The Subtraction Project

 Monday Author: Susanne Skinner

I have stepped into a brand new year. Both feet are standing in front of 365 blank pages that fill me with expectation and a just a bit of anxiety. I consider what lies ahead and feel overwhelmed by possibilities. I want to live into the potential of this year. My goal is to improve myself and my world in small ways with results I can see. The internet is filled with “ten best” lists to help me do this by experts who have it all figured out. Do more, do less, find your personal truths, and make this your best life.

Thje Subtraction Project, Cass MaCroryPeople say life is short.  They’re wrong. Life is the longest journey any of us will make. A new year offers a logical place to take stock; inventory what needs to stay or go and visualize the opportunity these blank pages invite. I am bursting with resoluteness. Big things and little things fill my head as I imagine how my year will unfold.

Less is More 

I decide to start the year with less.  By less I mean I will clear my physical and mental path, removing clutter that blocks my journey. I make this resolution with conviction, even if I am unsure where to begin. To my great benefit someone else figured out part of it for me.

I stumbled across Cass MaCrory on Pinterest and she invited me to join The Subtraction Project.  Her invitation is to start where I am today. She offers no rebukes as to how I got here, only the invitation to begin right now, one step at a time. She suggests manageable tasks with instant gratification and assurance that I will end up with less.

Reduce, repurpose, recycle – this is our mantra. Cass sends me daily emails with my task and suggestions to help me complete it. There are no mountains to climb here. There is encouragement to do small things now; because over time they have potential to become large things. Subtraction is so much harder when large things happen.

A small thing becomes large when left to itself. Here’s a great example: glassware.  Inventory your beverage glasses. Identify ones you will never use, too few, too large or small, mismatched and no longer welcome at the table. Remember the good times associated with them and bid them farewell.

Leave them in the cupboard and three mismatched glasses will become four and five.  Never-to-be-used glasses claim space that could be put to better use.  Establish a place for them to go. Recycle is a great option, but donations and giveaways are options too.  The goal is to remove them. It is a short task, completed in less than 30 minutes. I followed this project up with empty glass jars and bottles I had been saving. Gone. Thank you Cass!

what do I really need?Subtraction requires commitment and a firm resolve to let go. This is very hard for me.  I wrestle with need versus want. I do not need the small impractical juice glasses with little red tomatoes on them. They have lived in the back of the cupboard for years. Nobody uses or likes them but I want to keep them. Eleanor Roosevelt is in my head telling me to do the thing I think I cannot do and Cass MaCrory is in my email telling me how to do it. I cannot fail.

Just like you can’t have it all, you can’t keep it all. Not everything is useful. We outgrow things. Part of letting go is to acknowledge the useful end of something and get rid of it. Did I mention this is hard for me? I create reasons to hang on and avoid admitting something has lost its purpose. Cass does not judge me – she simply shows me creative and caring ways to accomplish what must be done. 

Small Beginnings

Cass and I start small. Following her suggestion I gather up all the pens in the house. Every drawer, cabinet and beer mug is pillaged until all writing implements are accounted for. Apparently we are pen hoarders. Non-functioning and impractical pens are thrown away, and two central locations (kitchen and desk) are established for the new pen colony. It was very satisfying.  

This led to an inventory of the spice cabinet and utensil drawer. Outdated and unused items were removed. I was forced to admit I will never use arrow root powder and did not need three jars of fennel seed. Likewise a knife with a cracked handle and those metal turkey pins are now in the trash. 

I used the same approach with make-up (colored eye shadow is out), the sock drawer (too many single-looking-for-a-mate residents), and the laundry room.  Impractical items and those with no useful application have left the building.

A slightly larger project was to clean up files on the home computer.  The delete key became my new best friend and the external hard drive the new home for files and photos that needed to be organized and saved. Included in this project was a review of my Linked In account. Even relationships outlive usefulness. I looked at each name and asked what professional worth we offered each other, removing 53 connections when the answer was none.  Let’s be honest, someone I worked with ten years ago and lost touch with offers no qualified value to either of us. 

Subtract with Love 

This is one of my favorite aspects of the project – and an option I wouldn’t have considered. Cass recommends taking a photo of something with meaning, storing that significance in a photo memory and letting the object itself go. If you were given something you will never use, or received an item that isn’t you, you can let it go with the spirit in which it was given – thoughtfulness and love. It does not have to remain to be remembered. 

Let it GoCass has a great suggestion for the bigger things – asking if I would be willing to pay someone to pack and move the item(s). I like this approach because it’s a yes or no answer and tells me what must be done.  Many of these items will go on the to-be-sold list. They have meaning and value that will live on for someone else.

My final note about subtracting has to do with excuses and procrastination. Is there a card that should be written, an item to be returned, or a phone call to be made?  Subtract all the reasons you came up with for not following through and do it. It will make you feel good.

Next subtraction stop: bathroom cabinets. Thank you Cass, for reminding me the one thing I need more of is less.

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One thought on “The Subtraction Project

  1. As my kids are now older and out of the house I have this urge to start purging the stuff we’ve collected over the years. First I ask them if they want whatever it is I’m thinking of getting rid of and 9 out of 10 times they do. For example, while putting the Christmas decorations away, I asked my daughter if she wanted some and we filled a box for her to take with her once she’s married this summer. It felt good and I actually felt lighter.

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