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Rachel Coleman
Economical decluttering 
30th-Dec-2016 01:46 pm
A few weeks ago I was trying to find a blog post I remembered Tim Harford writing about research into different perceptions of gift-giving depending on whether you are the giver or the recipient.  Along the way I also found that he'd written about Maria Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying and rolled my eyes a bit (I have read enough of my friends' reactions to the book to be sure I would personally find it intensely irritating), but was interested to see how he pulled out three principles of economics that Marie Kondo is illustrating:
  • status quo bias (Kondo says throw it out unless it "sparks joy", which Harford sensibly changes to "a compelling reason to keep it")
  • diminishing returns (the tenth pair of jeans is less valuable than the second, which is why you tackle all the things of the same type in one go)
  • opportunity cost (if you can't find a beloved possession under all the other things you have, you can't enjoy it)
So this inspired me a bit to start tackling the chronic mess in the house, a lot of which is down to the fact that things don't have a home, because we haven't got room to put them away, so they don't get tidied away.  I started with the toys in the living room, because they were causing the most friction, and I also thought they were the best case of things that really should "spark joy".  (Clothing rarely does for me, for example, and I doubt the children's school uniform does either.)   It took me a good couple of hours, I did most of the work of division, with the children occasionally challenging my choices in one direction or the other, and at the end of it I had 2 carrier bags for the bin and another 9 for the charity shop.  I reckoned we removed roughly 2/3 of the toys by volume; and what remained is small enough that we can keep similar things together when tidying rather than finding it too overwhelming and shoving everything away anyhow (and making the problem worse).

Nico spontaneously spent ages over the next week playing with some specific wooden jigsaws we literally hadn't seen in months if not years, which rather gloriously illustrated Tim's point about opportunity cost.

I've done several more sessions since, especially in the last few days.  It needs me to have time and energy and inclination to spend several hours at a time sorting through a category of things, because I haven't figured out a way to bitesize it without causing even more disruption to everyone else and/or having my work undone again.  It is tiring to keep making decisions, especially potentially emotionally-fraught decisions.   I found a fourth economic concept coming to my aid: in management accounting I learned the concept of sunk costs, that is, when making decisions it doesn't matter what time and money have already been spent, what matters is the future costs/benefits that will result from the decision. 

The children have learned to trust that I won't take something away if they say they really want it, so at least now let me get on with it until I'm ready for their review, which has sped things up a bit.  And slowly the living room and bedroom spaces are becoming nicer for them.  I've finally removed enough stuff from the children's room that I can actually tidy / reorganise what is left.  This morning I asked Charles if he would rather I took him out to the cinema today, or continued working on their bedroom and he chose the latter.

And for all it seems a bit weird, I've found it sometimes helps me to let go if I say thank you to things as I put them in the discard pile.
Also posted at http://rmc28.dreamwidth.org/664266.html with comment count unavailable comments.
30th-Dec-2016 02:25 pm (UTC)
I've found it sometimes helps me to let go if I say thank you to things as I put them in the discard pile.

I do this as I throw things away! I particularly like to thank biros for their service. After all, I value them highly, guard them carefully and consistently use them until they run out, so it seems only fair to express gratitude when they have spent their entire working lives with me.

I'm glad to hear you have a similar practice, and that it works for you. Many congratulations on getting the kids on-board with your decluttering too!
30th-Dec-2016 05:10 pm (UTC)
It is a new practice! But it seems to help.

Getting the children on board was essential. There's no way I'm throwing out their things without their knowledge or permission, and I can't expect them to learn how to do this themselves one day if I don't involve them. But I also have to work within their limits - I find the decision-making tiring and they clearly find it even more so. Doing the "first pass" myself seems to be a good compromise. 10yo C is a lot clearer on what's going on than 4yo N is, so I have to bear that in mind too when listening to them.
30th-Dec-2016 04:43 pm (UTC)
Oh how lovely. I'm glad this is working well for you and hope you continue to have the energy you need when you do it.
30th-Dec-2016 05:13 pm (UTC)
If I can get the children's room to a state where everything has a home (even if not the best or ideal forever home), then it should be much easier to keep tidy, which in turn should ease up daily life. I think having a perpetually messy room is definitely stressful to C, and quite probably to N, and it's certainly stressful to me and Tony.

If you'd asked me a month ago if that was a possibility, I would have laughed tiredly. I'm now beginning to believe I can get there before I go back to work next week.
31st-Dec-2016 09:38 pm (UTC)
The Marie Kondo book is not as annoying on reading as it 'should' be (or at least that's what I thought, YMMV of course) - it has mimsy-pimsy ways of putting things, like talking about things 'sparking joy', but it's actually also quite funny in places and has some good anecdote. Nevertheless the main thing is that it has good sound principles, and the principles are *surprisingly* good - not surprising in a 'ha ha this is a silly woman, oh wait she actually has a brain' kinda way (tho I'm sure some people take it this way) but in a 'good lord, something actually makes tidying and getting rid of stuff actually work, how can that even be if you are not a natural-born minimalist!'.

Right now I feel very much as you presumably did a few weeks ago. Haven't yet mustered the energy tho, because I know that it's hard - and boy does it take time.
16th-Jan-2017 08:09 pm (UTC)
I've been meaning to come to this post to thank you for passing on opportunity cost as a relevant concept to "can I find it when I need it around the house". It's a useful way to think about things.
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