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.