Feeling at Home in Your Home, Part III: The Detritus of Life

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If you’re just joining us, go back and read Part I and II first. 

I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath for the next exhilarating post. My bad—I’ve been busy, and I suspect Thursday is a better day to post anyway.

Thanks for reading!

The Detritus of Life

I’m not going to lie, y’all…I’ve been dreading this next part—sorting the “komono” category, which is basically a bunch of miscellaneous stuff.  The clothes and books felt significant, but this next one is daunting because it just seems like an avalanche of stuff.  Which I suppose is the point—to wade through the sea of things that steal our time and energy.  I’m going to break this up into two different posts because it’s SO.MUCH.STUFF.  We’ll do the boring stuff this week and get to the harder, more interesting stuff next time.  I’m calling the komono category the “detritus of life,” because it seems like so much of what lives in our homes is just that: silt that settles in the nooks and crannies.  This stuff might seem inert, but don’t be fooled.  It absolutely gobbles up our bandwidth. 

Put your armor on and saddle up, folks. 

Here’s what we’re dealing with:

1.       CDs, DVDs

2.       Skin care products

3.       Makeup

4.       Accessories

5.       Valuables

6.       Electrical Equipment and appliances

7.       Household equipment (stationary, sewing kits, etc.)

8.       Household supplies (expendables like medicine, detergents, tissues, etc.)

Next time around, we’ll get through papers, kitchen goods, and hobby-related stuff.  YAAAAYYYYYYY!!! (Can you sense my sarcasm?  But this is why I’m drowning in silt, right? So here we go….)

FIRST, take a moment of silence to thank your house and to ask it to cooperate.  Come on…just do it.  Be still and quiet for a minute.



                Do you have a mountain of cds or cassette tapes?  Or maybe you have the cases but no cds?  I’ve got some of that, and I’m not sure WHY I kept Weird Al’s cd for so LONG.  Did I think I’d really have a hankering to hear “I’m Fat” or “Amish Paradise” again?  I don’t know, but I haven’t.  Again, I think a lot of these things have the potential to fall into a “sentimental” category: maybe they remind us of a good time in high school or something.  Some music is worth hanging onto (because when will Weezer’s Blue Album ever go out of style?), but…I don’t own a cd player anymore.  So out it must go because we all know everything is digitized now anyway. 


                For some odd reason, I even found unmarked cds from back in the days that people burned them.  I suppose I shuffled these around to different piles, irrationally envisioning a time when I’d sit down and listen to them to MAKE SURE IT WASN’T SOMETHING PRECIOUS before I got rid of it.  Well guess what?  It couldn’t be precious if I don’t even remember what it was.  And I can’t listen to it anyway.  So they’re gone. 

                Do you have a large collection of DVDs or VHS tapes?  I don’t, but I know some people do.  For some people, these are a little like books.  I’ve seen houses that have enormous shelves full.  Kondo says that books (and perhaps movies, by extension) appear to be dormant, but they’re there cluttering up our houses just like other stuff.  Hold them (only if you have a device that will actually play it).  See if they spark joy.  If The Hunt for Red October brings joy to your heart, keep it.  If it doesn’t, out with it! 

                Make sure you’re not holding on to stuff (like movie collections) because you spent lots of money on it—that’s not a good enough reason.  If you must, dump all the stuff off at a place that will sell it on ebay.  Don’t pretend you’ll do it yourself.  If you do, you’ll only heap more work on yourself that is unlikely to get done. 


Skin Care Products

                I don’t buy skin care products, hardly ever (which is probably why I’ve got lots of wrinkles), but I was astonished to see how much I had anyway.  I currently have about 40 travel-sized tubes of various things from hotels in addition to whatever lotion, etc. is spread around the house.  This is a problem, right?  I take the travel tubes because I think, “they’re here, they’re free, and I hate to see plastic go to waste.”  For all I know, the cleaning service comes in and pitches those tubes whether they’re used or not and I REALLY hate that idea.  I’m not a communist or anything, but free market capitalism (among other factors) has produced problems that run so deep and are just killing our environment.  Long story short, we’re in a situation where we’re give free little trinkets (often plastic) every which way we turn.  This is also why I ended up with five glasses cases.  Why would I need that many?  I don’t. Ever.  I wish these freebees would just stop.  NO MORE FREE PLASTIC would be great for everyone.


