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January 22, 2008

Clear your clutter
Posted by Teresa at 11:46 AM *

My officemate Bill Brazell swears that the audiotape version of Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui (read by the author) is both compassionate to clutterers, and miraculously efficacious: clutter gets cleared. “You find yourself getting rid of stuff that’s been sitting there for years,” he says, “and you feel good about getting rid of it.”

If someone here gets to it before I do, let me know how it works.

(Amazon reviews for the book version, #stars/#reviews: 5/141; 4/31; 3/12; 2/10; 1/9. I was amused by the polarized opinions in the one-star reviews, which either said “This book is full of woo-woo Feng Shui nonsense,” or “This book doesn’t say nearly enough about Feng Shui.”)

Previously on this and related topics at Making Light: Collecting Bug, Jan. 2003; Decluttering, Dec. 2003; and Squalor and Hope, Nov. 2002. See elsewhere that classic of the genre, My Mother Is Insane.

Comments on Clear your clutter:
#1 ::: Electric Landlady ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 12:54 PM:

I may have bought that book once. If it is the book I'm thinking of, I returned it when (a) I realized that buying three books on clearing your clutter was probably counter-productive and (b) I hit the chapter on feng shui-ing your colon.

If someone does buy it, please let me know if it contains that chapter, because it's stayed with me for about four years now.

#2 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 01:03 PM:

My best friend has somewhat of a cluttering issue (she freely admits she'll probably end her life on the local news as the crazy spinster lady for whom they had to send in a Bobcat to retrieve the body), and she just read that Feng Shui book. (Being of somewhat demure constitution and upbringing, she skipped the colon chapter.) It actually spoke to her on a pretty deep level, and I've seen her taking some concrete action since she finished it. Not sure how long it'll take, and she still isn't letting anyone (not even her boyfriend) into her apartment, but for now I'm encouraged.

As I am currently in the middle of Moving Hell, which involves clearing out an apartment that we two packrats have inhabited for ten solid years, this whole issue speaks to me, as well. (If anyone wants to take a look at my list of Xena/Buffy/Babylon 5/Farscape-related stuff, or if you live in the New Haven area and would like to see my list of unclaimed Freecycle items, please e-me directly. :})

#3 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 01:07 PM:

I loved it.

Her previous book, Creating Sacred Spaces, was the one that got me started down the path to clear desks.

It was odd: her advice was the same as I'd been given by others, for many years previously. It amounted to "a place for everything and everything in its place". But when she said it, it was a whole lot easier to do.

And it *stays* effective, too.

#4 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 01:32 PM:

I gave up on Feng Shui when I found out it absolutely forbids having spider plants in your home at all (they're too pointy or something). Without my spiders, I would have no living plants at all, since they appear to be the only things I can keep alive.

I don't so much have clutter as an open landfill in my living room. Unfortunately I can't bulldoze dirt over it and make a park.

#5 ::: Cynthia Wood ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 01:39 PM:

Oh yeah, I remember the colon chapter.

I seem to remember liking the book and achieving some forward progress before our move.

I haven't seen the book since - I can't find it in all the piles of stuff.

#6 ::: Reinder Dijkhuis ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 01:40 PM:

I've got rid of several cubic meters of clutter these past few weeks without any book. And yes, it feels good.
Well, it did until I realised I had at least as much to get rid of still.

#7 ::: coffeedryad ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 01:52 PM:

Fung shooey and colons? That sounds suspiciously like an invitation to the Dragon of Unhappiness.

#8 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 02:12 PM:

Xopher (4): Have you tried philodendra? Those are the only plants I've ever kept alive and healthy* for extended periods of time. I used to think they were basically unkillable, until I managed to kill three in two years. But the one I have now is thriving.

*The spider plant didn't die, but it was pretty sickly by the time I gave up on it.

#9 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 02:38 PM:

Reinder @ #6, Amen. I can see the surface of my home desk for the first time in ages, but there's still a lot of stuff to go. The daunting part of it is all the accumulated financial statements which ideally should be shredded. My little bitty shredder hides when it sees that task moving toward it.

#10 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 02:39 PM:

My cats love to rip apart spider plants, so they often get presents from people who have too many spider plants...

The only plant that survives well at my place is a Schlumbergera. Amazing plant, not only has it survived everything that I, the cats and my roommates have put it through for 20 years, it blooms twice a year, and tries to take up all the available space on the windowsill.

#11 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 02:57 PM:

My favorite houseplants are the ones that get described as "thrives on neglect!" The three varieties I've found most indestructible over the years are the aforementioned spider plants, peace lilies (Spathiphyllum), and cane begonias, aka angel wing begonias.

And the spider plants and peace lilies also help remove indoor pollutants from the air, according to NASA.

#12 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 02:59 PM:

Mary Aileen: My philo grew very long, long vines. Then the leaves fell off it and it died. The spider plants are fine as long as you don't water them too often, which isn't a problem for me. I let them turn brown, then water them, and they live!

#13 ::: Tazistan Jen ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 02:59 PM:

OT but hillarious:

#14 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 03:15 PM:

My favorite houseplant is crassula mesembryanthemopsis, which I don't think has a common name, but I'd call it "south african jade pebble plant". It sits on my windowsill in a pot smaller than a Pringles jar and I water it once every couple of months when I remember, and it has little grey-green bits that stick up out of the pebbles in the pot which match the amethyst geode nearby, but which glow with the depth of life instead of the sparkle of crystal. Every once in awhile I glance over and it's flowering. It demands nothing, no repotting, no watering, but it looks kinda happy anyway.

I'm decluttering, and every bit that goes increases happiness and ease of work; the absolute key thing that helped me was getting enough bookcases and filing cabinets.

#15 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 03:17 PM:

We did a lot of decluttering and Freecycling of things when we moved countries. Really, an international move is like a deep breath. It makes you stop and realise how much crap you have.

One year, for her birthday, I gave my mother a decluttered home office. It took a week, from watching what she did in there and where, through giving away some of the old furniture and getting stuff that worked for her, to prescribing a reasonable regime of tidiness. The real space to reform, of course, was the space between her ears. The room has been pleasant and usable for 7 years so far, so I guess I did it right.

#16 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 03:36 PM:

We still have the same schlumbergera we started with 15 years ago. They need stress conditions to bloom.

It isn't just physical stuff we hoard and clutter with. Packratting just as much information as I am junk and the brain also needs a cleaning.

#17 ::: Marc Mielke ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 03:51 PM:

It sounds as though the book may be using the feng shui woo more as a hook than anything serious, and the serious message is for cluttery people to get rid of stuff.

Am I right?

#18 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 04:01 PM:

I have to wonder if I'm the only person who finds a complete lack of any clutter as disturbing as too much clutter.

#19 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 04:11 PM:

For me, things are obligations.

When I was little, I took the Velveteen Rabbit too seriously, and felt that it was my obligation to truly love every toy I owned, lest it feel lonely or abandoned.

These days, things are obligations that I want to get rid of. I'm pretty ruthless about giving away things I don't use, that someone else could use.

This conception of things as obligations seems to fall in line with the feng shui conception of clutter as stuck energy. In Getting Things Done terminology, every item represents an open loop, something that I have to think about, decide about, do something about. Every time I see something, I go off into worry, or guilt, or anxiety, because of what that thing represents. It's exhausting. Getting rid of the thing means that I close that loop, and never have to think of it again.

My boyfriend tends to hang onto things that are objectively useful, but that he never uses. We have, for example, toted around a portable black and white battery powered TV through three apartments and a house, and have never once used it or needed to use it. It works perfectly well; it just never leaves the closet.

My problems are more of lacking a system of organization. Paperwork, for example: there are records you should keep and things you should shred at various intervals, and I'm terrible at knowing which is which and at actually doing the filing or shredding. I don't have a proper filing cabinet (and those cost money). I don't have a staging ground to sort through the mail daily. Moreover, I don't have a schedule to tell me when to shred things. So things just pile up.

I and my boyfriend are both utter products of our parents in these matters. Both of us are struggling to improve. Change is a slow process, though -- habits of years take time to overcome.

Stories about hoarders and garbage houses frighten me, rather than making me feel better about my own normal and sane mess. I feel like I could so easily slip over into that place, if I'm not vigilant. Reading those "Previously on Making Light" links made me want to go home and start throwing things away, just to avoid such a fate.

#20 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 04:20 PM:

abi #15:

I really wish I could do that to my mother's kitchen. I was appalled, when I visited at Thanksgiving, at the lack of counter space because she was using it for storage of random piles of cookbooks, potholders, and strange little jars. Oh, yes, and seasonal cutenesses.

I almost got to the point today of thinking craft stores should be outlawed, from the points of view of clutter and real-ness. I'd gone into Michael's in (futile) search of some reasonably thin-edged decorative gold frames, and damn near visually drowned in acres of kitsch, and the raw materials for producing it. (I'm sorry, but miniature wooden birdhouses with turrets have no purpose but to be painted with ickiness.)

#21 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 04:27 PM:

Last year I finished the room above our garage, built two built-in floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall bookcases, two built-in work desks with pigeonholes, file drawers and work shelves, and even some under-window shelves the cats can sit on, all thinking this will allow us to declutter the rest of the house.

So much for THAT. It did centralize all our books, but then my wife brought in MORE books,
co-opted both desks and turned the entire room into a workroom/study/computer room for HER! Now the room is sprinkled with boxes and stacks of books, and while all my books are in one set of bookshelves, the other (larger one) is sadly still waiting organization...

#22 ::: Pocketeer ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 04:33 PM:

xeger @ 18,
no. no you are definitely not the only one.
Sterile Ikea homes with spotless futons and unsmudged glass coffeetables scare me somewhat. or the people who keep their furniture in plastic permanent-like. I think it must be a symptom of an altogether different mental distress.

Have to say, though, as a child I knew someone who lived in a garbage house (until it was gutted by fire!). Having seen it, I am as disturbed by real hoarding and 'clutter'. At least "things" cant lurch out of the 'clean empty space' like they can out of the 'piles of old clothesrags, pop bottles and junk'.

#23 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 04:33 PM:

#19, Caroline -

Yes, about the Velveteen Rabbit, absolutely. As a child, I could bring myself to tears with guilt for not loving or playing with certain toys the way they "deserved." I haven't quite reached the point where getting rid of things is a relief, but I'm getting there.

Filing cabinet - I got my two-drawer cabinet by asking for it for Christmas. Buying a single two-drawer cabinet when you really need a four-drawer does fail the "buy real" test in a way. If you need a four-drawer cabinet, the two-drawer isn't "real," but I think that if you buy a good quality one, the improvement in your papers could potentially be worth the cost of having to buy a second and stack them.

In other words, I think buying a filing cabinet resides firmly at the conflict between "buy real" and "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," and I come down favoring getting something good over something real, in this case at least.

#24 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 04:48 PM:

RMKoske #23:

Two two-drawer cabinets make a desk, or in my current situation, a printer table. Why stack?

#25 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 04:53 PM:


My mother is on the road to "My Mother Is Insane" land, and it has proven a great incentive for me to get rid of stuff.

In general:

What has helped me:
-realizing how freeing it is to not having stuff hanging around, reproaching me for not using it. - Trade books you don't want for new-to-you books!
-GTD system - taking care of (certain) things is an obligation I don't want.
-Discardia - a celebration of freeing yourself from clutter.

(I have just decided that I am not going to learn to juggle anytime soon; the book and beanbags will be offered to friends, then put up on mooch.)

#26 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 04:58 PM:

joann @ 24... Two two-drawer cabinets make a desk, or in my current situation, a printer table.

That sounds like my home office. Yes, the desk's top is bolted to the bookshelf unit that provides it support.

#27 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 05:02 PM:

xeger @18: A teacher once told me of seeing the office of one of the classic Swiss designers (I forget which one; it had been someone brought to Canada to work on the 1967 Expo) which sounded like that — clean desk, clean tables, blank walls.

What it said to me, was that the real work was getting done somewhere else, probably by someone else.

#28 ::: Chryss ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 05:07 PM:

For those of us with teeny weeny shredders who can't stand up to our big hefty to-shred piles: at home shredding services, or drop off shredding services. Best $35 I've ever spent in my life. EVER. Check local listings!

#29 ::: Donald Delny ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 05:15 PM:

#19, Caroline, Financial paperwork?
I resorted to an accordion folder - cheap plastic thing from Target. Bills to be paid go in the front with the checkbook (with the stamps!), paid bills go chronologically in the other slots: utilities in one, bank & credit cars statements in another. End of the year tax stuff gets its own slot.

This has saved my hide more than once! I can grab it and pay bills anywhere (even at cons), and the chronological system makes it so I can find stuff at the cost of an hour or so. This was a great improvement over not paying bills on time, and never being able to find paid bills.

Anyway, I think it worked for me because the system was so 'stupid' - just putting stuff in, in the order it came in. All my more complicated systems died due to guilty neglect. So! There's hope!

(And yeah, eventually the accordion file gets full, but there are these banker's boxes, see...)

#30 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 05:20 PM:

Serge #26:

And that looks like my husband's old setup in the last house: one end of a door in a bookcase, the other end over a file drawer, with the back held up by a short bookcase that had no place else to go. I'd had something similar, but with the entire middle supported by file cabinets; I do all my actual work on an antique draw-leaf table I bought 20 years ago in Niles CA for half a song.

#31 ::: Donald Delny ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 05:26 PM:

I also found a way to sort out my books. I asked myself; were there a slow-moving disaster, like a flood, which book would I put in the car first?

Then I moved that book to a different bookshelf in a spot where I would see it often. And then, I iterated. (Bless you Mike Ford!)

Funny how all those books that I kept because I ought to, or because I'd get to that someday, or because it's a good reference, never made it to this bookshelf. Why do I have books that make me unhappy? I thought to myself.

Over time, I've found it easier to subtract the books that make me feel meh. And this provided a template for giving away any number of things.

It's not the keeping of things that I loved that harmed me, it was the loving of things that harmed me that kept them close.

The one thing to be said for Ikea stuff, is that at least it all breaks down into pieces I could move by myself.

#32 ::: Pamela ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 05:33 PM:

Wow. Discardia sounds remarkably like Solstice Destuffing. Here I was thinking I'd invented it myself.

It works pretty well, in that I get rid of major stuff. Not so good with the financial papers, but I do have the accordion file thing going. Kind of. Well, it was going until I dumped the last 2 years together while desperately trying to find my misplaced diver's certification card.

Sigh... why do I try?

#33 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 05:37 PM:

Pamela #32:

Minor nit: surely that's an equinox, not a solstice?

#34 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 05:39 PM:

I bought and read both of those books. I credit Karen Kingston with my newfound ability not to go apeshit crazy because I live with a tidy person now.

I'm still a packrat, and I still have unopened boxes from the move two and a half years ago, but I think I'm more organized and controlled about my hoarding than I used to be.

Now if only I could get his mother to read them, and then maybe she'd quit giving us stuff we don't want but feel guilty about getting rid of because we know she'll ask about it...

(The author addresses this a little, but doesn't really have any answers other than "Get rid of the stuff you don't want, including the people who keep giving it to you" and that's not really an option in the current circumstances...)

#35 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 05:42 PM:

A couple of months ago, I recently committed that hallmark of suburban living, and rented storage space. Now, my wife and I and one cat occupy nearly 2000 square feet, and you would think that would be enough.

Nope. You actually need two houses. One for the people, and one for your stuff. Law of nature.

My wife didn't want to do it, but once I actually bit the bullet (paying for it out of own funds instead of our commingled accounts), she likes it.

#36 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 05:58 PM:

I got into a fight of sorts with my mother over Christmas. My job was to clean out my room, after almost six years of not living there in a meaningful way. In the past, I'd had meltdowns because I couldn't throw away anything-- it would either be useful, be meaningful, or be personified-- and people kept giving me stuff. Being Christmas, I had just gotten gifts, so while some were good (grow light for plants, new discman) some were very bad (Pirates III night-light). And I made the mistake of using the word 'crap'.
It was one of those fights where it's really just going over the same thing you thought you'd fought about and put away. I felt awful immediately after.

And now I have two boxes of things I don't actually want but which are potentially useful, personified, or things I really, really wanted when I was younger. Books are staying at family-home for now, pending a gigantic sorting and garage sale.

Xeger, I think the too-clean vs cluttered line is different for everyone. It's kind of like germs-- on one hand, you have someone who sterilizes everything and doesn't tolerate people who don't use bleach wipes as napkins, and on the other, you have someone with mold crawling up the living room walls who says it's okay because it's not in the kitchen. There's a happy middle for everyone, but it's not the same middle.

#37 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 06:03 PM:

#24, joann
Two two-drawer cabinets make a desk, or in my current situation, a printer table. Why stack?

Good point. I was mostly thinking about a case where someone had determined that they needed a four-drawer cabinet and couldn't afford the investment. If you want a four-drawer cabinet, you don't plan on being clever with two two-drawer cabinets, and thus plan to stack them.

About filing in general - I've recently come to the conclusion (after failing at filing "the right way" for years) that as long as you can lay your hands on the important stuff in a reasonable amount of time, how you do it is unimportant.

I've got a traditional A-Z arrangement, with the super-important stuff* filed under my name or under hubby's name. The rest of the A-Z I maintain sort of, but the bills and financial records tend to end up sorted by chronology. I've been filing things by month at the front of a drawer, with the expectation that I'll weed them out and then file the bills under the right A-Z category once a year. It never happens, and I'm giving up. Starting this year, I'll be tossing all the old stuff into yearly folders and putting them in a bankers box in the closet. I'll never need to grab that stuff with less than a day's notice. Yearly folders will be sufficient.

*Stuff that really should be in a safe-deposit box, in other words.

#38 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 06:05 PM:

xeger @18, not at all. I've seen too many people who define books, or books-already-read, as clutter to trust zero-clutter (as distinct from less-clutter) advocates.

pocketeer @22, my distinction between "clutter" and "trash" definitely defines "rags and pop bottles" as trash, rather than clutter.

#39 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 06:05 PM:

joann 33: Yes, I think she's exactly inverted solstices and equinoxes. Cool idea though.

#40 ::: Alex Wilson ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 06:10 PM:

Looks like Kingston will be releasing an updated MP3 version of it from her site next month, if you haven't placed an order for the expensive OOP tapes yet:

(see the comments section for the updated TBA)


#41 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 06:16 PM:

My office desk used to consist of a slab of kitchen counter top (the kind with a built-in back splash guard) laid over two two-drawer file cabinets.

Plenty of space for hardware and things like a plastic organizer for various types of printer paper. Lots of room for files. A spare drawer for computer crap. But . . . the little-used scanner tended to accumulate layers of stuff. The spaces between the hardware accumulated dust and screws and twist-ties. The spare drawer came to contain all sorts of crap, like old greeting cards.

I eventually got disgusted and bought a triangular computer desk that fit in a corner. I recycled a whole bunch of old papers, enough to empty out a file drawer. Then I threw out almost everything in the crap drawer; the really vital stuff (for computers I still owned) went into a couple of boxes. I donated the counter-slab to Habitat for Humanity's "ReStore." I gave the empty file cabinet to a neighbor. The contents of the plastic blank-paper organizer got emptied into a much smaller organizer, after a thorough triage; the various paper stocks I didn't want I donated or used as gifts (e.g., greeting cards). The organizer then went to Goodwill.

