Are you surrounded by useless clutter?

An Interesting Mess – (c) Anna Simpson

A friend of mine posted an article on Facebook called Clear the Clutter; Get Rid of Unneeded Toys. The author Carlo Rotella talks about paring down the collection of toys in most homes and since this is something that has been on my mind lately (though not specifically with toys since I don’t own any), I thought I would share both his thoughts and mine here.

In the article, Carlo says:

…the United States has 3.1 percent of the world’s children but buys 40 percent of all toys sold worldwide. Obviously, American kids can’t possibly extract all the play-value out of that many toys, most of which end up piled somewhere.

That got me thinking about how drastically a family could cut back on its toys. So, an exercise: You’re marooned indefinitely on a desert island with your kids, who are under 12. (If you don’t have kids, mentally borrow some that you know well; if your kids are older than 12, think back to when they weren’t.) You can bring five toys. There are trees to climb, waves to swim in, and animals to hunt and evade, so there’s no need for specialized sports equipment. You get to bring a separate box of books and musical instruments, so just concentrate on the toys — and nothing that requires electricity, since there won’t be any.

Personally, I know quite a few of the toys my parents bought for me during my childhood ended up ignored and the one I held onto into my teens (and would have held onto longer if I didn’t stupidly lose him) was my teddy bear. This bear didn’t do anything special and, in fact, didn’t even look much like a bear, but I loved that thing more than any of my other toys. I was seventeen when I lost him and I cried. Bawled. Like the three-year-old I’d suddenly become again.

Why, then, do we fill our houses with things that, if push came to shove, we wouldn’t miss? We waste time, money, energy, and space collecting useless pieces of plastic in the hopes that, what? I don’t know.

While living in Tallahassee for school, I was guilty of the same thing. I had a two bedroom townhouse that I lived in for eight years and over eight years you collect a lot of crap if you’re not paying attention. When I finally left Tally, 90% of that stuff ended up being donated to Good Will, given away to friends, or straight-up trashed. And you know what? I don’t miss any of it. Two years later, I can’t even tell you what most of it was because I don’t remember.

This week I switched bedrooms within the same house and did it again. I got rid of some things that were pretty, but useless and also a lot of things I was holding onto for sentimental reasons, yet could barely remember what those reasons were. Now, literally everything I own and care about can fit into one decent-sized bedroom and it might be a good way for everyone to think. I read once about someone in New York City who lived in a great, but tiny, apartment. She loved clothes, but she knew she didn’t have the space to store them so every time she bought a new pair of shoes or a new dress, she had to think: am I willing to get rid of something I already own to make room for this?

With the advent of the digital age, music, book, and movie collections can grow to astronomical sizes without taking up an insane amount of space (a major bonus). Look around your room/apartment/house and take stock. Do you need everything you have? How many of the things you own would you honestly carry with you onto a desert island? If you don’t need it but you want it, why do you want it? What physical or emotional purpose does it serve? Sometimes, in some ways, wants can be just as important as needs, but you also have to be able to recognize when those wants change and the things you’ve gathered no longer serve the same purpose.

Letting go is necessary and sometimes, it feels fantastic.

And, because I can’t seem to compose a single post without mentioning writing at least once, this theory is also a good way to look at your novels when editing. Get rid of the clutter and let the true story shine through. 😀

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