When I was a kid, I collected dolls. I don't recall a conscious decision to start this collection - rather, I was given some "nice" dolls (i.e., "not to play with") as a baby and toddler, and they stayed behind a glass door in the fancy antique dresser in my room. As time passed, my mother added to this collection with Chinese dolls she ordered from Hong Kong. Next were porcelain clowns, Effanbees, and eventually, Madame Alexanders made their way into the group with warnings to save the original boxes and pink tissues because, "They will be valuable some day."
Valuable some day. These words stuck with me for a long time. I kept those dolls displayed throughout my teenaged years, and when I got my first apartment most of them made the cut there, too. But over the years fewer and fewer of the dolls were left out as I began to feel they were just, well...a little bit creepy. Too much, and too frilly, and not really in sync with my evolving tastes. Still, I carefully packed them away in their original boxes with the thought that I could sell them when I needed a little extra cash, or that maybe our daughter would want them.
The majority of those dolls traveled in big plastic bins all over this country as we moved. I never thought about them except when it came time to load up the bins and move again. It hit me about four years ago that the dolls were never, EVER going to be displayed, and honestly were not being stored properly either. I pulled some out to offer to our daughter, who accepted far fewer than I expected. So I thought, "Now's the time. Now I can sell these valuable dolls."
I listed them on Craigslist and contacted a few doll sellers via the Internet. I checked on eBay to see what the going rate was for MAs, and was a little shocked to see that most were selling at or less than what we originally paid for them. No bites from anywhere. Undaunted, I decided that maybe participating in the neighborhood garage sale was the way to go. I think you probably have guessed the ending to this story. Very few sold, and those that did went for prices that would have made my mother sick if she were still around. The rest...(sigh) I donated.
So what is valuable? I think it was on an episode of Antiques Roadshow that I heard one of the appraisers say, "Something is only valuable if someone else wants to buy it." That can be a difficult lesson to learn. I'm not saying all collections are worthless (or that they have to be worth money to have worth). I'm saying that our perspectives and knowledge about collections may change, and that is o.k. Are you perhaps hanging onto stuff for reasons that are illusory at best? Do you still enjoy your collection, or is it stored in the attic or basement (or maybe, a storage unit)? If it is stored, is it stored properly to avoid damage?
I did keep a very few small dolls (7, to be exact) that reminded me of the person who gave them to me, or were unusual in some other way. That kind of memory is what is important to me now, and I have no regrets. Hopefully the ones I let go are all now making someone else happy. Maybe a wise child is actually playing with them.
Take out a sheet of paper, or your favorite note-taking app, and list everything that's sitting on your desk right now. Be honest. To be fair, I'll do it too - here's my list:
Now for me, that's pretty much the limit on what I can take before I'm going crazy. In fact, I'm moving the stapler and the card reader right now. Do you have more on your list? Keep in mind, "stack of papers" does not count as just one item. What's in that stack? Mail that hasn't been opened? Checks that haven't been deposited? Is there just one stack, or...several?
Let's ask a few more questions: How long does it take you to find something on (or in) that desk? Do you feel comfortable and calm when you sit down to work, or distracted and frustrated? Is everything you need within reach? Conversely, do you like to get up and move a fair amount when you're working (maybe you need to store things across the room)? Are things you don't use every day out of the way? Can you take five minutes at the end of the workday and set everything straight for the next?
I often get the "But ___________________ (insert favorite mad genius here...Einstein, Steve Jobs, Mark Twain, etc.) had a messy desk, and look what they accomplished!"
I suppose that's true. But think what they could have accomplished if they had kept things more in order. We'd be colonizing Mars by now.
Seriously, I understand that different people have different levels of clutter tolerance, and some people can definitely function well and find what they need at a workstation that others would consider chaotic. That's why you need to make a list, and ask yourself the questions. And if you come up short in some areas, maybe it's time to take a look at how you're taking care of things. It's just about being honest with yourself.
Einstein said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” I think he had it a little mixed up. It's not an empty desk. It's an organized one.
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach, wife, mom, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?