Control is a shift from our animalistic reactive mode to a humanistic proactive mode. This can be as small as not watching whatever happens to be on television when you sit on the couch, but instead intentionally watching the best shows on Netflix, Hulu, or your DVR. It can be as huge as moving to a new city and resetting your entire life.
Taking control starts at home. The best first step to control is to tackle the “junk drawer”. The junk drawer holds the miscellaneous and uncategorized items of infrequent use. It’s a dumping ground for that which has no place.
Le Corbusier called a house “a machine for living in”. It’s a machine made up of many systems (electrical, plumbing, etc.) including the flow of both people and objects moving from one room to another. The junk drawer is an eddy in that flow, but also a filtering system.
Stafford Beer coined the term POSIWID which means the “Purpose Of a System Is What It Does.” You might have a plan for how to use your junk drawer, but the junk drawer’s purpose is to collect junk. Junk is not trash, but items of occasional high usefulness (gift receipts, screwdrivers, batteries, lightbulbs, string, paperclips) with no immediate need. The junk drawer pulls these items out of the regular flow of objects in the house like the liver pulls toxins from our blood. And like the liver, you can have junk drawer failure. Junk drawer failure, if not treated, can cause a systemic failure of the entire machine for living. Such is the case for hoarders.
A proactive junk drawer detox regiment will make the entire house machine run more smoothly. Initially this involves an overhaul. The junk drawer is holding items better suited to other places in your home (tools, office supplies, Tylenol, etc.) and some items no longer have a use and should be ejected from the home. A handful of items (paperclips, a screwdriver, etc.) remain in the drawer neatly sorted.
Once the overhaul is done there needs to be regular monitoring of the contents of the junk drawer. In his book Management Science Stafford Beer says “The problem with managing … by periodic rather than continuous inspection is that the ‘variables’ are likely to be seriously out of control before the discrepancy is noted.” If you only review the junk drawer monthly you’ll be overhauling every month. With continuous inspection you can keep the junk drawer minimal and fully functional. This means all tools are where tools belong, the lightbulbs are in the right place, and you don’t have a weird collection of mystery keys.
To maintain a healthy junk drawer system you need to be proactive to prevent junk build-up. In order to live a proactive life you need healthy systems. The two go together because they are ultimately the same thing.
Gaining control over your life is about managing the systems you build to be more proactive. Control and productivity start at home. Once you control the junk drawer you have a beachhead from which to launch your campaign to conquer your entire home. Soon your entire “machine for living in” can be under your control.
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