My office is much tidier now.

* * *

Has anyone mentioned Freecycle? Well, I just did, or did again. Good for liquidating things you know are valuable, but you don't want to go through the trouble of selling. I got rid of a whole bunch of blank cassette tapes, cases, labels and mailers that way.

#42 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 06:43 PM:

Thena @ 34
I still have unopened boxes from the move two and a half years ago

My mother and I tossed boxes unopened from a move 40 years earlier. (She said that if you haven't needed to get into the box in that long, you don't need whatever is in there.)

My stuff is in boxes in storage because of lack of space; I have several boxes that if I can get to them, I can get rid of the contents. So of it was my mother's stuff (bobbin lace stuff, anyone?) ....

#43 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 06:44 PM:

We're in the middle of an odd form of de(re)cluttering--actually getting round to hanging a whole mess of pictures (photos, museum prints, map prints) that have been living in the under-stairwell closet for three+ years now. Eight pictures got hung yesterday, I've got plans for reframing six of them (currently in frameless glass in a room that really demands thin fancy frames), and the two/three large ones that need matted have been identified.

Sometimes it's a matter of finding the right place/condition for something, rather than actively removing it.

#44 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 06:44 PM:

Freecycle is currently my favorite thing EVER. Someone just came by to pick up some portable cassette cases we had no clue we even had until we found them lurking in the back of a closet, and any minute now a local Girl Scout Troop Leader is coming to take away the Very Large, Very Heavy industrial printer that the NPO for which I'm a board member no longer wants or needs. And that's just what I've managed to offload today.

My SO and I have made a blood pact that we're never, ever going to make ourselves go through this again. Let's see if we actually manage it. :} I think moving to a smaller space will help in that respect, as we can say "no, we have no place to put that". That wasn't an issue here, and it turned into a huge problem pretty quickly.

(I firmly believe that storage units = giving in. Won't go there.)

The thing that's really worrying me, however, is what to do with our old, dead electronics. The local water authority is the only city agency that takes household waste and electronics for recycling, but they only accept stuff in the summer months (wtf is up with that?!). We're not sure what we're going to do.

Meanwhile, if anybody wants home-dubbed VHS copies of pretty much the entire runs of "Buffy", "Babylon 5", "Xena" and several seasons each of "X-Files" and "DS9", drop me a line. We've got most of that on DVD now anyway, and there's no room for it where we're going.

#45 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 06:47 PM:

My desk in high school was a laminated hollow door. It was supported by a three-drawer cabinet at one end and a couple of tapered legs at the other. Above it were a bunch of single track shelves. My Dad conceived and installed it. It worked like a charm (six feet of desk space!).

#46 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 06:50 PM:

Jack of Shadows spent some time as a packrat.


#47 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 06:56 PM:

Nancy C. Mittens @ 25
"Trade books you don't want for new-to-you books!"

It looks like English, but somehow I'm not understanding it. What are 'books you don't want'? Or perhaps you meant trade paperbacks, where you also have the hardback?

#48 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 07:04 PM:

Caroline @ 19

As far as I can tell from the research I've done, you needn't worry about coming a serious hoarder unless you've started to show the tendency as a real compulsion early on, and likely not unless there is a history of it in your family. My mother-in-law had a bad case of it*, and my wife shows some signs, although she's kept it under much better control than her mother. But it seems that there is at least a predeliction based on brain chemistry which can be inherited; if that predeliction is not there, you may be prone to clutter, but that doesn't mean you are a hoarder.

What's the difference? 5 years ago, my parents-in-law moved from the house they'd lived in for the last 25 years to a managed apartment. My wife spent 3 weeks, her brother about 4 or 5 days, I spent a week, and our older son spent 3 days** removing several van loads of stuff we kept, at least 3 truckloads of giveaways to charities and other organizations, and 11 dumpsters full of trash***. Much of what we disposed of was still in the original boxes / bags / packages. A large part of it consisted of multiples of a single item, all bought at the same time, according to the sales slips.

Believe me, this is far more than "clutter".

* Still does, actually, though she's 88 and well-advanced in dementia at this point, so it's not a serious problem, at least comparatively.
** None of us lived in that state; my wife and I live on the opposite coast, so the logistics were interesting to say the least.
*** Sadly, much of the trash was really perfectly good stuff of all sorts that we simply couldn't get anyone to pick up with only a week's notice, and we didn't have the time to take it around to various places hoping to find someone to take it. We were under a time constraint because the house had been sold and we had to clear it before the date scheduled for the repairs required by the sale to begin.

#49 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 07:09 PM:

Ugh. VCR tapes. Goodwill still takes donations; once in a while I'll still even buy one there rather than rent a movie; when I'm done I give it away or re-donate it.

But what to do with the self-recorded ones? I managed to avoid the "record every episode of my favorite program" nightmare, but after a thorough sorting I still have perhaps a dozen left with stuff I'm interested in.*

I may see if I can hook up my VCR to my TiFaux and digitize the tapes.

* (Shows in the "glad I have a tape of because it's proof I didn't imagine it all" variety. Like the live-action "Dr. Science" show, or a really weird and sweet Fox kids' show called "Zazu U.")

#50 ::: Darice Moore ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 07:15 PM:

We recently had to face up to our Oubliette of Stuff -- the spare bedroom, which also served as my office. One 10x10 room had three bookshelves, my desk, my filing crates, a plastic rolling chest of drawers, and a futon couch for guests. The closet was stuffed with our hiking equipment, all my craft supplies, all my husband's gaming and WWII re-enactment stuff, and so on. It took months and several waves of reorganization, consolidation, redistribution, and relocation, but the room is now a nursery. (Again. It was a nursery before becoming the Oubliette, because the larger spare room -- now my daughter's room -- was the Oubliette before that.)

It was a very healthy process, actually. It wasn't that the room was cluttered, it was just PACKED. To get to anything meant dismantling other things. I'm sorry to lose my office (the door! it closed!) but glad to have gone through a decent purge.

#51 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 07:17 PM:

Caroline, Stories about hoarders and garbage houses frighten me,[...] Reading those "Previously on Making Light" links made me want to go home and start throwing things away, just to avoid such a fate.

These stories give me flashbacks and send me into a fury of de-cluttering. In my student days I had a small place and ordered heaps of everything on the floor with footpaths in between, and felt just fine about it. Only when I lived with roommates clutter started to feel like something attacking my personal space, something that needed to be fought.

Things are obligations, and things call for attention, and I resent them for making demands and then I feel like a bad person because the things did nothing to deserve my resentment. I still feel bad about a bicyle I never loved and gave to a friend where it got stolen within a month. Best not to buy things one is not ready to care for...

#52 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 07:23 PM:

I'm currently engaged in a two-step de-cluttering program.

Step 1 is ruthlessly throw out things I don't use. (I've given myself permission to not feel guilty about not freecycling things or giving them to Goodwill in the name of getting the job done.)

Step 2 is figure out where things go. I'm considering actually paying someone to help with this process.

FWIW, this blog got me started down this road. That and the fact that every time I get things organized, the whole thing collapeses under its own weight in a few weeks.

I'm not (thankfully) a hoarder, but I do have way too much stuff and need to get better about eliminating one object for every similar object I acquire.

I'm also curious as to whether the physical book would be as effective as the audiobook. I'm really, really bad at listening to audiobooks.

#53 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 07:30 PM:

Any suggestions on what to do about a roommate who has reached true squalor state that won't result in another stubborn defiant denial tantrum. Eviction is not an option.

#54 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 07:32 PM:

xeger, #18: No, you're not. A place with a complete lack of clutter looks like a place in which actual living is not allowed -- like Stepford, or perhaps Camazotz. One expects perfect tidiness in a furniture showroom or a sales-model house, but not elsewhere.

Joann, #24: That works fine if you have space to put them side-by-side; some people don't, and not just because of clutter either! My pair of 2-drawer cabinets holds my boombox, my address books, my scanner, and the laptop currently dedicated to my cassette-archiving project.

R.M. Koske, #37: Also, remember that with very rare exceptions, you'll never need financial paperwork that's more than 7 years old. So by the time you fill up the banker's box, the odds are good that you can take out the oldest folder every year and just shred it.

Lorax, #38: Yeah... once I picked up a book about decluttering, only to run smack into the following "advice": Get rid of T-shirts with artwork or sayings on them. After all, when are you ever going to wear them? My reaction: "Well, THAT'S somebody with a seriously snobby lifestyle!" I wear T-shirts of that type at least 5 days out of 7, and have no intention of stopping. So it was obvious that this guy's ideas weren't going to work in my life.

P J Evans, #42: My only worry about that would be that there might be something of unexpected value in one of the boxes -- either "this is old enough to be a collectible" or "I may not have needed this in 40 years, but my executor will need it when I die." I don't think I'm capable of throwing out unopened boxes of stuff, though I've gotten a lot better at going thru the contents and determining that yes, everything in here is either trash or Goodwill-fodder.

Freecycle and Craigslist are wonderful resources for getting rid of "but there's still a lot of use left in it!" stuff that you feel guilty about trashing. And I've bought a bunch of Slimline flocked hangers at Bed, Bath & Beyond, which is helping me get a handle on closet space -- I've got a lot of tops and dresses with wide necklines that fall off a wire hanger, so I'd been having to use a lot of heavy plastic and wooden ones, and they add up fast. The flocked coating holds things nicely in half the rod space.

We're currently in the stage of clearing the junk we never use out of the drawers and closets and cabinets, so that they'll be available to store things we do use, so that we can get those things off the tables and counters. It's a multi-stage process, but I think that for the first time since I've been living here, the balance of stuff coming in to stuff going out has gone negative.

#55 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 07:36 PM:

"Trade books you don't want for new-to-you books!"

It looks like English, but somehow I'm not understanding it. What are 'books you don't want'? Or perhaps you meant trade paperbacks, where you also have the hardback?

This was something I had to come to terms with when I moved overseas and lost 2/3 of my library. Here's the narrative version:

There are some books which you cannot get rid of, either for academic reasons or because they spoke to your soul and you can't be without them. These, you keep. This includes hard-to-find books, out of print books, autographed books and the like. Books which can't be replaced, and whose loss would hurt you, you keep.

But there are other books which you really enjoyed, or didn't, but which you won't read again, or which you could pick up secondhand or borrow if the need fell upon you. There's also junk reading, which in my case is pleasant light SF/Fantasy which diverts but doesn't stand up to close examination. They are "books you don't want" not in the sense you don't want to read them, but in the sense that you don't need to keep them - in my circle, they go into a box beside the front door, and are recycled to friends, or taken to a secondhand bookshop. That way, the bookshelves are full of fabulous resources, and not weighed down by Mere Stuff.

#56 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 07:44 PM:

xeger, on "clean vs. cluttered" -- I do feel that those are not on the same axis.

I feel claustophobic in my mother's house, though it is extremely tidy, but there are just loads of stuff. Every square inch contains stuff. Making tea in the kitchen is a logistical challenge because there is no place to put the tea pot. But everything is exactly in the place where it should be.

My own place is untidy. Heaps of books and papers on ever table, cat toys on the floor, clothes on the sofa, dirty dishes on the kitchen counter. Yet, I can any time grab any offending item and put it in it's place: nothing else will have moved into the place, and I know where it belongs. Tidying my desk, should I feel the need to do so, takes five minutes.

So: cluttered but tidy, and untidy but uncluttered. Both is possible.

#57 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 08:03 PM:

You know, there's a kind of clutter that you really can't avoid, that I really resent:


You need a big enough bin so that you don't have to tote it to the collection center each day, but not so big that you can't carry it.

If you have a garage, you can set up bins in a corner. In an apartment, you're pretty much stuck with the stuff. If you pick an out-of-the-way corner, you have to make special trips and end up leaving cleaned-out cans hanging around the sink and mini-piles of newspapers by where you read them. Put the bins in a handy place and they're an eyesore.

I'm considering buying one of those beige-colored Rubbermaid lawn-bins and see if I can get away with leaving it outside my door.

#58 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 08:11 PM:

This is a Very Sore Point. We're whittling down the stuff on the living floors (well, not sure about 3rd floor bedroom but there is room for a guest up there...) BUT we have a garage full and a basement partly full of stuff we've not seen in seven years and in some cases boxes that we moved from Lawrence to Merriam to Prairie Village (all KS), then to KC, MO without ever opening.

Also it does not help to move to a bigger house. It just lets you store more useless crap.

When we moved from the house on 75th St to here we should have just backed a dumpster down the drive and emptied the garage into it. Dammit.

#59 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 08:20 PM:

Steve at 47, vian at 55 gives a better explanation than I would have.

I gave away The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged because I've read them once, and may never read them again, but if I decided I want to, the Objectivists of this world will have made sure that they are still in print, so there I will not have trouble finding another copy.

#60 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 08:34 PM:

T.w. @ 53: Find a way to live with it. Enforce your boundaries. Or move. You will not, can not change them. There might come a moment when they cannot take their own chaos anymore, in one year or five or thirty. But then, there might not.

Steve Downey @ 47: What are 'books you don't want'?

I barely like half of the books I read, and about 1 in 10 I never finish. Experience says that I won't ever re-read a book I did not like, and I won't finish one I haven't finished in three years, so everything meeting those criteria goes out to make place (and money) for better books, and find owners who will (hopefully) love them better.

Of course, the books I keep are getting steadily shabbier, because those are the ones I do read again and again. It's good to have friends who do book binding as a hobby.

#61 ::: Kate Y. ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 08:43 PM:

"This is the year I really do something about all this clutter." I've been saying that for at least a decade. Began actually doing something about it (what a concept!) last year, and the process picked up TONS of momentum when we hired a professional organizer -- for the first business day of 2008, as it happens. Talk about first-footing for luck!!

Momentum is really the word, too. It becomes easier and easier to look at the next object and say "Nope. Don't need that."

We are in NO danger of doing away with the "lived-in look". But I will gladly pass up the semi-panic of not finding my passport this morning. It was right where I left it when we came home from Thanksgiving vacation: in a tote bag dumped on the couch. Which I've seen every day on my way out the door (or when dumping another bag next to it on the way in), and then left for "later".

Leaving things for "later" is selling your future self into indentured servitude for a mess of pottage.

#62 ::: Laina ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 08:53 PM:

I pulled this book out of one of the book boxes this weekend. A friend gave it to me after she used it. She found it very helpful, although she told me I could ignore all the Feng Shui stuff. I remember that it seemed to make sense when I read it (well, except for the "Clutter Clearing your Body" chapter) Perhaps I need to read it again, since the whole unpacking and trying to figure out where things belong seems to be particularly difficult this time.

And I am trying to let go of books that I don't want to keep. It's just the business of trying to find them good homes that's slowing me down.

#63 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 09:38 PM:

Steve, #47: Yes, books you don't want. Books that you read once and decided weren't worth re-reading, or worse yet, books that were so bad you couldn't finish them. College science textbooks 30 years out of date, of interest only to a historian of science. (Liberal arts don't age so fast.) Books that you bought from the impulse-purchase rack at the bookstore register, and look at them 2 or 5 or 10 years later and say, "What was I THINKING?" Fad books for fads you're no longer interested in. Books you got because they looked interesting, which upon reading proved not to be. "Self-improvement" quackery that you tried and found worthless -- and helpful self-improvement books from which you've extracted and internalized all the value you're going to get. Crafts books for crafts you never really got into. Books you managed to buy duplicates of because the first copy was still on your TBR shelf. Books of jokes and comic-strip collections that were funny the first time, or funny 30 years ago.

Why yes, I have been culling my library, why do you ask?

#64 ::: Suzanne F. ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 10:32 PM:

Lee @ 63:

College science textbooks 30 years out of date, of interest only to a historian of science.

Unfortunately I am a historian of science! Luckily I don't work on anything recent, otherwise I could never leave the thrift store without an armful of textbooks.

On clutter generally: I work in a museum and am surrounded by other peoples' precious junk all day, things I cannot get rid of without a great deal of discussion and paperwork, so when I go home I constantly purge my own stuff with the displaced getting-rid-of-things energy.

#65 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 10:34 PM:

I throw stuff out all the time. I regret having tossed only one thing: a letter I received from J. R. R. Tolkien, typed, but signed by him and with a few notes in the margin in pen. It was around 1960, I think. I threw it out just before some cross country move. Silly me.

I have no idea how many books have passed through my possession over the years. Thousands. I'm pretty ruthless about culling. My rules are entirely individual and eccentric. Some books I hold on to because I like the illustrations. In my most recent culling I finally relinquished the collected works of Shakespeare -- two volumes -- that I used in college. I inherited my mother's six volume set, and the print on the two volume set is too small for me to now read in comfort.

Those photos from the link My Mother Is Insane made me cringe. I know someone who lives like that; it's very scary.

I heartily recommend shredding services. They come to your house. Oh, and I don't want to hear any more of that excuse, "My shredder is too small." BUY A BIGGER ONE.

#66 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 11:48 PM:

Our problem area is paper— getting rid of the stuff we should destroy while keeping the stuff we shouldn't. Mostly it just piles up.

I do not consider the piles of books a problem. I consider the lack of well-designed bookshelves a problem. Of course, one of the reasons I would like to be in a house instead of an apartment is the opportunity to build in bookshelves and darned well do it right. (Why, oh why is 12-18 inches considered "ideal" for a BOOKshelf? Hardbacks are nine inches deep and paperbacks 4 inches at best. You can line a hallway with narrow bookshelves with very little intruion on walking space but only if you design the shelves yourself.)

Incidentally, I moved six times (four if you discount two-stage moves) in two and a half years. One of those moves involved lots of stuff belong to people I had never lived with. (Tail end of a serial roommate situation.) That's when I learned about pruning.

Still haven't pruned the books, though. When your reading total with a full-time job averages 150+ books a year (not counting children's novels or magazines) and your spouse has similar speed, a large library is a necessity, not a luxury. I *have*, though, no compunctions on getting rid of books that are boring or outgrown. There's actually not that many in the latter category, and children's books don't tend to qualify.

I do wish my friend hadn't lost my college physics textbook, though. I want to see if I can make any headway on EM again.

#67 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 11:51 PM:

I'm not a clutterer, but things don't look perfect. For one thing, there's a sheet over the couch to collect cat fur (and currently, a cat). That way I can offer company a fur-less couch.

When I had to pay movers to pack all my stuff and move it out while the laminate was put down, I did get rid of things I had thought I would use again someday. Lots of cookware/tableware, books, my dining room table and chairs, etc., but those weren't really cluttered. Now things are pretty spare.

There are things that aren't in their normal spots. Right now I'm soaking my left foot (minor ingrown toenail surgery) twice a day and I'm keeping the towel, generic neosporin, and bandages by the recliner. The bucket I'm using is in the guest bathroom where I left it to dry after I rinsed it. I'm not hauling all that stuff from various parts of the condo twice a day, but when I get to stop, they'll all get put away.

