For me, the moment came when I knocked over the five gallon glass carboy jug. The one I’d bought for home brewing at least ten years ago, then never used. That, of course, hadn’t stopped me from dutifully moving to two different households — along with an enormous snarl of plastic tubing, bottle brushes, fermentation buckets, metal kegs, and two cases of empty beer bottles. All of it gathering dust since the Nineties.
Now there was the carboy, in pieces. I looked for a push broom. But in the clutter of my garage, it was nowhere to be found. In fact, I’d have been hard-pressed to locate anything in the rambling stacks of old bicycles, camping gear, and cast-off electronics crammed into every corner and cubbyhole.
I love the idea of homebrewed beer, even though I haven’t had time to make a batch of my own in over a decade. The stuff got stored, just in case. It was the same with the amateur radio gear and a surprising bulk of the things which had really become a burden. My garage had become a warehouse for a half-dozen cast-off hobbies. Call it aspirational clutter: the stuff you keep in the hope you’ll come back to it someday. It was time for an intervention.
The best intentions
The more intellectually curious you are, the more likely it is that you’re a bit of a dilettante. And what of it? Dilettantism is terribly underrated, at least as far as pastimes are concerned. Trying something, then moving on to another, is how we grow.
It’s also how our clutter multiplies. Clutter requires space to maintain. Before you know it, your things own you.
Let’s clear a little space. Hobbies are rarely mission-critical, so aspirational clutter is a good candidate for lightening your load. That’s not to say it won’t sting a little: Pretty much everything about our consumer culture teaches us that we’re defined by our stuff. Take a deep breath, and let’s decide what’s really important. The rest goes.
The One Year Rule
Here’s how I began clearing my own storage space. When it comes to aspirational clutter, it’s difficult to objective about what should go and what should stay. The One Year Rule does the mental heavy lifting for us. We tend to use the stuff we really value. If something can’t pass the One Year Rule, you’ve already made your decision about its importance — whether you consciously acknowledge it or not.
Have I used this item in the last year? If so, and it’s something you’d like to keep, great. If not — or if you’re feeling like the Grim Reaper of clutter — move on to the next stage.
Do you honestly expect to use this again in the next year? Be realistic: Is there time or money to restart an old hobby? Would you be using this item simply to justify keeping it? Could you actually schedule a date on the calendar for its use? Are we talking about something irreplaceable, such as photographs or a family heirloom? If you can’t answer “yes” to at least one of these, it has failed the one year rule.
Schedule its disposal within 24 hours. You’ve identified clutter — so get rid of it before you change your mind! Of course, we’d like to see our cast-off stuff finding its way back to usefulness, rather than the landfill. Everything that gets reused helps conserve energy and resources, so be smart about how you dispose of things.
- Family and friends are great for placing unneeded items
- Look for organizations which recondition electronics and bicycles for those who can afford them
- There’s nothing wrong with making a few dollars from a yard sale
- Consider the needs of groups such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and local charity thrift shops
- Freecycle or list your items on Craigslist
A fresh start
Unmoored from your aspirational clutter, you’re free to explore new interests. Or perhaps you can just enjoy the serenity of a few extra square feet of space — and the knowledge that you are the master of your stuff. Not the other way around.