Path to Craftsmanship: The Art of Throwing It Away

Some hackers build sharp, mildly toxic nests of parts, components, and thrifty finds around themselves. These nests, while not comfortable, are certainly comforting. They allow the hacker’s psyche to inhabit a locale as chaotic as their minds. Within these walls of stuff and clutter, stunning hacks pour out amid a small cloud of cursing. This article is not for them.

http://www.computerhistory.org/atchm/an-analog-life-remembering-jim-williams/
Very few of us can actually function in a workplace such like that of the venerable Jim Williams (photo from linked article). Thanks to the commenters for mentioning him in the previous article.

For the rest of us, clutter is a Zen destroying, seemingly unconquerable, monster that taunts our poor discipline and organizational skill from the dark corner of our minds. However, there is an easy solution that is oft overlooked. Somewhat obviously, most organization problems can be solved by simply not having things to organize.

It’s taken me a very long time to realize the source of my clutter woes. My first tactic was to blame myself for my inability to keep up with the mess. A more superior human would certainly be able to use their effortless discipline to keep a space organized. However, the clutter was a symptom of a problem completely separate from my actual ability to keep a space clean.

I first realized the power of throwing things away when an employer hired a quality control guy. The first thing the QC guy did was wander around the workplace interviewing people and taking meticulous notes. The biggest complaint was how unusable the work areas were. We had all sorts of bins and procedures for filing away items, but we just could never keep on top of it.

So, the second thing he did was host a 5S event. The first, “S,” in a 5S even is, “sort”. The very first thing one does when, “sorting,” is to throw away or remove all unnecessary items from the work space. At that first event, out of what I would describe as a small seven person office, we literally threw away a shipping container worth of things. We got rid of a second container’s worth of stuff by donating or selling it.  I took one big thing away from this.

Wow! It is really file-system-consistency-checking nice to work in a space without all that useless crap lying around!

This realization was, of course, followed by, “Wait, why the file-system-conisistency-check am I keeping all that useless crap in my house?”

So, things must be gotten rid of, but how? There’s not just an economic aspect to hoarding things, there’s definitely a psychological aspect as well. Understanding the real impact of both these things are the first steps to taking control of your space. Below is a slideshow of the increasing tidiness of my workspaces over time as I develop better habits, but also reduce the number of things that I own in a dramatic way.

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Why Do I Own the Useless Things I Own?

To understand why we shouldn’t even have brought it into our space in the first place, will help us come to terms with the separation anxiety, overcome it, and throw the dang thing away.

Don’t Gamble.

It took me a long time to figure out why I felt dumb for buying that extra spool of blue painters tape on sale or that cool garage sale find. I mean, it was a good deal. Right? So why do I feel like I just played the slots with my money and lost?

Anytime you buy or keep something you don’t need right now, you are gambling that “future you” needs it enough that the cost of locking the capital in now and using space up for storing it, is less than that future reward. Very rarely does this bet pay off. This is counter-intuitive to the natural state of the hacker mind. Isn’t the point to have it on hand so the hack can happen as quickly as possible? Doesn’t the adage go, “As soon as you throw it away you’ll need it?”

I found this cool stuff in an IBM dot matrix printer. I moved it through three different apartments and two states before I admitted it was garbage and threw it away.
I found this cool stuff in an IBM dot matrix printer. I moved it through three different apartments and two states before I admitted it was garbage and threw it away.

It’s All Weight on Your Mind.

quote-holding-on-is-depressingAt least in my experience, keeping things I don’t need has been more about making myself feel good, than about actually doing the work. I like to have that cool part on hand and hold onto the fantasy, the gamble, that I will do it in the future. To throw that part away is letting go of that fantasy version of myself that has done the project. I like to hold onto the possibilities. However, I’ve discovered that doing a project is rewarding, and holding onto many unfinished projects is depressing.

There is a real mental, monetary, and physical cost to storing items. Once things start to be removed from a space, procurement habits get more controlled, and the mental strain is lessened; the mind begins to want to head towards the path of lowest cost.

What Should I Keep?

It was covered earlier in the post, but the only things that should be in the space are items that are necessary for the work to continue.  It’s hard to say exactly what these items are, as each hacker’s needs are different, but I will try to list some of my example keeps and don’t keeps. Keep in mind that this list is tailored for my needs, your needs may be completely different.

Example Keep:

  1. Set of M3 nuts and bolts. I keep a stock of these. I’m always using them in my various constructions, and I take the box out at least once or twice a week.
  2. Tools: I consider tools to be enablers of work. If possible I do not throw away a tool. However, I do throw away redundant tools. For example. I have one ruler, not two.
  3. Glue, Tape, Lubricants, and Chemicals: I have two boxes of glues, tapes, and useful chemicals. I open the boxes at least once a week. Occasionally I’ll sort through the boxes and throw away items that I haven’t used in a long time.
Here's a pile of screwdrivers I removed from my toolbox recently. The purple box on the left covers the entire range of small size screw turning I need.
Here’s a pile of screwdrivers I removed from my toolbox recently. The purple box on the right covers the entire range of small size screw turning I need.