(couch sheet now catless; cat eating kibble in kitchen)

#68 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 11:54 PM:

I prefer Don Aslett's book on decluttering (he is of the Severely Energetic persuasion of Mormonism, though; one of those guys who can do eight things at once and probably could have your entire spice collection alphabetized before breakfast while you're still sitting with your face in your mug of coffee).

I became even more un-packrat-like in my years of staying home with the kids, because one thing you learn as a stay-at-home mom is that YOU end up being responsible for maintaining, cleaning, organizing, and God help you finding everybody else's crap, not just yours.

It gets super old, fast.

#69 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 12:20 AM:

mythago @ 68 ...
I became even more un-packrat-like in my years of staying home with the kids, because one thing you learn as a stay-at-home mom is that YOU end up being responsible for maintaining, cleaning, organizing, and God help you finding everybody else's crap, not just yours.

Hm. I've experienced almost the opposite effect. I know that there's only one denizen that's going to do anything at all about a mess that's been created, and thus don't worry too much about not cleaning up a mess if I can't cope with it just then, or creating my own mess. It'd be really lovely to come home to no dishes in the sink (because they're clean, not because they're stashed somewhere unfortunate), and a variety of other chores dealt with...

#70 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 12:37 AM:

vian #55: Thank you. Now that we've finished cleaning out the closets (no fewer than *ten* jumbo garbage bags are now out on our landing, ready to go to Goodwill), the bookshelves are next. Your guidelines are exactly what we need to keep in mind as we get going on that tomorrow.

#71 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 01:57 AM:

xeger @ #18: I agree 100% about the pristine, unused look. I once did contract work for a man who insisted that I office in his space, and insisted that all our offices be perfect at the end of every day, and any other time he looked in. I found it impossible to do it--but learned early enough that he had another office in his girlfriend's house, which was a rat's nest. Maybe someday I can afford an "appearance" office, but I doubt it.

My sister is a hoarder; her house looked like the one in "My Mother Is Insane" 25 years ago. Not only does she refuse to get rid of anything, but, like the poster's mother, she compulsively buys things. No one has been able to penetrate into the (oversized, 2-car) garage since the early 80's, which means the stuff has been in the freezer for at least that long. The attic is so full that the garage ceiling sags, but, again, no one has been able to get to the attic steps since 1981. Each of her three kids' rooms (the kids are now 37, 45, & 47) are full of all their furniture, school work, and all their old clothing. There is a path to her and my BIL's bed through the boxes. The only usable room is the den, and it's only about 1/3 clear. My BIL had to build a 20'x40' building in back to have a place for his business stuff.

First my mother, then I, then each of my nieces and nephew, in order, tried to "help" her do something about the clutter and the assembled useless crap, but we met with more and more vehement refusals, to the point, with my younger niece and nephew, of violence. I went to see her in 1985, and we were going to cook a meal (family feast) together, which was something we used to really enjoy. But there was nothing in her cabinets that hadn't been expired for years. By the time we got through arguing about what needed to be replaced, and then shopping for groceries (how in the hell can you spend 2.5 hours shopping for groceries in a small-town store??), there was no time to prepare the food. And of course it was all my fault.

Between 1985-1990 (ages 48-53 for her), teeth started falling out of the cog wheel. She had a psychotic break in 1990, which precipitated my final visit. Now, she might wander around the house or the neighborhood naked, or in any stage of dress from scanty to many layers. Some days she only crawls. She goes for days without turning on a light, or speaking a coherent word, then might carry on a good conversation with someone for an hour or more. Her response to medication has been only spotty, but it's hard to know how compliant she is, because my BIL is such an enabler. But no matter how closely her orbit around the sun approximates that of Neptune, any statement about getting rid of any of her treasures is sufficient to get her back on Earth and into warrior mode, even at 70.

I'm not a good housekeeper at all, and have a hard time getting rid of books and even good magazines. But I'm very careful not to let the clutter build up. If it's beyond convenient use, it goes in the trash or gets given away. I use lots of office space (even in my home) because I tend to sort things into stacks before putting them away or creating a permanent place to put them. But I have my sister's example on how not to be.

#72 ::: Rozasharn ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 02:57 AM:

The Don Aslett book Mythago mentioned at #68 is Clutter's Last Stand. It is very good, engagingly written with cartoony illustrations. And you don't have to be especially energetic to follow his advice. It isn't about 'set up and maintain this incredibly complex organizing system'; the man made his fortune with housecleaning: he is all in favor of low maintenance.

A brief excerpt to show his overall approach:

Anything that crowds the life out of you is junk. Anything that builds, edifies, enriches our spirit--that makes us truly happy, regardless of how worthless it may be in cash terms--isn't junk. Something worth $100,000 can be pure clutter to you if it causes discomfort and anxiety or insulates you from love or a relationship.

Most active things are not junk, most inactive things are. But you have to determine the degree of activity that makes something meaningful to you. Whatever contributes to a happy, free, resourceful, sharing life isn't junk to you---but it might be someday.

So he doesn't advocate an eternally clean desk: piles of papers you're actively working with are functional, only the ones you plan to deal with someday never are clutter.

Footnote: changing how I list my email to avoid attracting more canned meat product. Previous comments can be viewed by removing the first all-caps block.

#73 ::: dido ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 04:46 AM:

When I moved to Boston in 2000 I had one (1) large camping backpack full of stuff (mostly books). When I moved to New York this summer I had . . . well, considerably more stuff. It depresses me that I can no longer move by public transportation.

Still, I think there's also a minor pathology in the other direction which is "tossing stuff because it clutters the place up and then buying it again." Certain types of books do this for me. I've bought most of Agatha Christie's opera omnia at least 3 times. I find the total artificiality comforting and infinitely rereadable in times of stress. So I sucked it up and stopped putting them in the "to be given a home elsewhere pile."

#74 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 06:24 AM:

B.Durbin @ 66... Still haven't pruned the books

It'll sap their plots if you don't do it soon.

#75 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 06:29 AM:

mythago @68:
I became even more un-packrat-like in my years of staying home with the kids, because one thing you learn as a stay-at-home mom is that YOU end up being responsible for maintaining, cleaning, organizing, and God help you finding everybody else's crap, not just yours.


And I'm mildly Aspie, which (in my case) includes being intolerant of visual or auditory clutter in times of stress.

And the one class of possession we did not declutter when moving was toys, because the kids were going to be stressed and disoriented enough.


#76 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 08:49 AM:

Don Aslett (if I'm thinking of the right fellow) doesn't work for me at all, because he seems to boil it down to willpower and "just do it" in a way that absolutely paralyzes me.

For some reason I find decluttering and certain types of housecleaning to be difficult in much the same way I think bungee-jumping would be difficult. I could force myself to do it, but I'd have be fairly violent with myself to get there. I've currently committed to five minutes of decluttering a day, and I have to be very firm to even get started.*

I don't know why it seems so terrible, but explaining it to other people is apparently impossible. I once had a friend argue with me for twenty minutes that "all it will take is two hours and the house will be clean." I couldn't get him to understand how impossible two hours felt. So books that are too gung-ho with "just do it" make me not only paralyzed and unable to do it, but guilty for being such a wuss as well.

I'm currently reading Making Peace With the Things In Your Life, by Cindy Glovinsky. She takes a very psychological approach. Why do you have a problem with things in the first place? Do you bring in too many? Not store them properly? Not get rid of them properly? Each stage in a thing's life cycle has a chapter detailing possible problems and a long series of questions at the end to help you narrow down what the problem is.

I haven't gotten past the "narrowing down the problem" chapters, so I don't know what the solutions are. But I am finding the analysis to be slightly helpful, so I'm hoping the solutions will work for me.

*Somehow I manage to not get buried in things. Perhaps because I'm fairly good at avoiding buying tat in the first place.

#77 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 08:55 AM:

I'm the same way with getting started, RM Koske. For cleaning, I seem to work best with very small starting points and unrelated deadlines-- "I have homework due tomorrow. I'd better clean the desk. Now the desk is clean, onto the pile next to it...." A job begun is half done, sometimes more. I sometimes wonder why my inertia is so high; it's really not useful.

#78 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 09:23 AM:

Abi @ 75... intolerant of visual or auditory clutter in times of stress

I don't mind visual clutter if there is some order to it. (If you ever saw that photo of my home office, you'll know what I mean.) It can make things cozy. The bottom line is that it's not clutter but disorder that I dislike.

Elric, please put Stormbringer away. Pretty please?

#79 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 11:12 AM:

I think one "reason" some people give for not getting rid of stuff is "But it's still good!" i.e. it will be useful to someone. Those folks who are in more extreme hoarding mode say: "But I might need it someday!" The fact that they haven't needed it in oh, ten years, that it is possibly out of date, that it's ugly, broken, etc. is less important. This strikes me as requiring therapy, but what do I know?

Still, folks who have serious trouble getting rid of stuff because it's still "useful" might find it easier to dispose of things by giving stuff to Goodwill/Salvation Army/etc. or by freecycling. I have a great deal of sympathy for this attitude, since I buy a lot of stuff at those same thrift outlets and have indeed, found other people's discards extremely useful.

#80 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 11:28 AM:

I've kept all my textbooks from college, many of which are frighteningly out of date. I graduated in 1981.

In 2007, I played a professor giving a final exam in a short student film. In each shot of me I was reading a textbook on a different subject (to emphasize both the universality and the nightmarish quality of the exam). It was the only psychology/Old Church Slavic/calculus exam ever given!

See how packrat tendencies pay off? Once ever in 25 years pays for all! [/sheepish, self-deprecating sarcasm]

#81 ::: Electric Landlady ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 11:46 AM:

Stefan Jones at 57: I sympathize about the recyclables! When I was in a smaller apartment, I used a small version of Ikea's Trofast system (this one, actually) for recyclables. It doesn't give you a huge amount of storage but it's better than having a tower of cans and another of newspapers.

Making four moves in a year really cut down on my tolerance for Stuff. Unfortunately, it also gave me a higher than average number of boxes marked Misc. I'm chipping away at them slowly, and reminding myself that even getting things into smaller boxes marked Misc is a victory.

My father has a tendency to hoard papers, which I find maddening, but it could be a lot worse.

#82 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 11:55 AM:

Is the theory here that the tendency to clutter is a malfunction of the ability to judge usefulness and/or future need?

A further question for those of us who are clutterers:

In your own estimation, are you better than average at spotting the object or objects in your environment that can be used to address some emergency or sudden need?

Do other people say you're good at that?


Okay, so in re Kingston we have Dena Shunra (3) saying yes, there's something oddly efficacious about the advice when Karen Kingston gives it.

Thena (34) says it worked for her.

Laina (62) says a friend vouches for it and gave her a copy, and that it looked good but she hasn't yet gotten around to engaging with it.

Alex Wilson (40) very helpfully says that "Kingston will be releasing an updated MP3 version of it from her site next month, if you haven't placed an order for the expensive OOP tapes yet," and gives a link.


Caroline (19), if I didn't live with Patrick, I'd be scared too. On this issue, Patrick is (1.) a compulsive neatnik; (2.) a nag; (3.) my salvation.

Shall we try the Kingston thing? It might make us happier.

P J Evans (42), I should not be saying this, but ... bobbin lace stuff?

Bruce Cohen (48), that's a known behavior, and it has a name: shop and drop. Somehow, learning that has kept the areas just inside my front door much clearer. It's the same kind of useful interrupt I was writing about yesterday in the "In the whale" thread.

#83 ::: Electric Landlady ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 12:01 PM:

Regarding file cabinets: my grandfather, who was notoriously well organized, used a single two-drawer file cabinet his entire life. He had everything he needed and nothing he didn't. If you wanted to know how much the refrigerator cost in 1978, he could go to the file cabinet and produce the receipt. (It probably helped that he was a lawyer, with a fine sense of what did and didn't need to be kept.)

I don't think I'll ever be that organized, but it's something to aspire to. I do have a two-drawer cabinet, and it isn't stuffed full yet (nor is it fully organized), but older stuff lives in boxes in the closet, so I can't really claim to have pared back to that level.

#84 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 12:27 PM:

I tossed out cartons of damaged library discards and such.

I sold four boxes of books to Half Price books for ten bucks a box.

I unloaded 11 boxes of fanzines at the last Corflu Vegas.

I unloaded 13 boxes of stuff at a dealer's table at the first CoSine.

There's still too much.

One man's priceless treasure is one man's piles of crap taking up space. Unfortunately they may be the same one man.

#85 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 12:27 PM:

Teresa @82 Is the theory here that the tendency to clutter is a malfunction of the ability to judge usefulness and/or future need?

Unfortunately I can't find the article, but I read somewhere that what parents might define as 'clutter', children actually tend to view as 'organization'. That is, they like things spread out everywhere because they can see where everything is. The article was suggesting that this is some kind of developmental step, but I don't recall if there was actual hard data to back this up.

If one defines clutter as too much stuff, regardless of whether it's sorted neatly in boxes stacked to the ceiling or spread all over the place, then I'd go along with the above statement. If clutter is defined just as the way stuff is arranged -- i.e., lying around without a 'proper' place like a drawer* -- then I'm not sure.

*thinking of some of my drawers -- maybe that's a bad example of something different from clutter.

#86 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 12:48 PM:

66: The "Billy" CD shelves from Ikea are about the right depth for storing paperbacks. Greater width would of course be desirable, but then again they can go into smaller, otherwise unusable, corners.

74: Be sure to tell Jasper Fforde.

#87 ::: Zed ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 12:52 PM:

I liked Aslett's Clutter's Last Stand a lot. My favorite part is that he spends most of his time driving home the point that clutter lowers your quality of life. You lose functional space in your home; you waste time trying to find things; you lose money by needing a bigger house or a storage space. In the end, he makes fairly explicit that everything he's said about physical clutter, besides being useful for itself, is an analogy for the clutter in our lives from wasting time and emotional energy on things that aren't worth it.

His How to Have a 48-Hour Day was just scary, though, with advice like skip meals and sleep to get more done. I described to a friend how it sounded like a great plan for a repetitive strain injury (my history); he noted it sounded like a great plan for a manic episode (his history.) The book also says it's good to always keep yourself busy so you'll have less time to sin.

#88 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 12:53 PM:

Teresa @82:

As a recovering clutterer: I am *definitely* better than anyone else around me at spotting stuff. I never lose my keys. My neatnik honey loses his keys, sweaters, camera bag, etc., etc. with baffling frequency. I don't think I know how to lose stuff: if it's in the house, I know where it's at.

And Debbie @85, that "I'd rather have it out so I can see it" is *exactly* how my mind works. This extends to pots and pans (and a very dusty experience in my early years of housekeeping), pens, knitting needles, and the bobbin-lace cushion that would never be used if it weren't hanging on the wall. Things that aren't useful, though, irritate my. Why would I want to display knickknacks? If you can't read, cook, or knit with them, what's the point of having them at all?

#89 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 12:56 PM:

George Carlin: Stuff

#90 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 01:02 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 82 ...
In your own estimation, are you better than average at spotting the object or objects in your environment that can be used to address some emergency or sudden need?

Hm. No idea - possibly?

Do other people say you're good at that?

Other people say that I'm good at finding things, full stop.

#91 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 01:08 PM:

Debbie @ #85: I read several years ago (in an article that's probably hidden in the same place yours is) that organizing things in stacks is a discrete personal style, along with that of hating any organization but remembering where everything is, and two styles that involve having a phobia about anything not being put away. It went on to say that the more common type of "clean countertop freak" tends to push everything out of sight without organizing it. Didn't mention anything about stages of development.

Teresa @ #82: I think what Bruce Cohen and I are describing is beyond the "shop and drop" syndrome. It comprises a system of compulsive shopping and spending, belief that anything on sale is a good purchase whether it's needed or not, lack of ability to utilize things in the home, and unnatural attachment to personal property. It's a type of OCD that doesn't involve repetitive or ritualistic behavior. Things I've read describe "shop and drop" as a tendency to bring things home and never put them up. For me, that's a good early sign of a period of depression.

#92 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 01:30 PM:

Doug #86:

A local purveyor of bookcases has a handy item called a DVD shelf. It's 5.5 inches deep and will hold 7 rows of paperbacks. We've got one in the hall. Then there's the custom item that fits almost perfectly behind my study door, made with 1x4s, 12 shelves high. I designed it, spouse built it, and it handles 2/3 of the SF mmpbs.

#93 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 01:30 PM:

Teresa @ 82

I see the potential to use things all the time. One of the bigger changes of my early thirties (where I am now) is that I am willing to let go of some things. For example, I just decided that I am going to find another home for my conga drum. I won't be using it anytime soon, and have not used it in close to 10 years. This requires accepting the fact that I am not, now, a conga-drum-playing person, which is sort of sad, because it's so fun to do, but closing that door of potential allows me to focus on the room which I am in.

I must admit, my ears perked up too at PJ Evans bobbin lace offer, but I decided that I will not get the use required for the commitment, so I am keeping my mouth shut. If you do take her up, I can send you a bunch of printed out books and some links to more/other bobbin lace books (all out of copyright).

#94 ::: Paul Lalonde ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 01:34 PM:

I have a long-term de-cluttering technique that I haven't heard mentionned yet on this forum. I learned it from a woodworking magazine years ago. We all know how fast workshops get cluttered...

The technique is to put away (or throw out) ten things every time you walk into the shop. And I don't mean 10 classes of thing. No, I mean 4 clamps and 6 nails is 10 things. If you're like me, you won't stop at 6 nails, but put away all *8* that were there, and feel good about exceeding your goal. The reality is that it takes no time at all to put away 10 things, and the habit clears spaces like you wouldn't believe.

I've been applying it to my living spaces for a while now too - 10 things in the kitchen clears a foot of kitchen counter; 10 things in the living room makes me put away the books and the mail once a day. 10 things in the bedroom tidies all the loose dirty laundry. And you can do 10 things in a room in under 2 minutes.

I admit now that sometimes I get carried away and put away 20 things. It's just a little compulsion, I'm sure I can control it.

#95 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 01:51 PM:

Teresa @ 82:

I am definitely good at laying my hands on the things I or anyone else in the hosuehold needs (or, less often, the office). I wouldn't ahve noticed if I hadn't lived with two people who enver seem to find the object without a lot of hunting and asking. I describe it as spatial memory; if I visualise an object, I must automatically visualise its most common and/or most recent surroundings. If I think about my passport, this vague image of Neil Gaiman books rises up in the background; and I check that part of my desk, and lo and behold.

(I have to say that the differing spellings of Neil and Nielsen, which my brain tells me ought logically to be the same, keep causing me to try and misspell one another.)

