Decluttering: Increase Your Signal To Noise Ratio

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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8 Responses - Add Your Input!

Linda Sand
Posted September 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

I have iron-on mending tape. But I don’t own a iron. I guess that will move to the “donate” bag today. Thanks for the wake-up call.

    Posted September 12, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Ah yes the “item that requires another item, which I don’t have” issue. I think we’ve all had that at one time or another. :)

    Thanks for commenting Linda!

Posted September 12, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

I loved my Granma too and I am as we “speak” going through tubs of stuff that I received from her estate when she passed. Grandma also had stuff form her Mom. I was having a bit of a time geting rid of stuff but decided to go through and try to get rid of it. I have sent signed Christmas cards from 1941 that she never sent to my oldest brother and he got such a kick out of it along with it I sent a few pictures of our favorite Aunt (also deceased) with our Grandma. I have another brother I am going to do this too for. I know he will treasure the few momentos, but wouldn’t want a few TUBS of them! I am working my way though the stuff and enjoying all the wonderful memories that I shared with my Grandma.

I am saving the last card I sent to her just before she passed away in which I told her how blessed I was for the times we shared and for everything she showed me and taught me and how I love her. She died less than 2 weeks later. My Aunt saved the card and gave it back to me. This is special.

    Posted September 12, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    That’s the type of stuff that’s always great to run across – and saving a small amount of it is a nice way to remember your grandma!

    Glad you’re enjoying the memories Faith. Thanks for commenting!

Posted September 13, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

I meant to say I sent my oldest Brother the card that my Grandma didn’t send out in 1941. Heck My Mom was only 5 years old.
I know I had a few signed but not sent out cards of my own from when my kids were young too!
I recently got rid of a whole tub (YES a 20 gallon) of various cards. Only about 1/2 full though. I had a garage sale last weekend and a lady told me her church has a women’s ministry that sends out cards to people. YEAH! I told her I had just the thing for her and gave her the tub of cards! It feels good to get the space and even better to give to something that will brighten up someone else’s day.

Posted September 13, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

My mother still has much of my grandmother’s stuff — almost all noise with no signal. She’s said that she’ll let my sister and I deal with it when she dies, but there will be a problem. If my sister deals with it, it will all go into her garage. If I deal with it, it will all go into the trash. I don’t have a garage, anyway.

We’ll be cleaning out our closet today. I’m missing a shoe that has to be there somewhere. And what is all that stuff piled in the middle? We decluttered it very early on in the process.

Gip @ So Much More Life recently posted..Sustaining The Minimalist Living Mindset

Posted September 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

Being into radio and electronics myself, I’m very familiar with signal-to-noise ratio. I think this is the first time I’ve seen it applied in this context, but the analogy is perfect. The more noise (distractions) we have in our lives, the harder it is to focus on the signal (goals or other important things).
Mike | Homeless On Wheels recently posted..Exploring RV Living – All The Comforts Of Home: Water, Gas, And More

    Posted September 14, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I thought you might like it, Mike. :)

    Thanks for commenting!

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