Understand the principles of messiness and how to keep things around you in order

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Written by B and photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash

Understand the principles of messiness and how to keep things around you in order

There are some basic physical laws which secretly rule our life. There is the universal law of gravity and there are the laws of motion and there are the three principles of messiness. You might not have heard of them, but I am sure you experienced them. In the following, you will learn to understand and master them.

Order never just "happens" - quite the contrary. Once in a while, we have to spare some time to bring things back in order. Sometime later things have magically untidied themselves all over again. At least this is what it feels like.

I am not one of this magical tidiness wonders who seem to be born to have everything in order all the time. Spoiler alert: Nobody is. The ones of us who manage to keep things tidy simply understand the principles of messiness and manage them accordingly. Hopefully, these remarks help you to spend less time tidying your space and keeping the effortful achieved condition of tidiness for a longer period. 


1. Principle of Reduction: Messiness amplifies with the number of things you have

Take one book and lay it on a clean table. Move it around. You may notice: No matter where you put the book it is quite hard to make the book on the clean table look untidy. Now add more and more books (and other stuff like pens and papers). As you go along you might realize that the more stuff you put on the table, the more difficult it gets to make it look neat and tidy. Therefore, make your life easier by reducing the stuff you have. Don’t be afraid. You’d be surprised how much stuff you do not really need but still keep. Use the following questions to decide what objects to keep and which ones to throw away. 

  • Ask: When was the last time you used it?

This helps to identify stuff that has gone past its time. I recently found my first Discman (that were portable CD Players in the pre-MP3-era). I had kept it until the year 2017.... two IPods and a few IPhones later. We store many things that we haven’t used for some time. We keep T-Shirts that we have worn when we were a different person. We keep books we have (not) read and will never look at again in future. Make sure to get rid of stuff that is superfluous. Sometimes it is easy to throw or give away stuff, sometimes it is hard. 

  • Ask: How likely is the future use?

We tell ourselves way too often that we might need the item in future. Here is a personal tip how to get rid of the things: When I sort out clothes I put them in a big bag and store that bag in my parent’s attic. I keep it there for one year. I want to make sure to have gone through all the possible seasons. From time to time I get up there and search for a certain shirt or dress that I want to wear. After the year all the clothes that I did not miss or needed are the ones I can donate or give away without feelings of regret.

For some other things the time period you need to store it to feel okay with eliminating it may vary. It also varies from person to person. There are people who suffer from a lot of loss aversion while others might even enjoy making room for new things.  

  • Ask: How does it make you feel?

Feelings play a big role when we decide what to keep and what to throw away - and they should. Things that make you feel good are definitely worth to keep. However, sometimes we are trapped and make wrong decisions because of our feelings.

The first type of things are expensive things we bought and liked a lot. But now owning them has become a burden. You don’t use them anymore but you can’t throw them away either. Try maybe to sell them or to give them to people who you like and who might enjoy the things. Do not let investments you made in the past, ruin your present. By keeping expensive things that do not fit your lifestyle anymore, just because they were expensive. When they do not make you feel the way you felt when you bought them, there is no reason to keep them.

The second type of things are things you bought because you hoped to grow into a person that wears or uses those things. So, you bought a pair of jeans that is not your size? Or a pullover in a bold color that you would never wear – at the moment? I bought a few crop-tops one summer. I wanted to show the world that I was a sexy, self-confident, body positive kind of girl, that wears these kinds of tops. I never wore them, not because I was not self-confident or body positive, but simply because I had a life that never offered me an occasion to wear a crop top. Nevertheless, these tops stayed in my wardrobe until I gave up on the dream to be a crop-top-wearing kind of girl.

The third type of things that are glued to our lives by emotions are things that make us remember our past. By throwing them away we feel that we are throwing away our past. The first important step is to accept that you are not the things you own. The important experiences and life lessons will stay with you, even if you throw away all your stuff. To get rid of the stuff use a similar method like already discussed. Keep these things for a certain time period. Then have a look at them again. How does it now make you feel? Often you have already forgotten about the party that you wanted to remember by keeping the entry badge. If it still gives you a good feeling. Why not keeping it? Just check regularly whether the things you keep still have meaning to you.

Ask: Can I digitalize it?

A great thing is that we have the opportunity today to digitalize a lot of stuff. For example, instructions or invoices. You can now throw away the paper versions. Having these things digitalized can make it even easier to find the right invoice or the right page in a 50 page-long instruction.

Published on Wednesday 15th July 2020

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