B Durbin @ 66:

My husband built a bookshelf in our hallway out of 4" wide boards. My first reaction was that it was ugly and awkward and too small. I *still* wouldn't want it in the living room or the study, which in an ideal world would be the pretty places in the house. But it's growing on me, because he can store a lot of books in an easy to see space. and i'm starting to feel inclined to suggest he make another so I can put my own unpretty paperbacks someplace more useful. It still wouldn't go in the study or living room,

However, when it comes to the other spaces, I love my 12" bookshelves. Most cheap bookshelves I see are 9" deep at best and *totally inadequate* for my study. This is because I have dual-purpose bookshelves: I put the books on, then put the pottery, trinkets and seashells in front, spaced to look good and allow view and access to the books. It saves me having boxes of pretty things I'dike to set out on view, and saves me having to buy a second and separate set of shelves. so *now* I only need to figure out where to set the two figures that are, respectively, too big to fit in front of books, and too big for any shelf.

(The price of being a visual artist as well as an avid reader)

#96 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 01:52 PM:

Joann @92:

After I built my wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, we realized a large percentage of our books were paperbacks and wasted a lot of the 12" wide shelf space.

My solution was to build a 'mini-shelf' that allowed us to put two rows of paperbacks on each shelf, with the back row elevated about 4" above the front one so you can see the title. The 'mini-shelf' is an insert that can be removed, and is just a hollow box of wood for the particular shelf width. By using them we can double the storage space and still be able to see all our paperbacks.

#97 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 01:56 PM:

#82, Teresa, and #93, Nancy -

Huh. When Teresa asked the question, I barely understood what she was talking about and didn't have an answer. But if Nancy's example is correct, then yes, yes, yes.

My ability to see that potential is enhanced/made worse by my crafting style. I realized recently that I had an idea for patchwork that would use scraps of cotton fabric that were less than 2" square. Throwing out those scraps has become much more difficult than it used to be.

The other part of my crafting that makes things harder is that I put things together fairly visually, so some crafts cannot be undertaken unless I have 110% of the needed supplies. I need to see the blue with the green and gold before I realize that I don't want the blue in there.

#94, Paul - Nice.

#98 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 02:04 PM:

Joanne @ 92 -
A local purveyor of bookcases has a handy item called a DVD shelf. It's 5.5 inches deep and will hold 7 rows of paperbacks. We've got one in the hall.

The local megagrocery (Wegmans, the One True Grocery) gets a furniture collection (made in Thailand, real wood and brass fixtures, very sturdy, light color, pseudo-Mission style) every fall for the incoming school year. The content varies, but usually includes bookshelves, end tables, round corner shelf units, a TV stand, and the like - the sort of stuff an apartment needs, but a lot higher quality than your typical pressboard crap.

The bookshelves come in two types - three-shelf and five-shelf, are foldable (folding down to a very compact and easy to manhandle package), and really tough. They are also very reasonably priced, and resultingly, I have a lot of those shelves for shelving books.

One year, they had CD shelves - same height and width as the 3-shelf bookshelves, half the depth, and four media shelves... which happen to be perfect height for most mass market paperbacks. Unfortunately, I only got one set of them - while they won't stack with each other, they very nicely stack on top of the 3-shelf units. I would dearly like to get another (or two), but the only ones I've found have been for obscene amounts of money, and not local.

But those are my bookshelves.

#99 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 02:05 PM:

Teresa @ 82, in re: "In your own estimation, are you better than average at spotting the object or objects in your environment that can be used to address some emergency or sudden need?"

I think so; I think this comes of being a tinkerer and an engineer. (My canonical example is the time that I tromped into a Kwik-Mart in the middle of nowhere, eastern Colorado, with an attitude of "Somewhere in this store is the piece I need to replace the busted rubber bit on my radiator." Found it, too, as part of a thing that ironically happened to be a radiator-fluid tester.)

The big thing here, though, is that I suspect that I have a different value than many people for having the piece I want to repair something, as compared to the costs of keeping lots of potential things around.

This has gotten somewhat more difficult over the years. When I was 20, "I'll keep this because it might come in handy someday" was just theory. When I was 30, I'd had enough experiences of going to my box of random spare bolts and other similar cruft and finding just the right thing to repair something, that I had practical experience to back it up.

And the real problem isn't the thought of "this will be useful in 10 years", it's "this has a 5% chance of being useful in 10 years". The collection of a few hundred such things is absolutely going to be useful. But applying the "if you haven't used it in 10 years, throw it out" rule to each individual piece of it gets quite the wrong answer.

Paul @ 94: That sounds like an excellent idea. I'll note that my own counter-clutter tendencies were strongly informed by my own time in the campus wood shop. That shop was run with a strict rule of "It will be clean." Everything used was put away at the end of the day, every tool used was cleaned, and people were obligated to spend 5 minutes on a general cleanup task before leaving, as well. And it made a tremendous difference to how the work environment felt.

De-cluttering is at least a little easier when one knows, down deep, why it is that one wants to do it. It's harder when it's just, "I've been told it's better this way."

#100 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 02:40 PM:

Some stores sell white-coated wire racks that're built to hang over the top of a pantry door and hold canned goods; most of these are wide enough to hold standard paperback books, although with the last one I bought (which runs down the entire length of the door), I was disappointed to discover that two of the racks didn't have enough headspace to fit the paperbacks into them.

Anyone want to share organizational schemas for their books? The last time I made a systematic attempt with our hardbacks and trade paperbacks, I sorted most of the nonfiction by alphabetizing them by author within loosely chunked Dewey-type subject groups (headology, sociology, science, technology etc.), with fiction and "metafiction" (books about books/media: readers' guides, tv scripts, the "History of Middle Earth" tomes) off on their own shelves. Since then, a certain amount of biblio-Brownian motion has occurred and they're in dire need of being re-sorted again.

I did find a nicely compact way to store our manga, in the form of smallish cardboard bins with the right dimensions to hold ~15 volumes of the same series and run the entire depth of their bookcase; the bricklike formation also allows the bins to be stacked on top of each other. Unfortunately, their size isn't really suited to standard paperbacks, but for now we have all of those contained.

#101 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 03:08 PM:

John L #96:

I tried the double-shelving solution after admiring it at a friend's house many years ago. It didn't work for me, because I found I was wilfully ignoring the books on the back row, even though they were only half covered. Instead, for that particular spot (those shelves have now been consigned to perdition) I stacked the books in piles on their sides, which although not quite as space-efficient as double-shelving, did allow me to see them all.

#102 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 03:13 PM:

Brooks #99:

You will probably have certain bits of kindred feeling with my husband, who when faced the other day with a bunch of pictures to be hung, disappeared into the garage for no more than three minutes and returned with a plastic bin containing, I swear, all the items needed for picture-hanging with the exception of the hammer, which had had to be prised out of the tool chest. I should also point out that the bin did not contain any extraneous items with other purposes.

Jim Macdonald's go-bags for household tasks.

#103 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 03:21 PM:

Scott, I have 7 of the same bookshelves from Wegmans, and I have double stacked them with paperbacks and hardbacks, and more books laid on top, underneath the shelf above. They are great!

#104 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 03:50 PM:

The clutter is a constant battle here as well. With a small 1929 bungalow house, a toddler, a baby on the way, two cats, a computer/technophile husband, and book hoarding/yarn stashing me...the house can get a bit crowded.

Recently, however, we packed up all our VCR tapes and well over half our CDs (after putting the CDs onto our computer hard drives and backing up like crazy) and took them to Half Price Books. We left more than $200 richer, which was motivational, to say the least.

I've decluttered some yarn to eBay, getting real! live! money! by selling yarn that was leftover from finished projects. And the husband made enough on some random camera equipment that he'd forgotten he owned to buy a spiffy new laptop.

After baby #2 arrives, there will be merciless decluttering. My maternity clothes will be going to eBay or a local consignment shop as soon as I'm mobile after the birth. And we'll be packing up and pricing baby clothes and toys as she grows out of them. We anticipate an epic garage sale in early September. I'm already collecting stuff from around the house and "disappearing it" into our former coal cellar to see how easily we live without it.

I seem to be "de-nesting" oddly enough...

#105 ::: flowery tops ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 04:06 PM:

I'm a clutterer too: my worst habit is "parking" things on horizontal surfaces, any and all horizontal surfaces.

On the other hand, I don't have a lot of junk, I'm not too bad at not bringing in stuff I don't care for, just lazy and low on nice storage.

I too can locate anything, and enjoy being able to find a thing for an expected need. On the other hand, I find the feeling that I don't have the whatsit and will have to wait until a trip to town (up to a week away), or that the book I want is in storage outside pretty frustrating and cranky making. I like having my stuff (books, toys, craft things) right where I can see it and use it. Rats like to touch things too.

#106 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 04:16 PM:

Sarah #104:

I lived in a 1931 bungalow for over 15 years, and after I moved to a considerably newer house, I discovered that there were some things for which I actually missed the bungalow, most notably all the wall space. More modern houses, with fewer and shorter walls, therefore have less space to park bookshelves.

The piano had to go somewhere--I'm not yet at the point where I can give it up. Result: a study so crammed with bookcases that they cover all four walls, except for the windows and the doors. Even the doors have books behind them, and one window has a bookcase in front of it--with a three-shelf hole for the cat door. My study closet is also ringed with books.

Now, I will admit that in the last house I did make use of various pairs of bookcases to divide the living room, which ran the width of the house, into two rooms, but that does not explain the other books, the ones now packed in boxes in the garage. Every so often, a few books get liberated from there and make their way back into the house--usually into my study.

#107 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 04:20 PM:

R.M. Koske and Diatryma, #76-77: One thing I notice often is that when I'm procrastinating about doing Thing X, that's when I get into the mood to do Thing Y. Nothing makes decluttering / straightening up more appealing than knowing I really should be making jewelry, or packing for the weekend, or going to the gym! If that happens to you and there's any way to take advantage of it, doing so can be very fruitful.

Xopher, #80: *giggle* OTOH, if I needed to do something like that, I have enough other packrat friends that I'm sure I could find a nice selection of old textbooks!

Electric Landlady, #81: even getting things into smaller boxes marked Misc is a victory

Hear, hear! That's how I've ended up dealing with a lot of my older clutter. I get it down to where it fits into one reasonable-sized box per category, containing the things that I just can't contemplate getting rid of; then I say, "Okay, one box of X isn't bad," and stop, and the box goes into archive storage (in the attic). At that rate, it takes quite a while for the archive to fill up.

Zed, #87: You've just pinpointed a problem often mentioned about "getting control of clutter" self-help books and websites (including Flylady) -- they assume a religious basis for wanting to get yourself organized. For those here who are on LiveJournal, I'd like to recommend the Homekeeping community ( One of my friends who has found it very helpful says, "I don't want an organized house as an offering to the Glory of the Lord -- I want an organized house so that I have more time to read Dr. Who fanfic!"

Paul, #94: I like that idea! That goes nicely with Homekeeping's "Sunday Seven" -- every week, eliminate 7 items from your environment that you no longer need. It doesn't matter how big they are; 7 outdated or dead makeup containers dropped into the wastebasket counts. As you say, after a while it adds up.

Another tactic that I use (in rather desultory fashion, I'm afraid) is: if I'm walking from one part of the house to another, I look for something near me that goes to that place and take it along. This is good for getting stuff that's been misplaced at least back into the correct area, and would work much better if I were more consistent about remembering to do it.

#108 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 04:23 PM:

I can't read this thread. I get this phobic feeling of sick dread when I try.

I think maybe I need help.

#109 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 04:28 PM:

I find that a lot of my sense of organization is kinesthetic; I have some sort of muscle memory that helps me find things in the kitchen. I suspect this arises from being seriously nearsighted, to the extent that without correction, the only way I can tell what anything more than about three feet off might be is to make an educated guess based on what was there the last time I looked. (In other words, do *not* rearrange things in the bathroom!)

Even with my contacts in, it can get rather disorienting if something is not where I expect it to be. A case in point is the pair of pliers I use for deboning fish; I expect it to be in the drawer next to the counter where I perform such operations; my husband, for reasons unknown (I think he's decided it's the moral equivalent of scissors) puts them in the tray on the bar on the other side of the kitchen, along with some shears and all the cat treats.

I've always been place- and spatially-oriented, and I think my sense of organization (or lack thereof) is strongly connected, to the extent that from an interface standpoint, I spent many years preferring Unixy desktops, because they have all the separate screens. (Now I use goScreen with XP.) Lots of separate places to park specific applications, sort of the equivalent of piles of papers.

#110 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 04:46 PM:

#107, Lee -

One thing I notice often is that when I'm procrastinating about doing Thing X, that's when I get into the mood to do Thing Y. Nothing makes decluttering / straightening up more appealing than knowing I really should be making jewelry, or packing for the weekend, or going to the gym!

Hee. I'd usually rather clean a toilet* than declutter, so the things that would send me to that task are few and far between. Knowing that I should be decluttering generally gets the kitchen and catbox taken care of nicely, though.

I'm definitely going to check out the LJ community you mentioned.

*I think the aversion is strong enough that I can even extend that out to "someone else's toilet."

#111 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 04:54 PM:

It's amazing how much cleaning I get done when I *really* should be telephoning. Hate making phone calls!

My husband's hobby is woodworking. On the one hand, a real opportunity to collect, hoard, and clutter. However, he's got his stuff in pretty good order, and is forever designing customized solutions to store his tools, bits, etc. The latest is a contraption to store rolls of sandpaper. It fits over the door (practically the only bare space left), and looks like a multiple-roll TP holder. Strangely enough we are lacking in suitable storage furniture in the rest of the house. Grr.

#112 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 04:58 PM:

#66: In Boston, our local unfinished furniture store (Maverick, on Commonwealth Ave) has wooden videotape storage racks that are perfect for trade paperbacks, and DVD storage racks that are perfect for mass market paperbacks. No wasted space. They're a bit more expensive than the department store bookshelves but are better built and have more book capacity per cubic foot.

Hopefully, other cities have similar businesses.

#113 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 05:19 PM:

I'm Joel, and I have a clutter problem.

It's an ongoing fight; when I'm tired or depressed, it's just too much bother to put away the odds and ends that I've been working with. When I'm in better shape, I'm too busy. Once in a while, usually inspired by impending visitors, I go on a binge of sorting and putting-away. Sometimes this leads to stashed piles of things that need to be sorted more carefully than I have time for at that moment, and those piles don't get dealt with as often as they should.

I have boxes of odds-and-ends from decades back. In some cases, the items once had sentimental value, but they don't any longer, much; they trigger dim recollections of a happier time.

On the other hand, I'm very good at remembering what I've got and where it is. I can usually go directly to the right shelf, and find the box with that decades-old thing within a couple of goes. I'm good at improvising working oddities or bits of craft from those odds-and-ends, and it's something I do regularly. I often come up with Cool Ideas for things to put together, and it's really nice to have a wide range of tools and materials and objects at hand to work with. Fine gold chain to make a miniature Imperial Seal of the Centauri Empire for a plush toy..? Sure, that's in the dark-blue plastic carry-on bag, in the south-centre basement shelving unit, chest-level shelf, in the box on the right-hand side. Oh well, the box beside that; I was close.

I'm getting better about throwing away things that are really truly useless, such as very worn-out shoes when somewhat-less-worn shoes have made their way down the chain.

#114 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 05:26 PM:

Photograph things that you want to remember, but don't want to keep.

I also have a big plastic box (24 gallons, maybe?), into which I put the things I don't want anymore, but are too valuable (for some definition of valuable) to donate to goodwill. I will fish things out of this and give them to people will really appreciate them. Frex, I had a fancy pair of hairsticks I was not using, or ever really going to use. I gave them to a friend who thinks they are beautiful, and will use them regularly.

#115 ::: Nancy ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 05:34 PM:

Regarding the double shelving solutions for books, when we ran out of room on our bookshelves, we started putting a second row of books behind the first. To avoid the problem of the ones at the back being forgotten about, we'd put books 2 and 3 of a trilogy for example at the back, and book 1 at the front.

(We have a combination library/dining room, with just enough room for a table and chairs and then bookshelves lining the walls. A meal at our house generally leads to a book loan.)

Also I offer my personal mantra for decluttering or cleaning, upon the completion of a small part of a seemingly overwhelming task: It's better than it was. Very helpful if you're the sort to be discouraged by the work remaining rather than satisfied by the work done.

#116 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 05:50 PM:

Teresa @ 82 - IT worked for me, for very local definitions of "worked" - basically it helped me mitigate my clutter-hoarding from My-Mother-Is-Insane-style rabbit-trails through my last apartment, to "normal enough to have company over without several weeks' advance notice."


@various - I'm another one of those spatial-memory people. If I'm looking for something, I remember what it was sitting next to - and I'm most likely to lose things when we've made a quick pass at tidying the house so company can come over, so I've gathered up the pile that was sitting on the sideboard and Put It Someplace Out Of Sight and that's the last place I remember the credit card bill / car keys / old newspaper clippings / picture wire / church bulletin with whatsisname's address on the back / etc. being and a merry chase ensues.

I make up for lack of apparent organization with the uncanny knack for finding lost things that are not my own. (I'm still not sure how I found a friend's floppy disk which was, with its owner, in another state at the time. Friend was complaining on IRC about missing it, I told him it was probably down the side of the desk and I thought it was near something purple or brown... it turned up in the cover of a maroon textbook in that very location. Chalk up another weird coincidence, I guess.)

Now if only I could apply that to my own stuff when it's not where I left it....

#117 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 05:52 PM:

I used to have a book that was a sort of dictionary of things you just don't need, and why. I would skip the ones I didn't believe in (non-readers always seem to think readers keep books around to impress them). That was always a good read when I was trying to psyche myself up to a big decluttering session. I think I gave it to a friend who needed it more.

I don't know how it happened that I went from being an extremely cluttered kid and teenager to being a relatively normal adult. I still pile up things, and need to purge regularly, but it's not out of control. Every now and then I will look at a part of the house and think, "My god, when did I get so many muffin tins?" or I'll be fussing around in the living room and a pile of papers will be sorted because they were in my way.

When things get decluttered, my big bugaboo is that everything recyclable has to be recycled (our city has very large rolling bins for recyclables, thank goodness), and everything donatable must be donated. In my recent purge of textbooks, I found Books for Africa, so a bunch of still-current but superseded structural engineering textbooks and a couple of extra dictionaries are going there.

It does make it a lot more work, and if I were more cluttered, it would not be worth the extra time to do things like box up donations or sort through papers. I also maintain a shelf of books that I'm planning to sell back or donate somewhere, should my friends need reading material. I made the mistake of buying some bundles of unlabeled books-by-the-pound ("one of these has got to be readable!") so those shelves are rather full of junk right now, but often they are filled with duplicates or books I've replaced with a more durable binding, better translation, new edition, and so forth.

Regarding narrow bookshelves in hallways, we've just come up with a plan for a wall in our main hallway that needs to be replaced. Instead of just building a normal wall, we'll build an extra-heavy-backed bookcase (for auditory privacy) in its place, with a secret door for getting into the closet/toilet on the other side of the wall. I refuse to display mmpbs in my front hall because I am a horrific snob about bindings, so right now I'm trying to decide whether to make the wall narrow (about 6 inches deep) and put my smaller books there, perhaps shelving by size a la Pepys, or whether to encroach on the hall slightly and make a bookcase deep enough for hardcover fiction.