But back to the sitch at hand: I have about 40 tubes of lotion and shampoo and conditioner sitting around, yet I still buy shampoo.  I either need to 1) stop buying shampoo, lotion, etc. and use up those tubes, 2) stop picking up those tubes, 3) throw the tubes away, or 4) donate them to a good cause.  Well, I know myself by now, and choosing option 1 requires me to remember that they’re there.  Clearly, I don’t.  So I need to either throw them away (which I can’t bring myself to do) OR donate them.  Lucky for me, I have a source in the neighborhood who collects these and donates to a local womens’ shelter.  So I’ll do that BUT if I don’t do it immediately, I know that pile of stuff will sit for a few weeks, cluttering up yet another corner.  See what kind of psychological twisting is going on here?  I took in stuff because I didn’t want to waste, but it turns out that I didn’t have time to manage the stuff, and now I have to use up time just to get the stuff out.  Ugh.  Maybe I shouldn’t have taken the stuff to begin with.  Lesson learned. 


While cleaning out my bathroom drawers, I also found skin care products that had one dollop left.  Why was that in there?  Out it goes!  I also found products that I use so sporadically that if I calculate the usage rate, I’ll probably be dead before the bottle is gone.  So why do I have that?  Again, I think this might be guilt creeping in: I feel like I need to use the thing because I bought it, but it’s clearly not useful enough for me to remember to use it.  By keeping it, I’ve got one more thing pulling on my energy.  I don’t need that! 

Do you have a lot of bath items that didn’t get used?  I did.  Did your Aunt Mary give you bath scrub that had charcoal as a main ingredient and you just couldn’t fathom rubbing it on your skin but you felt bad about giving it away?  Well, don’t.  You don’t need to bathe in OR around your guilt!  You know this by now.  Get rid of it!



I don’t have a lot of makeup either, but I still had extraneous stuff.  For some odd reason, I have silver eyeliner from when I was 16.  I kept it because of all the fond memories it provoked J  But you know what?  It’s a bit dried out and silver just accentuates wrinkles, so goodbye, old friend! 

What other old stuff do you have? 

Do you have makeup that you keep thinking you’ll use but then you never do?  This is becoming an old story, isn’t it?  Out, out, out. 



I’m not the best person to talk about accessories because I just don’t have that many, which probably speaks to my disregard for fashion more than anything.  I do know, however, that some people have a LOT of belts and jewelry and scarves and hats and sunglasses.  Again, I think the questions to ask are: are you holding onto stuff “just because?”  Do you really love what you’ve got or are there other reasons for why you’re surrounded by this stuff?  There probably are a few people out there whose world revolves around accessories (at least, I feel like I’ve seen them on TV).  Maybe accessorizing is a glorious hobby for them.  If that’s the case for you, keep doing what you love.  If all of that really truly fills you with joy, then enjoy that.  Focus on that one thing and make space in your house for that by clearing out mountains of stuff that fall into a different category.   


But I’m willing to bet that for 98% of us, accessories are not joyful.  Maybe you have one or two things that you love adding to your wardrobe, but I suspect that for many of us, if we look really closely, accessories are things that sit around “just because.”  They’re there because we felt the impulse to buy them because they existed.  Because we were subconsciously influenced to feel that we needed a decorative scarf or another pair of sunglasses to have a real outfit.  Accessories are purely auxiliary.  Unless they’re doing something critical (like holding our pants up) they’re not needed.  They’re a bit of icing on the cake.  There’s nothing wrong with icing, but you have to see accessories for what they are: they’re mostly unnecessary things that will take up space in your house and that require your time and energy when getting dressed.  If they make you feel fabulous, this time and energy will be worth it.  Be honest, though—do you have some accessories that are more trouble than they’re worth?  Maybe you have some that make you feel so-so or perhaps good but not great?  Do they deserve to take up your bandwidth?  Why do you still have them around?  Or maybe you have so much that you can’t even find things you need.  You’re definitely not feeling joyful in that scenario, so get rid of stuff!      


