Tag Archive | clutter

Managing our personal technology, time, and attention

Photo of commuters on a train in the 1960s, everyone reading a newspaper with the caption: “All this technology is making us anti-social.”

“All this technology is making us anti-social.” (click to embiggen)

When I first started reading this article: A Phone Setup That Will Make You More Mindful I thought it was heading toward being a rant about how horrible technology is, making us ignore people around us and such1. I almost stopped reading it, in fact. But the screenshot early on of the home screen showing a simple landscape with a single question intrigued me. As I continued to read it, it became clear the author wasn’t anti-technology, he’s just a strong advocate for you controlling the technology, and not the other way around.

Now, before I get into my own comments on this topic, a disclaimer: my use case probably doesn’t match your use case2. I’m not suggesting that anyone use their tools the way I use mine. My talking about the tools I use and how I use them is in no way meant as an indictment of anyone who uses different tools (or none at all) or uses them differently.

I’m not rearranging my whole phone according to his recommendations after reading it4, but the article did make me think about how I let things on my phone distract me from other things I want to do—often things I meant to do on the phone itself. What I have done is cleaned up my notification settings. There were a number of apps I didn’t really want to see alerts from cluttering up my Notification Center and the Earlier Today list. It’s funny how every time I noticed those unwanted alerts before I would think, “I need to remember to go turn those off.” To be fair, the reason is usually that I would tap another alert that I did want and go read an urgent email or message. By the time I’d handled that, I would have forgotten about the annoying alerts.

Rinse and repeat.

This article has made me consider rearranging my homescreen. There are a few apps that I use many times a day that aren’t on the first screen. The app where I record and track my blood sugar readings, meals & snacks, and insulin doses, for instance. I put in on the second page because it’s color is the same another app I use multiple times, and I kept clicking on the wrong one. The article’s suggestion of having a first screen with no more than six apps that you use frequently got me thinking: is the reason that these two are confused because they are surrounded both buried among 22 other icons, many of which are only tapped a few times a week?

Right now all of the apps I have on the phone fit into only two screens. I pull that off by having a lot of apps in folders. My reason for doing this is that back when I had three to five screens worth of icons I would spend a lot of time swiping back and forth trying to find things. I figured just have two screens would cut down on that. Except I swipe back and forth between them a few times sometimes when trying to find an app.

So, I am thinking of rearranging my screen.

I’ve always had a problem with rabbit-holing. I’ll be getting ready for work, for instance, and notice that the empty tube from the middle of a used toilet paper roll is sitting on the counter. I’ll grab it and carry it out to the kitchen to drop in the recycle bin, where I might decide to grab a sip of coffee or water. I’ll pour some coffee into my much from the coffee maker and spill a little coffee on the counter, which prompts me to grab a rag, and the next thing I know I’ve wiping down the whole counter, and noticing that the stove could use a quick wipe, and say, there’s a couple of dishes in the sink that should go in the dishwasher, but…

And then ten or fifteen minutes later I’m finally heading out of the kitchen, but I forget that I was going to the bathroom and head into the bedroom to pick out clothes to wear, at which point I realize I haven’t actually showered yet. So I head toward the bathroom again.

Which eventually leads to a moment when I glance at a clock or my watch and freak out because it’s a lot later than I thought it was.

This tendency to be easily distracted did cause me to be sent for evaluation for hyperkinetic impulse disorder5 in school more than once. But each time they decided I didn’t have it6.

For now, I’ve turned off the badges on things like the Mail app that I check regularly, anyway. And greatly reduced the number of apps that show notifications.

I already have a lot of apps in folders, and for anything that I don’t check real frequently I use search to find them. I’m not quite ready to go as far as this guy: Beautility, My Ultimate iPhone Setup, but I certainly understand his reasoning!

I’m thinking of this as an extension of the project we started last year when we learned our old building was going on the market and knew moving was likely. We’ve been reducing and de-cluttering and taking long hard looks at all the stuff we have. A lot of things were gotten rid of because we seldom (if ever) use them7. So thinking about how I have my phone (and other devices) set up is probably a good next logical step.

Let’s see how this works!


Footnotes:

1. The modern equivalent of the infamous “milkman’s cheery whistle” style essay: where a pundit laments modern society in general by waxing nostalgic about one particular thing the author thought was wonderful.

2. This is a great phrase my friend Duncan introduced me to. People have different workflows, opinions, and uses for the tools they use. We can legitimately like something without being a mindless fanboy or apologist. We can just as legitimately dislike something without being a hater3. I think it’s a much better approach to think of things this way than to angrily ask, “Why would anyone use X?” And so forth.