Example Don’t Keep:

  1. Spring Assortment. I bought a spring assortment years ago. So far I have moved it through five living spaces and opened the box five times. I would have been better served to pay more for the springs I need than to store a collection of springs I don’t.
  2. Fans. I have a big bag of fans. I always feel fans are useful, but I rarely use them and some are just so odd that, realistically, I can’t see even finding a use for them.
  3. Lumber. I got into woodworking and found a great deal on some oak. Now I have a lot of oddly shaped bits of oak. I also thought I was going to build more desks than one, so I have a lot of extra 2x4s. It takes up a ton of room. Since I am not a regular woodworker, I would be better served to buy wood for one project and then throw away the scraps when I am done. In fact, if I do end up giving away or selling the wood, it will mostly be at a loss, and any of the saving I got from buying in bulk are lost.
Okay, so I haven't learned my lesson yet. Don't do this to your workspace. Destined for a craigs-listing soon.
Okay, so I haven’t learned my lesson yet. Don’t do this to your workspace. Destined for a Craigslisting soon.

Good Planning is Better than Keeping Spares.

Since I’ve started to keep less stuff around me, I’ve noticed an interesting side effect. Since I am not designing for the parts I have on hand, I design for the parts I can order or procure. This means that I’ll use the right spring, or the latest development board. For example, by buying that dusty Atmega168 Arduino, I’ve basically locked in thirty dollars to the height of  technology in 2009. However, had I not bought and kept it, when I set out to build my project I would simply order the best out there. For a fifth of that price I could get an ESP8266 board and get WiFi functionality. If I want to be convoluted about it, by not keeping an unnecessary item in inventory, I’ve upgraded my project at a profit.

Aside from that, it forces me to slow down. There’s a lot of fun in the weekend hack, but a two weekend hack will generally come out better. Three weekend? Nobel Prize, minimum. One weekend to design, plan, and order. Another weekend to assemble.

How Should I Buy Things?

There are a few things I always used to do that felt like good practice, but was actually wasting money or producing clutter in the long run. One that was a hard mental fight to get over, is buying the, “extra-value,” size of things. To use a silly example, you wouldn’t buy a five gallon bucket of milk. You know it’s going to go bad before you can get to it. The bucket won’t even fit in your fridge. However, it’s really easy to buy a three lb spool of solder or two rolls of the same color printer filament, but it’s exactly the same thing. If the world sees a solder or filament shortage anytime soon, there are probably much larger problems to deal with. Like alien invasions, or presidents with bad hair.

Bought many years apart. The arduino was on sale, so I thought it would be a good thing to have around. Still haven't used it.
Bought many years apart. The photon is 15 dollars less than I paid and way more capable. The Arduino was on sale, so I thought it would be a good thing to have around. Still haven’t used it. Disclosure: The Photon was given to me by Particle to evaluate.

As mentioned in the previous section, don’t buy what you don’t need for a project. I always had a tendency to buy three springs if I need two. I’ve discovered that to be the wrong approach, unless I fully intend to throw away every spare once the project is complete (which is built in waste). I should instead approach my project with a mind of discipline and purpose and set out to build it without losing a spring. Likewise, I don’t buy three cans of spray paint if I need two. Unless I intend to immediately return the third can to the store. There is no advantage to holding onto a can of spray paint for a rainy day. I have a box that is literally overflowing with the stuff, it is headed out of my home soon.

Money that is well curated and well kept is better than money that is locked up in slowly depreciating capital. I have some Atmel 168s I bought before Arduino was even a word. The sticker is yellowing, and I can guarantee I will never use them. I would much rather have twenty dollars than those chips.

Lastly, I don’t go to the thrift store without a purpose. I have an actual list of tools I am looking for. If I go to a garage sale and see a nice set of taps for sale I don’t buy it. It’s not on my list. Mostly this has resulted in me not going to the thrift store as much, but my wallet and surroundings thank me.

Sort: Remove the Unnecessary.

I started to write a lengthy paragraph about how, once I’ve decided It needs to go, I remove items from my workspace, but I realized I was trying to type out a decision tree. So I’ve made a flowchart of my mental process when getting rid of items.

The best free flowchart software can provide.
The best that free flowchart software can provide.

Conclusion

In the end, throwing things away is hard. It is something that takes practice to be good at. There have literally been books written on the subject. Just be scientific. Do I actually use this? How would I operate if I didn’t have this? I will write a date on the box and if it’s still collecting dust in six months I’ll get rid of it.

My experience has been very much that less is more. That curating the items in a workspace are the actions of someone in control of their mind and their craft. Whereas someone at the whim of their space is less likely to do regular work to their level of satisfaction. Unless they’re Jim Williams.

153 thoughts on “Path to Craftsmanship: The Art of Throwing It Away

    1. 1.) SHELVES! REMEMBER Using SHELVES Helps immensely. All that wood? Would have made great shelves.
      2.) Heavier & Bigger things belong closer to the floor. Granted lifting back up not such a shine but a Plumbers Wrench or PCB Microscope you only once in a while belongs when it will cause less damage to itself or YOU when falling.
      3.) Never “Stack” If you can help it. Clear bins over cardboard boxes. Finally if you do stack TRY and give you self an inch or 2 or 3cm-4cm of clearance. (IE Just the long tube of the vacuum cleaner or a broom.)

      It is not easy to Sort if you have no space. (OR THINKING you have no space.)

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5S_(methodology)

      Once you make the space and PREP it for usage, THEN SORT.

