In case you missed the newsletter yesterday…
The periodic table is one of my favourite things. I can imagine Dmitri Mendeleev playing around with the 56 known elements of the time, trying to figure out a system that would make them make sense. That moment of breakthrough must have been wonderful, like cracking a safe or putting together a piece of IKEA furniture…
Part of its genius is that it anticipated and could accommodate the finding of many more elements: it went beyond the known. And then of course, there are the various brilliant homages like this one, this one, this one, and the genius of Tom Lehrer who composed a song with a tune familiar to Gilbert and Sullivan fans.
Now, my knowledge of chemistry stops pretty abruptly at high school, something about a low low mark for a report of photosynthesis which I’d written using only literary quotations. I thought it was brilliant, and Ms Clarke thought it was a C-.
But I recognize there’s magic in the way the world works (which is why this book is one of my all time favourites). And there’s romance too in two of the most basic reactions: fire and rust (this is starting to sound like a Game of Thrones episode). Fire, where heat, fuel and oxygen combine into something extraordinary; rust, where iron bonds with oxygen and starts to corrode.
However, periodic tables and the like weren’t really on my mind over the weekend. Finding an Advil to relieve the pain in my back and legs was now priority number one. I’d spent three days humping boxes up and down and down and up stairs, as we moved Box of Crayons’ World HQ 500 meters down the road and into a new space. It’s beautiful: compact, flooded with light, with its own small balcony for “working”, and just filled with a sense of freshness and opportunity.
And while my back was sore, it could have been so much worse.
Now, I wouldn’t call myself a hoarder. But as I surveyed my old office, there was no doubt that stuff had built up. Articles that (one day, surely) I’d get around to reading. Processes, contracts and paraphernalia from long-gone client moments. Dusty trophies that now were more momento mori than magnificent. Nine bankers boxes of … well, I wasn’t quite sure as I hadn’t opened them up for more than three years.
It seems I’d had my own chemical reaction. My desire for security and back-up had interacted with an excess of information to create its own destructive force: clutter. Like rust, it both accumulated and corroded. But unlike rust, I could do something about it.
In the latest of the Heath brothers’ excellent run of books – this one, Decisive, is on decision making. It reveals some of the habitual errors we fallible humans make in how we decide, and one of them is the sunk cost fallacy. In other words, people make decisions on a situation based on what they’ve already invested, rather than on the facts at hand.
When we’re decluttering, a variation of this way of thinking shows up, which is this: as this is already on my shelves (or in my boxes, or buried in my pile), I’ll assume I’ll keep it unless I decide to remove it.
A bolder approach is this. Remove everything from the shelf, the box, the pile.
Remembering who you are and what you need right now, is this worth putting back on the shelf?
Rather than making the argument for removing it, you need to make the argument for keeping it.
This approach takes longer and undoubtedly requires more thinking and self-honesty.
And it means there are about ten fewer banker boxes in my new office than there otherwise would be.
(Here’s the panoramic shot of my office – including the laptop where I’m writing this newsletter.)
What’s worth looking at?
The odds are that you’re not moving any time soon, and the odds are that you’re accumulating rather than not.
Let’s get beyond just paper and books.
People, habits, stories, rituals, patterns, equipment, obligations…
What might you take down, examine, and ask yourself: Is this worth putting back?
(And you might like to remind yourself of Principle #6 here as well)
Top image credit: User:Cepheus, Wikimedia Commons
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