A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

Segment Thirty-Five—A Few Thoughts on the Value of SOME Clutter

This is the top shelf of my bookshelf in my office. It is also part of the reason that my lovely wife will not even try to dust my area.  It’s clutter.  I know it is clutter.  My lovely wife Nancy knows that it is clutter.  In a perfect world, I wouldn’t need it. But my mission today is to defend a little bit of clutter. Clutter, despite all of the negatives associated with it, is generally there for a reason.  Watch an episode of Hoarders, and you will know what the extreme version of those “reasons” can look like. But in moderation, clutter has value.

I didn’t have to stage the picture for this article.  I just grabbed my phone, clicked a picture of it and “voila!” Those items have been on that shelf for years. Each has a purpose. The Mickey Mouse clock, antique wind-up beetle and icebox bank were all my mother’s.  When I consider them, I can see where in her home she kept them, and the stories that went behind each and every one. (If the Mouse clock worked and was intact, it would be worth hundreds of dollars…but as it is, it’s worth about $20).  The icebox bank was a premium when my parents bought an icebox for their first house.  (Who knew that GE made iceboxes?)  Behind that? On its side? A switch lock from my grandfather, who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The golf balls (I don’t golf) were a gift from a friend at the National Security Agency (NSA).  He joked that these are the only golf balls you don’t have to find—they find you. The woman on the far end? My grandmother.  I remember the day I received the certificates.  I remember the day I received the crystal award, and the day I earned a trademark from the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). 

Is it really clutter? 

I would argue no.  Each item is a memory.  Each item evokes specific memories for me. And when I pass, I hope my family will milk each item for every nickel it is worth on eBay, unless it evokes specific memories for them.

Lesson Learned: Don’t wait until you move to discard true clutter.  Look around you. Do the items around you truly bring out memories? Do they inspire? Could you share the story of each and every one? If not—nuke it. Nuking it doesn’t mean throwing it away.  The silly wind-up beetle on my shelf is one of my mother’s treasures, worth about $300.  If I ever de-clutter it out of existence, it will go with a price tag on it!

We have personal and professional clutter.  Awards and certificates.  Challenge coins and blue ribbons. My wife had the perfect solution for this when I finally earned project management’s equivalent of the Oscar (2019 Eric Jenett Award for the Best of the Best in Project Management).  I gathered the dozens of Lucite spikes and awards and created a photo montage of all of my remaining awards and then shelved them.  The dozens and dozens of accolades were still present, in a manner of speaking, but not consuming the space they once had.  Why was I comfortable with this?  Because I still had them and the memories of them.  The fact that they no longer created a shelf-crowding lesson in excess was a bonus. 

You could easily argue that the picture of the trophies is a new piece of clutter, but it actually contributed to net clutter reduction.  That’s a win.


DEFINE:  Define what constitutes clutter.  For me, it’s something that has no value in terms of memories and something that I have not used in the past two years and will be unlikely to use in the next two years.  Do I use my mother’s little GE icebox bank?  Yes, but only when I come across a wheat penny or some other old coin.  Do I use the NSA golf balls?  No.  I don’t golf.  But the story that goes with them is too precious to lose. 

REMOVE:  If you’re terrible at throwing things away, consider the “good archivist” approach of putting stuff into a box and putting a defined “kill date” on it.  Once a year, review your boxes with Kill Dates that have expired.  Open them, and then determine if anything in the box is worthy of retention (based on your definition of clutter).  Then, either open your Ebay account and sell it or Goodwill® it.  I emptied an entire bookshelf full of books based on this principle.

TIDY: When you clear out a space, seize on the opportunity to build your organizational skills.  Even if you just clean up a little, you’ll get a sense of progress as a result.

Lesson Learned: If you can replace it, it may be clutter.  I cleared my DVD collection and found out that I had discarded “A Mighty Wind”.  As a family favorite, I realized I had decluttered my way into something that mattered.  Replacement cost? $5.00 on Ebay.  If you’re trying to declutter data files on your laptop or system, you can get a half-terabyte flash drive for under $40 on Amazon.  Keep it somewhere consistent and use it to archive the files that you fear you may need some day.  As you move the files onto the flash drive, MOVE them, rather than COPY them.  You’ll be surprised how rarely you actually go digging for files on the drive, and how wonderful it is to have copious free space on your laptop.

I am NOT a declutterer.  If anything, I’m a packrat. My lovely wife Nancy can attest to that.  At any point where you’re re-evaluating your life, it’s a perfect moment to cull through and identify what matters.  It’s energizing to discover you are surrounded by things that matter, rather than surrounded by stuff.  It’s affirming when virtually everything around you truly exudes a sense of “treasure,” rather than trinkets and trash. 

Up next?   How do YOU want the world to look different?

If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog

If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at carl@carlpritchard.com.  I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours.  Always.  And if you think I missed the mark?  Check your spam folder.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.