‘Leave by’ dates

Hello, Neil here
Many years ago when I was young I had a house with a little brick-built shed on the side of it. This was in the dark ages before people realised how cool sheds were, so I just called it the outhouse, on account of it being ‘outside’ of my ‘house’.

It was a useful little space too. I used it to keep my stuff in. My stuff included:

• A lawnmower
• A bicycle
• An unusually long wooden pole
• a whole lot of assorted junk

The weird thing is, looking back I cannot remember a single item that would have been included in that last bullet. So it must have been – well, junk, right? As in rubbish. Yet at the time, I could not bring myself to part with any of it. “I might need it for something,” I would say to myself, without ever managing to define what that ‘something’ was.

So my outhouse continued to be a largely useless space largely full of useless items, rather than a really cool shed, where I could be all creative and interesting. My own junk was stifling my creative juices, and that’s very bad. Ask any artist.

How did I break out of this mindset? Dates.

That’s right. Boring old target dates. I decided to look at all the things I had accumulated in the shed, and put dates on them, like ‘use by’ dates on food. If I hadn’t used it or found a use for it after, say, one year, it would have to go.

I recall a few items that I felt needed more time to ‘decide’, so these were given longer stays of execution, but there were also a couple of things that I felt could go in six months. Thus, you see, an approach like this often inspires fresh thinking, and that’s usually good.

Just setting this plan in place was helpful. Within a year, much of the ‘dated’ stuff had already departed, by fair means (or foul, but more of that later). It was as if I had prepared it all for the big heave-ho without the mental stress of physically ‘removing’ it from my life. I gave myself time to adjust to the new situation.

If there’s something in your life that has no defined purpose, why keep it?

It has no purpose;
It has no use;
It’s useless to me.

We all know what to do with useless stuff.

But Neil, I hear you ask. It’s all very well to talk about these things, but – did it really work? You got rid of stuff, but surely you had formed an ‘attachment’ to some of these items? There still has to be a date when, ultimately, you have to get rid of that stuff – and that’s hard.

Possibly, but when the day came I felt I was more prepared for it. I could look at those remaining items and say to myself “I haven’t used these things since … so why am I keeping them?” It made that final action so much easier to achieve because I had given myself enough time to justify it reasonably.

Well, almost all of it. You see, one night the outhouse was broken into. Nothing was damaged (I’d just forgotten to lock it) and some little opportunist sneaked in – and stole my unusually long wooden pole.

Evidently, even thieves couldn’t find a use for anything else I kept in the outhouse.

Which speaks volumes really, doesn’t it?

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