      1. I buy heavy duty stainless steel shelves at Costco. I load them up with boxes of stuff and slowly go through them all throwing away what I will not use. Side note…the shelves are always full. The amount of collected junk is mind boggling. One problem I continuously have is keeping circuit boards. I keep thinking I’ll heat them up and knock the parts off for categorization. I never do. When when I DO do it, I end up with parts I never use.

  1. Great article. I have had to make the hard call and throw away a lot of stuff, especially moving off to University. However, I must argue for hoarding in specific situations. For one, if you live in a developing country, you can’t just order the parts you need for a project – in my home country shipping generally takes months, packages are often lost and you pay $10 + 100% duty (a killer on cheap parts). Also, if you do have some extra space, having piles of scraps does allow you to pick a piece close to what you need and modify it, rather than starting from scratch.
    The habit I have cultivated is to try and keep things more likely to be useful and easy to store. So flat sheets of material, metal rods, screws (I stick to a few sizes, and M3 machine screws FTW!) etc are kept because they are useful and easy to store. Motors, magnets, switches etc all come in useful so they generally stay. But weirdly shaped plastic cases, PCBs (once I scavenge hard to find parts from them), hulking transformers, gears, springs etc. usually get dumped.
    I think we all live in fear of needing a part that we threw away yesterday, but it is such a good feeling to thin down the pile every now and again and make things more organised :D

    1. Exactly! I don’t throw away everything. Just the bits that really don’t enable me. I too have a small stack 3mm plywood and 3mm acrylic. There’s a laser cutter nearby and I can get work done very quickly. Like you mention, even when you do hoard components due to a specific need, there are still parts in that hoard that could be gotten rid of.

    2. “gears, springs etc. usually get dumped.”

      Very small gears and bearings – especially ones that fit together – are some of the things you will miss when you don’t have them, because they’re nearly impossible to source at reasonable prices anyways.

      I once had to make a small turntable rotate slowly and I didn’t have a suitable low speed motor, and couldn’t use a rubber band because it needed an amount of torque. I had previously taken apart a card-shuffling machine which had two motors with two plastic gearboxes built out of plastic gears which I saved, so I took the gears, shafts and a motor, and re-assembled them to get me the speed I wanted.

  2. So much this. It would be nice if we could be more vigilant about this at our hackerspace. It’s tough enough when you’re thinking “I could use this in a project,” but it’s exponentially more difficult when it’s “someone else could use this in a project.”

    1. Yes. I used to be in the, “what if it’s useful boat,” but after spending a lot of times in a hackerspace…. my personal thought is that every hackerspace should have a subscription to a dumpster and write boneyard/member storage on it. They have a week to get to it. Everyone gets to experience the fun of dumpster diving, and the space doubles its working floorspace.

    2. At Stockholm Makerspace we have this rule that everyone got a 50x39x26 cm plastic box, and in that one you can keep whatever you want. If it is larger than that, then we have a few shelves for temporary storage of larger things, where it has to be marked with name and date, and if you do keep it there for too long people will complain. If you just leave stuff other than that lying around… it might just get thrown out by anyone that think it is not.

    1. I designated all but one room of my two-floor house as “workspaces”, but yes, keeping one of them clean and organized works well. Also don’t look at unfinished projects as unfinished. Its purpose was to learn from the interesting parts, which is completed. Switch to more interesting projects and keep it for the parts :-)

    2. Haha. I’ll just call the kitchen a workspace!

      Great article. I’m reminded enough times in the week about this and now HaD is on my ass about it too…

      *grumble* NOT A HACK!
      Okay, I’ll bring something to the dump. But not the broken microwave. ;)

      1. I kept a broken microwave for years, and inside it I kept the HV Diode needed to repair it. So when our current microwave broke down, I dusted off the old one, installed the HV Diode, and that didn’t fix it! (bad magnetron -sigh!)
        Fortunately, the newer microwave needed a door switch, which I did find (somewhere) in all my junk boxes.
        So, the moral of the story is, don’t keep the big junk… B^)

        P.S. our local recycling center gives me a discount, if I disassemble and sort things before dropping them off. (metal, plastic, circuit boards, none of the above…) So instead of paying a fixed appliance fee (e.g. microwave = $15) they take the metal for free, and charge me $0.15 a pound for the circuit boards.

        1. Microwaves are a gold mine!
          Programmable countdown timer with relays. MOT. Nice magnet inside magnetron. VFD, LCD, or LED display. Keypad. HV components like that diode and capacitor(s).
          All inside of a decent Farady cage.
          I filled one with circuit boards set aside for ‘desolder fodder’.

          Donate a microwave oven to a hackerspace, even if it is broken. They will not stay in one piece for very long I bet. (If they do have a bunch then yeah, I would scrap it.)

          1. Yes! Like my first, self etched SMD project (schmittt trigger oscillator with piezo beeper) from around 25 years ago. Yesterday I have been lucky about it, because I needed the 40106 to repair something. Of course the chip costs next to nothing, but if you order one, the shipping costs are 10 to 100fold. I was even reluctant to tear this thing apart, but then: “What the heck, it was laying around unused for >20 years and is not that beautiful. The chip can do much better in the other device.”
            So, yes, I am really bad at throwing things away. But sometimes this is good. :-)

    1. Really *every* time?

      Occasionally, you will find yourself re-buying something that you’ve thrown out, but it’s worth it IMO. The benefits of cleaning up outweigh the relatively low frequency of re-purchase. (And you’ll learn as you go along which things to ditch vs keep)

      1. +1 to this. The burden doesn’t necessarily come from having the surplus of stuff, it comes from not being able to find the right part or even forgetting that you have it and ordering a new one, only to find it in the next cleanup cycle.