Funny but true story: I ran into a college acquaintance in a random place years after college.  This guy always had heavily accessorized in college, and I saw he was back at it.  As I was talking to him, he raised his sunglasses to perch on the top of his head only to realize that he already had a pair on his head!  Oh boy, that was hilarious.  I suppose the moral is that you can really overdo accessories.  And perhaps if you have too much it has the power to addle your brain a bit. 



Frankly, I’m not sure what all falls in this category.  I tend to view “valuables” as a thing of the past.  One of my grandmothers grew up fairly poor and then she married my grandfather, the son of an Italian immigrant family whose story encapsulates the “American Dream.”  His family came to the United States with nothing, they worked incredibly hard, and spun rags to riches.  I bring this up because that set of grandparents had all sorts of “valuable” knick-knacks all over the place.  You know, porcelain figures, multiple sets of china, jewels, minks and fur coats, decorative plates, etc.  A sea of stuff meant to look pretty and do not much else.  I can understand my grandmother’s proclivity for accumulating these things—she grew up without means, and I suppose these things reflected stability and comfort to her and heralded her status to others.  Now that she’s aging, she’s been divesting these things to family and we’re not really sure what to do with them.  Those things just don’t mean the same thing to us as they did to her.  They hardly have a functional use, since I don’t entertain with china (and the days of women taking on entertaining as their full-time job are gone).  My kids played with the mink stoles I inherited like they were stuffed animals until the feet came off.  I will say that I got some paintings and coral jewelry that I treasure, so not all of her valuables were lost on me.  But to be honest, most of them were.  Most of that stuff is clutter to me.


Anyway, what counts as “valuable” today?  What is valuable to you?  Maybe the better question is, what do you treat as valuable?  Do you, like my grandmother, expect that the rest of your family will see your valuables as their valuables?  You already get the implication: you may want to re-examine your expectations.  If they don’t end up valuing what you value, does that have significant implications for your consumption behaviors now or for anything else?  Maybe it should.


We all hold on to certain things in life, sometimes for reasons we can’t explain.  I think not too far beneath the surface, we are planning on giving those things to those we love, perhaps as a way of extending ourselves beyond death.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and chances are that our loved ones will appreciate something from us.  But I think focusing on quantity (as well as quality) is key.  I can’t possibly appreciate several sets of china (or even one set) and multiple pieces of furniture and old clothes, etc.—it’s just too much.  I’d argue too that no one can appreciate that many “valuables.”  If we have too many are they “valuable” any longer?   Something to think about.


Kondo says that passports and credit cards fall into the valuables category.  If they do, this one is easy: get rid of anything that’s not up to date.  Do you really think you’re going to wistfully look at an old passport in ten years?  If so, then go put it in an album right this second.  If you’re too busy to do that, you’re probably too busy to have albums at all. 



Electrical Equipment and Appliances

Uuuughhhhhh.  This one stresses me out.  I hate the world of planned obsolescence that we’ve entered into, and electronics are very much a part of that world.  There’s a special place in hell for all the people who design phones and everything else to break in a year.  Of course, this whole problem started a long time ago: when light bulbs were first invented, they had the capacity to exist over 100 years.  But then manufacturers realized that there was no money in that and gave them a much shorter shelf life.  We’ve been to the moon; we can create all sorts of things to last.  But we don’t.  Aldous Huxley was astonishingly prescient when he created the Brave New World that viewed 6-month-old things as old enough to discard. 


