Listen to the whispers of your possessions (Exercise #15)

May 15, 2006

Each of our physical possessions has room not only in our homes or offices, but also in our brains.  Each couch, car, and book is something you have to manage, much in the same way that people managers have to care for the needs of their direct reports.  A couch might need a cleaning, or it might need to be moved, or it might need a replacement.  These unfinished tasks are open loops in our brains that will continue to surface in our working memory until they are completed or dropped.  We all know the relief we feel when we sell that car that has been a burden for years.  It is the pleasurable quiet resulting from all the whispering open loops finally shutting up.  The whispering open loops are actually quite a burden on our mental clarity and our daily ability to focus. 

Take a look around your office or home today and ask random objects, “What are you whispering to me?”  You may be surprised at how many things are whispering to you to be read, put away, given away, replaced, or otherwise attended to.The quickest and easiest way to stop the whispering is to get rid of stuff.  Now that summer is coming, why not have a garage sale, or take a few trips to Goodwill to give away a bunch of stuff that you really don’t need.Most people identify themselves as either purgers or collectors.  Get rid of that identity for yourself.  To simplify yourself to that extent is to do yourself a disservice.  Instead of deciding when to keep something and when to get rid of something, simply ask one of the following questions (depending on the amount of whispering you’re willing to take from your possessions):

  1. What future project of mine is this attached to?  Am I really dedicated to completing that future project?
  2. What if I didn’t get this?  Or didn't have this?
  3. Which part of my ideal scene for myself does this possession satisfy?
  4. If I had this, and I lost it in a fire, would I get it again?

What are your weak spots with possessions?  Do you abhor people who collect needleess camping equipment but find that you enjoy collecting kitchen appliances?  Do you pride yourself on your book, music, or DVD collections?  Find the possessions you enjoy having the most and listen to the tasks that they’re giving you… throw a party for this movie, read this book, get a bigger bookshelf for us, etc.  What if you didn’t have them, what would change?  What if your house burned down… which of these lovely things would you buy again?  How will these possessions play into your ideal scene of the next couple years?

Instead of having all of these things, think about outsourcing them.  Use the library for books, listen to the radio or convert all of your music to mp3s, and use Netflix and other rental outlets for DVDs. Let them handle the whispering, and with your new clarity of mind, know that if you ever do get around to that project, these things will be available at that time.  But maybe you'll find that the project isn't even that important anymore once the  whispering is gone.

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