In a perfect world, anytime something that is supposed to be in our life made the transition from supplies, reference material, decoration, or equipment to ‘stuff’ a flag would be raised, an alarm would sound, or something else would happen to say, “Hey! I’m now ‘stuff’ and I’ve got a piece of you!”
Unfortunately, our world isn’t perfect, nothing is permanent, and things continually make that transition to the stuff category.
If we can find anything that’s not these four things: supplies, reference material, decoration, or equipment; guess what it is? Well it is something that represents an open loop about which there is an action required to move it to closure because those are the only four things that belong in your life permanently… By the way, soy sauce in packets is a supply until it leaks. Someone said, “Then it’s decoration.”
I think there are some things that manufacturers could do to help us all out in this area. For example, instead of just printing expiration dates on food and medicine packages, they could have a sticker that changed colors as the expiration date approached. Once it expired we would see some kind of warning symbol. When we opened the refrigerator, pantry, or medicine cabinet we would know instantly to throw out anything that had a skull and crossbones on it.
Even if we had this kind of technology, there would still be areas that we would have to manually take the time to carefully sort through and determine if anything had yet become ‘stuff’. The “Incompletion Triggers” list on pages 114-117 of Getting Things Done gets us part of the way there if we review that list regularly. Kathy Paauw of Paauwerfully Organized also has a list called Instructions for Downloading the RAM in Your Brain.” I believe her list is a little more comprehensive and well worth working through once every month or two. (I used to try to do the RAM Dump thing during every weekly review, but I found that I saw this as an overwhelming task and caused me to procrastinate on the weekly review. Now I just do it when I feel I need it.)
Although these lists do hit some specific areas of our lives, there are still some that are missed. I’ve added a next action to create an “Is There Stuff Here?” spreadsheet. The spreadsheet will have two columns. Column A will be a list of small places in my world (e.g. top of bookshelf in office, top bookshelf in office, second bookshelf in office, desktop, top file cabinet drawer, medicine cabinet in master bathroom, bottom shelf in pantry,etc.). Column B will be a place where I will write a date of when I thoroughly evaluated everything in that place to see if it has become ‘stuff’ and is no longer supplies, reference material, decoration, or equipment. When I have a date in column 2 for every location, I can erase them all and start the process all over again.
I plan to physically pick up each thing in these areas and ask myself, “What is this thing: supplies, reference material, decoration, or equipment?” I think this will allow me to consciously evaluate everything in my life once every 3 to 6 months. Right now I try to do it once a year, but I’m sure that I miss some areas because I don’t have a good list to go by.