  3. I think one of the biggest roadblocks here is the sunk cost fallacy: you hang on to that expensive Mach3 controller you bought ten years ago for that CNC conversion you never got around to because it won’t fetch much on eBay. Or those new PIC16F84s still in a tube because you could totally use one in your next project instead of forking out money for another Arduino clone (nevermind you lost your ICD pod two moves ago and haven’t done any PIC stuff in years).

    1. Rather than forking over money for an arduino, just tear apart an old printer for the parts needed to build a PIC programmer. It’s not hard and it only takes a couple hours. Then, even if you use them for something a 555 would be good at, maybe you’re out of 555 timers, or the right resistors to set up the oscillator, or whatever.

    2. Oh man that hits home. I bought a full 25 piece tube of ‘F84As back in the day, probably used like 3 of them since, all within the first month of purchase. They became outdated so quick, and it’s rare that I can come up with a small enough project to use them for. Either it’s simple enough to use discrete logic, or complex enough that an STM32 makes more sense.

  4. But Gerrit, if you throw the spring assortment away, you have to *WAIT* for new ones to arrive in the post, be not as described, or you didn’t quite order the right ones so have to go round the loop again etc. 9/10ths of the time spent on my bigger projects is waiting for stuff to turn up in the mail to complete them.
    I find it better to have my stuff organized logically so I can find it when I need it and every time I have the things to complete a project without having to wait feels like a small victory. My workshop is organized and clean, but its far from empty of things.

    1. Agreed. In my case I find the spring assortment to be something that is used so little that it sits in-between me and organization. To be honest, I use springs all the time, but my spring assortment sucks. I always end up ordering them. To me this was the indication that this object should leave my shop.

      1. I use my spring assortment as raw materials. You can take an ordinary lighter to one and anneal the spring so it can be bent and cut to appropriate length and diameter, then quenched to make it springy again.

        That way you can find out what sort of springs you actually need, instead of ordering a couple different kinds and finding out they didn’t suit the purpose. Often the modified spring is good enough as it is and can be left in place. If not, you throw it away and the spring assortment gets consumed.

        There’s nothing that says you have to use the parts as they are; they’re yours, you can break them. Treat everything as raw material and it becomes useful. Like those useless chips you were going to throw away – since you’re not doing anything with them, you might as well “waste” them for something that’s beneat their “value”.

        1. Yes. Memories of a backhoe that the throttle cable return spring that snapped and went ping into the ether on at 9.30am, with a cement truck due at 3pm with some groundworks still to go (building my next shop as it goes). Rolling again in 10 minutes with two springs zip tied together to double the rate and a extra zip tie to make up the length as they were too short. With clever selection of stuff and lateral thought you have the tools to get out of bad occurances.

          I have a compartmentalized box for springs, ditto grommets, roll pins, snap rings, o rings etc. And they all have their contents marked in sharpie on the side and sit in a neat stack in some shelving in the shop. If something doesn’t lend itself to these boxes, its in a storage bin which is also marked with the contents and ordered along with other similar stuff so I can find it without remembering its location by logical thinking. I have no wall space in my shop not used to store parts or tooling. The rule is the bench area gets emptied every week. Unfinished projects at that stage end up in a storage box, not being able to work on something because something else is cluttering up the workspace is a no go here and I do a lot of things in parallel. In a 230 sq ft shop I have a full sized lathe, shaper, surface grinder, dp, tool rollercab, benches, manual mill, cnc mill, wire edm + associated tooling and several smaller machines. If it wasn’t highly organized it wouldn’t work. A 5S proponent would have a heart attack and what is kept round to keep each machine fed and in tooling but its all structured and organized, its not that way because its a pit of sloth…

          1. Yes, that’s true, the unfinished/interrupted projects are a problem. You can push them back on the table only so much. :-) Then the time comes when the pile on the table near the wall gets too high and you really could not find anything any more. Using storage boxes is a good idea.

      2. I’m not throwing away mine! I only keep the really strange ones and a pack of assorted 2-4″ ones. If Walmart or Lowes has it, I dont need it. (Except electrical connectors, but I am in that box every other week.)

  5. Even those of us who do like a clutterful environment need clean up methods.
    mine is simple if it fails all checks, it’s gone
    1.Could I sell it today for >$100?
    2.Have I used it in the past year?
    3.Do I plan on using it in the next year?
    4.Am I willing to admit, to the wife, that none of the above apply, but I want to keep it anyway?

    this has gotten my clutter down from almost-hoarder to slightly messy workshop
    #4 is a nice de-stressor for clean up — the lovely wife understands sentimental attachments to objects, so just having a easy justification to keep some random debris allows me to be okay with discarding more useless stuff

    1. This is actually a pretty useful check-list (with minor modifications to the time-lengths – if you have more time to tinker or less space, you will tinker more and therefore clutter faster. You need to throw things away more frequently).

