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Becoming Un-binned: Deconstructing our Keeping Habits

29 Jan 2018 5:04 PM | Deleted user
We have all done it: we have something we like from our past or in our present that we don't necessarily need or know how we might use, but we don't feel right parting with it. So we put it in a box or storage bin for safe keeping or later decision making, and banish it to that storage area (usually a basement or attic) that we hardly ever visit. And that is it: we have kept something indefinitely--for better or for worse--and we feel comforted that we have done so.

But why is this? What is it about having something in a box-that isn't easy to access and that likely will not be used-that makes us feel better? The truth is, no one enjoys the ritual of going to the basement to rifle through things. Most people find basement storage to be uncomfortable and frustrating. And yet there in the basement (or garage, or extra bedroom, etc) we create clutter stacks upon stacks which requires us to hover and sift and peruse our belongings, often without even finding the thing we are looking for.

We see this especially with memorabilia keeping. A client of mine had found some wallpaper samples in a drawer that were from her childhood home. She loved seeing the colors and patterns and decided that she would put them in her memorabilia bin, which was labeled just that in the basement. This bin was on the bottom of a bin stack in a dark basement which was warm but older and rather dusty. So I asked her, "how often do you think you will want to visit this bin to see and enjoy those samples?" And she replied that she tries to limit her trips to the basement as much as possible, and she noted that the bin wasn't easy to get to.

So the obvious question becomes, "why keep things in a box?" What value does the box bring to our things--real or perceived?

I believe that putting something in a box accomplishes two things for the keeper: 1) it defers decision making to later and 2) reinforces the belief that safe keeping is good keeping. But I would like to challenge the notion of good keeping--in a box. Because when you limit access to things, you limit how useful or enjoyable something can be in your daily life, AND you've created a pile that diminishes in personal value over time. Hence the clutter stacks in our homes!

So for example, in the case of the wall paper pattern, instead of asking if you want to keep it, I would ask how might you like to preserve the wall paper so it can be used or enjoyed? A number of simple ideas come to mind. The samples can be made into laminated book marks, or perhaps they can be put into a small framed collage for your desk, or maybe placed in a scrapbook, or you can snap a photo of the pattern and make it a screen saver...just to name a few ideas. The value of this paper suddenly seems to increase by volumes--outside of the box. This demonstrates keeping with a purpose.

So the next time you find yourself thinking that you would like to store something long-term, make sure you aren't just keeping for keeping sake. In other words, don't just think "I want to hold on to that." Keep with a plan; a plan to use or enjoy the article in some fashion at some point in time. Identifying your intention should in theory make the storage needs temporary rather than indefinite and help reduce the overall amount of kept things.

We hope this will help you look at your clutter stacks a little differently and assign better intentions to all those things that haven't seen the light of day. Good luck!


  • 06 Mar 2018 9:59 AM | Deleted user
    Such a great perspective, Birdie! I really like the clever ideas of creating laminated book marks or even a screen saver. Hiding sweet memories in dusty boxes or even pretty containers doesn't match the pleasure of using them & seeing them every day!
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