“The big bunch of keys in my pocket”


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So, this happened …

I was waiting with my client for the elevator to arrive, when I felt something warm sliding down the inside of my trouser leg.

I froze. What the hell was that?!

I instinctively put my hand into my pocket, all the while nodding at my client who was still talking, but I was no longer hearing a word of it.

That’s when I realized what had happened. My keychain, which I always carried in that pocket, was gone. Instead, my fingers found a rip at the bottom of my pocket. Because my keychain was heavy and spiky, over time it must have worn through the material, and it had been that moment when it finally broke through.

I sheepishly bent over and shook the bottom of my trousers until I heard the keychain hit the ground. My client looked down at what I was doing, as I picked up the keys and put them in the other pocket.

That had never happened to me before, so back at home that evening, I tried to work out what must have caused the rip. It was quite a solid chunk of steel, made up of 11 keys, each of a different size.

There were 3 essential keys I used regularly: the front door, my work desk drawer, and my postbox key.

There were another 3 useful keys that I used sometimes, but I really didn’t need to be carrying them around on a daily basis. It would be fine to just keep them on a separate keychain at home, only taking them out when required.

And there were 5 expired keys. I’m sure they must have been useful at some point, but I no longer had any idea what they were for. Perhaps a couple of them were for suitcase locks (I’m a frequent traveller) which had long since been lost. But the remaining couple of keys, I couldn’t even guess what they had been used for. Weird.

Having gone through that process of sorting through what I carried and what I actually needed, I now keep my main keyring with just the three essential keys on it. Physically, it feels much lighter. And mentally, I feel lighter too. It’s freeing to have cleared clutter out of my life.

I wonder how much other shit I’m carrying around with me, mentally and physically, that I’d be much better off just putting aside or even throwing away. Did you ever wonder that too?

Simple Definition

The big bunch of keys in my pocket: With our lives, as with our keychains, there are #EssentialKeys that we should carry with us all the time, there are #UsefulKeys that should be available for when (and only when) we need them, and there are #ExpiredKeys which we should get rid of so they don’t weigh us down, damage things, or get in the way.

Summarizing what it means

In retrospect, I was really silly. I had been carrying around some items that I could have just put aside until needed. And I had also been carrying around other items that were totally useless to me.

And to make matters worse, my keychain had filled up with keys without any conscious decision on my behalf, even though it was my doing. Each one of those 11 keys had presumably started off essential at the time I put it on my keychain, but my circumstances had changed enough, so long ago, to render almost all of them non-essential.

How representative is this of our entire life? How much rubbish do we carry around all the time? Objects, grudges, thoughts, rules-of-thumb, emotions, apps.

There is almost nothing else that you could do in less than an hour, that would have as big an impact on simplifying your life as the review-process of: listing, labelling, laying aside, and eliminating.

In fact, we could say that this review-process is the “key” to a simpler and better life for you!

Discussing what it means

Listing and Labelling what’s on our “Keychain”

There is so much that we carry around with us, without realizing it. Sure, a lot of it is essential, but there’s also merely useful stuff for ’sometimes’, and expired stuff for eliminating.

In a crude way, these so-called “keys” can be physical objects that you carry around.

  • Keys on your keychain, broken toothpicks and dried-up wet wipes in your handbag, extra credit cards, old pairs of spectacles, rubbish that you take with you each time you move house that you haven’t used since you moved in.

In a software world, we have virtual “keys”.

  • These are apps on your phone, programs on your main computer, collections of data like pictures and videos, bookmarks for websites.

As you live your life, there are rules-of-thumb and heuristics that you apply, that might have been helpful at one point, but which have long since expired.

  • Do what you’re told. Don’t talk to strangers. Eat everything on your plate. Eggs are bad for you. Don’t let people know when you’re feeling bad. A person’s worth is measured by their income and assets. Pilots are men and nurses are women.

And emotionally, how much waste are you carrying around with you?

  • Grudges against an ex or a previous boss. A feeling of imposter syndrome. Continuing to be bothered by something someone said to you or about you. The belief you can’t learn a language. Being told to be grateful for what you’ve got. Feeling guilty for wanting support or needing someone to listen to you, just because others have it worse than you.

This is not minimalism (unless you want it to be)

The two over-riding concepts of this chapter are:

  • Label everything you carry around as either an #EssentialKey, #UsefulKey or an #ExpiredKey
  • Make sure that you carry the essentials, that you put the useful ones aside until needed, and that you discard the expired ones.

Our goal here is not that of minimalism, where we would be trying to eliminate as much as possible. It’s OK to have more than the minimum, just be clear on which items are essential and which items just useful.

Of course if you wanted to use this chapter as a trigger to pare away as much as possible, that’s fine. As long as you’re clear what you’re trying to achieve through this exercise.