#118 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 05:59 PM:

The Wegman's shelves sound like these; I'm up to 18 of them, plus another 14 or so from Barnes & Noble's mail order catalog 15ish years ago; they're nearly identical, but their stacking mechanisms aren't compatible.

I'm using 2 of these CD/DVD cases for paperbacks; the depth is just about perfect and one set of possible heights (the one intended for DVDs, I assume) is acceptable.

Sarah S @104 we packed up all our VCR tapes and well over half our CDs (after putting the CDs onto our computer hard drives and backing up like crazy) and took them to Half Price Books.

If you've sold the CD, you might consider deleting your backup copies of it. Or not, it's your decision, but it's something to think about.

#119 ::: Paul Lalonde ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 06:05 PM:

Debbie, #111 - I sympathise. For years my woodworking hobby involved working on my workshop. The transition to working on household furnishings was traumatic. The level of fit and finish required is much higher! And now that I do that, I don't like to spend time working on my shop anymore since I'd rather build furniture. That, in turn, has left me with increasing workshop clutter. Any day now, I 'm going to have to sacrifice a weekend to shop furniture - storage bins for offcuts > 18". Harumph.

#120 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 06:07 PM:

Julie at 100 wrote, "I did find a nicely compact way to store our manga, in the form of smallish cardboard bins with the right dimensions to hold ~15 volumes of the same series and run the entire depth of their bookcase; the bricklike formation also allows the bins to be stacked on top of each other."

Oooh, I need! Where did you find them?

Here's something I did once -- well, it took several weeks. I put a small box (shoebox or similar) in each room in my [old] house, and I dropped bits of cruft into the nearest box as I noticed it (pens, buttons, keys, badge clips, whatever). After a few months, I gathered all these boxes together, emptied them onto the rug, and sorted them into piles. (Yes, I am of the pile-making persuasion.)

I was amzed to discover that some of my piles were big enough to count as a collection; e.g., I had enough electrical bits (3-prong/2-prong converters, electrical tape, wire,etc.) that I went out and bought a[n electric blue] toolbox to put it all in, and added in other, vaguely electrical things from The Boxes in the Closet.

I tested every key on every lock, put the good ones on a key ring (found among the cruft), and recycled the rest.

And so forth. Maybe this will work for you. (At least you may find, as I did, that I don't need to buy any more combs.)

#121 ::: the zak ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 06:08 PM:

A beginning step for clearing away and tidying up all that's scattered about the floors. Get empty supermarket cartons from oranges. Grapefruit cartons are the same size. Apple cartons are not. Lemon cartons are slightly off in size. The thing about supermarket orange and grapefruit cartons are that papers can be stacked from front to back for flipping through later. Double up, put the inner carton inside its top reversed for an open sturdy carton. The doubled up open cartons can be stacked when full cattycornered a bit left and a bit right alternately.

#122 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 06:20 PM:

Todd Larson -
The Wegman's shelves sound like these; I'm up to 18 of them, plus another 14 or so from Barnes & Noble's mail order catalog 15ish years ago; they're nearly identical, but their stacking mechanisms aren't compatible.>/em>

They are very close (I've got 9 of the 3-shelf units, 6 of the 5-shelf ones, 1 CD rack, and a small 3-shelf unit), but a lighter wood (or lighter stain, in any case), and Wegmans sells them for about $30 dollars cheaper for the 3-shelf units. (and the 3-shelf units not only stack easily, when folded I can fit half-a-dozen in the back seat of my Taurus).

And, as Nancy says, they are incredibly durable - I've yet to see any of them warp, break, bend, bow, no matter the strain I put on it (one of the 5-shelf units is a four-shelf unit, because the top one cracked in transit, apparently - but that's fine, I keep my oversize game boxes on the top shelf of that one).

#123 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 06:30 PM:

Julie L. @ 100: - When my husband and I were moving into our house and amalgamating our libraries, we chose categories: fiction (arranged alphabetically by author within that); poetry & plays; dictionaries etc.; "popular science"; biography; manga; graphic novels/comics; art books; cookery book;, history; esoterica/wierd stuff; "how to" (e.g. DIY), natural history (subdivided taxonomically and by other subject), veterinary (subdivided), and "other" reference books.

We're thinking of getting signs for the different rooms - not "Dining room" but "Manga, graphic novels, hardback fiction"; "Paperback fiction C - L" etc.

We double-bank the paperback fiction (it's in aphabetical order and we have databases, so we know what we've got) but not anything that could be considered "reference."

Thena @ 116 : - Like you, I'm good at finding stuff other people have lost (a gold necklace on a field at a horse show, for example). Wish the same knack worked for things I've lost.

I try to work on the principle of "keep things where you would first look for them. Which works reasonably, until I use something and don't put it back immediately. This happens too often. Of course, if it's a small something it rapidly becomes a cat toy and moves from wherever I put it down.

My desk works on the "geological strata" method of filing ("it was three days ago that I last used it, so it should be about -this- far down."

#124 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 06:48 PM:

dcb #123:

I work on the principle that if it's small and my husband has lost it, it is almost guaranteed to be under the driver's seat in one of the cars. Or maybe wedged between the seat and the thing in the middle. Things I've lost can usually be found by "where was I when I last had it?" with the exception of some earrings, and even then, I once found the missing earring a block away, in a pothole in the middle of the street--two weeks after I'd lost it.

Things I just can't find usually respond to "how would my spouse classify this object?" on the theory that he was somehow the person who last touched it. (That said, I would prefer it if he labeled all his magic plastic boxes in the garage; it's usually obvious what they're for, but only after you've taken the top off.)

#125 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 07:07 PM:

Steffan at #49 - What you can do with home-recorded video tapes is bundle them off to They specialize in green recycling of all sorts of computer, technology, and media stuff, including VHS tape. We have several drawers of very miscellaneous computer kipple that I expect to ship off to them soon.

#126 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 07:31 PM:

B. Durbin at #66 - You're right: shallower shelves work better in narrow spaces. But you don't have to wait for a house. I have put up self-built bookshelves in a rented apartment. Shelves based on a design by Teresa, in fact. Our apartment in Redmond had a long corridor running up the central axis, and I lined one side with shelves and managed to keep virtually all of our fiction in that hallway without impeding traffic other than snagging the occasional laundry basket. When it was time to move, we unbolted them from the walls, spackled up the holes, and that was that. We heard not a squeak from the renting office about it, because we left the walls paint ready when we left.

#127 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 08:05 PM:

Scott Taylor (98): That sounds like these. I have two sets of their "multimedia" ones for paperbacks, but I can't now find the exact thing on their site. This is a fairly close approximation; here is the page with all of them.

I have four different kinds of the bigger ones, with mutually incompatible stacking systems. The Barnes & Noble ones Todd mentioned were crap plywood when I bought a set, so I got rid of those. The others came from a variety of sources, some of which no longer exist.

John L. (96): Some of my paperbacks are on 12" deep shelves, in double rows. The front row is turned down, so that the books in the back row are only half covered. I like your solution, but it does involve extra material (to raise the back row).

#128 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 08:30 PM:

Potentially of interest:

How to Find Lost Objects

I haven't tried his methods - I haven't remembered in the moment - but it seems very sensible.

Regarding Greendisk - we filled one of their smaller technotrash cans in twenty minutes. They take not only media, but also hardware, including computer boards, rechargable batteries, and dead small-electronics like cell phones.

#129 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 08:55 PM:

CDs, DVDs, videotapes, and so forth... I bought a large "Billy" bookshelf from IKEA, and reduced the depth of each shelf and side piece by 5" with a circular saw; also used the saw to cut a groove in the side pieces to match the groove in the cut-off bits. I also got a couple of extra shelves, reduced their depth, and drilled some extra holes into the side pieces to give me more flexibility for shelf positions. It was a bit of work, but it gave me a nice-looking shelf unit at a good price, which holds a lot of stuff with very little wasted space. It fits very nicely into a nook beside a door frame. IKEA does sell "Billy"-style shelf units for CDs/DVDs, but they're very narrow.

#130 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 09:37 PM:

Somewhere a long ways up someone said that organization is being able to see everything: yes. Oh, yes. I recently moved desks at work and realized that while I had piles everywhere, I had never put anything in the side drawers, and the center drawer was almost empty. I don't remember that drawers exist. I don't remember that I have things in them. I have things I *like*, including candy and scent, that I forget about because they are in drawers.

#131 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 09:39 PM:

Pfusand @120, wrt manga storage: I got my cardboard bins here-- item #061126, the 12"x6"x4.5" ones. Unfortunately(?), they have to be ordered in bundles of 50... though come to think of it, most of mine are now in use; they're also the perfect size for DVDs. Some of their other sizes would probably match up with standard paperbacks, if necessary.

For a while, I was avidly watching one of the decluttering shows on cable tv, but mostly gave up after hearing the professional declutterers repeatedly say, "Every time you buy a new book, get rid of at least one of your old ones." Umm, NO. However, I did glean the general idea that a sizeable part of decluttering is simply having a lot of storage containers that look tidy when closed.

#132 ::: Torie ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 10:10 PM:

Pfft, you don't need a book, just call me and I'll come clean it up for you again. I love organizing other people. Remember all those manuscripts I found that you forgot you had?

#133 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 10:27 PM:

I have a severe push-pull problem with clutter. I want to push it all out the door, but I want to pull it all close to my heart, too.

I'm getting better at not adding to the pile, but I have a panic reaction to getting rid of clothes or books, because my mother used to arbitrarily purge these things from my belongings when I was young, without consulting me. My paperwork, though, I can envision getting rid of old hard-copies of for-hire work.

All the books mentioned in this thread look interesting, if terrifying. Thanks for the heads-up!

#134 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 10:36 PM:

Teresa @ 82

Um ... thread (not a whole lot, but you could do small stuff), pins, English-style bobbins, several books, the cookie pillow-with-removable-bolster that my father made (and it's filled with well-packed sawdust: good luck getting a pin into it, because it's very solid), and I have also a 'beginner's kit' with a sturdy foam cookie pillow and plastic English bobbins (and spangling material), and wooden Belgian bobbins.

(Actually, I think I'd keep three or four pairs of bobbins around, because they're handy when you're braiding small things.)

#135 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 11:19 PM:

Julie, #131: after hearing the professional declutterers repeatedly say, "Every time you buy a new book, get rid of at least one of your old ones."

What's wrong with those people, anyhow? Do they never re-read a book, or do they think that books are some sort of interchangeable parts, or what?

Ingrid, #133: my mother used to arbitrarily purge these things from my belongings when I was young, without consulting me

Ouch! I think my mother tried that once -- and I made such a scene, for days on end, that she never did it again. But then, I was ferociously territorial from a very young age, and my parents weren't physically abusive, which is what it would have taken to make me submissive.

Would it be feasible for you to reframe the action of culling clothes or books as a victory over your mother? SHE would have taken away things you liked, but YOU can let go of things you no longer want or need, which means that SHE no longer has power over you. Just brainstorming...

#136 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 11:31 PM:

Lee @ #135:

Would it be feasible for you to reframe the action of culling clothes or books as a victory over your mother?

Hmm. Victory seems like such an ephemeral thing. Perhaps I could start a little smaller, like imagining my apartment as panic-space versus my-space, and try to reclaim some territory, bit by bit.

Thank you for the brainstorming. Sometimes all you really need is somebody else's eyes on the problem.

#137 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 11:37 PM:

Ulrika: the problem with apartment living is more in finding a place to build the shelves rather than in putting them up, actually. It took me two years to paint my dresser because the only viable workspace we had was an unsheltered balcony, and I had to keep moving it in between coats due to excessive heat or rain. (On the other hand, I have a superb paint job on the thing. Just white but oh so smooth and likely to last a lifetime.)

Serge, that cracked me up. I appreciate well-done puns. (Even when inspiration leafs me and I cannot answer them as I should, in kind.)

The Ikea Hacker site has an entry on setting display cabinets in between hallway studs That really looks like something I'd like to do. Shelf space AND no loss of walking space. Oh yeah.

I actually do have a DVD shelf for (some) paperbacks, but we're so limited in space that I have to go more vertical than the typical DVD shelf goes. And as for "perfect bookshelf," my ideal also involves a 5º backwards tilt, a trick I saw used in the bookstore where I worked. As a native Californian and the daughter of an engineer, the extra stability really appeals to me.

And despite the preview, it looks as though my prior entry was especially error-ridden. Sorry. Not a good thing to do to a bunch of readers.

#138 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 11:41 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 127 -

Again, those are close (although mine don't have the top shelf) -

This is one of the three-shelf units, with the CD storage rack on top of it, filled with paperbacks. (and, wow, it's a little disturbing how easy it is to tell what some of those titles are, even from a cellphone camera - albeit a high-resolution one - the EnV's little pic-grabber isn't too shabby)

This is the far wall of the living room. That's one cd-shelf and a 3-shelf, two stacked 3-shelves, a 5-shelf, and then two more sets of stacked three-shelf units - the last one will be another cd-shelf and a three-shelf, if I can ever find another one.

(That wall is all fiction, graphic novels, DVDs and music CDs. Oh, and tchotchkes* of various sorts. My non-fiction is on bookshelves to the right of where I'm standing, and the role-playing and boardgame stuff is in my office).

*In this particular case, tchotchke definitely does not carry a connotation of ticky-tack tat or worthlessness. Toys, yes. But every thing on those shelves either was given to me for one reason or another, or is a toy I bought because I thought it was cool. And some of them are quite precious... to me, anyways.

#139 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 11:58 PM:

I have been dealing with clutter a lot for the past few years. My dad's office is a nightmare of papers. Once I found an unopened envelope from four years ago, junk mail, on top of his desk.
"What's in this?"
"I don't know."
"Can I open it?"
It was an orange air freshener. I went to throw the envelope away and put up the air freshener.
"Don't do that!"
"Put it back in the envelope. I might need it."
"But you haven't opened it in four years!"

I thought I'd managed to get them to save the old cartridge computer I had had, because I actually wanted that, but it turns out they may have thrown it away. I'm unconvinced, and will raid the basement the next time I'm home.

I was a neat person as a child because I have very strong kinesthetic tendencies, but it's degraded as I got older and started living with my fiancee, who's clean but not quite as kinesthetic as me.

I'm currently in the process of going through 3+ years of paperwork that I accumulated in a plastic bag when I had major depression and about a 1 by 4 foot space to keep all my worldly possessions in. It's taking some time, but tax season is coming up, and the pictures of the terrifying house with a two-foot pile of old mail is just what I needed to see when the job seemed daunting.

Or, I can think of the stories my mother told of cleaning out my great-grandmother's house after her death: they found a jar of string clearly labeled "pieces of string too short to use."

#140 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 12:15 AM:

Here's an interesting one.

I have a shelf-foot of paperback SF novels from an author I once liked. Considered a notable of the hard SF field, but not a great stylist. I read enjoyed them, but really can't imagine reading them again. I'd trot them down to Powells and get a few bucks, except . . . they're all signed!

But I'm too lazy to put them on eBay.

Any ideas?

#141 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 12:17 AM:

#125: "What you can do with home-recorded video tapes is bundle them off to"

Thanks! I wish I knew about that place when I threw out hundreds and hundreds of floppy disks a couple of years back.

#142 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 12:28 AM:

Stefan @ 140: Doesn't Powell's pay extra for signed books, if the signature actually adds value to them?

(And, if it doesn't, what's the point of eBaying them?)

#143 ::: Kes ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 12:37 AM:

I've read probably 75% of the clutter books on the market and have yet to find one that addresses my particular problem--What do you do when you love the person but hate his junk?
And I do mean, literally, junk--he dumpster-dives, goes curb-clearing after neighborhood yard sales, brings home cartons of books thrown out from library sales... We have a 2-car garage which cannot be entered. Boxes of baby toys and equipment (our youngest is 14). 20 years of the Journal of the American Meteorological Society, never taken out of the wrappers. National Geographic, of course. Clothes 2 sizes too small and 8 sizes too large.
And paper. Every piece of paper needs repeated scrutiny before it can be thrown out.
Me? Stuff means nothing to me. There's nothing I own that I couldn't walk away from.
I have given up and am letting the tide take over. There's no point to fighting it.

#144 ::: UrsulaV ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 12:41 AM:

I agree that nothing gets me cleaning like having a painting that needs to get done...funny how that works.

Oddly enough, though, once I got a divorce and started living alone, I suddenly got very neat (at least in comparison to my former self.) Part of it may have been an identity thing--divorce tends to make you wonder who you are, and "I am the person who lives HERE!" is as good an answer as any...and it's a much more appealing answer when the place is clean.

#145 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 01:14 AM:

Stefan, #140: Rather than eBay, have you considered trying to sell them on Amazon? Your listing stays up for 60 days instead of 10, which gives you a much better chance of actually moving the item; and anyone who searches for that book will get the link to the list of people selling used copies.

I've got a few books that would be culls if they weren't autographed. In the current stage of reorganization, they'll go into a box and get stashed in a closet to make space on the shelves.

Kes, #143: That doesn't sound good. I have a friend who lived with someone like that for over 20 years, and finally decided that she just couldn't deal with the hoarding any more. She moved out and filed for divorce a couple of years ago; she says she still loves him, but isn't willing to sacrifice her own life and space to his problem any more, and resents the time she now sees as being wasted living with someone who didn't love her enough to get help. She gave him the house in the settlement, and it's definitely going to look like the one in those pictures (or worse) by the time he dies.

I'm not saying that this is your inevitable fate, but it's certainly a possibility.

#146 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 01:16 AM:

UrsulaV @ #144: I had the same experience when my partner died. We had lived in an 1800 sq. ft. house, then a 2400 sq. ft. one, and had lived in one with 2800 sq. ft. for 7 years when he died. The need to go ahead and sell the damn thing pulled me out of the depression caused by his death enough (after a year) to look at all his "stuff" and realize I didn't need any of it. And after I went through that, there was a bunch of mine that also seemed no longer important. When I moved to my current place, 1500 sq. ft., I had most of my books (but none of his I didn't like), about a quarter of my clothes, my books, my tools, the computer and stereo, and that was it. (Oh yeah, my cars--but I got rid of 4 and only kept 3!)

Ulrika @ #125: The link to greendisk is very much appreciated!

Others: I've been in this house 4 years, and I've got things pretty well arranged as far as all the books are concerned, and still have room for more shelves as I need to build them. This is a 50's modern house, and rather than lots of windows, it has a few very large ones, which leaves plenty of unobstructed wall space. I'm still not pleased with the amount of kitchenware that's all shoved in together, but I've been buying additional storage space as I can, as well as hanging some stuff that was in cabinets in my last two kitchens.

Being in a profession that involves design, my biggest problem every time I've moved is coming up with a place to organize all my years' worth of plans. They serve as a sort of portfolio for people who aren't familiar with my work, and, even rolled up, they're ungainly and hard to store. And it seems like no two houses have similar spaces for any sort of cabinets, shelves, baskets, or whatever means I've used in the past.