  6. HERETIC! burn him at the spare stake you have kept incase you need to repair a fence. :-) Sadly the only counter argument I can think of is for buying more widgets than you need is in case you blow / break / or otherwise destroy one or more of them during assembly. Oh add DOA onto that list too.

    If anyone in the UK is going to have a clear out, contact me about the Acme retirement home for discarded tools and machinery. I’ll be cleaning the workshop now.

  7. Always wonder why most makers tend to be kind of hoarders.

    One side effect of it is spending hours searching for something I know I have it somewhere, but I just don’t find it. So I end up buying that thing again.

    :o(

    1. Haha. And then you find it!
      I have the same problem, so I bought boxes and a label-maker. A week passed and I couldn’t find it. So I cracked and bought another one.
      What do you think happened when I opened the box I keep fresh AA’s in…

    2. For decades I kept an under dash mount for a Blaupunkt radio (yes, I have the radio) and finally decided to trash the mount. Several months later someone on the USENET rec.autos.vw asked it anyone had one. I replied yes, and then spent a couple of hours looking for it…
      Slowly, it dawned…

  8. Imagine if Jim had been forced to tidy his desk under a corporate 5S culture of no exceptions.

    That’s what we are all suffering where I work today and it equals a lack of productivity for many previous high achievers.
    But they get swamped in the statistics of those would were just lazy and untidy, or they leave the company and get taken out of the equation.

    One size does not suit all.

  9. I keep a rule: if there’s only one of these, throw it away.

    That’s because singular parts are often so special or difficult to find that using them to build something will leave you with a problem of finding spares. That means holding on to things like precision rods from printers is futile, because if you design around it you’ll never find the same part.

    It obviously doesn’t apply to raw materials like sheet metal or cardboard, because those are things you always need even in small scrap pieces to make something or shim something, or practice a cut or try out a new way to bend it… etc.

    Raw materials: keep. Speciality parts: toss.

    1. True, except that rods from printers are often standard size – most of the ones I’ve seen have been 5mm diameter. I get the point you were making though, and there’s nothing worse than trying to copy a build that specifies ‘this random squiggly bit of plastic from my mom’s PC case’ as a part, so only keeping basic stuff makes reproducing your builds easier as well.

    2. “That means holding on to things like precision rods from printers is futile, because if you design around it you’ll never find the same part.”

      That is why I have 3 lathes.

      1. I’m currently down to two lathes. A Monarch 12CK from 1943, a Frejoth 1340 from the early 1990’s (same as a Grizzly G4016) and an old Hardinge ‘split bed’ that’s not functional and likely never will be. (Thus it’s currently ‘not a lathe’.)

  10. “Sadly the only counter argument I can think of …”

    The major counterargument to throwing things away is the cost of sourcing parts, because mail-ordering things in ones and twos often doubles or triples the cost, and it’s not uncommon to have to pay ten times the part just for shipping.

    If you’re living in Akihabara, that’s nice, but most people live in hobby-craft deserts where the nearest place to get something as simple as a brass rod would cost $10 in gasoline because every hardware store around is selling only flatpack furniture and home decoration items.

    1. Two or three times if you’re lucky… Get into some of the more exotic high-power parts that friends and I have sourced surplus (and actually used) like big IGBTs, film caps, and switching transformers, and you’re talking parts that would be 10-100x what they cost us, if they could even be sourced at all (custom / low-volume part numbers). My current hoarding rules partly depend on this value — “Could I possibly get this part at a reasonable cost if I wanted one in the future” and “can I think of a possible use for this part in the future”. If the first answer is yes, I don’t need it now. First answer no, second answer yes, then I should keep it.

      1. Another criteria is “Can this cheap surplus part be hacked to replace an expensive difficult to source part?”

        Which is why I bought tubes or random chip sockets. If the chip don’t fit the socket, you can pretty much just hobby-knife one or two to make a socket that works for you. Trying to source the exact right kind of socket when you need it would be ridiculous because it would probably not be available anyways, or it would cost $10 for a 10c part.

  11. The giant pile o’ parts is always a fail… but a well-organized stock of small parts is a huge lifesaver. I’m moderately disciplined about organizing my electronic parts, and it’s frequently a life-saver. For example, I was able to salvage a client project that otherwise would have gathered a 3-4 day delay over the weekend because I had three op-amps, some protoboard, and assortments of resistors and caps on hand and well-organized enough I didn’t have to spend a day searching.

    1. Nice. I, for example, would not keep any op-amps because I don’t use them much at all. However, if you’re an electronics person, it would make sense to keep a well-curated selection of them. It enables you to do the work. However, one of the S’s in 5S is standardization. In this step you say, “yes I regularly need op-amps, but do I really need this tray of 1970s op-amps that I never use because they’re worse in every way?” In this way you help yourself know where the op-amps are because you have a specific selection of them rather than a dusty sightly pointy bin somewhere that may contain an op-amp.

      1. ““yes I regularly need op-amps, but do I really need this tray of 1970s op-amps that I never use because they’re worse in every way?”

        I would say yes, because you can use them as throwaway parts for making things like low current precision current sources/sinks or regulators etc. “menial tasks not fit for an op-amp” where you would otherwise use a dedicated and specialized part. Hey, you have a tray of them so why not? Saves you time and money.