3. However, if you only comment on someone else’s blog post to call them a fanboy, sheep, or some other disparaging term because they like a product you don’t, particularly if you include a blanket statement such as, “I don’t use products by so-and-so and never will,” you are acting in a way 100% indistinguishable from a hater.

4. Yet!

5. This was the name given to what is now commonly called ADD/ADHD back in the day. The modern name (and definition) wasn’t adopted until I was in my twenties.

6. I could get into a long and very boring discussion of standard deviations and what constitutes a symptom as opposed to a quirk in different people’s perspectives. But maybe some other day.

7. And I’m not just talking about the embarrassingly large amounts of things we found boxed up in the back of closets that had been there so long, we literally had forgotten the closet was that deep8. An example: about a year or so before Ray died, he found a silk jacket during one of his thriftstore runs with his mom. It was a beautiful dark purple and dark teal (a color combo I was really into), it was in very good shape, silk lining as well as a silk outer shell, it was a nice, light weight that would be perfect for the mildly chilly parts of our falls and springs, and it appeared to be my size. It fit me well across the shoulders and was more than roomy enough for my belly. But the sleeves were about four inches short. But it was gorgeous! And it had clearly been expensive. The label wasn’t in English, and the size was odd enough that we strongly suspected it might have been custom made made for another short, round guy, right? Anyway, other than the sleeves, it was perfect. But because of the sleeves, I almost never wore it. I wore it when a few times we went out back when Ray was alive, because it made him happy to see me in it, and I just never talked about the sleeves. Then for about 19 years after his death, the jacket lived in among our coats and jackets in the closet. Every now and then, when the weather was chilly but not actually cold, I would pull it out and put it on—and then remember the sleeves as soon as I lifted an arm. So I would take it back off and hang it up. Because Ray had bought it for me. And it was gorgeous and still in great shape and so on. During the unpacking, it (with a lot of other old jackets and coats) were hauled off to Value Village. I hope that someone who it actually fits found it and wears it and keeps warm while looking great.9

8. Though that was a thing!

9. Then there’s a complete different phenomenon: after we did the purge of the coats, one of the coats I kept was a long cloth raincoat10 that I had bought many years ago at a fancy men’s store. We had several formal functions we were going to that year, and a coat that I could wear over my suit seemed like a good idea. And it worked great and I looked good, and it was awesome. And then it spend most of the next 14-15 years hanging in that same closet. I wore it more often than the silk jacket, but I kept thinking that I should save it for appropriate occasions11. I didn’t get rid of it in the purge, I kept it. Then when the weather started turning cold and wet, I started to pull it out, but immediately had the thought, “But shouldn’t I save this for—?” Fortunately, I also immediately remembered that the whole point was that we decided only to keep coats/jackets that we actually wear. So during this, the wettest time of the year, it has worked well to keep me warm and dry. And what’s the point of owning such a coat if you don’t wear it, right?

10. It’s a microfibre cloth, and water beads on it rather than soaks in. So it really does keep you dry, but with out the crinkling and squeaking and other odd noises you get with plasticized and rubberized fabrics.

11. Whatever that means.

Confessions of a gift-guilty packrat

“Guilt: the gift that keeps giving.” —Erma Bombeck

“Guilt: the gift that keeps giving.” —Erma Bombeck

I’ve written more than once about being a packrat, especially recently, as the process of packing, purging, moving, unpacking, purging some more has really driven home just how much stuff we had squirreled and stashed away all over the place. One aspect of the packrat I’ve only touched on briefly is the guilt over gifts. Anxiety comes in many forms for packrats. We worry that if something we need breaks, or is stolen, or stops working or whatever that we won’t be able to afford to replace it. We feel guilt at the thought of spending money to replace something that we could have avoiding spending if we had simply kept a backup. We worry that someone we care about will be left in the lurch if something they need breaks and they can’t afford to replace it. We grow up being taught that people who waste money, or who don’t plan for an equipment or other failure, or who aren’t in a position to help a loved if/when something breaks down are bad people. And so on.

It’s a really complex web of guilt trips that we’re programmed with. And while most of those guilt trips are about necessities, not all of them are. We also have been taught to feel guilt over a lot of useless stuff. Specifically: anything that has ever been a gift. Don’t get me wrong: I love gifts. I love finding gifts for people I love. I love giving them. I love when someone gives something to me. Most people do. But we’ve all gotten those gifts that leave us scratching our heads. Why did this person think I would love this strange, ugly thing whose only purpose is to hang on a wall or sit on a shelf and isn’t like anything else I own at all?

