Many people save magazines and articles, especially ones on health and organizing. Magazines and articles are appealing: they are (or were) current, glossy, easy to read and understand, often illustrated. Magazines entice us with the possibility of easy change (“10 Ways to…”, “5 Steps to…”, “3 Keys to…”), and are an easy way to get news. However, keeping up with reading more than one or two magazines a month can be quite a chore and often impossible, leading to steadily increasing clutter. Getting rid of magazines without reading them means that the money spent on them and the pain of the clutter already lived with was wasted. Many people try to redeem these distresses by becoming ever more determined to finish reading them. However, keeping up with the reading probably means sacrificing other equally or more important activities.

People often try to solve the problem of being overwhelmed by magazines by tearing out articles to read later. The problem is, of course, that later tends to never arrive. The articles go in a reading pile or filing cabinet and never beneficially impact life at all. Single articles are often messier than whole magazines. Instead, the accumulated articles or magazines negatively impact life by increasing clutter, pressure (that constant sense of ‘I need to read this / act on this’), and taking up space that could be used for more helpful material. Beliefs that keeping unread (or even read but not acted on) magazines or articles will help foster the desired change are a form of magical thinking.

There is a better way. Going on a magazine diet by restricting subscriptions to only those you can comfortably read in a single month will shrink the growth of your clutter poundage. Accumulating unread magazines (or newspapers or books for that matter) does not make you more informed, educated, cultured, or healthier. Reading articles might be helpful, if the information is correct, you have the discipline to act on the new knowledge, and you limit the volume of what you expect from yourself. A reasonable volume is what you can comfortably read in a month given all your other interests, activities, and duties.

If your current volume of magazines or newspapers exceeds what you can keep up with, what are you willing or able to give up to manage it in a timely manner? Are your magazine subscriptions really worth giving up anything from your list of activities, tasks, or duties? Are you aware of the physical, mental, and emotional impacts of subscribing to more magazines than you can keep up with, of saving articles you do not read, or of reading articles you do not act on? How do these situations make you feel about yourself? Keep these questions in mind when making any choices regarding time use. Better to not increase your burdens by starting or continuing more subscriptions or keeping more articles than is actually reasonable to read and make use of.

The second element of article sanity is to recognize that the only value obtainable from any article is the use you make of it. An article that is dropped in a pile or a file unread and not acted on has zero actual value. You may attribute a great deal of potential value to it but potential is worthless if nothing is ever done with it. Articles that influence constructive behavior may have actual value depending upon the accuracy and validity of the information presented. Articles that inspire giving or volunteering, or participating in community life are great. An article that makes you more informed on civic issues and prompts you to activism or voting has actual value. A health article that inspires you to actually do more exercise is priceless. A single accurate article with information you use is more valuable than an entire drawer full of articles that you don't use.

Once these articles have done their job – inspiring constructive action – their usefulness is probably over. The only benefit to keeping them is as a reminder of your new chosen behavior and reducing relapse into your previous, less desirable behavior. However, there is a better way to inspire ongoing constructive behavior than to keep articles, and that is to put the new behavior on your calendar or planner for every day for which it is applicable. So if an article has inspired you to exercise by swimming, post “pool” or “swim” on your planner for every day that you believe that it would be beneficial and feasible for you to go swimming.

When you cannot apply information from an article immediately or need to reference it ongoingly, putting it where you would actually use it is better than piling or filing it. You may not be planning to go to the gym immediately, but putting an article on a new exercise you want to try in your gym bag may remind you to do it. Putting dates on articles to indicate by when you will use the information or throw them out may help to spur action. This is an especially useful technique for articles that are frequently clipped but rarely used, such as health articles and recipes. One student gave herself a one-week deadline for using recipes she clipped out; she knew from long experience that if she didn't use them in a week, she never would. For every article you are tempted to save, ask when you will actually use the information. If you can't come up with a specific date (someday is not a date), you are probably fooling yourself about your actual interest and willingness to follow the advice given in the article.

Another concern with articles is their validity. Although magazines are appealing, the content is often rushed to production, or based on ‘pop’ science, only the writer’s opinion, or what will sell magazines. Before assuming that the content of any article is worth implementing, examine the logic, biases and assumptions, research, and opinions behind the material. Keep an open mind, but a little skepticism is a healthy thing. All articles are not equally good and just because the article was published does not mean that it is true, accurate, worthwhile, or valid. Articles that do not inspire positive, constructive thoughts, feelings or actions are not worth allowing in your home or mind.

The world is an ever-changing place, and no matter how good the information in an article might have once been, new knowledge can make it obsolete and sometimes dangerous. Articles on health and nutrition, identity or internet security are especially likely to become outdated and to create hazards if used as guides for action. At the minimum, the information in old articles needs to be checked to make sure that it has not been superceded by new research before using it.

The process of clearing out old, unused articles, magazines, or other items is incredibly liberating. Each item you give up increases your sense of lightness, freedom, and ease. Clearing out may even alter your sense of who you are: not someone who needs to hang onto articles to feel secure, but who is confident in his/her ability to cope with new or unexpected circumstances; not someone who has vague notions about things s/he wants to do but who translates ideas and ambitions into accomplishments.

The damage that clutter does is immensely greater (self-esteem, ability to function, creativity, and relationships are all harmed by clutter) than the value of unread articles. Keeping articles longer to redeem the time already invested in keeping them is only making another mistake. Best to toss out anything not used in a fairly short period of time and start fresh.

© Gloria Valoris, 2014


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