        1. this fits the mentality I have. I’m smart and skilled enough to be able to whip up a tool to solve a problem, use it for years, and never need to worry about sourcing replacement parts because I don’t break it. “Hey, that’s a cool display. Oh, look, a datasheet. And now it’s running my digital compass, much more stylish than an hd44780. “

          1. Yeah, and if you actually did have a whole tray of useless op-amps, you could throw them away by doing something cool with them, like wiring 77 of them into relaxation oscillators and making a weird piano.

  12. Great Article!! You’ve solidly changed my project plans for the week, I have a new mission.
    This reminds me of the book I read last year, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” – Marie Kondo
    Funny, I took similar advice everywhere but my lab (cave of terror).
    My local hackerspace is about to get a big surprise!

    1. I second the recommendation for Marie Kondo’s book. This article immediately reminded me of that. Still working to put the principles in practice in my own life…

  13. My weakness is old computers. I have a sizable stack of Ataris, Apples, Commodores etc. I recognize the impracticality but just don’t want to let them go : )

    I guess I could always become an eBay reseller. Pass the items on to someone who might actually use them.

    1. I have a literal stack of circa 2008 Dell Optiplex boxen, mostly 520’s. Also a few MPC ones. They’re too good to just toss, or donate to someplace that will just shred them.

      Somewhere there are people who don’t even have a computer, but want one. I’d like to do a bit of a clear out and give away a pickup truck load of stuff I’m certain most of is functional. There is one PCIe x16 card I call the mobokiller because that’s what it did to a couple of motherboards. Repairable? I dunno, perhaps someone can find the fault and fix it.

      If you’re somewhere in the Boise, ID to Ontario, OR area and want to clutter up your space by helping reduce my clutter…

  14. I am doubtful of the practicality of this post for many people. And it’s a death sentence for those of us who have ambitions that involve classic parts. For example, we have an old VAX switch plate which has two sets of illuminated pushbuttons armed by a key switch. It’s perfect for PLC or rocket launch systems. Just needs a new key-switch and PCB or wiring harness, and then you have a nice piece of kit with some real history behind it (Our specific one came off a machine being retired at a NASA research facility). It also means that many projects are impractical to do quickly. We do wood-working routinely, and so we have cut-offs, sheet goods, and a good stock of lumber around. We have an entire tree of maple. You quite simply cannot match maple bought over years from different trees as well as that from a single tree, meaning if you plan on building matched furniture, you either buy as much as you need for all the furniture, or you attempt to match it after the fact, with all the effort that implies.

    We have piles of material, tools, and other stuff stored. This is why we have a barn. If we had to go to the hardware store every time we started a project, or order rare components, we’d never get anything done. Do we really need 2 bandsaws, a mini-cooper sized pile of foam, a 1200 gallon tank, three chop saws, and hundreds of now mostly retired vacumn formed parts? Not most of the time. But since we do miniature terrain, and have the space to store it in reasonable order, it means we can build terrain very quickly and very well. You have no idea how many times I’ve wished I had a stock of various kinds of components. Electronics, such as resistors, LEDs, fuses, capacitors, and connectors. Machine screws and wiring. The things we do have stock of are incredibly helpful when we use them, like having cotter pins and bolts on hand. I’ve also made it a rule that for things like 3D printers, any component that could fail in normal operation much be available to be replaced quickly. Fuses, fans, ducts, connectors, heaters, nozzles, sensors. One of the few things which can slow it down is a controller failure (And naturally, that’s what happened).

    Spray paint. We have 4 bins of it. We are slowly working through it, but with such a large inventory of miniatures, we tend to keep at least 1 can of each color we’ve used on hand, for repairs and patch ups, as well as to match new ones to the rest of the collection. Some kinds, like Plough guard, conformal coat, varnishes, or plastidip, have specific uses that when you need them, you want them relatively quickly so you can move on, and are niche enough that many hardware stores don’t carry it.

    Computer hardware: We’ve revived dozens of computers for other people, simply by have ram/HDDs/cables/fans available. If it’s old enough that it doesn’t take DDR3, then we recover the cables (IDE cables are very useful for some things), RAM (As it’s hard to buy DDR2 these days, and some machines need it and can’t be retired (Hello windows 95 box running an ADEPT arm)), Hard-drives (These get wiped and if of a less than acceptable capacity (~150 GB), destroyed. those above the cut-off are kept in limited stock to revive old computers). If we started just tossing all our old hardware, most of those people would be SOL, and we wouldn’t have 3 boxes as ready standbys for people who really need a computer right then.

    Your solution works for you, because you don’t have the space to store it properly, and you often buy relatively specific things which require support infrastructure (Such as those micros). Many people don’t have the space or infrastructure.

    1. I mean, yes, but those were my EXAMPLE keeps and don’t keeps. It sounds like we’re very much on the same page. For example, you only keep hard drives over 150GB because that’s what you need for the work to continue. Likewise, you actually use spray-paint often. It makes a lot of sense for you to keep a box. I need it every four months and usually I need a color I don’t have. Likewise, if I had a barn and could afford it, even my sporadic woodworking would allow for the storage of more exotic sizes and configurations of wood. However, I live in a three bedroom house and my office is in one. It sounds like you definitely keep your space free of the clutter that a hundred pentium MMX boxes would provide.

      1. I think you are trying to find a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of organizing tools and materials in a pursuit where technical knowledge and creativity meet; good luck.