The other problem is the cars. One collectible car and its spare parts basically takes up both stalls of a 2-car garage, assuming I'm not actively working on it, and I currently have two. My assorted tools, equipment, and supplies for my business take up one stall. Which all means that my beautifully oversized 2-car garage is ridiculously packed, and that the driveway overflow problem is constant and rampant.

#147 ::: Allen J. Baum ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 02:37 AM:

Ayse@#117: narrow shelves
When we built our house, we made sure it was accessible. That meant wider than usual hallways, and don't think we didn't notice that paperback-depth bookcases would fit there. We also moved some doors a few inches to one side so that paperback bookshelves would fit behind them.

I have two brothers with serious clutter problems. On marriage dissolved because of it (though they're still friends), and another's significant other is either just as bad or just doesn't notice.

The first brother has gotten worse since the heart attack that eliminated his short term memory - he buys stuff because he simply can't remember whether he has one or not, and he's afraid to throw anything away because once its gone, its permanently gone - he won't even remember he had it (or, if he did, whether he got rid of it).

Its a nasty problem - he knows he has it, but he's paralyzed every time he has to make a decision regarding cleaning up.

The second brother says the first brother has spurred him to clean up - but he has nasty ADHD, and never gets around to it.

I managed to (mostly? partially?) avoid the problem. I have categories of stuff I will generally keep:
tools - ever useful,
financial papers (culled yearly)
collections - of which I have a bunch
We do set aside stuff to donate or freecycle or sell - that works, but we have a compensating estate-sale habit which feeds the collection(s). though, even though

#148 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 02:38 AM:

This is all sounding dreadfully familiar. I had a fair bit of clutter accumulate during the decade I spent in grad school, not merely because I had thesis materials scattered across most of the house, but because I couldn't stand any additional level of stress and disruption -- which decluttering would have required. (There was this convoluted chain of "before X, must do Y" involved.)

I promised myself that after the thesis was signed off (5 years ago now) I'd get the house cleaned up. Still working on it, but I've got about 80% of the process done and have developed a few strategies that worked for me. The house decluttering turned into a more general project that I call "life cleaning" which has involved a decluttering of habits and thoughts as well as possessions.

The most useful thing was realizing that I wasn't so much attached to "things" as I was attached to my fantasies about those things. Getting rid of books I'd never read and never was likely to read actually meant giving up the dream of living a life in which I did read and use those books. Getting rid of half-completed craft projects hurt because I was cutting off the fantasy of being the person who completed those projects. On the other hand, when I finally got around to throwing out all my handwritten notes and drafts for my thesis, I was happy to acknowledge that what was going into the recycling bin was my insecurity about the project, not any useful information. In the end, what worked best was turning my own psychological kinks into the basis for the decluttering (like my obsession for cataloging and structured organization).

My packrattism is the type that stems from being a crafty and fixer-upper type of person who has lived on a shoestring for significant periods. When I came to terms with the fact that it "costs" me more to store all those things that might come in handy some day than it would to buy new the few that I do come to need, suddenly it was easy to let go. And Freecycle has become one of my deities: there are a lot of things I'm happy to give away but would keep rather than put in the garbage.

And it may be heresy to folks here, but I went through my non-fiction books and divested myself of about 10% of the total. My next big divestment project is the fiction and I expect to get rid of about 50%. I can't even keep up with my new to-read stack -- what am I doing holding on to books that I've already shelved that I know I'm never going to read again (or, in some cases, ever)?

I've even applied my own personal version of feng shui -- a sort of workflow analysis that involves not storing things in locations that ensure I'll never use them. I don't think my particular decluttering systems would work for anyone else, but once I had the psychological elbow room to get started, the progress has been amazing.

#149 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 03:06 AM:

Paul Lalonde @119 -- Any day now, I'm going to have to sacrifice a weekend to shop furniture - storage bins for offcuts > 18". Harumph.

Poster tubes are your friend!

#150 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 07:16 AM:

Debbie @111:

Yes, I became a woodworker because our house was severely deficient in storage space. After I got a table saw (yay!) for Christmas from my wife, I made several tables and self standing bookcase units. The bathrooms especially were storage deficient; no medicine cabinet or shelf storage at all, so I made some. I made a silverware divider that fit in a drawer in the kitchen, and some tilt-out containers that fit in the useless space right under the sink basins.

Paul @119: You're right, the level of precision goes up dramatically when the furniture goes in the house instead of the garage! I too started in the garage, building storage shelves in odd corners of that room, and then some workspace counters for myself. Once my creations were to go inside the house, though, I discovered a brand new level of frustration...

#151 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 08:46 AM:

Teresa @ 82: I'm not a clutterer, only untidy, and my memory of where things are is temporal, not spatial. I always know when I touched or used anything last and if that was earlier or later than another thing. So I can easily iterate from one thing to the next to the one I'm looking for along a time line. I'm not known as skilled in finding things, but for obsessive temporal memory.

Other effects I have seen:

A "tidy clutterer" who not only knows exactly where her own stuff is, but also where everyone else's is. She is just highly attuned to stuff, she has been able to find a person's keys in a car packed full of identically-looking bags, because she remembered one of the bags jingling when they were put into the car.

A clutterer who knows where everthing he needs is. He does not need much -- about 10 per cent of the stuff he has, I guess. Those 10 per cent accumulate in the middle of the rooms.

An untidy clutterer who never finds anything, and in looking for it raises local entropy to heat-death: Everything she owns is on the ground in a flat layer.

And a clutterer of the "my mother is insane" level, who knew he had about ten of whatever item he was looking for, but also knew that it would be much faster to buy a new one than to look for the existing ones.

It feels like there is a pattern, but I cannot describe it yet. It also seems that most of my friends are clutterers, now I think of it, at least from where I look at it...

#152 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 09:05 AM:

PJ Evans: English-style bobbins...

You mean the Midlands kind, the ~4-inch ones that you have to spangle? I love those and I don't get how people can work with those great bulbous Continental types.

#153 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 09:38 AM:

Carrie, 152: Hey, I *like* my bulbous Continental ones! Partly because I bought 'em in Brussels, but also partly because they feel right when I pick them up. I can't explain it in words, sorry...

#154 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 10:15 AM:

TexAnne: Well, then, that means there are more Midlands in the world for me. :)

My big problem with lacemaking, though, is I don't want to make lace so much as I want a pillow full of pretty, carved, decorated, spangled bobbins. The actual making of lace is rather secondary.

#155 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 10:24 AM:

Julie, @ 131: after hearing the professional declutterers repeatedly say, "Every time you buy a new book, get rid of at least one of your old ones."

Works for clothes, IMO. Not for books.

Ingrid @ 133: my mother used to arbitrarily purge these things from my belongings when I was young, without consulting me

I had that happen occasionally. It helped in strange and probably destructive ways: I was already intellectually opposed to owning more stuff than one needs. Having things I loved disappear for no good reason brought the message home emotionally that one should not value stuff because one could lose it any moment.

Steven Jones @ 140: Offer them as collector items on amazon market?

Kes @ 143: Don't live in the same flat. If you share a house, maybe create a flat-inside-the-house. With a lockable door.

I used to live with my best friends, and the clutter just ate my energy. I was moody and irritable all the time and lost my temper over the stupidest things. Never again. An alternative might be fatalism: if you can deal with owning nothing and living in the cracks, everything around becomes a force of nature and nothing personal. (I tried that, didn't work, though.)

LMB MacAllister @ 146: Being in a profession that involves design, my biggest problem every time I've moved is coming up with a place to organize all my years' worth of plans.

Cardboard tubes and wine racks?

#156 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 10:57 AM:

Carrie @ 152

More like plain wood, possibly home-made; if you want spangles on them, you'd have to drill holes. (I suspect the bobbins have enough weight to stay put without them.) The ones that need spangling are the plastic ones in the beginner's kit; I have a spool of wire and several big beads (in pairs) as well as the little stuff they came with.

#157 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 11:19 AM:

All this talk of cleaning up the clutter reminds me:

Oscar party at my place next month (Word document)

#158 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 11:27 AM:

I suspect the bobbins have enough weight to stay put without them.

Probably not Midlands, then, because those are basically sticks.

#159 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 11:36 AM:

inge, an associate recommended the cardboard tubes once, but sonotubes are surprisingly expensive and tend to accumulate a permanent dust layer on their not-quite-slick surfaces. I've used wine racks, one behind the other, to good effect, and have two in a box in the garage. The problem is finding an accessible place near the room to be used as an office (here, it's the smaller bedroom) that is at least 32" deep. One of the few good things about my last house, aside from its being big and inexpensive, was that it only had one door in one room that was actually in a corner. That presented interesting places in each room that were out of the way but would hold furniture, or, in the case of the office, large wicker baskets full of plans.

#160 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 11:44 AM:

Scott Taylor (138): The CD racks in your first picture look the same as the ones I have. The top is removable.

That picture is from right after I moved in and got the books put up. By now, most of the shelves have beanie babies and other stuffed animals perched on the edges in front of the books.

#161 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 12:19 PM:

#144, UrsulaV -

I don't think that saying you're tidier because you're not living with your ex is necessarily a slur on the ex. I think that any two people together are likely to be less tidy than they are apart, simply because most of us have internal rules that prohibit moving or discarding things that belong to someone else. If you live with someone, you can't toss out/put away that magazine/catalog/bookcase without seeking at least some assent from the other person involved. That's a potentially significant friction in the decluttering process, even when the answer is yes, do what you like. Given the wrong combination of "Spouse A won't move Spouse B's stuff" and "Spouse B won't put their stuff away," and the potential for untidiness grows a lot.

Or maybe that's just me, in which case it might be an important clue in my own clutter problems.

#148, Heather Rose Jones -

The attachment to fantasies about things is a realization that is slowly helping me as well. It has, thus far, helped me more in not buying tat than in getting rid of what I already have. I want to be the person who sets a pretty table/relaxes in a candlelit bathtub/does yoga. But I'm not, and buying more tableware/candles and bath oil/yoga books won't change that.

#162 ::: Laina ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 12:46 PM:

Another possibility for double shelving books The new issue of Family Handyman (February 2008) has a tip about cutting hollow PVC fenceposts to the length of the bookshelf to provide a platform for the back tier of paperbacks. Might be easier than building wooden boxes for some of us.

#163 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 01:33 PM:

Stefan @140: If all of the signed books are by the same author, the price you can get for them is mostly going to depend on finding one (or for auction format, at least two) fan(s) of that author who would instantly sign over their first-born eyeteeth to get so much this-authory goodness all at once. Is there an online nexus for this author's fans which you could discreetly observe and eventually drop a "for sale" notice into?

Have you checked eBay (incl. completed listings, which can be added as a criterion in the more complex search screens) to see whether anyone else has tried to sell signed books from the same author, and if so how much they got for them?

#164 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 01:37 PM:

Teresa at #82 "In your own estimation, are you better than average at spotting the object or objects in your environment that can be used to address some emergency or sudden need?"

I wouldn't say that my clutter-driving way of seeing things is specifically about emergency or urgent need. I seem to be more attuned -- when my brain is in artsy-craftsy-build-things mode anyway -- to spotting ways that objects could be re-purposed or converted in interesting ways to Make Art or at least Do Crafts, or otherwise fill some functional or aesthetic niche that is currently going vacant. All I need is the time to do that project, you see. Gods save me from acquiring more projects.

Looking at the Ikea Hacker site, or reading Martha Stewart Living, or watching Changing Rooms, just heighten this itch to acquire anything I spot and feel inspired by, and therefore might, given time, eventually paint with black lacquer or apply decoupage images of ferns to. In many ways, the real blessing to jewelry-making and polymer clay as hobbies is that the hoarded materials are small and can be shoved into a drawer or two. Plus a closet. A jolly big walk in closet. And then there's the garage...

And I do, periodically, actually make things.

#165 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 01:40 PM:

Laina #162:

When I tried the double-shelving, I just used 2 2x4s. Minimum effort on the part of the implementor (who was not me, as I'm large tool unfriendly).

#166 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 03:12 PM:

I have had a long and frequently successful battle with clutter in my craft space (my bindery).

My inability to work in a chaotic environment is in perpetual conflict with my inability to throw scraps of things out. That bit of leather could always become an onlay, I think, and that fragment of decorated paper might make the cover to one of the mini-tomes I use to experiment with book structures.

The problem is exacerbated by the habit of several years of spending money on my hobby when I don't have time to spend on it. Buying a few goatskins, with their promise of books to come, is as soothing as actually binding a book in stressful times.

My current victory is mostly the product of a ruthless cull before moving*, plus the advantage of moving away from the nearby tannery. The only local supplier of leather I have now speaks no English and sells mostly eel skins and chicken feet. There is a fantastic paper store nearby, but it's a morning's errand, and I can usually resist.

All of this moves me closer to actually using all of these lovely materials to bind more books. I hope.

* The local primary schools have craft materials for some time to come as a result.

#167 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 03:21 PM:


I'm doing something similar with my yarn stash. I'm resisting, as hard as I can, the impulse to buy more. I am on Ravelry, and just knowing how much I already have, and what I have planned for it, makes it much easier to pass up all but the best bargains.

#168 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 03:48 PM:

inge @155:

Ingrid @ 133: my mother used to arbitrarily purge these things from my belongings when I was young, without consulting me

I had that happen occasionally. It helped in strange and probably destructive ways: I was already intellectually opposed to owning more stuff than one needs. Having things I loved disappear for no good reason brought the message home emotionally that one should not value stuff because one could lose it any moment.

For me it was more a declaration of war -- a war that continues to this day.

#169 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 04:11 PM:

Cardboard egg-cartons work well for the back row of paperbacks, and are thus kept out of the recycling bin, and it isn't wasteful to toss them when you finally get 4" bookcases.

#170 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 05:30 PM:

We moved from a place with a 2 car garage to one with a 1 car garage. And no good attic.

The Horror.

It was a major victory last weekend when we got a car back into the garage. It's still a tight fit, but it's in there and drying out a bit. Now I just need to figure out what I want to do with textbooks and notes from school, now more than 10 years past, as that's a good portion of the boxes left in there.

#171 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 05:35 PM:

Don Aslett (if I'm thinking of the right fellow) doesn't work for me at all, because he seems to boil it down to willpower and "just do it" in a way that absolutely paralyzes me.

There's no One True Guru of Declutter, and Aslett's approach certainly isn't for everyone. I did like his encouraging approach (a little decluttering is better than none, and it's NOT an insurmountable task), and that clutter is less about being untidy than it is about other, underlying emotional things that make us hang on to our stuff.

Especially since woo-woo books about Feng Shui or "you go, honey!" stuff like Fly Lady stimulates my involuntary eye-roll reflex. YMMV.

Sadly, both Mr. Mythago and the kids are packrats, so we have those tiresome (but I suppose, to an outsider, comic) episodes where I pack up crap, Mr. M. panics and either reclaims half of it, or promises to sort through for useful stuff and then never does, because God help me if I were to just pitch it out and not tell him.

Although I suppose the worst-case scenario is, he throws me out and I no longer have to deal with his clutter. Hm....

#172 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 06:07 PM:

B. Durbin @ #137 - The bookcases I built in Redmond were constructed on the living room floor. As I recall, I did get pretty stiff from all the bending and squatting to work on them, but there wasn't any point in getting saw-horses, since I wouldn't have room to store them, after. (I now realize I might have been able to rent some from Home Despot.) But using the cordless drill and having everything pre-cut to length at the lumber yard made for fairly quick work and I don't think I was cluttering up the entry for more than a couple of days.

On the other hand, I confess I decided to skip painting the shelves. That would have involved tarps and saw-horses and drying time, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice the living room for that long.

#173 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 06:33 PM:

Ingrid @ 168: Our home life was stressful enough without adding another battle I couldn't win.
Plus, as I said, I was already feeling that valuing things was immoral, so the anger I felt was always laced with guilt about my weakness.

My counters to the throwing away were generally passive-aggressive as hell, but the fun thing is, they worked. ("You are right, I don't really need a coat. I will go without one this winter." "I've bought this book for the third time now, for some reason it keeps getting lost.

It is strange how stuff can be used to fight proxy wars with oneself and others... I wonder if there is any relationship to how food and size is used and perceived.

#174 ::: Suzanne F. ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 07:58 PM:

Lee @ 54

The Camazotz De-clutter Plan: Organizing Tips from the Happiest Sadist

#175 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 09:44 PM:

I've been trying to declutter since the beginning of December. I've taken out bags and bags of the stuff, shredded multiple trash containers full of old papers, brought a big load over to Goodwill, and somehow my apartment looks exactly the same.

Re: #82: In your own estimation, are you better than average at spotting the object or objects in your environment that can be used to address some emergency or sudden need? Do other people say you're good at that?

Yes. This is my major problem when decluttering: I can always come up with a situation in which a given object would be useful. Or potentially life-saving.

Actual example: While cleaning out one of the unopened containers from my move (three years earlier), I came across some meds I had hanging around from a surgery (four years earlier). Please note that I couldn't take these pills, even if they hadn't already expired -- they made me throw up. By all rational standards, these pills are completely useless to me.

My first thought, when I picked them up to toss? "I can't toss these. If there were ever a zombie apocalypse, I'd regret it."

I wish I were joking, but that's actually what went through my mind. It's completely irrational, and I know it's completely irrational -- and yet. Every damn thing I throw out puts me through a gauntlet of potential uses. It's exhausting work.

I'm trying to convince myself that if the zombie apocalypse did come, I'd be better off being in a nice clean apartment where I could find my baseball bat quickly than in a messy apartment full of potentially useful items I couldn't put my hands on.

#176 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 09:47 PM:

LMB MacAlister @#159:

Re. storing plans: I've found that a 36" bookshelf with a cafe curtain rod (the sort that can be lifted up off the support easily are best) keeps plans very nicely in a horizontal format in a lot less space. You may have to add extra shelves, and it's helpful to put labels on the shelves saying what's there, but it's a storage format that fits more easily into a home than baskets of plans scattered about.

Of course, I've recently gone and had all my large-format non-digital work digitized so I can get rid of the rolls and huge flat sheets. It was expensive, but it's ever so freeing to stop thinking I need to find a place in the house or the home office to fit a large set of plan drawers.

#177 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 09:52 PM:

G. Jules: How would old pills help you in a zombie apocalypse?

I'm not being facetious. I'm trying to bone up on my anti-zombie measures because I have a particularly annoying friend who [honestly believes|is pretending|thinks it's funny to pretend] he has become a zombie.

And I have a bunch of old pills I just purged from the cabinet (nothing like a thread on cluttering to get you all worked up).

#178 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 10:06 PM:

Re: #177: The logic (what little there is of it) is based on the assumption that a zombie apocalypse would knock out the pharmaceutical industry and leave me unable to get basic drugs. If I were to get an infected cut while fleeing from the undead hordes, those out-of-date antibiotics that made me puke would be better than nothing.

It's completely idiotic. I know it's completely idiotic. And yet I find myself coming up with crap arguments like this for why I might someday need every item I try to throw out. I can get over it the first hundred times or so, but cumulatively it becomes overwhelming.