Yeah, I know “it’s complicated,” but this is partly why we’re all strangled by electronic cords in our houses.  I bet you have a drawer full of cords and adapters and little gadgets that had a short life.  You probably have stuff that you can no longer identify.  But you keep it because you might later remember what it is or on the off chance that you need it.  So the stuff sits for years, mostly forgotten.  We feel guilty that we have the stuff sitting unused, but even worse getting rid of it.  It just seems like waste no matter what.  We are stuck. 


What do we do here?  Well, unless you’re planning on hanging on to all that stuff for another 40 years so you can donate it to a museum, you need to get rid of it.  If you take it to a thrift shop, can they use it?  I really don’t know.  If you don’t know what the cord went to and don’t have the attendant appliance, they probably don’t either.  You can take it to a thrift shop to massage your conscience but they’re probably going to dump it in the landfill if they can.  It’d be good to recycle in the proper way and that may take research.  It’s worth doing.       


As always, if you want to move forward on this issue you’re going to have to be far more careful about what you buy to begin with.  Many electronics are so cheap now, and it’s all too easy to get excited and buy something only then to realize that you’ve yet again brought something unnecessary that will break soon into your house.  If I had to sum up the advice of this entire series it would be: SLOW. YER. ROLL.  Take a deep breath.  Think about what you really need in life and what you don’t need.  Always view stuff as costing you time and energy, NOT just money.


Household Equipment and Supplies

Is this getting tedious yet?  Blahhh.  Stuff like stationary and sewing kits, medicine and detergents, fall into this category.  Here are rules for conquering these categories (and everything else):

1.       Get everything you have in one category and put it together.  Chances are, you’ve got bits and pieces around the house that should always be in one place.

2.       Determine what is superfluous.  I bet you’ve got materials that you NEVER use but that you’re keeping on the irrational off-chance that you will one day need them.  Get these out.  They are taking up bandwidth and clogging the margins of your house.  You probably also have doubles and triples of things, possibly because you kept these piles all around the house so bought more because you never knew that you already had the thing.  Well, that’s very telling, isn’t it?  Donate or get rid of the surplus UNLESS you solemnly vow to keep everything in ONE place and to use what you have without needlessly buying more.

3.       Determine what’s old.  A lot of research indicates that expiration dates are arbitrary, so I tend to not care so much about those.  But obviously if you have a paste and it won’t squeeze (for example), get rid of it. 

That’s really it.  You’ve got to keep stuff that you need (but don’t necessarily enjoy), and that’s fine.  But keep it in one spot and don’t forget that it’s there!  If you can keep it all in one spot, you’ll ultimately reduce the amount of stuff you have because you won’t buy needlessly.  And you won’t be running all around, wondering where in the world that stuff is.


Parting Words

This komono category is so dreaded for me because it’s vast and hardly sparks joy at all (unlike clothes or books).  It reminds me of all the things in life that take up my time but that I don’t want to do—things like taking cough medicine, cutting my nails, figuring out how to set up electronic equipment, etc.  They are “detritus” to me, particles that necessarily attend daily living and settle in the nooks and crannies of our houses.  The rainfall of detritus in our lives is exacerbated by our culture that hands out free bracelets and pens and bookmarks at every event. 


At the very least, it seems, I can aim to minimize this category and breathe a little better.  I can do that by being careful about what I buy and by keeping these things all in one place in the house. 


Kondo says we keep a lot of these things “just because.”  We don’t think much about why we wouldn’t keep them—1,000 cotton balls will surely come in handy at some point, right?  Or, we just got that free pad of paper from the library—why not add it to the stash?  We don’t realize that we have too much for a lifetime already and that “just because” isn’t a good enough reason to hang on.  Think long and hard about all those little trinkets scattered about.  Learn to say no.  This refusal, while it may feel like restriction at first, just might end up freeing you. 

 Surround yourself with joy, my friends.


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