        The five S’s are a load of self help crap and a common fidget for the anxiety prone. If all you do is clean your workbench then you will never develop anything that requires a physical prototype, or a mess, since you will be too focused on the organization of your space. Yes, you need to be able to find things, but discarding something after a year because it wasn’t used is foolish and wasteful. Your spring assortment should not go into the trash, take the time and energy to find a new home at a hacker space or youth group.

        This article will separate the people doing real work from those who want to appear proficient and show off their pretty workbench in a self-produced video. For active inventors the strategy in this article is absurd. If I contract another inventor one of my important criteria is an honest work space. The tone of the article sounds like it comes from one of the YouTube comments that complains that all the “instructions” aren’t in one place and linked in the video.

        For me, prototyping a new robot means think in the morning, lunch, build in the afternoon, dinner, test in the evening. Blogging, videos, ignorant clean-up schemes, telemarketers, and all other distractions are things that I live without and that increases productivity; and if you need MMX to get organized I feel very sorry for you.

        1. Machismo is unbecoming. 5S is a proven technique used by companies as a one in set of tools to measurably increase output and decrease waste. Once you apply the word measure it becomes science. I’ve repeated the experiments and found them to be true. Some companies apply the methods as self-help crap, and they cannot be helped.

          1. Just because you’re measuring something doesn’t make it science.

            Point in case: over-unity fools who think measuring current and voltage with two multimeters and multiplying them together means they’ve broken the laws of thermodynamics.

          2. I cannot agree that 5S is a good universal solution. Like 6-sigma it is a catch-all that homogenizes and makes the least useful employees at least marginally useful, and the most useful employees only marginally useful. It’s the sort of technique you use when you can’t be bothered to even attempt to get the most out of anyone. This comes from working at a big company that was all policy, no product. You can say that it’s proven because company X, Y, or Z uses it. I would retort that it would have been more useful to just hire better employees rather than apply more processes. If it’s ‘industry standard’ there’s always a better way to do it, just not always an easier way.

          3. 5S has been a lifesaver for the company I work for. We ALL grumbled in the beginning, but when I realized that tools in sight and sorted is much better than tools in a box, I got more involved. And we red-tagged all dies that haven’t been used in a year; those were pushed into the back and quite a few were scraped.
            Great article!

  15. I disagree. Look at Einstein’s desk:

    The way to fix things is to sort them, and to go into vertical (wall shelves). This way you can can store all your stuff and find it quickly.

    Clean desk is great for convincing your wife and your boss that you have nothing to work on, and are ready to repaint your kitchen for the Nth time.

    1. “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”
      – Thomas Edison

      I don’t know about the good imagination but I do have the pile of junk. Fortunatley I also have a barn.

      1. Haha, nice. I raise you a quote from the other side of the current.

        “If he [Thomas Edison] had a needle to find in a haystack, he would not stop to reason where it was most likely to be, but would proceed at once with the feverish diligence of a bee, to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. … Just a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety percent of his labor.” -Nikola Tesla

        1. The irony is that Tesla was competely off the mark with his theories, and all the actual things he managed to do were due to tinkering and laboring away with the experiments,. His “theories” were ad-hoc “explainations” as to why it works.

          I mean, the man didn’t even believe electrons existed. He believed electricity to be a kind of ‘etheric fluid’ and the discovery of sub-atomic particles and fields of charge he dismissed as an “artifact of the experiment”, because he believed that empty space could not transmit fields or forces because it has no properties.

          He was quite literally cuckoo in the head, but his practical experience with AC current allowed him to make the right intuitions and get the results. It’s kinda like the saying that if your book of magic contains an accurate description of how to construct a transistor, you can build a radio despite the fact that you believe in magic.

          1. And keeping with the theme, a lot of historical scientists have been retconned and “re-glorified” to support a kind of TV-Science agenda where certain members of the scientific community try to distance themselves from the “softer” sciences by drawing clear lines between what is good science and what is bad. On the other hand, it’s also an attempt to present science as infallible against the pressure from people like religious nuts or climate change denialists who threaten the established consensus in any way.

            It’s a curious little fight. For example, you can see the Neil DeGrasse Tyson Universe series, where he pulls out Galileo as an example of a scientists who went against the establishment, as a sort of “scientific martyr”.

            But the truth of the matter is anything but. Galileo was a crank. He knew very well that the heliocentric and geocentric models would produce the exact same patterns of celestial objects because it was simply a question of mathematical abstraction – the more elegant solution isn’t /necessarily/ true, and cannot be used to settle the case.

            So he made a different argument: he said there exists proof that earth goes around the sun, because the centripetal force of a moving earth around a fixed sun produces the tides! Nevermind that in that case there should have only been one tide per day, and it would not have been synced with the moon, which means the earth should have actually been revolving around the moon. Galileo just handwaved these little disrepancies off.

            And that was the real reason he got locked up in house arrest. He was going around preaching bad science that not only contradicted the church, but common sense. He was a nuisance, not a martyr.

          2. I didn’t know that you were there to see that happen. ;)
            I take most historical ‘facts’ with an open mind and a few grains of salt. He who writes the books writes the history. We will never truly know what really happened.

