How to Break through Scarcity Thinking and Overwhelm: Two More Clutter Archetypes

I promised last month that I’d write about the other clutter archetypes that authors Fortin and Quilici describe in their book, New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living. We covered the sentimental type who keeps things because they feel connected to the person who gave them the item or the item reminds them of that person. The solution for these types is to decouple the cherished person from the object. Then we talked about the practical types who tend to keep things that might be useful one day, even if not currently using the object in question.

Now there remain two more clutter archetypes: 1) the frugal type who holds onto any object that they spent money on or that is perceived to have some financial worth; and 2) the crafty or project type who always has lots of interesting projects going at any one time. This project person might have tech clutter. This may include things like a few old computers or monitors, lots of old cables, old phones, cameras, and gadgets. All kept with the idea that one day you’ll fix that old computer up and use the parts for something.

One of my sisters is the frugal type, the other is the project type and I’m the practical type. My elder sister immediately comes to mind as a crafty, project person. During our last visit, glass plates covered her dining room table. She was painting them to make a stained-glass effect. Also, she had built a sauna in her guest bedroom, was growing herbs and cooking something in the kitchen. Of course, there are always the garden projects with weeding, mulching and pruning to do.

My younger sister is very frugal. Thanks to this quality, she has retired early (at 53). She has saved and invested enough to live simply without having to work. Some frugal clutter archetypes worry that they won’t have money in the future. As a result, they hold onto old items even if they aren’t useful. Or they hold onto things that have some perceived value or monetary worth. The danger for frugal types is living in a mental state of scarcity and not being able to spend money on new things that would make life more enjoyable.

The solution for frugal types is often to sell collectibles or valuable items. Then earmark that money for buying a new and better replacement. I would also encourage frugal types to break through their scarcity/fear-based thinking. I recommend doing this by setting a budget for frivolous fun or entertainment at 10% of your income. This might feel a bit uncomfortable at first as you’ll be so used to saving it can be hard to start spending. Start with either a set sum or a percentage for “fun” money. One of my clients used this strategy with her partner to ensure that they were enjoying life now, not just waiting until retirement. When they decided to spend 10% of their income on fun stuff, they started taking weekend trips, going out to nice restaurants and getting massages–all of which they agree made life better now.

When looking at these four clutter archetypes, I realized I was some of all four types. My main issue centered around keeping things that might come in handy or useful someday. This lead me to store numerous duplicates of perfectly good and potentially useful things. After all, they weren’t broken or damaged or stained and were being used occasionally, so it felt wrong and wasteful to discard them. Thankfully, the fact that these things are in good condition and still have a useful life, makes them ideal candidates for donation. Donation centers do not want broken junk.

My tendency to keep duplicates is partly exacerbated by the fact that I have a long-time frame so can visualize many possible, long-term future needs. When discovering I had five sets of measuring spoons, I thought I should keep three sets. This would allow me to have two spares to give to my daughters when they leave home. But that won’t be for another 3 years to 6 years!

This becomes a balancing act of ‘how much space do I have to store items’ and ‘is it worth it?’ And the answer is no, it is not worth it. My daughters will no doubt be perfectly capable of acquiring the things they need and will enjoy doing so in the future. So unless it is a truly unique or expensive item that they have specifically said they want, I will donate all superfluous spares now so that they are put to good use in someone else’s home.

Surprisingly, I had a fair amount of tech clutter. I had saved the old hard drive on a computer just in case I might need it and kept a slow, old computer in case the kids might want it (but they want something fast of course!). Now, I have donated the old computer and we got a fast, reconditioned computer for the kids.

Also, I have a few unfinished projects lurking about. I bought some beautiful fabric to make into a quilt but never used it. For another project, I bought chalk paint to paint the bedside tables and have yet to paint them. I found tulip bulbs moldering in the garage that I hadn’t planted last fall…

The solution for project/crafty clutter archetypes is to allow one space for your projects and keep things in that space. Or more simply, only work on one project at a time until completion.

I now have a personal rule of not buying stuff that needs fixing up. I used to bring home an old chair that needed new upholstery or an old chest of drawers that needed a coat or two of paint. Now I only buy things second hand that are already in good shape and need no additional work. This saves me from creating more projects that will never get done. I’ve found this is a huge relief and that having all sorts of unfinished projects around the house is quite a burden. I kept thinking, “I should really do X,” but all I really wanted to do on my weekend was socialize with friends, spend time with family, go for a walk or do some yoga and read a book or watch a good film.

Do you have any tech or project clutter hidden in the garage, basement or attic? Or maybe it is in plain view in your home office?

Make a list of all your unfinished projects. Decide which ones you’ll never do and donate those unfinished projects if possible. I gleefully bundled up the yarn and knitting needles and donated them to a local charity shop because it turns out, I don’t like knitting!

Work on one project at a time until you’ve caught up. It helps to book project time into your calendar. Or try this fun idea to get more projects done. Host a weekly or monthly crafting night and invite friends to join for a potluck supper. Follow supper with an hour or two of working on various projects. Some might bring scrapbooks, some knitting or sewing, others might put together photo albums. If you are an extrovert, book a regular craft/project night with friends. You’ll feel like working on projects if you aren’t alone. You could suggest rotating houses if you don’t want to be the host every time.

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