Finding the right question.

I started cleaning the house on Saturday, and finally flipped. I lost it. I’ve often complained about all the ‘junk’ we have around the house, but it seems like when I go to throw stuff out, we still have too much crap left when all is said and done. But this time… It’s already being called the Great Purge by my fellow family members. I found out that I all these years I’ve been asking the wrong question…

When I was 8 my brother and I used to write choose your own adventure stories on a Texas Instruments computer… They went something like this.

10 Print “You see a button, do you want to push it?”
20 if “yes” then goto 40
30 if “no” then goto 50

Ok, that is from memory so the code probably isn’t right, but there is something magical about telling the computer to do a quick check, and based on that check, do something specific. The same thing happens when we go to throw out stuff.

When you want to get rid of junk, you look at every item and ask yourself a question. Depending on the answer, you either keep it or chuck it. There are several questions people ask when trying to simplify. Here are a few of them.

Question 1 – If item has been useful in the past, then keep.

This question might seem good enough, but it’s severely flawed. Kleenex is nice to have around, and quite useful, but once it’s been used you don’t want to keep it. That being said, there are people who live by this rule, take this guy for example.

Question 2 – If item will be useful in the future, keep.

This is the question I always use, and it looks good too, but it’s not. I’ve held on to a copy of the board game Risk for 5 years because I know that sometime I’m going to teach it to my kids. I can picture it now, a slow Sunday afternoon, we pull out the game and have some quality time. I know it will come in handy and so I keep the game. But the question I used yesterday allowed me to throw out the game with nary a backward glance.

Question 3 – If I want to do X, will I need this item?

You see the brilliance in this? It’s not the game that I want, it’s the activity. I want to bond with my boys. So yesterday I held this game in my hands and asked, “If I want to play a good game with my boys, could I do it without this item?” The question ran through my memory banks, and of course the answer came back yes. In fact, I have about 20 games I would rather play with my boys. So this game can be chucked.

We had some plastic glasses that we keep around because they are nice, they are a full set, and if we have company they could come in handy. But apply the question,”If we have company, would we need these glasses?” No, we’d buy paper cups. Glasses chucked.

I came across our pressure cooker. “When I do my canning, would I need this pressure cooker?” Yes, I would. Pressure cooker kept.

By applying this rule, I bet I threw out nearly 15 moving boxes full of stuff. Good stuff, but stuff we don’t need. Most of the items were mine, and now I’m going to try to convince my wife and kids to apply the same question.

All that stuff gone. Believe me, it’s very refreshing.

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One Response to Finding the right question.

  1. Nanette says:

    You threw out Risk?? The greatest world conquest game ever!!! How will you take over the world now? :)

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