Podcast 078: The iterative process

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This is podcast 78 and it’s about the iterative process. In the design world, an iterative process is one in which a prototype is tested to see if it fulfills its purpose. Feedback from users can show flaws and shortcomings that the designers didn’t notice or didn’t anticipate. They can be fixed for the next iteration.

It can also generate new ideas that only are revealed when the prototype is actually being used. Users ask questions like: why doesn’t it work THIS way? Why are there only two choices here? Why can’t I hold it this way? Those ideas can be analyzed and the good ones added to the next prototype.

For decluttering purposes, iteration helps people see an item in the context of other items, it allows people to review things over time and see that needs and desires have changed.

There are many times that the items you want to organize don’t lend themselves to quick decision-making. This goes for sentimental items and items from your past, heirlooms, kids artwork, anything that provokes an emotional reaction from you.

It could also be things that are on hold or things you haven’t decided on yet. Or a big pile of maybes that keeps growing and never seems to shrink. Or things you never decided on that you regret. again, there’s the emotional angle.

You can’t reason your way through this kind of decision making. You have to consult your feelings. You have to judge these items by particular circumstances. But feelings change over time and so do circumstances. You already know that things you once treasured can sometimes make you scratch your head wondering why you kept them. You can capitalize on this by using an iterative decluttering process.

What I mean by an iterative process is that you go through these items on a regular basis, maybe once a year. On the first pass, you might not get rid of much at all, if anything. It’s worth going through them to become acquainted again though.

If you’re a regular listener to my podcast, you know that it’s not allowed to be unaware of things you own. Anything you’ve forgotten about or don’t even recognize is something you don’t need weighing down your life.

On the second iteration, you may get rid of a few items. Each time you go through the items you’re likely to get rid of more each time. That’s because over time the emotional hold grows weaker. The regret gets farther in the past. The unique memento loses its charge because more of the same have been acquired.

An organizer named Harriet Schecter has a really interesting way of dividing up sentimental items. The categories are good, bad, happy and sad. The good things are keepsakes or souvenirs that are in good condition and maybe even salable. The bad things are angry letters and photos of people you’re alienated from. Happy things are a medal you won doing something meaningful to you and tickets from a show you attended with loved ones. Sad things are trinkets that remind you of deceased loved ones or a loss you shared with someone dear to you.

The intriguing part is that she recommends getting rid of all the bad and good items, not the bad and sad. Why? For the most part, the bad and good things aren’t ones you have a real attachment too. They may seem to be memorabilia but they really aren’t. Sometimes it takes a few iterations to realize that.

What you will find is that items with the lowest happy or sad quotient are the ones you can release the quickest. Their appeal wears off the soonest and you can decide to part with them.

It’s important to distinguish between emotional value and monetary value. If you still want to keep an object because you might be able to sell it, by all means keep it, but don’t keep it with your other sentimental items. It doesn’t belong there anymore and you probably never will sell it if it stays there. Set aside other storage space for those valuable items.

A great feature of using an iterative process is that you can let go of forcing yourself to make decisions to get rid of things. I never want to put my clients in that position. The goal of decluttering has to be tempered by empathy and patience. When you know you can go through a box of mementos and simply reaffirm that you want to keep them, that lessens the stress of doing it immensely.

The other great benefit is that you get to visit with these important things once a year. I’m posting this podcast in November. Winter and the holiday season can be a great time to delve into that memorabilia box and relive the memories that have made you who are today, and share them with family if you wish.

What you can do now: Just contemplate the idea of going through a bag or shelf or box NOT with the idea of clearing it out, but with the idea of making sure you want what is there, and when you find things that no longer have a place in your life, release them.