On my grandmother’s eightieth birthday I sent her two dozen red roses, an extravagance for someone fresh out of graduate school. I was proud of myself, until I spoke with my mother.
“Why didn’t you send plastic flowers?” she demanded.
“Plastic? Why plastic?”
“Plastic lasts longer. Real flowers die but you can enjoy plastic longer.”
My mom’s attitudes about possessions were scary. The walls of her house were covered with yellowing photos of family members. She kept every birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day card, etc. that I ever sent her. Every single one. She stayed in the house I grew up in well after she should have, ignoring my constant pleas to relocate her someplace better.
She wasn’t a hoarder by any means. But she had difficulty knowing what to let go of. In her mind, she needed a compelling reason to get rid of something. When in doubt, it should be kept. That was her mistake.
This article at LifeHacker, highlighting Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, points out that the best way to deal with ‘stuff’ is to make tossing things out the default decision. “When in doubt, throw it out.”
This attitude views all possessions as transient visitors to your space. For them to stay past their use-by date they have to make some compelling reason to hang around. A bit like guests that show up unexpectedly at your doorstep.
The utility of this attitude extends beyond possessions, as well. For example, I used to have an elaborate system of flags and rules in my email account, assigning incoming messages to a variety of purgatories. I’ve replaced that system with a simpler one: all mail is flagged with a ‘Delete Me’ flag upon receipt. If I think the message is important, I’ll remove the flag. Otherwise, it is deleted after a short delay.
I have, in essence, applied a sunset provision to my email. Just as sunset laws have self-destruct clauses that end them if not renewed, my email fades away if it doesn’t justify itself.
Why limit yourself to email or household clutter? I written before about the gift of unfriending Facebook connections on their birthday. All friendships should have sunset provisions. (Which probably explains my limited inner circle.)
Thoughts, beliefs and attitudes should be able to stand up for themselves periodically. If not, they should be discarded. Show me a person who’s views haven’t changed over the years and I’ll show you a scary person.
Life is a verb, subject to constant evaluation. You don’t point the ship of life at the beginning of the voyage and then disappear below deck. The voyage requires constant course corrections to arrive at your planned destination. Use sunset provisions in your life to ensure your final sunsets are on the beaches you aimed for.