Put It on the Shelf or Remove the Shelf?

Mar 14, 2018

I’ve felt incredibly cluttered in both my physical and mental environments.

There’s just TOO MUCH STUFF everywhere;

To many items, too many notes, too much visual ‘noise.’

But also too many “to dos,” too many “projects,” too many “saved bookmarks,” too many “things I’ll get to later.”

My “mental RAM” is just overloaded.

I’ve been a follower of minimalism for a while, but I’m not a hardcore minimalist. I still like stuff. But I believe in the importance of removing clutter that is irrelevant, unimportant, or not exciting in our lives. Both physically and mentally. I like the clutter-free aesthetic; semi-barren, clean lines, sharp contrasts, a strong distinction between what’s present and what’s “open.”

And I want my mental environment to be somewhat the same; not necessarily barren, but cleanly focused on what’s important in my life, and less overall “noise.”

So last night I began the process of decluttering my physical space. There’s still so much stuff I want to and plan to get rid of (and I’ve given away/trashed a lot of stuff over the years already).

One musing came to me as I was cleaning off a shelf; I always felt ‘off’ about this particular 2-3 foot square space. It felt a bit tight, a bit cluttered, since the shelf was in a spot where it meant I’d have to twist and wiggle to get to another shelf beyond my desk. Just cramped.

The musing: why not just get rid of the shelf?

“But I have stuff on it. I need that space for my papers, my  notes, my current projects.”

Makes sense. My current “shelf space” is already a mess, getting rid of “that much space for projects/papers/whatever” would complicate things.

Or would it?

So I emptied off the shelf, and it turns it wasn’t that hard to rearrange other shelf space to make room and combine everything. Same things, one less bulky item in the room.

I made space by getting rid of “available” space.

I probably won’t even fill that space with something else; at most, something flat that could go on the wall.

Like a painting, poster, current notes, current projects, and so on. Something relevant, but not physically bulky.

Because I’m enjoying the freeing “space” that is now open by getting rid of an object designed to create more open “space.”

It feels a bit contradictory when I try to put it in words.

However, some of the notes/stuff that had to come off that shelf didn’t blend seamlessly with other shelf space, and that only spurred on the next deep-clean: going through all of my notes on the spaces I originally designated as “this is really important, I should do this right now” and “this is kind of important, I should do these this week” that both got very cluttered – and then I stopped looking at them, so they weren’t serving their purpose.

Going through those those kinds of areas for my personal life and WCS/dance/club made me get very honest about which notes/projects I was realistically going to work on today/soon, what was no longer relevant/important, or which I was just BSing myself into doing at this point. Each time I do a “deep dive” into my stuff, I end up archiving at least 70% of it. The remainder gets organized into that “mega important” and “kind of important / soon” piles.

I can apply this to my digital landscapes as well; all the folders and bookmarks that I have for the web and my personal file structures…

I could start limiting them by creating similar “this is mega important” and “this is sorta important, or will be soon” sections for “projects.” I could create more intentional categories and limit content/saves to those (such as photography, website development, dance research, etc.,). And then become honest about what’s really important and what’s not really relevant (or I just got a quick ‘content fix’ from). Because 1% of the stuff I’ve saved I’ve used a BUNCH of times, 1% is something I’ve referenced a handful of times, but the other 98% I’ve never even LOOKED AT EVER AGAIN SINCE I SAVED IT.

Often times, I go to bookmark something and I’ve already bookmarked it and FORGOT I had it “saved for later.”

Meaning: I can go find it again pretty easily just by using search. And I’m not really going back and looking at the stuff I save in the first place, so why save it at all (unless I’m being genuinely intentional about it)?

In a nutshell, having “space” (like a shelf) can actually reduce the amount of usable space we have free because we often feel the need to fill it – just because it’s there.

Less space to fill, more intentional decisions about what’s important, less stuff to fill it.


Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash