Would it go to Costa Rica?

Adventures in de-junking. Keeping the memory; disposing of the corporeal.

My name is Greg, and I’m a packrat. A recovering packrat, I’d like to think. Packmouse? And yes I hear all of you laughing in disbelief. I love you anyways.

The start of my recovery was triggered last year. My wife and I spent virtually the entire summer of 2014 moving my mother-in-law from a two story home into a tiny retirement apartment. Packing, sorting, donating, and ultimately throwing away literally tons of items nearly killed us. We came away from that experience with a greater appreciation of the appeal of arson vowing never to inflict that same experience on our kids. While I do not think I could ever be a true minimalist, the merits of “less” finally hit my soul in a real way that summer.

However, downsizing will be hard for me. I relish my role as the “thing borrowing library” for my friends and relatives who are minimalists and don’t have what they need half the time. I am also terribly sentimental (McDonald’s Happy Meal toys can be heirlooms, right?), excited by rediscovery (Oh, look what I just found! I wondered where that went!), and actually very creative about my clutter. So downsizing is truly not in my nature and the task is frankly daunting.

So here is what I plan to do:

1) Break this giant task down into smaller chunks. I try to teach my students the magic of this simple strategy and some even listen. In this instance, I will start by concentrating on my den. Hopefully we will be raptured before we have to deal with the garage and the attic.

2) Create a panic monster. It will be too easy to procrastinate by writing blog posts on this painful project. To get around this, I will build stress into not decluttering my den. I’ve already set the trap by dumping the entire contents of my den into our living room. This room is a sacred “no clutter” space for my wife. I love her dearly and am terrified of being bludgeoned to death in my sleep, so there is built-in pressure to finish the decluttering as soon as possible.

3) Turn decluttering into re-aquisition. My den is now virtually empty, so I’ve exposed years of my neglected dusting essentially turned this project on it’s head. Rather than getting rid of things, I’m deciding what I want in my den. A trip to the living room is like a trip to a tornado disaster zone a free store and the opportunity to judge each item against criteria. My criteria, which are mine, are:

  • Would I take it to Costa Rica? What started as a running gag in our house is now a tangible dream. In my after-regular-work-follow-my-dreams-time retirement, I would like to spend more time surfing and writing in Costa Rica. But that has huge implications, not the least of which is the reality that we can’t take everything with us. A true minimalist will tell you that there is freedom in having less and this is an example of how that plays out. If I can honestly say I’d stick an item in my luggage and take it to Costa Rica, it is probably worth keeping (although, not necessarily in my den).
  • Will it help me accomplish my goals? Realistically, Costa Rica is three school years away when I hit my first early retirement pension date. In the mean time, there are a number of projects I will be working on. An item can return to the den if it would help me achieve one of those goals.
  • Will it help fuel my passions? The most logical place to store my camera and accessories is in my den.
  • Will it enhance the design and character of my room? Decorating. I can tell right now that this could be the thin edge of failure for this project. I will have to be very careful not to abuse this criteria. It will have to be a truly awesome Happy Meal toy to warrant the space in my den.

4) Decouple the object from the nostalgia. As mentioned above, I am very sentimental and am inclined to keeping objects for the positive memories they invoke and let’s face it, at my age having any memories is a good thing. Nostalgia is my kryptonite. Fortunately, I ran across a suggestion that really works for me: take pictures. If you don’t need the physical object, and a digital picture will invoke the same sense of “ahhhh…,” the picture is enough.

And this is where I would like to invite you in to my adventure. To help avoid creating digital clutter, I’ve created an Instagram feed, WouldItGoToCostaRica, for this experiment in decluttering. That way my memories will be stored, annotated, in the cloud and I won’t be creating more digital clutter for myself. I look forward to digging through my treasure.

Here is a guide to the hashtags I plan to use:

  • #TakeIt – This is something I’d take to Costa Rica. 🙂
  • #GoalAid – This is something that will help me accomplish my goals.
  • #Sell – One of the problems with packrats is that they assume everything has value. I would like to at least try and sell a few things though for my cameras and Costa Rica fund.
  • #Donate – Donate to whichever organization will take it.
  • #ForSchool – Will be a donation to my school or classroom.)
  • #GiveAway – A donation to someone specific.
  • #Transform – Into electronic form. I have quite a few documents, photos, and albums I need to convert to a digital format.
  • #Decorate – This item will stay in my den to add to its character.
  • #Relocate – This is something worth keeping, but it does not belong in the den.
  • #Museum – It is worth the square footage to store as an heirloom or memory in physical form.
  • #TossIt – With any luck, most of what I have will be recyclable. One of the most painful things about downsizing my mother-in-law’s was how much actually ended up in the landfill. Part of that was because of the short amount of time we had to empty the house and find new owners for things. (We actually threw away useable furniture because no one would take it for free! That wounded my soul.)

And so it begins. Wish me luck.

Question: Have you ever had to de-clutter? What worked for you? If you had to keep one thing (in it’s physical form) what would it be? I’d love to hear from you.




Greg Tjosvold is a teacher, writer, and innovator. One of the first to crowdsource his biography, he is apparently 12 ft tall, has no body fat, is always polite, and is the only living recipient of an Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Stanley Cup, Pulitzer, and two Nobel prizes (Economics and Break Dancing). He is currently reevaluating the merits of crowdsourcing.

He is the father of two amazing children and currently lives with his wonderful wife in the wilds of suburban Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.