My husband writes books, and I edit them. Editing can be a tedious task. It takes time and concentration to make a careful, deliberate review of the material. When I edit my husband's writing, I am looking for typos and grammatical errors (copy editing), but I am also evaluating the effectiveness of his argument and the fluidity of the text (content editing). I'm not just interested in whether his work is written properly; I'm interested in whether it is written well. I want it to be a true and compelling representation of his thoughts and ideas.
It occurred to me recently that decluttering and downsizing are kind of like editing. In fact, the word edit can mean to expunge or eliminate [the unnecessary]. While this definition is highly appropriate to a discussion about removing clutter, I also like applying the more common (grammatical) definition of edit, which is to revise or correct. When we downsize and declutter, our goal shouldn't be limited to removing the excess, but also to setting things right in our environment (i.e. revising and correcting).
To me, the ideal space is one that is a true reflection of its owner. Clutter has a way of crowding in and making itself at home, obsuring the purpose and personality of a space in the process. Editing a space allows us to revise its form and function so that it becomes a proper depiction of who we are, what we value, the road we've traveled, and how we like to live.
When editing your own or someone else's writing, there are certain things you look for and eliminate in order to make the work the best it can be. The same is true for editing your space.
Mistakes in spelling, sentence structure, subject-verb agreement, and other common grammatical errors are the most obvious to search for and often the easiest to spot when editing a piece of writing.
The same is true for mistakes in stuff. In this category I would include anything you purchased, or received as a gift or hand-me-down, which you do not like, need, or use. They are the things people hang onto out of a sense of guilt or obligation, and they could be almost anything. Examples include:
We all make mistakes in stuff on a regular basis. These mistakes help us to refine our tastes. In this way, they are not a waste, and we can feel good about letting them go and moving on with our lives.
To be inconsistent is to lack harmony or agreement, to be at variance. In wiriting, inconsistencies are those sentences or ideas that don't seem to have a place in the overall work. They may be related, but not closely enough to blend well with the rest of the text. They leave the reader wondering, "What's that got to do with anything?"
Inconsistencies in our personal possessions are similar in that they do not seem to belong. They seem incongruent. They may be items we have purchased ourselves, or they may be things that we were gifted in one form or another. If you've ever looked at a thing and thought, "This really isn't me," you've encountered an inconsistency in your possessions.
Chances are, if you don't like a thing it's because it doesn't speak to you; it's not in harmony with your interests or tastes or conceptions. If that is the case, you can feel comfortable parting with whatever it may be, even if it was given to you by someone else. You need feel no obligation to keep things other people think you might (or even should) like or use. Only keep those things that represent a true reflection of you.
It can be tempting as a writer to restate a concept in a slightly different way for added emphasis, but this practice can grate on readers if it seems as though the author is just repeating himself. While we may not enjoy redundancy as readers, many of us practice it openly with regard to our possessions.
Redundancy occurs anytime we have multiples of an item when one or two would do nicely. It is good to have multiples of some things. Obvious examples are bath towels, underwear, dinner plates, and cutlery, to name just a few. In many cases, though, redundancy (or multiples) only increase the clutter in a home without being truly useful.
A good way to determine whether or not a particular item is a good candidate for maintaining multiples is to ask yourself:
If your answer is no, you don't use them all because, yes, you do have a favorite, you can feel comfortable getting rid of the extras. They are not serving a purpose; they are just taking up space.
In addition to writing books, my husband teaches history. While grading papers recently, he came across a student whose work was rife with unreasonably lengthy sentences - 100 words or more. For a reader, such lengthy statements are difficult to digest. One gets lost in the middle and forgets what the point of the sentence was or how it ties to other ideas being expressed.
The same can be true of possessions, particularly collections. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing. It's tempting when you begin collecting to snatch up any item you encounter that fits your collection. In addition, friends and family often add to collections at gift-giving occasions because it's easy to buy for someone if you know they love ceramic chickens or sports memorabilia or all things Star Wars.
As with multiples in other forms (as mentioned in the previous section), some specimens are better than others, and the collector will undoubtedly have favorites. Editing a collection can actually add to its charm and visual impact. A few good pieces will stand out and draw people's attention like a true focal point. On the other hand, a dizzying array of related pieces often reads as clutter to the mind. Nothing stands out and demands to be noticed because everything gets lost in the jumble.
As a military historian, my husband has written on a number of topics (such as the Iraq War, the rise of ISIS, and the War in Afghanistan) which are ongoing in nature. Because these topics are continually evolving, part of the editing process involves making sure that the information included in the book is the most up-t0-date information available at the time of publication.
When it comes to our homes, we often don't have to look far to find items which are either outdated or incomplete. Outdated items could include electronics, clothing, media, books, reference materials, software, or calendars and planners, to name a few. They may have gone out of style, been surpassed by newer technology, or contain information that is no longer accurate.
As for incomplete items, this would include anything that is missing parts or pieces. For some inexplicable reason, we (including me!) have a tendency to hold onto such things, even though they no longer work properly. Be they puzzles or appliances, they do not deserve a place in your space if they do not work as intended.
Both of these types of items are simple to edit as they often have no sentimental or inherent value. Chances are you know exactly where they are located, so finding them and getting rid of them should be easy work.
As an editor and an organizer, I hope you will apply these suggestions for editing your space. Doing so serves much the same purpose as editing a written product; it makes the space better, more enjoyable to experience, easier to work with (or within), and nicer to share with others.