I really like Bruce Sterling. I’ve written about his work before. But I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what he’s going on about with regards to Viridian Design. It’s a series that he’s been writing since 1998, for ten years, and I think he just ended it.

Jumping around on that site I found this passage following a few paragraphs on how owning and carrying a mulitool changes how you look at the world.

Now to confront the possessions you already have. This will require serious design work, and this will be painful. It is a good idea to get a friend or several friends to help you.

You will need to divide your current possessions into four major categories.

  1. Beautiful things.
  2. Emotionally important things.
  3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.
  4. Everything else.

“Everything else” will be by far the largest category. Anything you have not touched, or seen, or thought about in a year – this very likely belongs in “everything else.”

You should document these things. Take their pictures, their identifying makers’ marks, barcodes, whatever, so that you can get them off eBay or Amazon if, for some weird reason, you ever need them again. Store those digital pictures somewhere safe – along with all your other increasingly valuable, life-central digital data. Back them up both onsite and offsite.

Then remove them from your time and space. “Everything else” should not be in your immediate environment, sucking up your energy and reducing your opportunities. It should become a fond memory, or become reduced to data.

It may belong to you, but it does not belong with you. You weren’t born with it. You won’t be buried with it. It needs to be out of the space-time vicinity. You are not its archivist or quartermaster. Stop serving that unpaid role.

Beautiful things are important. If they’re truly beautiful, they should be so beautiful that you are showing them to people. They should be on display: you should be sharing their beauty with others. Your pride in these things should enhance your life, your sense of taste and perhaps your social standing.

They’re not really that beautiful? Then they’re not really beautiful. Take a picture of them, tag them, remove them elsewhere.

Emotionally important things. All of us have sentimental keepsakes that we can’t bear to part with. We also have many other objects which simply provoke a panicky sense of potential loss – they don’t help us to establish who we are, or to become the person we want to be. They subject us to emotional blackmail.

Is this keepsake so very important that you would want to share its story with your friends, your children, your grandchildren? Or are you just using this clutter as emotional insulation, so as to protect yourself from knowing yourself better?

Think about that. Take a picture. You might want to write the story down. Then – yes – away with it.

You are not “losing things” by these acts of material hygiene. You are gaining time, health, light and space. Also, the basic quality of your daily life will certainly soar. Because the benefits of good design will accrue to you where they matter – in the everyday.

This meets up with some personal philosophy I’ve been tinkering with. I’ve still got a lot of boxes in my room from my move and I think they need to go, I want less stuff but it’s actually harder to have less then to have more. It’s also extremely hard to get rid of things you may someday want to use. I’m with the ebay thing. If I want it later, I can go get it back.

Recently I shredded a ton of old school documents. Mostly because they had my social security number plastered all over them, but also because I had no idea where they would go. In these documents were forms nobody would ever want to see again, old report cards with teachers comments, information on various programs I was involved in, and proof I graduated kindergarten. A lot of stuff, and while maybe I should have scanned some of them, there was no need to keep any of it. That was until my grandmother commented “Oh you’re kids will love to look at some of that.” Unfortunately it was too late. It does bring me back to wishing I had scanned some of it. Digital copies don’t weigh on your personal space most of the time. I’ve gotten good at preserving them anyway.

Photos are easier, I’m used to saving those.
And speaking of archiving family photos….

Gulotta Family Gallery of My Parents Wedding
Gulotta Family Gallery of My Parents Wedding
Gulotta Family Gallery of Childhood Photos of Francis and Nick
Gulotta Family Gallery of Childhood Photos of Francis and Nick

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