#179 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 10:13 PM:

G Jules: perhaps an organized first-aid and general What Jim Recommends kit would help. Toss the old antibiotics, get proper equipment. It may not decrease the mass or volume of stuff in the apartment, but it will be legitimately potentially useful rather than spuriously so.

#180 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2008, 12:17 AM:

Ayse @ #176: Thanks! That's an idea I'd never heard or come up with. (I'm assuming you're suggesting I store the plans long-wise in the shelving.) A 36" set of shelves would actually fit cross-wise in the strange "walk-in" closet attached to that smaller bedroom.

G Jules @ #175, 178: Thank you for the insight into my sister's thought processes. Sorry you're there, but not much I can do about it. But while you're waiting for the zombies to come, do away with those spare antibiotics (or not), and buy a case or two or three of triple-action antibiotic the next time your pharmacy super-store has it on sale. Or even better, buy enough cases to use as a barricade across the sliding glass door in the living room!!

#181 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2008, 12:22 AM:

Ulrika @ 172: When my wife moved her stuff cross-country to join me after we got married, I used my dad's wood shop (not very far at all from where she was living) to make the difficult pieces for a pair of bookcases, and put them in the van with all her stuff. And then got pre-cut pieces at the local lumberyard to fill them out, and assembled them on the living room floor.

Mine were always intended to be sanded and stained and polyurethane-varnished, but it's been seven years and two additional moves and it still hasn't happened.

A large part of the problem is that ... well, I'd have to find some place to put the books for a week!

(And, of course, the problems of not having a place to do it -- at least we have a garage now, and in the summer it'll be a reasonable place to do this sort of work.)

G. Jules @ 175: Yes. It's that "And it looks exactly the same" that's the hardest part, for me. It just doesn't end.

Last time we were moving, it felt like it would never end, even though I was free to box all of it up because it was being moved rather than thrown out.... (But, then, we had a couple of weeks, with no time off work, to do it in, and it all had to go.)

#182 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2008, 03:11 AM:

LMB: Exactly, lengthwise on the shelves. If you're not working with individual pages (which tend to squash slightly), rolls store very nicely that way. In my experience it's pretty rare that somebody comes up with that particular solution, but when they do it changes how they store stuff. I kept all my trace drawings for carved pieces like that for years, and everybody who visited my studio would gasp with awe at the shelves rather than my art.

G Jules: I think that even if drugs are useful in a zombie attack, more useful is keeping them up to date, as noted. Or better yet, anything that will get you the hell away from the zombie. I say this as somebody who has been attacked by a (fake) zombie. So perhaps swap them for an electric scooter? The key here is to try to change the thinking from, "this would be useful if zombies showed up and closed all the pharmacies just as I needed medication," to, "well, this would be handy for that situation but not as useful as a really zippy scooter, so I don't need to keep this."

And oh, yes: not finishing bookcases because doing so would mean moving the books, I bought some unfinished bookcases about twelve years ago, and they are yet unfinished because I made the mistake of just putting books on them thinking I could paint them later. At this point I've decided not to bother. I have bigger fish to fry in my handygirl lifestyle.

#183 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2008, 07:08 AM:

I should add that I don't think "This would be useful in case of zombie attack" for everything -- that was just the most extreme example. Other can't-throw-it-away excuses range from "I'll need that horrible fabric if I decide to make a Christmas cushion for my parent's cat to sit on" to "I can't throw that tatty old blanket away, the North Atlantic Deep Water might shut down." If I could wave a magic wand and destroy the possibility of zombies, I would find another reason.

I'm getting somewhat better at catching myself doing this. Once I access the (il)logic behind my desire to keep whatever-it-is, I can usually short-circuit it and get rid of the item. It just gets exhausting to do.

Since starting the project in December, I've gotten rid of four trash bags of Goodwill-ables, five bags of books, several stacks of magazines, and at least ten trash bags of shredder confetti and assorted trash, so I am getting somewhere. It's just slow going.

I'm by no means pathological about clutter -- my apartment is bad enough to bug me, but not really that bad on an absolute scale -- but I wouldn't be at all surprised if a more extreme version of this thought process were motivating some of the people who are.

#184 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2008, 08:22 AM:

Jules @ 175: I've taken out bags and bags of the stuff, shredded multiple trash containers full of old papers, brought a big load over to Goodwill, and somehow my apartment looks exactly the same.

As long as the clutter removed has been compressed into some closed space (closets, drawers, boxes, garages, spare rooms), you can remove an amazing amount of stuff without seeing a difference.

After my roommates moved out, I removed a small van full of SCA gear, eight 120 litre bags of paper and 12 of the same bags of assorted trash, and the only effect was that I could put the vacuum cleaner back into the broom closet where it had drifted out of two years ago and had never fit back in.

While one of the rooms which seemed not fit for human habitation became quite neat after I picked up everything on the floor -- hardly enough for three bags.

#185 ::: Donald Delny ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2008, 09:03 AM:

Mark Pilgrim on dive into mark had an excellent, short post on getting rid of stuff, yesterday. It starts like this:

In the back of the attic were two boxes, curiously labeled “Attachments,” a wry perversion of the Buddhist principle of the same name. These boxes were hastily taped shut almost 15 years ago; I have not opened them since....

#186 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2008, 01:56 PM:

Ayse- I am not quite following the placement and purpose of the cafe curtain rod. Do you attach the rod in such a way as to prevent rolled-up plans from rolling off the shelf?

While trying to figure this out, I started envisioning ways in which you could attach multiple cafe curtain rods underneath the shelves of a bookcase, or across the front edge of each shelf, in order to keep the rolled up plans hanging on individual rods while still, possibly, using the bookcase for books...

#187 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2008, 02:00 PM:

Brooks - All moves expand to take up the available time +20%. We were still moving stuff out of our last apartment a week after the movers came. (Poor choice of movers, but still.)

Arguably, we're *still* completing that move, since we haven't yet emptied the storage space that some of the last ditch clean-out went into.

#188 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2008, 02:24 PM:

Ulrika, the purpose of the curtain rod is to keep the plans from rolling off the shelf, so you can stack them a couple of layers high without having to be very delicate around them.

The thing about rolls of architectural plans, as opposed to rolls of drawings of other sorts, is that they are often several inches thick and very heavy. So threading them on the curtain rods doesn't work very well at all geometrically or in terms of load.

I've often considered using the classic storage units which are these racks of metal rods to hang the plans on, open and unrolled, but they take up a lot of room and I find that nice tidy bundles of plans get all frayed at the ends and ripped from casual office accidents. Those things work fine when you're actively working on a project, but when you get to archival storage they're kind of limiting. Rolling plans keeps everything very secure, and getting stuff into a bookcase keeps it relatively safe.

#189 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2008, 04:16 PM:

Ayse, those nifty plan hangers such as those one sees in the offices of structural engineers and construction contractors become no longer an option when one has housecritters, as I do. It took me a year to teach one dog not to use venetian blinds as a ladder. Regular office mishaps are bad enough, but I'm afraid the Jungle of Hanging Paper would prove to be far too much temptation.

I went today to buy a few materials that I didn't have on hand to build a set of those shelves into one end of my office closet. I have enough room to make them 15" deep by 37" wide, and I can use one shelf for two stacks of smaller ones. Unlike bookshelves, I shouldn't have to use 1x2 reinforcement under the 1x5 shelving. Now I can move all the plans from their temporary location from the Oldsmobile parts shelf in the garage. Thanks!

#190 ::: Dermott McSorley ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2008, 06:33 PM:

Adding this late,Read the thread and decided to cool down.My wife has a problem with clutter,and it has caused much grief,there are times when I really want to hold her feet to the fire and say" what were you thinking!" Its the elephant in the room. I dont want it thought that its all her fault, I have many flaws as well.
Some ideas which work to cut down my clutter are that I have two book cases only.As new books come in old books go out,I donate them to a local hospital(where I work,)Don't even think of renting storage space it only prolonges the pain (and costs money)
Also selling on Ebay (selling please note)is your friend.I have gotten noticable cash doing this.Less clutter money for bills, whats not to like
A thought, I dont have the slightest idea how to list on Ebay. I brought my stuff to a friend who does deal on Ebay and went over what I selling.If you are in such a situation use a friend or use a local dealer .Having some is much better than none
Deal honestly.

#191 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2008, 09:39 PM:

Just now, while waiting for the computer to boot up, I cleared up the drift of paperwork that had been accumulating on my desk for the last year or so. (Paid bills, mostly, which had stayed on the desk in default of anywhere particular to go next.) It looks much nicer now.

#192 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2008, 01:23 AM:

Bobbins - I have two large textile mill bobbins that I use decoratively, I suppose. I also have yarn bobbins that I use when I do intarsia and also use to handle my beading thread and keep it from getting tangled when it's put away for the night.

#193 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2008, 09:30 AM:

"There are those who can live without books and there are those who cannot. I am one of those who cannot." (with apologies to Aldo Leopold, whose original version I go with also).

Getting rid of books generally leads to the frustrating experience of looking (and paying!)for another copy a few years later.

We bought our house with "room for books" in mind. Apart from the bookcases/bookshelves lining most of the walls in most rooms, I have three lines of back-to-back bookcases taking up half my office/library, mostly full height (approx. Ikea "Billy" height) but some half height so the cats can jump up and onto the tops of the tallest ones.

I've just calculated we've got 772 linear feet of bookshelf space - and we're planning 64 ft more (at least) in the converted loft.

We're both fervent believers in "there is no such thing as too many books."

#194 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2008, 11:54 AM:

While I've found tolerable ways to store many things, I'm still looking for the perfect way to store fabric - the current method (large (watertight) plastic boxes) is fine enough, but still requires digging through the entire bloody box to find anything - ideally something that treats the fabric well, takes up a comparative minimum of space, and is easy to sort through.

#195 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2008, 12:57 PM:

This thread incited me to clean the junk out of a closet, put the Christmas stuff back into the attic, throw out a junky Ikea hamper and four flat, old, water-stained pillows (I was saving the pillows in case of emergency overnight guests), finish up my bags of Goodwill donations (which as soon as I finish my cup of tea, I will be dropping off), and decide once and for all to donate the cat-chewed Vellux blanket to the animal shelter.

I'm not sure why I thought I'd need to save the old nasty pillows and cat-chewed blanket in case of emergency overnight guests. It wouldn't be very good hospitality, first of all. I have three beautiful afghans, crocheted for me by various family members, to offer guests who need blankets. And besides, never once have we had an overnight guest who didn't bring his or her own pillow. In extreme cases, I could always swallow my principles and buy a pillow at the 24-hour Walmart.

It's kind of nice to actually feel normal levels of energy and motivation. Honestly, that's why the junk-house links frighten me. When I'm feeling low, I truly can't get myself motivated to get off the couch, much less engage in the physical and emotional work of getting rid of junk, or even doing basic tidying-up. People always say "It just got out of hand" and what frightens me is that I know exactly what they mean. I can understand exactly how that could happen. If my influx of stuff was greater, I think it could happen to me.

I guess it makes a difference that I don't feel a compulsion to acquire more stuff. But if I got a newspaper or newspapers, if I subscribed to more magazines, then I can completely understand how those could pile up. I have enough trouble contending with a relatively normal stream of mail.

#196 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2008, 03:33 PM:

Caroline @ 195 ...
It's kind of nice to actually feel normal levels of energy and motivation. Honestly, that's why the junk-house links frighten me. When I'm feeling low, I truly can't get myself motivated to get off the couch, much less engage in the physical and emotional work of getting rid of junk, or even doing basic tidying-up. People always say "It just got out of hand" and what frightens me is that I know exactly what they mean.

It's not so much feeling low for me, as much as having stress levels high enough that I'm sure they're taking years off my life.

OTOH, I've found that the "15 minute thing" (I'm sure there's a better term, but basically to just do small things as you can) is surprisingly helpful/effective, even when it seems like I've got no time for anything.

#197 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2008, 03:35 PM:

I'm currently working on clearing out my dad's house. My mom passed away three years ago, and he had not moved any of her things since. We are also having problems in that the newer addition to the house was poorly roofed, and so all of the plaster and insulation in the ceiling is falling in in that portion of the house, rendering it uninhabitable. The entire experience is filling me with a sense of hopelessness, because I have to overcome his inertia to get anything done, or face getting yelled at when I throw away something "important" like an entire 30 gallon trash can full of rags. I came in with good intentions to sell as much as possible on ebay and craigslist, but have since decided that donation is sufficient if it gets it out of the house so I don't have to look at it anymore. There are 7 full size dressers in the house, and at least two in storage, and they're all real wood. There are 6 desks. We have a huge surplus of STUFF, and his solution to not having what he needs where he needs it is to go buy a new plastic table or rolling storage rack from Sam's Club. I know what needs to be done, but the feeling of powerlessness to actually do it is not doing great things for my mental health. Thank you for the encouragement of showing how bad it could be, and giving me motivation to get in and start digging through and getting some of the hard work done, even if the thought of the task ahead makes me want to cry late at night.

#198 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2008, 04:13 PM:

EClaire @197:

It sounds like a very difficult situation.

All of us who have wrestled with having too much stuff, or having loved ones who have become buried under their things, know how hard it can be. I'm sure dealing with a (relatively) recent bereavement just makes it harder, too.

I don't have any solutions beyond what you see on this thread. I just wanted to say good luck, because it's a worthwhile thing you're trying to do.

(Crying late at night is fine, by the way; it's often a necessary outlet after a hard day. Just try to remember that things will look better and more manageable the next morning.)

#199 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2008, 05:24 PM:

EClaire @ 197

You might also want to talk to your father's doctor, becuse it sounds to me like he's depressed and needs help to get moving again. (My mother went through that, too: once they found an antidepressant that she could live with, she had many fewer 'lump on a log' days.)

#200 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2008, 06:46 PM:

He has at least realized that it might have been depression causing it, while he spent the last 3 years thinking he was being very stoic about the whole thing. There are things that he can motivate himself to do very well - he's active in Ham radio and Boy Scouts of America, as well as a few different motorcycle clubs. All of those offer him an excuse to get out of the house. It's doing things in the house that are more of a problem, and I think he's feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the job and by the expense as well.

We recently moved back here from Portland so that we could help clear up, and my husband is happy to help with what renovation and repair he can. Luckily (?) we have a built in deadline now, since I'm due in June, and as of right now, we have nowhere to fit a crib or changing table. We do, however, have a computer collection/museum that includes a TI-99 and the first IBM we ever got, back in 1987 or so. Luckily, he hasn't discovered buying things on Ebay, he just never gets rid of anything once it has broken.

Regarding small victories - We dropped off about 350 romance novels at the library for their fundraising book sale yesterday. We've had less luck weeding through his collection of Science Fiction Book Club editions - as I seem to have somehow appropriated half of them. My argument is that since the house is very poorly insulated, we need all the exterior wall bookshelves we can build.

#201 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2008, 09:59 PM:

EClaire, congratulations on the pregnancy! I hope you have an easy pregnancy and a healthy baby!

#202 ::: m ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2008, 07:40 AM:

can I put in a good word for flylady Yes she can be a bit off putting but her 'only do it for 15 mins' is one of the few tips that has worked for me. If you do it regularly enough it does make a difference. Now I just have to get a kitchen timer that works!

#203 ::: jrochest ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2008, 11:24 PM:

Coming to this very late: what is it about book and word people that makes us all collectors? I move once a year, and at my last move, 8 months ago, I looked at the contents of my storage room, items I had moved three times, once across the country and twice within the city, and *still* never used. I swore mightily that I was not moving them again, and dumped the lot on the local thrift store -- along with 3 pieces of furniture, three 2x2 foot moving boxes of kitchen stuff and 5 plastic garbage bags of clothes.

And now, 8 months later, I sit in a room wooged to overflowing: stacks of books and papers on the floor, the bed, the windowsills, autonomous piles of tottering clothing filling up laundry baskets, and clutter and tat on every flat or slightly slanted surface.

I have bought five pieces of clothing, six books and food since moving here. Where did all this stuff come from? Does it breed?

oh, and Kes #143: run. Hoarders (my dad is one) burn out the people who love them, and they will never change. You can't love someone who cares more about a stack of old newspapers than you.

#204 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2008, 01:20 PM:

EClaire: Computers so old nobody in their right mind would use them can sometimes be donated to museums, especially if there's one in your area specializing in electrical or technological stuff. A friend of mine did this with a couple of hers (One was old enough to use punch cards), and the Manitoba Museum was delighted, even *before* she pointed out it still worked.

#205 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2008, 02:14 PM:

Must. Not. Click. Links.

"Where's the baby sling?" "Try the couch." (to self: 'Oh yeah, where we put it after the Ren Fest 4+ months ago.') "Found it."

That was last night at 2:30 in the morning.

I'm a packrat, my wife is a packrat, my MIL (living with us) is a packrat (and brought everything that isn't in her storage unit here with her..)

My wife and I sort/tidy in short, almost violently compulsive episodes. If we're on a roll, we keep at it until we're hungry/the baby wakes up/we're too tired and have to go to sleep. The place is livable, and we have lots of (overflowing) shelves, but we really only just barely manage to keep it that way. A cleared off horizontal surface (happens every several months) becomes covered in less than a month.

I, too, have boxes in the basement that haven't been opened in years... and unfinished hobby projects too. It *hurts* to give up on a hobby... but at least I can just go pick up my daughter and make her giggle and know why I got rid of the biggest one that had the strongest attachment.

Yesterday my wife and I (mostly my wife - her idea) got a corner of the basement set up for a massive book-sorting and cataloging project. When she moved out here, we filled a full-size cargo van so full of books the rear suspension squatted maybe 10 inches and it could not maintain 65mph on freeway uphills between Chicago and Minnesota. Got 5mpg less, too. We have a nice room off the basement (under a sort of "kick out" extension of the living room) that has it's own wall and door and has some decent shelves in it that will support all the books once cataloged and sorted. Then the workspace can have the scanner moved down and all the magazines go through, if I don't decide to axe them before then. (I love to leaf through them for ideas, but I have no vehicular hobby anymore so the point is kind of lost... I wish the publisher would sell DVD's, I'd pay good money for that!)

We recently hit on the "we have a bunch of stuff in the closet we never wear" idea, so that's next, too...

I can't click on the links because I would probably scare myself into fire-related insurance fraud. It's so much easier for me to deal with things getting destroyed than having to throw them away myself...

I do like the "pick up 10 things" idea. Might try that. It's all I have time for at the end of the day, anyway.


#206 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2008, 06:02 PM:

cajun -

Unintentional creepy hilarity ensues if one accidently omits reading the word "sling" in your second paragraph:

"Where's the baby?" "Try the couch." (to self: 'Oh yeah, where we put it after the Ren Fest 4+ months ago.') "Found it."

Fortunately, I found the "sling" on the second read-through.

This somehow reminds me of a friend's recent post of her pediatrician dad's rules for child-rearing: "Rule 1: Don't drop the baby. Rule 2: If you drop the baby, for God's sake don't step on it."

Quakers are funnier than you think.

