Engineers and electronics hobbyists (especially the ones into shortwave radio and such) can occasionally be overheard talking about “signal-to-noise ratio”.
What’s signal-to-noise ratio?
If you remember antennas on TVs, analog cell phones, or have ever listened to a regular radio that’s filled with static, you understand the concept.
If the TV, cell phone, or radio station is coming in clear with virtually no static, you have a very high signal-to-noise ratio. If you can hardly see the picture, hear the caller, or tune in the station, you have a very low signal-to-noise ratio.
How This Applies To Decluttering
If you have lots of clutter, the odds are good that you’re saving a few things for a rainy day. I know people that have buckets of bolts, broken pieces of metal and plastic, and all manner of odds, ends, and doohickeys in every conceivable shape and size.
You might have a bin full of yarn, together with crochet hooks and/or knitting needles that never get used.
If you’re anything like me, some of the desire to save those things was passed on to you by previous generations. Well-intentioned, that – but not necessarily a useful path going forward.
Let’s take a trip back a few decades.
A Blast From The Past
My great-grandmother saved lots of things.
For instance, she had a cupboard with a stack of aluminum pie plates. She didn’t buy them empty; she saved them when she got a pie from the store (or a friend).
Her sewing supplies (and other misc. small collections of household stuff) were kept in old margarine containers.
She had a couple of door stoppers made from old catalogs. No kidding, she actually folded each of the 600+ pages in a full-sized Sears catalog a certain way to turn it into a door stopper. 600+ pages!
None of these things are bad, per se. But there’s a big difference that paints the situation in an entirely different light.
The Difference Between Them And Us
The thing is, Grandma didn’t have a microwave – so she used those pie plates as disposable oven pans for reheating leftovers. She washed them of course (why throw them away if they’re still good?), but if they were too damaged she’d pitch them.
In fact, Grandma didn’t own the entire cupboard full of plastic storage containers that most modern households feature in their kitchen. When I think “Grandma” and “plastic storage containers”, I draw a complete blank. She probably had a couple, but by that I do mean a couple – as in “2″.
Speaking of plastic, she did use margarine containers to store household gizmos, to the exclusion of newer, fancier substitutes. If you looked in her sewing basket and said, “why are you using margarine containers?” she’d just look at you and say, “why not?”
Oh, and folding 600 pages of a catalog takes serious time by the way. I know, I helped her make a door stopper once.
Modernizing The Madness
For Grandma, these things weren’t clutter – they were part and parcel of her daily life. And if they’re part and parcel of your daily life, they’re not clutter for you either.
But if you’re like most people, you’re saving these things to solve problems that our generation doesn’t even have.
If we live in a world where we don’t even reheat things in the oven anymore (that’s why we have a microwave!), we buy specialized containers to store our stuff, and we don’t leave the doors of our house open on a consistent basis (since air conditioning no longer means “opening a door”), the things that were a central part of Grandma’s life become clutter for us.
More Signal, Less Noise
The result of all the saving is a bunch of stuff we either don’t need or can’t use, accumulated in anticipation of a situation that will likely never come up.
When you scan your rooms, how many of these things are actually an active part of your life? What are you saving for “just in case”? What are you saving because you “might use it later”?
If you think really hard about it, are those things “signal” or “noise”?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
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