On 1 November 2018 I started an activity – 9 days of discarding 27 items per day for each of the 9 days. I don’t remember now why I started it, and my journal for that day doesn’t record the ‘why’ only the decision. It’s apparently a feng shui activity that will change one’s life.
In the back of that journal, I’ve listed all 243 items. I see lots of books, electrical bits and bobs, clothing, jewellery, and several mystery objects – what on earth was the ‘jellyfish paper weight’, or the ‘Chinese dangles’? I was fairly disciplined – one sheet of paper did not count – and it had to be a physical item.
Since then, each month I’ve discarded 9 items per month. I’m gradually eroding my footprint. And it’s not getting harder to find 9 things per month, though I’ve got a bit more relaxed, I sometimes include stuff like unused apps on my phone, which I delete, or subscriptions to newsletters. Even so, every month I also discard enough to take a bag to the charity shop. I got out my calculator to find out how much I’ve discarded so far – 387 items (beyond the 243).
I’m not sure that all this has changed my life. Maybe it has in some way. It’s a routine that’s got integrated, in part because I don’t want to have old people’s cupboards and in part because I’m somewhat of a fan of Marie Kondo.
I bought her book when it came out in the UK 2014 and for a while it almost became my companion as I frantically went through the life-changing magic of tidying. Marie Kondo is firm on socks – ‘treat your socks and tights with respect’, she says and then, over nearly 4 pages, gives clear instructions on how to fold them. On no account go for the ‘potato ball’ approach.
In order to treat my socks with respect, I bought a modular drawer organiser putting one pair of socks in each cell of the organiser. A couple of years later the organiser was on the discard list, as I moved to a place where my socks were not storable in a drawer!
At the time my daughters were most admiring of my tidy sock drawer, but not enough to do the same for their sock drawers.
In fact, my older adult daughter has a very large plastic crate full of unpaired socks. When she needs a pair, she just pulls out the first two that come to hand and puts them on regardless of matching or not.
The other day she was at my house and one of her, unmatched, socks was heelness (not a fashion statement). I leapt into parent mode, and made her take it off. My grandson gleefully put it in the bin. I gave her a pair of my neatly folded (a la Marie Kondo) ones. One of the things I haven’t yet managed to discard – but I’m working on it – is being a parent to my adult ….. (what is a good word for adults who are no longer ‘children’ but still have living parents?) How do I discard the word ‘child’ in relation to my ‘offspring’?
I’ve got month-by-month lists of all the items I’ve discarded. Someone looking over them might wonder how I make a discard decision. What to keep and what to let go each month? I didn’t consciously know myself, but thinking about it, I’ve identified four reasons why something makes the list:
Redundancy: these are things that I have too many of and don’t think I need. Why do I need more than a couple of sets of towels, or pillow cases, or sheets, for example. I have one bedroom in my house and any visitor (very rare) would have to sleep on the sofa. So, I don’t need enough bedding and linen for a family of six.
Duplication: these are things that I’ve got two, or more of. Sometimes that makes sense – it’s very annoying to lose a valued item and not have an immediate replacement (as inevitably the thing you want to replace is no longer available). Today I was wondering whether to discard two of the three identical spectacle cases I’ve got. I once lost the perfect one and was able to get a replacement – but got two replacements in case I lost another! I then found the original one. And now I don’t use any of the three – so they also fall into the redundant category.
Worn-out: This should be obvious but it isn’t. It’s hard to decide when something has reached the end of life. I have bumbag that I use daily for running, and have for the last 10 years or so. The side pockets are fraying, and the zip pulls (which I’ve replaced once or twice) are needed a third replacement. The internal key holder tag is broken. Sadly, this week I decided to discard it in favour of a lightweight version – but according to my rules of discard, a replacement isn’t a discard as I’ve still got the same number of items – the goal is to reduce my footprint. See a great article on how freeing this is here.
Outlived its context: This applies to lots of items. I bought a stairgate when my grandchildren couldn’t manage the stairs. Now they can, so I put it on Freecycle. I love Freecycle – people are so delighted to get something for just the cost of traveling to pick it up. And sometimes I get follow up messages telling me how thrilled someone is with the item.
When I gave up working in an office, I had a gleeful sense of delight discarding all but one – just in case – of my ‘office outfits’. In the next year or so, I think the ‘just in case’ outfit will find its way to the charity shop.
Now, I’m wondering whether to adapt the discard list further. Would my confederacy of selves accepted the inadvertent and accidental discards? For example, this month I’ve lost an elegant hair slide and broken a nice glass dish, or do I need another list for the lost and broken items that I am not replacing, or can they count as one of the nine items?
My other thought is that there are other things I could usefully discard: habits for example, or conventions, or labels, or beliefs, or assumptions or prejudices. Is there any justifiable reason, for example why I want to hang on to the habit of having exactly the same for breakfast every morning? I adopted it because it limits my choice – often a good thing – as too much choice become over-whelming, but it isn’t always useful. I now feel off-centred if I can’t get the habitual breakfast!
The coming months may well see me discard the discard list that has served me well for over three years, in favour of a different list of discards. I’ll see what I do.