Category Archives: Objects of Our Affection

More on Keys and What They Can Tell Us

So I was talking about how I spent more than an hour sifting through this box of keys that had somehow accumulated on my kitchen counter.

A less than optimal place for the keys, I’ll admit – but then, that meant they did keep getting in the way, and that eventually led me to sort them, on a morning when I had a lot of probably more important stuff to do.

Or what seemed like more important stuff.

But what the keys told me opened doors on more levels than I had any inkling of, when I grumpily dumped them out and started trying to remember why I would have two keys marked “Do Not Duplicate” and a bunch of little bitty ones that look like they’d go to padlocks but don’t fit any of the ones I still have.

The sorting of the keys was in itself a key.

First they told me to quit putting them back in a jumble until “the right time” came to sort them.

They’re are now  in a half-dozen clear plastic baggies with labels like “Other People’s Keys: Return” and “Take to Hardware Store” and “Previous Incarnation” and “Interior But Not to Storage Closet.”  It’s a start.

Sorting brought me face to face with my chronic, cosmic inability to SIMPLY THROW ANYTHING AWAY. Especially anything permanent, like a metal key.

Some folks say we just have to learn to throw away. I partly agree. But I am taking a clump of keys to the hardware store where Quint will tell me what kind of keys they are likely to be and whether they can be recycled.

And meanwhile I had to laugh at myself, the process and the pretty humble result. But – the keys had more to say!

So here it is:

1)      WE ALL HATE TO SORT, AND WITH GOOD REASON.  We hate to sort because it takes time from what we’d rather be doing, at a time when we already have too much work to do and not enough time to play.

2)      But sorting, alas, is too often where downsizing starts.

3)      Sorting is the key to unlocking that downsizing.

4)      And the key to sorting is creating categories.


Does it resonate, this inability to throw away? Then let me encourage you to just take one small category and do the basic  KEEP – RECYCLE – GIVE AWAY – THROW AWAY. You know you’ll be amazed at how encouraging it is. Just one little category.

But the trick is, YOU have to choose the category. Invent it, or whatever you must do. That’s where it starts.


I just spent  a couple of hours going through a pile of keys. House keys, car keys, bike-lock keys, office keys. Keys to gates and storage bins.

I’m sure you know exactly where this story goes: Most of these keys, I have NO IDEA what they unlocked back in their glory days of real utility.

Labeled? Nope, not a chance.

Except for one whole envelope that my sister the archivist sorted through.  Those keys, at least we know they were our mother’s, and that means they go to this house where I live now. They are helpfully labeled “interior lock” and sometimes even “interior lock/closet.” It’s a start.
Then there are he keys from previous incarnations. At this point, I don’t even remember what my son’s car keys to his first, second and third car looked like. Yeah. Maybe some of these are those.

These, those … My point is – well, I have several. First of all, we all have too much stuff. Well, most of us. This is not news.

The news is – I just got it this morning – that SORTING STUFF IS NEITHER WORK NOR PLAY.

That’s why we hate it so much.

Sorting stuff does not pay us. Nor does it further any tasks (a.k.a. work) that WILL eventually pay us. Nor does it fuel anything we are passionate about.

Au contraire, it actually takes time AWAY from the tasks that will pay us either in money or pleasure.

And it eats up valuable time that might otherwise be devoted to playing. Hiking, biking, dancing, surfing … reading, sewing, fixing the car (if you call that play) … or simply lounging around or hanging out with friends.

NONE of this do we get to do while we are sorting. It’s tedious, solitary, time-consuming  …. And did I mention tedious?

And it gets worse. Sorting can also be traumatic, because it almost invariably dredges up the past.

In the case of the keys, it dredged up my life as an editor, where I was able to open doors on levels literal and metaphoric. And the houses where I lived with my son when he was growing up – gone, the houses and the childhood. Can’t tarry there or I’ll never get through the pile.

And my mother. Some of the printing on the keys that are labeled is hers. I probably don’t have to tell you what a mental side trip those provoke?

I have a lot more to say about it all. But for now, what I want to leave you with is this:

You’re not crazy if sorting makes you feel crazy.

Not at all.

And: There are solutions. Every problem holds keys to its solution. To be continued …

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