#207 ::: Betsey Langan ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2008, 11:33 PM:

A question for the floor:

Does anyone have good guidelines for what pieces of paper should be kept, and for how long? I know tax returns and associated paperwork for 7 years; I figure most bills can probably max out after about a year; receipts/warranty information and instruction booklets as long as you own the item to which they pertain. But I still have many categories that I don't know how they should be categorized. (Bank statements: 7 yrs because they're financial? 1 yr because they're periodic like bills and interest and income get bundled into the tax stuff, which has a retention policy already? Statements from my 403(b) company? Auto insurance policies, after that year's policy has expired and the new one issued? Pitch immediately? Keep current year and n-1? N-2? Loan documents: at least the lifetime of the loan, right? How long after that? Are there sub-classes of loan documents (like the "we'd appreciate it if you sent us some money soon" letters) that can be pitched before the loan expires? [Please say Yes: I'm paying on a 30-year student loan, and if I have to keep every piece of paper tangentially related to it for the next 25-or-more years I'm going to *cry*] Et cetera, and so forth, and so on.

Some of my clutter problem is "stuff", compounded by the fact that I'm another one who does the, "Well, I last had it three weeks ago, when we were walking in the door from the trip to $destination, and I went straight to the bathroom, so I must have set it down *here*..." and walk there and, behold! There it lies. Unless someone moved it on me. Some is books (compounded by the fact that my catalog-the-nonfiction project has stalled - I need to get that back underway, once I re-discover a horizontal surface on which to do it...). But a lot of it is papers, because I don't know when I can pitch/shred them and which ones ought to be filed, so they just build up in boxes and piles and drifts and *augh*...

#208 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 01:57 AM:

I don't think we have anything that actually uses punchcards, although we did have some punchcards. Also huge metal discs that I was told were once disk drives. Also the Times-Picayune announcing the moon landing. Slightly damaged by silverfish, but still legible. The only thing that is keeping me sorting instead of just tossing whole rooms of things at once are the hidden treasures. I'm going to start working on picking up/getting rid of 10 or 15 things at a time. That seems manageable, when I'm feeling overwhelmed.

#209 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 12:51 PM:

@#206 Ulrika O'Brien: Unintentional creepy hilarity ensues if one accidently omits reading the word "sling" in your second paragraph:

Oh, wow, what a laugh! Thanks, I needed that. No, we're not in danger of losing the baby. (The house isn't THAT bad, though my Mother would likely disagree...) {proud father moment} She'll be a year old in a little over 2 weeks so she's quite capable of letting us know "Hey, I'm over here!" though with considerably less vocabulary than that sentence implies. She's up to "MaMa", "DaDa" (though much rarer than MaMa for some reason...) and "Uh Oh". Oh, and she knows Baby Sign Language (modified) for "More" (though she almost always means "More Graduates Stars/Cheerios/snack" rather than just "More of whatever she's being fed right now")and recognizes the signs for "Milk", "Food", and "Change". She can copy the sign for "Change" to a certain extent, too. This reminds me, we need to get a book or few on Baby Sign Language so we can keep up the teaching/learning.{/proud father moment}

A day later and I can breathe easier on this thread. Reading the 204 posts preceding mine in one stretch was a bit rough on the psyche yesterday, though not nearly as rough as reading the comment thread on John Scalzi's "Being Poor" that was linked a while back.

Being an engineer/tinker as well (Hello Brooks Moses @99!) who's starved of project time means I have a huge pile of technogarbage that I am sure I can fix/rebuild/modify if I had time to play with it... I had piled it all up once with the plan to load it on the trailer and haul it to a free techno-garbage recycling event, then found out they shut down the 3-day event after receiving more than 2X the total they had planned on in less than a day and a half! So it's still in a pile in the basement. Some of it may be reuseable/saleable, but finding the time to go through it, describe it, list it, etc. is difficult. At least I'm currently calling it "technogarbage" so I'm kinda/sorta halfway to getting rid of it all...


#210 ::: Lindra ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 08:45 PM:

This post and its comment thread is at once encouraging and depressing. My parents sold our house we've been in for 20+ years and we have to move, which means sorting, which means packing. My mother is a packrat. So is our father. I'm not any better, although my problem is generally limited to books. Needless to say, the task is daunting.

Question for ML: how do you pack the most books into the smallest amount of space? Is there a most efficient box size for books?

#211 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 09:01 PM:

Lindra: SMALL. My family uses paper boxes most of the time, and that's about as much as can be reliably lifted. The books don't fit perfectly, but there are enough funky sizes of paperback that you can keep them from rattling around. Nothing larger than a paper box is useful, and you may want to go smaller yet. It'll take up marginally more space, because you'll have more boxes, but it's worth it to be able to move them.

#212 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 10:19 PM:

Lindra, many box purveyors and storage warehouses sell book boxes, which are the appropriate size and strength for carrying typical sizes of hardbacks, trade or mass market paperbacks. For a little more capacity, I suggest fruit cases. Banana or pineapple boxes are coated cardboard, very heavy duty, and have standard lids and handles. Your local produce market or grocery store should be able to help you with those. In my experience, liquor boxes, while good for paperwork or other packables, are not the right size for books, and yield a lot of wasted space that takes time to fill.

Good luck. I've dealt with moves from places I've lived in for more than a few years twice in adulthood; both times I sold nearly everything in "estate sales."

#213 ::: Lindra ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:04 AM:

Thanks for the advice!

Diatryma @211:

Small definitely seems to be the case; the boxes I'm using are in dimensions of 37x28x18cm, which I think is close to A4 paperbox size. Even those can get on the heavy side once I've filled up the vertical space underneath the lid.

LMB MacAlister @212:
Noted on the liquor boxes - I won't be trying those. Hmm, books smelling of bananas sound tasty!

Would book boxes of the kind you're talking about also be available in office supply stores?

Again, thank you very much!

#214 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:35 AM:

"Book boxes"--yes, they're probably available at office supply stores. I'd be concerned about the strength and quality of those found at a big box (sorry for the pun) stores, though.

#215 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 11:20 AM:

In my recent move, I mostly used liquor boxes for my books. They work better for mass-market paperbacks than hardcovers and trade paperbacks.

#216 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:43 PM:

I don't know if Lindra is US-based, but U-haul has a 1-foot cube box (labeled "small") that works quite well. (Also holds LPs and, if you're doing an in-house move involving file cabinets, can hold Pendaflex folders if the flaps are folded outward.) For a move many years ago, we put all the books in small dot-matrix paper boxes that had mysteriously been rescued from a trash area behind the Stanford main frames. Only downside was that we ended up making about a third more carrying trips than we would have with slightly larger boxes. So it's a sort of balance, really.

#217 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 01:41 PM:

G. Jules, #175: I've taken out bags and bags of the stuff, shredded multiple trash containers full of old papers, brought a big load over to Goodwill, and somehow my apartment looks exactly the same.

Oh, do I hear that! This is what we're going thru at the moment, and it's largely because all our storage space has gotten filled up over the years with junk that we never use, so we have to get rid of that in order to have space to put away the stuff we do use, so the stuff we do use is still all over the floors and tables, along with the stuff we're trying to get rid of via Freecycle/Craigslist that hasn't made it out the door yet. Then we have the extra complicating factor of having no good place to store the stock for our two home-based businesses, so those boxes and bins are all out in the middle of the den and living room as well. (We have some hope of clearing out the bedroom that my partner's daughter used to use and putting the business stuff there, but it hasn't happened yet.)

I keep telling myself that we're just in the phase of "it gets worse before it gets better" and that once we get the drawers and closets into usable condition again, a lot of the stuff will disappear into them quite suddenly.

My first thought, when I picked them up to toss? "I can't toss these. If there were ever a zombie apocalypse, I'd regret it." I wish I were joking, but that's actually what went through my mind. It's completely irrational, and I know it's completely irrational -- and yet. Every damn thing I throw out puts me through a gauntlet of potential uses. It's exhausting work.

Yikes. At risk of telling you something you already know, this sounds like a genuine psychological problem that might be treatable with counseling, medication, or a combination thereof. At least you recognize that it's irrational, which gives you a long head-start on a lot of people.

dcb, #193: I once went to a friend's housewarming and got The Tour. It was a 4-bedroom house, and one of the 3 smaller bedrooms was exceptionally long and skinny. I walked into that room and my first thought was, "LIBRARY!" She wasn't using it that way, but that's certainly what I would have done with it; installed full-wall bookcases and stacks, with a desk and a reading area by the window.

EClaire, #200: While I deeply sympathize with your overall situation, this: My argument is that since the house is very poorly insulated, we need all the exterior wall bookshelves we can build made me laugh so hard I nearly fell off my chair. My fannish friends and I have made jokes for years about the R-value of paperbacks!

cajunfj40, #205: It wasn't clear from your post whether you'd already thought of this, but have you considered going thru the magazines, scanning the articles you'd like to keep, archiving them to CDs, and then tossing the magazines themselves? (She says with a sudden thought about all those Penzey's catalogs with 2 or 3 recipes each that she'd like to try...)

Ulrika, #206: Completely off-topic for the thread... "accidently" is one of those common misspellings that I'd actually like to see replace the accepted one. Fewer keystrokes, and it regularizes the form of the word. I think I'm going to start consciously adopting it in casual writing, the way I use "thru" instead of "through".

Betsey, #207: I keep the current and previous year of bank statements in a 3-ring binder near the computer; older ones get archived with the tax stuff and shredded when it does. Loan documents of any type should be kept for at least 1 tax year after you've paid off the loan, in case you discover that you can take a tax deduction of some sort from it. (Dunning letters do not count as loan documents for this purpose! Only official stuff like the original paperwork and annual updates.) Auto insurance policies, I can't see any reason to keep more than (at most) the previous and current one.

WRT the book-cataloguing project, are you making use of LibraryThing? If not, you might consider doing so. We had a longish discussion of it here sometime in the past couple of months, but I haven't yet figured out how to search the site to find specific topics.

#218 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 02:06 PM:

My issue with "thru" is that is looks like it ought to be said "thruh," so it always makes me pause in reading and think about it, which a word like "through" shouldn't do.

"Throo" looks kind of childish, though.

#219 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 02:26 PM:

@Lee #217: It wasn't clear from your post whether you'd already thought of this, but have you considered going thru the magazines, scanning the articles you'd like to keep, archiving them to CDs, and then tossing the magazines themselves? (She says with a sudden thought about all those Penzey's catalogs with 2 or 3 recipes each that she'd like to try...)

We got a flatbed scanner for X-mess, and the plan is to scan 'em all to DVD's so I can peruse at leisure on-screen. That is, if I don't up and decide to get rid of them due to ongoing (been several years now, and with family it will be several more years...) lack of time/space/money for vehicular projects that the magazines are meant to inspire ideas for... Why spend the time to scan if I'll never look at the scans? It's "cheaper" to occasionally buy a new magazine off the rack. It's really too bad the publisher doesn't offer back-issues on DVD.

WRT the book-cataloguing project, are you making use of LibraryThing? If not, you might consider doing so. We had a longish discussion of it here sometime in the past couple of months, but I haven't yet figured out how to search the site to find specific topics. which wasn't directed to me I think but applies anyway.

My wife bought ReaderWare and we've set up a book-sorting op in the basement. It has a scanner (CueCat surplus!) but she's having a hard time getting it to read reliably, so she bought a USB 10-key pad (ReaderWare is currently installed on a laptop and 10-key don't work well on those keyboards...) and is faster with that than the scanner. This software will index the books, allow you to put in comments, and automatically scans 2-3 places or so (user defined) on the web to pull down cover art and all related info from the ISBN. She has it checking Barnes & Noble, (I think) and the Library of Congress. ISBN only started in 1970 (based on UK's SBN system from 1966) so the older books will require manual entry and search.

Getting this project done will mean better access to books we have not read yet, prevent purchases of duplicates (I *know* I've seen that book at some point, and it's the first in the series, too!) and get rid of existing duplicates (at least 3 copies of The Vampire Lestat, for example). It will also help keep track of books already read, preventing the "Argh! I have read this one before, and I know the ending and how they all get there! Durnit!" which takes between 1 and 5 chapters to hit, depending on how long ago the book was last read... I want to *plan* my re-reads, not stumble into them without warning.


#220 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 02:43 PM:

I finished* my Library Thing cataloging effort night before last. It took a while because I ordered, and waited for, a Cue Cat, which really sped things up for the more recent books.

The older ones I mostly did with a USB numeric keypad attached to the laptop. I touch-type on numeric keypads; it's a remnant of three years of accountancy training.

* For values of "finished" that exclude the Hub's extensive Bob Shaw collection

#221 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 02:45 PM:

Betsey Langan @ #207 regarding how long to keep various records: There's a summary at Get Rich Slowly which also links to a more in-depth answer from

Also of interest in terms of decluttering paper:'s guide to stopping junk mail. Stopping the pre-screened credit card offers was hugely helpful for me -- I still get a few, but it's not the massive deluge of airline mileage cards that used to come in.

Lee @ #217: Yeah, that's something I've thought of. Thus far I've managed to keep a net outflow of stuff headed out the door, and I've still got the ability to step back and recognize when my reactions are irrational. If I start losing that ability, I'll get worried.

It doesn't help that the tendency to clutter runs strong in my family. My father also has the "But that could be useful!" reaction to throwing things out, which might explain how I come by it.

#222 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:15 PM:

#34 ::: Thena

...Now if only I could get his mother to read them, and then maybe she'd quit giving us stuff we don't want but feel guilty about getting rid of because we know she'll ask about it...

My mother relentlessly downsized a while ago, which simplified her life and made her a lot happier. Unfortunately, part of the process was giving us stuff which she didn't want, but thought we should treasure. It was better to take anything offered and sort out the few things we wanted afterwards. We developed a system.

"Would you like this?"
[moment of consideration]
"Sure, our friend ___ would love to have it!"

When she suddenly asked about it, several years later, not so much that she wanted it back as so we could send it to my sister, who hadn't been asked (and had refused it on the first round) we could say, "oh, remember, we took that for our friend _____." If the polite fib is bothersome, ponder that it might be the name of a shopper at your local Goodwill clone.

#223 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:29 PM:

Speaking of boxes suitable for LPs (as joann was, very briefly, in #216), record storage is a big problem for me, much bigger than book storage (for books I tend to use libraries, for music I tend to use record stores, yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores, eBay, and anything I can get my hands on), and I have yet to find a simple, sturdy, cheap box to hold the damn things in (I refuse to keep them on shelves--too hard to look through, I want to be able to flip through them from above). It would ideally be a foot wide by maybe two to two and a half feet long, not entirely unattractive, and not frickin' cardboard like I have now. Any ideas?

Actually what I would love would be a record-sized filing cabinet, so I wouldn't have to use up so much floor space, but I'm pretty sure that a) they don't make those, b) there's a reason they don't, c) that reason is called "extreme weight", and d) I probably couldn't afford one if they did exist.

#224 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:44 PM:

ethan (223): When I was in college, the thing to hold records was milk crates. Square, a variety of colors of plastic...

#225 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 05:01 PM:

Old milk crates are still used for that, I think, though in recent years the dairies have changed the crate size so that LPs no longer fit. And the crates belong to the dairies, so that use is illegal, too. But I'm pretty sure that I've seen stores selling plastic crates that looked just about exactly like those milk crates, for the purpose of holding LPs. And miniature versions of them for holding CDs.

#226 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 05:50 PM:

Any milk crates I've seen that fit LPs are foot-square ones, which is unrealistically small for the amount of records I need to hold. I needs rectangles.

Joel, I don't think I've seen any store sell anything for the purpose of holding LPs in the past ten or fifteen years.

#227 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 06:01 PM:

ethan (226): Multiple squares make rectangles?

Sorry, not very helpful, I know.

#228 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 06:53 PM:

There's a lot more unused space that way, though...ah well. Ne'er mind.

#229 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 09:13 PM:

Lindra @ 213: The relevant "book boxes" are also called "banker's boxes" in a lot of places. They're sold packed flat, and are designed to unfold and become sturdy without tape, so that they can be folded back flat for storage, and they have handles on the ends. The standard US size is 10" x 12" x 15", which is corresponds to a stack of regular paper file folders if filled one way, and a stack of "legal paper" (which is this weird US thing, normal width but extra long) if filled the other way.

When we were moving, I got a stack of 80 used ones from a local mover for $1 apiece. They tend to run about $2 apiece or so at Office Depot and the like -- and the ones they sell, even the cheap ones, are quite sufficiently sturdy. It's a good basic design, and everyone uses it.

Joann @ 216: The provenance of your boxes reminds me of the time I moved seven years ago, using a bunch of Sun server boxes I'd scavenged from Stanford. Some of my friends still remember that I put books in some of them -- even half full, and the rest lightweight clothes, was enough to be excessively memorable.

#230 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 10:15 PM:

I keep the accordian files for six years here by the computer and when a new year comes, the oldest goes to the storeroom. This turned out to be handy last week when I got a letter from the Virginia Tax people asking did I really send them the $60 check listed in my 2002 state taxes? I had the 2002 folder here, looked up the check number, went to the credit union, got a copy of the canceled check, and sent it to them. Saving a copy of their letter and my canceled check, of course.

ethan, there's a lot of LP Storage. It's not all inexpensive, but it's there.

#231 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 12:47 PM:

Brooks @229:

I forbore to mention all the Apollo boxes from my employer, used for larger, lighter stuff in the same move. (No, not the dishwasher size, thank all deities.) We finally got rid of the last of those (used these many years as Christmas decoration boxes) in the last move.

#232 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 12:59 PM:

#229 Brooks Moses: The biggest scar I have on my fingers (only about 5mm in diameter, but still) is from when I stupidly packed my files into a box about 3 feet on a side and filled the rest with clothes. Took the coordination of two people to pick it up and move it, and, well, the roommate of my friend wasn't coordinated with me, and ground the skin off the side of my middle finger onto the concrete pavement. Served me right, and I'm never packing paper in a big box again. Small boxes for books and paper! Small!

#233 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 01:17 PM:

ethan: On further thought, I'm pretty sure I've seen LPs stored in boxes/crates made out of thin wood/plywood. I suspect they were homemade; they had that look. Shouldn't be too hard, if you can get the wood precut. Then paint them any color you like.

#234 ::: Donald Delny ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 01:19 PM:


in #216, joann said:
I don't know if Lindra is US-based, but U-haul has a 1-foot cube box (labeled "small") that works quite well. (Also holds LPs and, if you're doing an in-house move involving file cabinets, can hold Pendaflex folders if the flaps are folded outward.)

This past summer, and perhaps currently, uhaul offered a "buy a bundle, return the ones you don't use" deal. This offer did not extend to the cube boxes, but to the next larger size (12x14, I think, called a "small").
I can report from first hand experience that cubes are excellent boxes for moving books, and the smalls were much better than average.

Good condition liquor boxes that are the winebottle type are slightly better than the smalls, the hardliquor type are slightly worse.

#235 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 08:23 PM:

Mary Aileen #233: I suppose that's probably what I'll end up doing, three or four years from now when I finally get around to it.

#236 ::: Niall McAuley sees a spam probe at #241 ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2011, 06:03 AM:


Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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