitching craft projects but some things are just plain useless after a certain amount of time. I’ve decided the guilt is partly caused by messaging I’ve absorbed from media etc. because reason tells me that the clothing industry discards and wastes tons of cloth on a daily basis.
        As for heirlooms – I keep the best but give a lot of the other stuff to charity shops.
        All in all, I love sorting and recycling stuff. I wish I could get hold of your magazines. I absolutely love old magazines for collage materials and also for reading all kinds of useful and useless information. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Moving is an opportunity to decide what’s necessary and dispose of the rest. I moved a lot when I was young, so welcomed the opportunity to stay in one place.
          No chance of shipping you any magazines, sadly! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

          Liked by 2 people

      4. This raised some smiles of recognition, Audrey. A good decluttering – especially of my garage – always makes me feel better, and the thought of clutter hanging over me (in my attic space) makes me tetchy. Thank by the way, for that wonderfully considered review of my book on Smashwords, recently. That was much appreciated, and valued.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. You post has struck a guilt nerve. In addition to my own junk/clutter of every description, as the eldest of my generation, I am the Keeper of the Family Archives. My house is impossibly cluttered. I suppose there will come a reckoning someday . . .

        Liked by 2 people

      6. The notebook and scrap paper thing: I do keep notes, but I mine them every Saturday. I’ll get maybe only 2 lines worth of something good from all those notes. The 2 lines go into a “short list” (with subheadings) on my computer. It’s much easier to pluck ideas from there than from the notebooks and scrap papers.

        Liked by 2 people

      7. I could write a whole book on this topic, but I won’t, except to say you and my mother might not have gotten along. She never threw out anything, even though we moved frequently. We shipped around a lot of “stuff.”

        Liked by 2 people

      8. Moving from a house with a basement to a condo with only a small furnace/storage room made decluttering a necessity. However, being old now, I could look at all the things I was saving for my old age and realize, nope, I still had no use for them; out to the charity shops. Of course not everything went, you do want to leave behind things to make your estate sale/auction interesting.

        Liked by 2 people

      9. Wise words. I’ve moved too many times to have that much clutter. But I hoard website bookmarks. It’s ridiculous. Spent half an hour looking for an article and deleted 12 bookmarks but never found the article I wanted.

        Liked by 2 people

      10. What I cannot understand about de-cluttering a place (something I am constantly trying to do in my own home) is how ’emptying’ a cupboard or storage space seems to leave it empty at that moment. But a re-visit to the same cupboard reveals yet more inside it, even if nobody’s put anything back. It’s as if domestic storage always has a kind of space-warp in it that re-generates the contents.

        Liked by 2 people

      11. At least e-clutter doesn’t take up a bunch of physical space. Indeed, we can misplace things there too, but I like my chances of finding something better there. Yet, I still prefer the feel of a book in my hands, so I’ll probably continue to have an equal amount of clutter.

        Liked by 1 person

      12. Very sage advice. After my house burned and I spent a month listing everything for the insurance. (what is was, where I bought it, when I bought it, what I paid for it and how much it cost to replace) I decided I didn’t ever want to ‘collect’ again. Besides, I hate to dust.
        As a foot note – the fire was nothing compared to what the insurance company put me through!
        I love my (mostly) clutter free home.

        Liked by 1 person

      13. When we retired and moved to California, we got rid of most of our stuff. Nine years and two moves later, we have almost as much stuff as we did before we moved to CA. Now my husband is more guilty of buying ye olde stuff than I am. Books are always hard so are clothes (some of which I have not worn of even looked at in the past decade.) How long should one keep a gift from a spouse before regifting or donating it, because there is no way that it will be used or displayed?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I have to say, the word “giftware” makes me shudder. Now when I see beautiful things like pottery and paintings, I look and admire, but don’t even consider buying. As for occasions where gifts are required, one should consider experience-type gifts, cash or equivalents, or at worst really small objects.

          Liked by 2 people

      14. โ€œIt might come in handy somedayโ€ is my fatal flaw when it comes to decluttering, Audrey. Also, “But this is so pretty!”
        I only have one closet, which is under the stairs, so I can’t afford to keep a lot of stuff, but everything I have is in-my-face clutter. It’s a constant battle.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Well… that book has been sitting untouched for more than a decade, sort of like those dusty ornaments. I plan to have a look at it and possibly publish it in a few years. Unlike my other books, it’s “literary.”
          But thanks for the encouragement!

          Liked by 1 person

      15. Moving to Spain 8 years ago forced us to get rid of 75% of our stuff. I can honestly admit I don’t miss much of it. (I do miss some of my books but I could only bring so much) We live in a very small place now so we can’t start collecting again, The deal is, if we buy something new, something else has to go. That goes for books too! I agree, space is indeed the final frontier. I love that!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Once a pile of papers develops, dealing with it becomes a project. Much easier to read as much as you can and dispose of it right away. I’m glad this post gave you some good ideas. Thanks for your comment!

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