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> Other Approaches

  Trash and Death

Other Approaches

Over the years, I've run into a few other approaches to the problem of things with sentimental value, and here they are.

A while back, I was telling a friend of mine about de-sentimentalization, and when I got to the part about taking pictures of things, she was unsurprised, and said that that was a standard technique in women's magazines. If you have an outfit that you never wear but can't bear to get rid of, just put it on and get your picture taken, and that'll make it easier. I don't remember the details exactly now … maybe the idea was to find an occasion to wear it, not just to take a picture for no reason. In any case, the whole thing is a nice example of convergent evolution.

Here's another standard technique that I've seen mentioned in various places at various times. If you have some things that you can't bear to get rid of, what you can do is put them in a box, seal it up, write the date on the outside, and wait. Then, one day, when you happen to look at the box and notice that it's more than a year old, you can throw it away unopened because you know there's nothing inside that you need. Of course the wait doesn't have to be a year, it can be whatever you like, but a year seems about right to me. Why does that technique work? Because of the principle Out of Sight, Out of Mind!

I actually don't like that technique, for reasons I don't fully understand. Still, I thought the idea was worth passing along.

Speaking of boxes, two married friends of mine had an interesting system that they used to prevent accumulation of random stuff: they each got to keep exactly one box of it. That may sound like a goal or a constraint, not a technique, but actually there's a technique in there too. Suppose you have a bunch of objects with sentimental value. If you consider them individually, you'll probably like them all, but if you consider them all at once, you'll probably realize that you like some more than others, which should then make it easier to get rid of the ones you like less.

I don't constrain myself to one box, or to any fixed number of boxes, but I do make some use of the associated technique. If I have a bunch of similar objects, I'll often pick out one or two of the best and then discard the rest, possibly after writing a few notes about them. (There's that selection effect at work again!)

Finally, here's an approach that I still use sometimes. Suppose you have some old familiar thing that you want to throw away. If you just throw it in the trash with the coffee grounds and wilted lettuce and whatnot, you'll see it there over and over again, and each time it'll be depressing and painful because (a) you'll see the familiar thing degraded, and (b) you'll need to reconfirm the original decision to throw it away. However, there are ways to make the process easier, ways that can be applied individually or in combination.

  • You can hide the thing under the other trash so that you don't have to see it.
  • You can wrap the thing up in some newspaper or whatever. This idea works well with the first, since it's much less nasty to cover the thing with trash when it's wrapped up.
  • You can take the thing to a different trash can than the one you normally use. I'd go straight to the collection point: in a house, the main trash can in the garage; in an apartment, the common dumpster outside.
  • You can make the process more formal. If I'm throwing away a shirt, for example, then instead of literally throwing it, I might fold it up and gently place it in the trash, and even think to myself “goodbye old shirt, you served me well”.

The first three of these are powered by the same principle Out of Sight, Out of Mind that I was talking about a few paragraphs back. (And the fourth? No idea.)

That's the end of what I have to say about other approaches. I do have a train of thought that continues from here, but it goes off in such a strange direction that I thought I'd break it out into a separate essay. So, why not stop reading now? You can come back for the rest some other time.



  See Also

  How I Cleaned My Room
  Modern Form, The

o May (2007)
@ November (2008)