The truth is, we know that we’ve made similar mistakes in gifting to other people. We found something we thought was cool, or thought they would like, but it’s really not. So when we get gifts like that ourselves, we smile and say “thank you.” And we are grateful that they thought of us and went to the trouble and expense of getting this thing for us, even if we have no clue what we’re going to do with it.

But no matter how useless or inappropriate the gift is, we packrats have a very hard time getting rid of it. Years later it will still be on a shelf or in a closet somewhere, next to a bunch of other things I never use. Even if I’ve decided that it’s time for a purge and I’m specifically going through a part of the house looking for things to take to the thrift store, I’ll pick up the thing I never use that was a gift and immediately hear my grandma’s voice in the back of my head: “You can’t get rid of that! So-and-so gave it to you, and what sort of ungrateful person would get rid of a heartfelt gift?” Getting rid of the gift would be the same thing as saying I don’t love that person as much as I think I do. Getting rid of the gift would mean I don’t appreciate how lucky I am that people think of me fondly enough to get a gift. Getting rid of the gift means that I’m a very bad person.

All of that runs through my head at the thought of getting rid of any gift. Even a silly old knick knack that I don’t merely don’t like, but actually think is repulsive. Even gifts given by people who are no longer a part of my life.

When my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and various aunts and uncles were inducing all this guilt, they weren’t meaning to turn me into a borderline hoarder—they were trying to teach me not to be ungrateful. They wanted me to treasure friends and value friendship and be thankful for the love that came into my life. Just as they had been taught. The fact that they were all packrats because of it didn’t even cross their minds.

Every single weird little kickknack and odd odject d’art that was crammed into the homes of each of my great-grandparents had a story. If I pointed at something and asked about it they would tell a story about the dear friend or long-deceased relative or whoever that had given them the thing. The story they told didn’t always involve the gift itself. But it was about the person and how wonderful or funny or dear they had been. Each dusty item was a memorial to someone they cared about.

And it isn’t just gifts that do that. My late husband, Ray, was even more into plushies than I am. Some of the plush tigers and bunnies and such he owned for a very long time before we met. Many of them had spent years in storage while he was living in a series of rented rooms in other people’s houses. But some went with him to each of those rooms. Some were later kept near his favorite chair in the apartments he and I shared.

The problem is that Ray was a heavy smoker—like his mom and sister and brothers who liked to visit a lot. And many of those plushies became badly nicotine stained. I’ve spent years periodically taking the stained ones out and trying various cleaning solutions on them. Some cleaned up easily, but other have just resisted.

But every time I thought it was time to throw in the towel and admit they couldn’t be cleaned, I would immediate think, “But Ray adored it! What kind of heartless widower would throw away something your husband loved!?” So they would go back into the closet or the back of a shelf until the next time I tried to clean them.

The process happened again during the move. For the first time in a long while I had all of the stained ones in a single place and I went through trying to clean all of them yet again. As before, they resist the commercial soap and various homemade concoctions I’ve put together from recipes on the web and so forth. They just won’t come clean. And since they are so badly stained, they shouldn’t be donated to a thrift store. When I mentioned this to Michael, he very delicately suggested it was time to “retire” them. I probably should have made a Bladerunner joke, but instead I just said, “I know. I just may have to hold a funeral for them.”

When Grandma died, we found literally hundreds and hundreds of teddy bears, easter bunnies, and assorted other plushies, each packed in plastic bags and crammed impossibly densely into a couple of closets. A lot of them had little notes attached in Grandma’s handwritting with some person’s name and a date. The vast majority of the names were people none of the family recognized. Grandma did lots of volunteer work at church, and over the years she helped and came to know a dizzying array of people who were there for a while and moved on with their life when they got through whatever calamity had brought them to the charity program. And Grandma seemed to remember them all.

For a few years after her death, everytime I saw either my mother or my aunt, they would try to foist some of those plushies off on me. “It belonged to your grandmother!” they would protest if I suggested donating it to a thrift store. It didn’t matter that many of them looked like they had come from a thrift store before Grandma got them. It didn’t matter that they had been hidden away somewhere in some cases for many decades. It didn’t matter that none of us had any knowledge of their existence before Grandma’s death; not one of us had a fond memory of Grandma telling the story of how this one was given to her. To my mom and my aunt, suggestions that we didn’t want them amounted to saying we didn’t want to remember Grandma, or something.

I don’t want to be that person. I recognize that hanging onto these things that I don’t and can’t enjoy simply because they were his is as irrational as my Mom being upset when I suggested a hunk of junk that had clearly once been a dime store window display that one of Grandma’s charity cases had picked up as salvage somewhere and given to her wasn’t a family heirloom.

