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Book end: Contest reveals the secrets of demolishing cluttering

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 7 2014 9:00 a.m. MST

Michael De Groote and Ryan Morgenegg pose for a photo at the Deseret News office building in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It would be a glorious fight — a contest to test our mettle. My coworker at the Deseret News, Ryan Morgenegg, and I were about to push the limits of decluttering endurance.

Every workday each of us would bring in a book from home until one of us bookaholics, hopefully Morgenegg, would cry uncle.

The loser would buy the other lunch.

Along the way we both learned a lot about why people hold onto things like books. Many secrets of getting rid of clutter hit home and are now starting to affect other areas of our lives. They can also help other people eliminate book and other clutter in their lives. By having less and concentrating more on other areas of life, better purchases can be made that don't clutter.

Our wives are amazed. Our friends are astounded. Our other coworkers want to get at our pile — almost eight months worth of books.

"I never dreamed it would go on for so long," Morgenegg says. "I got rid of about one-third of my books."

Tipping point

Ellen Jovin in New York wasn't about to get rid of her books, however.

"Books, for me, are a connection to the whole life of the mind," says Jovin, who runs Syntaxis, a communications skills training firm, with her husband. "Books are the manifestation of all this great thought over the centuries."

So every time she moved, she moved her 60 boxes of books as well.

"I was reluctant to even get rid of the ones I didn't like," she says.

But then she moved into a smaller apartment. With less room, she started feeling like a slave to the books, especially the ones she had already read and wasn't likely to ever read again.

"It was like a graveyard of books," she says. "Each one like a little tombstone showing what I have done in the past."

It was enough.

She decided she needed to cut back, not just on books, but on other possessions, as well.

Alison Kero, a professional organizer in Brooklyn, N.Y., says the tipping point, the moment someone decides they need to change, is different for everyone.

"Sometimes it is because someone moved and no longer has space," she says. "With one person it could be a small thing that makes them want to declutter. Another person may need the apocalypse knocking on their door before they do something."

Changing thinking

Examining the way a person thinks about certain items is one way to prepare to get rid of books and other clutter

Kero says books are often symbolic of larger issues. For example, people may buy books to help them improve something in their lives. The book becomes a symbol of an unfinished project.

"And people hold onto unfinished projects," Kero says. "If you buy something and don't use it, you feel guilty. You don't want to admit you are a failure in that thing."

And so people hold onto the book thinking that some day they still will read it: "But you don't have to read everything you own," Kero says.

Kero knows what it is like, and admits forcing herself to read books she hated just to finish that "project" aspect.

Morgenegg found that the book contest forced him to evaluate the books he was keeping — many of which had good information in them. But the concept of BABLE helped him pare away at these things.

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