The More You Keep, The More You Lose

controlI am baffled by folks who are baffled by why they are always losing things. Some of these folks are very near and dear to me.

In my experience, whether it’s professional or personal, those who lose things a lot, practice two bad habits:

1. They open without closing.

2. The keep too much stuff.

The first bad habit has to do with finishing what you start and returning things where they belong, when you are done with them. It is not recognized as in important habit until half a day is wasted looking for a single item. (Not before.)

But closing what you open is less of an important habit, if you keep very little stuff. Picture a single empty room with a chair, a TV on the wall, and a remote control. How likely are you to lose that remote control, even if you don’t regularly return it to its home? It only has the chair and your pockets to hide in. It will take about 10 minutes to exhaust the possibilities.

Last weekend, my wife and I visited my Mum in Maine. Mum’s remote had gone missing. This was no small matter. She has no computer or internet, so her television is her only moving image entertainment. She lives alone. She cannot change her channels without her remote. It had so many places to hide that after two hours of searching, we never did find it.  It will take more hours to replace it and meanwhile she is stuck on Channel 3 watching repeats of community events.

Mum is a lovable, charming, well-educated woman, but I have learned the bulk of my organizing skills by doing the exact opposite of what she does. Countless hours of her life have been squandered in stressful search, because she doesn’t close what she opens and she keeps way more stuff than she can use.

Mum has Attention Deficit Disorder, so there’s not much that can be done to help the first bad habit, but I’ve never understood her need to keep so much crap. She always tells me she hates the clutter and is so grateful when I clear it, opening up space and possibilities, but of course the clutter always comes back with a vengeance.

So if you need a confession from me that I’m not always successful, there it is. The point I’m making here is, if you really do hate to waste so much time looking for things, don’t keep so many.

Ultimately, the answer is less about the quality of your systems and more about the quantity of your stuff. When your first habit is to rigorously scrutinize every item that arrives at your home and lives in it, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to find things and stay organized. We are conditioned to believe that we should be comforted by a certain quantity of stuff, but all too often, we are smothered by it.

A footnote to our Maine visit. My lovely wife left her glasses behind in Maine. Mum’s home care helper, Jane, searched everywhere in her home to look for them. They finally turned up in a very cluttered place: my wife’s pocketbook… in Connecticut. It’s official. I’ve married my mother. Sigmund Freud would have a field day with this.