There’s a difference between hanging on to something that you love or reminds you of someone you love (and that you have room for and you can enjoy and/or it serves a purpose), and hanging on because you feel guilt toward someone who is not going to be harmed in any way if you don’t keep it.

But I’m still probably going to hold a little funeral for the plushies…

Confessions of a cluttering packrat

Fuzzy phone picture I took shortly after moving about 14 boxes of tea into this organizer.

Fuzzy phone picture I took shortly after moving about 14 boxes of tea into this organizer.

I have mentioned many times that I am a packrat, son of packrats, grandson of packrats, great-grandson of packrats. On top of that, my husband is also a packrat son of packrats… so I hang onto things. I save things that other people would give away/take to Goodwill/throw away because “we might need that some day!”

It’s the reason we found multiple old microwave ovens hidden in the closets of my maternal grandmother’s house after she died. It’s the reason that clearing out the first bedroom in grandma’s house filled up the beds of three of my cousins’s pickup trucks more than four times each for trips to thrift stores and the dump. And it’s the reason that any time I replace an old appliance or gadget or household item with a new one, I hear that phrase, “you might need that some day!” in my Grandma’s voice. I essentially have to have an argument with Grandma’s ghost every single time I even contemplate discarding an item.

And Grandma’s ghost is stubborn!

Another eccentricity I have is They’re All My Favorite syndrome. For instance, I like tea. I admit to being a cultureless American who grew up on Lipton tea bags, I have made real tea with loose leaf teas, but 99.8% of the time I make tea from tea bags. And I have favorites. I love Numi Aged Earl Grey, for instance. And Stash Double Bergamot, and Stash Earl Grey Green & Black, and Revolution Earl Grey Lavender, and Numi Jasmine Blosson Green Tea, and Stash Lemon Ginger Green, and Twinnings Darjeeling, and Revolution Peach Ginger Black, and Revolution Dragon Eye Oolong, and Revolution Jasmine Blackberry Oolong, and Twinnings Orange & Cinnamon Spice, and let’s just admit that absolutely any blend that has Bergamot or Lavender in it will be bought by me and tried at least once, so there are always about ten Earl Greys of one sort or another…

And don’t get me started on Bigelow Raspberry Royale that used to be carried in all the grocery stores around here but I have to order it online—when it is in stock, which isn’t often!

The problem is, I love all of these teas, and I buy boxes of the teas, but I have tended to buy teas faster than I drink them. I take some boxes in to work, but I drink the free office provided coffee in the morning, switching to tea in the afternoon. Because I really need the strong caffeine hit of the coffee! Making tea with a kettle on the stove, particularly since most of the time I’m only making it for one, has always been more of a hassle than making a pot of coffee in the morning and reheating it as needed, or grabbing something premade out of the fridge if I want something other than water.

And for various health reasons, I’ve been cultivating a habit of drinking a glass or mug of plain water whenever I head into the kitchen looking for something to drink. As in, I don’t allow myself to pour some coffee or grab a bottle out of the fridge until I’ve drank water.

I have almost bought myself an electric tea kettle many times, but then feel guilty because the house is already cluttered everywhere, and do we really need another appliance that has only one purpose?

The last time our coffee maker died, my husband talked me into buying the model that had a separate tea maker. All it really is is a second separate water reservoir and separate heating element and so on that makes hot water that you can dispense in a cup in the separate location from the coffee pot. So now I make tea much more often.

Unfortunately, this had the effect of making me start buying even more tea. Thankfully, some weeks back my friend J’wyl sent me a link to a tea bag organizer thing that was selling pretty cheap on Amazon. Another friend she shared the link with bought it right away and waxed rhapsodic about how much it cleaned up his big pile of tea boxes. So I bit the bullet. I shared the picture at the top of this post with them the day after I moved tea bags out of boxes and disposed of about 14 boxes. I wish I’d taken a picture of the pile of empty boxes.

You can see in the picture I did take that I couldn’t get all of the tea bags into the organizer. For one thing, the larger Revolution bags don’t fit (and if you don’t keep them in their airtight resealable ziplock foil bag, they lose a lot of their flavor fairly quickly). But it does help. The compartments only hold about 12 bags each. The are another six compartments on the back side, so it holds about 144 tea bags, which I realize is a lot. Most of the teas I buy come in boxes of 18-24, so it would be nice if the compartments were a little bit bigger, but it is definitely an improvement over the pile of boxes. Particularly since a box that only has a couple of bags in it takes up just as much space as the brand new, completely full box.

It is a teeny, tiny step against the clutter. But an improvement!

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