Take My Stuff. Please.
I've been binging on purging lately. No, not binging AND purging... binging ON purging (a very big difference).
In the last few weeks alone I have winnowed my email box down to zero three times; kept more than one charity thrift shop awash in tchotchkes; thrown out a vast pharmacopeia of expired OTC remedies; and purged the kitchen of any bulging, rusting tins of seafood.
Frankly, I'm not sure why the sudden attack of fastidiousness (I've definitely been more Oscar than Felix my entire life). All I know is that as I accumulate more years, I feel less desire to accumulate more stuff.
What I have discovered as well is that such sudden attacks of Felix-itis are extremely contagious, and now my husband and I both appear to be contestants in an anti-consumerist reality TV show, "Take My Stuff Please," in which you have to con people to take your junk, scoring more points the uglier and more broken down the item.
And though we now are both avidly purging with the zeal found only in the newly converted, it is clear that the source of our clutter is quite different.
In his case, objects are the physical reminders of glorious memories: The ratty, holey T-shirt from the time he worked in the CBS election unit as a sixteen year old. Ticket stubs to every sporting event ever attended. And, lord help us, because he is the patron saint of broken things, if he has anointed an object with so much as a speck of crazy glue, then it can never be disposed of, having acquired hallowed status as a refugee from the dustbin.
I, on the other hand, do not cling to stuff as a means of preserving the past. Oh no. What I am in love with is potential. I want to be that person who makes jam and yogurt, who keeps chickens in the backyard, and who whips up hipster crafts at a moment's notice. These theoretical hobbies, unfortunately, require special apparatus (do you have any idea how much space three dozen mason jars takes up?).
And, because I am so fascinated by everything, I surround myself with acres of books, in order to learn, experience and see everything ever taught, said, felt, or ruminated upon by another human being. My desire to do and to learn far exceeds my capacity to do so, there being only 24 hours in a day and my having a day job and all.
In either case, and regardless of its origins, clearing out the clutter allows us to live properly in the here and now.
Maintaining the here and now, however, despite the straightforward rules for preventing clutter relapse, can be hard. (Trust me, I own way too many books on the subject.) In short, every object should be suited for its function and used frequently, or be ornamental enough to lift the heart. No other reason for being exists.
And, once perfect equilibrium is reached, any time an object comes in the house, another object must leave.
Kind of like stocks in a portfolio. (You knew I'd get around to this eventually).
For some strange reason, and though I may be a gal who can't ever say no to owning another book, I have been adamant about our "no more than 35 stocks" rule. If we have 35 holdings and we want to buy something new, something else must go.
Sometimes what we keep proves to be less than ornamental, and sometimes what we let go of turns out to have served a useful function, now sorely missed. Whether right or wrong, all of this pruning keeps the portfolio in the here and now, and me actively engaged in the process of evaluating whether every stock is earning its keep.
And yet as with clutter, it's easier said than done.
It's tempting, for example, to saddle a stock with its past (your average cost) and let that color its place in your portfolio.
If it's a big winner, it reminds you of how smart you are, and how it made your clients rich. All that warm fuzziness means that when it breaks you will crazy glue it, and never be able to let it go. That, my friends, is how you round trip stocks - the hard part is knowing the difference between an air pocket where you sit tight, and a death spiral, where you pull on the ripcord and bail.
A loser in the past can likewise cause problems. Like cats, some investors prefer to bury their "flops" rather than be reminded every day that they're idiots. They feel such shame that they immediately sell off a loser, unable to decouple the past enough to soberly recalculate whether the stock represents good value in the present. The fact is, if the portfolio you've been presented by your money manager doesn't include a howler or two, be very suspicious.
Too many howlers, however, may be symptomatic of another problem, this one caused by a manager who can't admit that he or she has made a mistake. These investors stubbornly insist that it's the market that's wrong (again), for disagreeing with his or her brilliant analysis.
So let the past go. (Note to self: you, too.)
But it's not always the past that causes problems. It can also be the future.
An investor can become saddled by a position with enormous potential - potential that always lurks just over the horizon, just out of reach, despite excuse after excuse, inroads by competitors, or evidence that customers have gone on a buying strike. The future becomes a siren song of unfulfilled promise. Profits are always just another quarter away.
Whatever one's personal brand of emotional clutter - past, future, or some of both - it's all garbage.
No matter how elaborate the spreadsheet or how probabilistically the range of outcomes for a stock has been calculated to four decimal places, every attempt to declutter your portfolio must be accompanied by an attempt to declutter your attachment to the glorious past it represents, or the glorious future it will deliver.
That's the only way to discover the joys of investing - and living - in the here and now.