zen habits : breathe

Valuable Lessons on Simplicity — from Trash

Every Wedneday is Simplicity Day on Zen Habits.

This is a guest post from Mike Elgan.

Let me guess: You have too much stuff, right?

Your garage, attic or basement — maybe all three — are loaded with random possessions ranging from precious to useless. You have at least one box full of electronics, cabling and defunct gadgets you’ll never use again, plus AC adaptors and other accessories and peripherals you can no longer match to the devices they once belonged to. You have “junk” drawers full of stuff that might be useful someday, but that you actually haven’t used in years. Your closet contains clothes and shoes you never wear anymore.

All this stuff creates clutter, makes the useful stuff harder to find, takes up valuable space that could be put to better uses, and stands in the way of you simplifying your life.

There’s a very simple reason why we all have too much stuff: We have scheduled and unscheduled rituals and habits for acquiring more stuff, but we don’t have counterbalancing rituals and habits for getting rid of it.

“The Holidays,” birthdays, anniversaries and other gift-giving rituals; random shopping; vacation travel; product obsolescence — all these events bring more stuff into our homes like clockwork. But when, how and why should we get rid of stuff?

The one shining example for the right way to balance “getting” with “getting-rid-of” is — wait for it! — the garbage.

When you make garbage — you eat an apple down to its core, blow your nose into a tissue or empty a bag of frozen peas into a pan — you immediately identify it as something destined for removal, and spring into action.

You have a trash can, bin or bag in the kitchen, plus probably a small trash can in the bathrooms, possibly a trash can in the bedrooms or office. These reserved spaces in your home provide easy access for the temporary storage of stuff you plan discard, and you know exactly where they are.

Once a week, it’s trash day. You might empty the little trash cans when they’re full, or on trash day go around emptying them. It all goes to the curb, and some kind gentlemen with a giant truck come around once a week and take it away.

Here’s the problem. “Garbage” is only one category of stuff you need to get rid of. What about objects too valuable or bulky to simply throw away with the weekly trash pickup? Most of us have no process.

So create one, using trash as your guide.

What’s the benefit of all this? Simplicity, space, freedom and cash for yourself; help for the less fortunate; and even minor contributions to protecting the environment.

That’s worth a half hour a week, isn’t it?

Mike Elgan writes about technology culture for The Raw Feed, Computerworld, TechGear, Datamation, Ziff-Davis and Mike’s List, and he’s worked as chief editor for Windows Magazine, HP World Magazine, Inside HP, HP World News, The Palm Reader, Palm News, Road Tricks, Portable Life News, Laptop Life, BuzzWords, Pocket Windows and Portable Windows — all of which he founded and launched (with the exception of HP World Magazine).

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