Not talking about it, but doing it

There’s no point in discussing this further. The most important thing is that you actually go through the process provided in this chapter.

Things that might limit the value you get from this chapter include:

  • not listing everything that you’re carrying around (for example, if you don’t remember to review apps, you’re missing out on more simplification)
  • being too conservative with your labelling (like convincing yourself that something ‘useful’ is ‘essential’ – when it’s not)
  • not actually acting on the label (there’s no point in calling something ‘expired’, and then not throwing it away).

Other #hashtag-stories to help you simplify your life

While you’re thinking about these “keys” that you’re carrying around with you, that you really shouldn’t have to, there are some other chapters that you might consider reading to add more color to your thinking:

  • #[Luxury Bridges]: You don’t have to do what you’re told
  • #[The boyfriend checklist]: Sometimes you’re just expecting too much
  • #[Putting trees in your field]: Your over-thinking is making you create obstacles that don’t exist
  • #[The Hello Kitty Stapler]: Where you judge form rather than function
  • #[F you!] Are you triggered by certain words or concepts more than is justified?
  • #[Dog on the rusty nail]: If you have managed to get this far in life without a proper clear-out, what will you do differently now, so that this time you actually succeed?

Making it personal

If someone had challenged me the day before the heavy bunch of keys had ripped through my pocket, I would have insisted that I needed all of them, and anyway it’s not much of a burden to carry a few extra keys.

And now I’m challenging you to identify aspects of your life which you are carrying around, that not only are non-essential, but which might also be detrimental. And you – as would I have – may insist that there isn’t anything like that in your life. You might assure me that there is nothing you need to get rid of, either temporarily or permanently.

(If you find yourself in denial at this point, perhaps have a quick read of #[Pigs on my birthday cake], to see if that helps trigger some thoughts.)

You are carrying stuff around that you shouldn’t be. We all are.

  • Of course there is no problem that you’re carrying around your #EssentialKeys. In fact, you need them, all the time, so make sure you know which they are, and keep them close by.
  • But think about what the #UsefulKeys are in your life that sometimes add value, but that you really don’t need at-hand all the time.
  • And work out quickly what the #ExpiredKeys are that you can (read: “should”) throw away as soon as possible. They are holding you back, and causing subtle damage in your life, which can easily be avoided.

Now here are some examples to get you started:

  • Literally, what do you carry around with you? What’s in your handbag, your backpack, your purse or wallet? What’s hanging on your keychain? What’s in the trunk of your car, and in the glove compartment?
  • Are there clothes you could throw out? Shoes? Spectacles? Books you could donate to a charity? How many staplers do you have at home?
  • What apps are installed on your phone? How many can you delete? What can you move away from your phone’s home screen? Are there files and bookmarks that you’ve been saving for “one day”, although realistically that day will never arrive?
  • What blogs do you follow, what newsletters do you read? Which ones truly add value to your life? Which ones should you unsubscribe from?
  • What rules-of-thumb do you have for choosing the perfect partner, that are not actually adding value, and in fact are limiting your options?
  • What do you find yourself trying to remember, that actually would be just fine if you wrote it down? For example, if you get more of your to-do list into a notepad, and more appointments into your calendar, then you really don’t have to think about them the whole time to avoid forgetting them.
  • What baggage do you carry from previous unhappy relationships? Are you over-sensitive to certain things with your current partner through no fault of their own?
  • Are you over-sensitive to curse words, so that you miss out on good movies, and conversations, and books to avoid such words? Is it time to let go, or does that continue to serve you well?
  • Do you find yourself saying “All guys are assholes” or “Women are so annoying” or “I can’t stand having kids around” or “Instagram people are so pretentious”? Perhaps it’s time to let go of those generalizations, and to let the anger in you subside.
  • Where do you experience Imposter Syndrome? Where are you overly insecure about your knowledge or your skills?
  • Is there food you don’t eat now, because you didn’t like the taste as a child? Isn’t it time to try again – you might actually have grown up 🙂

The list above is not comprehensive. Use it as a starting point, and spend time thinking of other examples of “keys” that you can either set aside, or actually throw away.

As I said near the start of this chapter: There is almost nothing that you could do in less than an hour, that would have such a big impact on simplifying your life as listing your “keys”, labelling every one, laying some aside, and eliminating others.

So make that effort. And simplify your life. Now.

Complexity is a part of life. Overwhelm can be avoided.

And once you’ve been through this process, please drop me a note (email, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin) to share your success!

Related stories

#[Luxury Bridges]

#[Putting trees in your field]

#[The Hello Kitty Stapler]

#[Dog on the rusty nail]

#[The boyfriend checklist]

#[F you!]

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