Organizing usually begins with a period of review and decision-making. We don’t want to waste time organizing what we should be shedding. Still, figuring out what to keep and what to shed can be challenging. I have found that people often ask me, “How do I know what to keep?” and, “How many is the ‘right’ number to hold onto?” For instance:
- Do I have too many shoes?
- How many golf shirts does my husband really need?
- How many basketballs is too many?
- Do I need all of these travel mugs?
- Is it wrong that I have so many books?
My answer to this question is almost always, “It depends.” When it comes to the concept of figuring out how much to keep, the answer comes down to the priorities and lifestyle of the individual and/or family. Each of us has unique needs and interests, so there isn’t a universal rule of thumb. Instead, it is important to apply the concept of “selective complexity” to the decision-making process. Selective complexity involves proactively identifying top priority areas of interest and aligning the allocation of time and resources accordingly.
Few people have sufficient time, space, and money to keep a limitless supply of all the objects they might possibly ever want or need. Remember, everything we own, owns a piece of us. Possessions – even the ones we hardly touch – require maintenance and care or they will degrade, get lost, or become unusable. Therefore, we want to enjoy the accumulation, display, and use of objects that feed our passions and daily needs, while striving to minimize and simplify our ownership of everything else.
Let’s consider a few examples.
A man who loves music may have a room with twenty guitars hanging on the walls, bookshelves filled with music books, a stash of expensive recording equipment, and a significant collection of old CDs. His desk drawers may be full of audio cables and parts. He may likewise only own three pairs of shoes because fashion is unimportant to him.
In contrast, a young professional woman who works in an upscale office may have a closet full of clothing, including multiple white blouses with slightly different necklines. She may have many shelves of shoes, a scarf collection, and extra cabinets to accommodate her jewelry. Meanwhile, if she ever listens to music, she just streams it from her phone.
A mom has four children who love sports. Her kitchen has an entire cabinet for sports bottles and drawers with “ready-to-go” snacks. She has set up her mudroom with bins for soccer socks, cleats, fencing masks, taekwondo belts, swim goggles, towels, and ballet slippers. She’s installed a stack washer and dryer unit in what had been the butler’s pantry to make laundering athletic clothing quick and easy. Paper plates and utensils are out on the counter so children can grab a plate and eat whenever they have time.
This mom’s neighbor is a gourmet cook who loves to entertain. Her kitchen is full of expensive cookware, internationally sourced spices, and appliances for making everything from homemade pasta to hand-ground pesto. In addition to her everyday dishes, she has four additional sets of dishes in her butler’s pantry that she pulls out at different times of the year. In her garage, she thinks she has a tennis racquet.
A collector has more than 500 corkscrews. He has numbered each one and has them hanging on a display wall that he designed and built. He has a book where he keeps track of each corkscrew’s provenance. He doesn’t own a computer.
This man’s son is a technophile. He has two phones, a tablet, a laptop, and two extra monitors. He is always on the lookout for the latest gadget and serves as a beta tester for new apps and software. He doesn’t own a corkscrew. He and his friends prefer craft beer.
Can you see how priorities have impacted organizational choices? The goal here is to select complexity in the areas of our lives where such complexity has a positive impact. We want to allow ourselves to collect, accumulate, display and enjoy items that align with the areas of our lives which bring us peace, joy, and fulfillment. At the same time, we need to intentionally decide to limit the amount of time and space we allocate to items that do not meet these criteria.
One further point: be aware that over time, our lifestyle and passions evolve. For instance, maybe we used to be heavily involved in scrapbooking and amassed a large supply of stickers, scissors, papers, and adhesives. However, now our interest in scrapbooking has dwindled and we have taken up painting. This is the time to donate the scrapbooking supplies and clear the space for “all things painting.”
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Organizing is not a one-time activity. It is an ongoing process through which we honor the life we are living now. We need to continually be selecting where we want to allow complexity to blossom, while correspondingly simplifying everywhere else. By aligning our environment with our priorities, we maximize our opportunity to live in a way that is efficient and pleasurable.
Where do you select to have complexity in your life? Where might you eliminate complexity to improve your quality of life?