I made a post earlier about the audio book, Unstuff your life by Andrew J Mellen. As far as Audiobooks go Andrew is a highly entertaining speaker and falls into my favorite category of audiobook. Super smart author narrates their own material so you feel like you are having this amazing one on one conversation and they are talking just to you enthusiastically sharing what they know.
Andrew even makes it playful and interacts with the listener. An adult version of Blues Clue’s.
My first project applying the book was to tackle my storage closet. I wish I had the before image, but really, who takes pictures of overcrowded junk? Let’s just say when I started I could not even walk into the closet. But when I was finished (it took a weekend), not only could you walk in, but there are actually empty shelves!
Unstuff Your Life: The Rules to Clean All Your Living Spaces.
After listening to the audiobook, I have come to distill the book down to three core rules.
- The One Home Rule
- The Like with Like Rule
- The Frozen Rule (Let it Go)
Andrew publishes his three core rules on his website, so I don’t feel like I am giving anything away from the book. Besides, I could not possibly capture his energy and enthusiasm in a blog post. The man is worth listening too.
The One Home rule and Like with Like
Scott Adams wrote about how important it is to have Systems for Success, not just goals. Andrew Mellen’s book is just that, a system and the core of the system are the twin rules, One home for everything, and like with like. The idea is that you live in one home, so should your stuff. There should be one, and only one place your things live. When they are not in use, they belong in that home. It’s corollary however, is that similar things belong together. Why is this profound? Because when one kind of object can be in many places, that means it can be in every kind of place. It is intrinsically lost.
There is another brain science reason why this is very powerful. In his book Smart Thinking, cognitive scientist Art Markman points out that similar memories compete with one another and more importantly suppress one another during the recall process. When your brain remembers one place to find an object, that process makes it harder to remember other places to look!
Keeping like objects together reduces the chances of memory suppression.
Blue Masking Tape.
If you had asked me before I read this book, how many roles of blue masking tape were in my house I would have said, “One, possibly two, in fact I should probably stop at the store on my way home and pick up another role.”
After sorting my storage closet, and gathering my masking tape with all of their brethren I discovered eight roles of tape. Yes. Eight.
Apparently, I really like blue masking tape.
The Frozen Rule
The key to unclutter however is what I call the “Frozen Rule”. The hit song, “Let it Go” has been sort of my mantra since I started this process. In chapter one of the book, Mr. Mellen pleads with the listener to go through the process of getting clear about his or her values. In short, if I wanted to unstuff my life, I had to get clear about my values. It seemed like a waste of time until I did it. That key piece of information gives you a foundation for knowing what is valuable in your life and what is not.
If you know what you value, then you can measure every object you have surrounded yourself with and decide if it means anything to you. I see lots of calls for minimalism, I study stoicism, and austerity always sounds like a virtue. In my experience however, I was shocked by how many things I had – if not collected at least gathered into my life that I did not care about.
When I hike if I see a cool rock I pick it up. During this process of unstuffing, I started to go through my rocks. Two things jumped out at me. I was shocked at how many rocks I just flat out could not identify. No idea where they came from, or what they meant. Secondly, I was shocked at where they all were. On my desk, in drawers, in the garage, in my closet (apparently I needed rocks to keep my clothes company) even in the bathroom. Don’t ask what I was thinking, I don’t know.
I point that out because these were free. Not the product of consumerism. Just things I had “gathered”. They didn’t qualify as mementos, because I had no memory to go with them. And yet I held onto them and filled my space with them. The first lesson I started to learn is that when something has no meaning, there is no reason to hold on to it.
Hence my rule: Let it go.
Do I still have any rocks? Yes. A few. Ones I exactly know where they came from and what they mean. The collection if you can call it that is down to exactly three.
I still have a long way to go, but for the last two weeks my desk at home and at work has been clear, and I can find my wallet, my car keys, and my phone within 30 seconds of looking for them every time. I mean every time.
Malcome Gladwell in his book Tipping Point, points out that your environment can have a huge impact on your behavior. One small, but significant way to change your environment is to “Unstuff it”. I need to get better at before and after pictures, but so far, I can see some of the value in freeing up some space by “unstuffing it”.