          3. re: Dax,
            I’ve previously seen you write harshly about Christianity (IIRC) and so it surprised me to read you go beyond “the Church is anti-science, just look at what they did to Galileo” argument.
            As I understand it, Galileo was sanctioned for going outside his expertise, (mathematics and astronomy) and started arguing Theology.

    2. That desk is normal when you work with paper documentation. Sometimes the whole floor became covered with opened books, datasheets and paper. If you close or stack them, the next day you need to search for those pages again. Very time consuming.

      With a computer is much easier. Just think how many tabs/windows/browsers needs to be kept open during a project. Now imagine each of those being a paper book. It will be a huge mess.

    3. Not sure what Einstein’s desk has to do with the meat and potatoes of this article. I have to think there are damn few Einstein’s in the maker community going by comments to the web made by self described makers. I have read Einstein used thought experints in making his discoveries. No need much desk space for that, I’d have to assume he used a black board to refine his work. An accessible blackboard, not an inaccessable bord like the whiteboard in the lead photo.

  16. This is a great article and mirrors the habits that I try to keep. I’d love to see a follow-up article on methods of organization that has worked for you. I love the picture of your current workspace. My first thought was, “where is he putting all his tools?”

    I always seem to have a hard time figuring out a successful organization strategy for my small workshop; even after a good purge. Also, when I have several projects happening, things can get messy on my desk.

      1. Some tools (most frequently used) are okay in the open, such as on a screwdriver rack, parts and lesser used tools, such as a chip puller (in my case) can be boxed/shelved.

  17. Great points in this article, one thing nobody has mentioned(I think) is the environmental impact of throwing stuff out. People might think they are being green by holding on to things so they don’t wind up in a landfill. I would argue that holding on to things you’ll never use is not actually better for the environment, it’s just delaying the inevitable. Eventually you’ll die and your family will throw it all out anyway. If you get in the habit of throwing out what you don’t use, you stop buying so many things you don’t need. You see the waste immediately and can actually correct your buying habits instead of tricking yourself into thinking you don’t waste that extra stuff because you’re storing it.

    Only other comment I have is that the biggest problem with throwing stuff out is you can’t delegate it to anyone! Only you can know what is good and what is junk. You basically have to force yourself to set aside time to organize and clean up (stuff that seems like a distraction or an unproductive activity sometimes).

    1. “You see the waste immediately ”

      I disagree. You see just a small bit of the waste each time, so by cognitive dilution you think you’re only wasting a small bit. You’ll buy one extra and throw it away immediately, and it’s just one item in the trash – that’s not much – but when you do that with everything you end up throwing a mountain of stuff away thinking “it’s just this little thing” each time.

      If instead you have a growing pile of junk going – assuming you’re not a pathological hoarder – you think of buying unnecessary things as “I’ve already got a full shop, where am I going to put this again?” and buy less.

        1. Hah. It’s the same argument backwards. I think we’re trying to say that the more discipline you have the more likely you are to not waste. If you’re a disciplined hoarder and you can actually find and manage your junk that is also something that works. My way works better;) but that way works too. Haha.

  18. Actually, for me, the biggest problem about throwing things away is HaD because practically every time I throw something away there’s a project posted, usually within a week, that uses it or parts cannibalized from it. (c:

  19. I have a cupboard of doom. If something seems one-of-a-kind, impossible to source again, and also totally useless, it goes in the doom cupboard.

    When the cupboard is full I throw the oldest half out, often more. I leave the cupboard door open, so the others can see their friends dropped dispassionately into a rubble sack. It sends a message.

  20. If you’re only _creating_ things, maybe you can run an ultra-lean clutter free workspace. However, I’m often _repairing_ things too. In this case, you need a store of lumber scraps, junked items and random parts. It’s from these you can fashion a solution quickly, rather than wait for something to show up in the post (and most often a $1 part has a $7.99 shipping charge) or spend an hour’s round-trip drive to the lumberyard or hardware store.

    That giant box of wallwarts I keep is certainly an eyesore. But once or twice a year I can dig through it and find a needed replacement in less time than it would take for me to order a new one online.

    1. Well, perhaps lets propose a different narrative. What if you say, “man, this box is huge, awful to dig through, and hideous but I really need the guarantee that I’ll have an appropriate wall wart.” So you go through the box and get rid of maybe 3/4ths of the warts. You don’t really need doubles of the same voltage. Maybe one has a lower amperage than the other. And you cut off a few of the more unique ends that you know you’ve seen. Now, next time you need a wall wart you can pull it out of a much smaller, easier to manage box at a moments notice. When you do pull one, and it’s an item you’d like to stock. Order it right away. When it gets to your place throw it in the box. This is the sort of thing I’m encouraging, not a meditation chamber.

      1. “You don’t really need doubles of the same voltage.”

        Oh yes you do. If you need one, you’ll probably going to need the other as well because the last guy who got his broken thingamagic fixed recommends you to another guy who has the same problem.

        1. Or, one of them is a switch more PSU while the other is a linear device, and you can’t put the switch mode PSU in a device that had the linear device because it causes a buzz in the guy’s speakers or something.

          1. Or you need some fine gauge magnet wire, or an ac cord, or a small vented enclosure, or some ductile iron for an armature. All this armchair productivity psychology tells me the author has little or no experience in running an R and D or repair shop but feels qualified to tell people who have been running such facilities for decades how to go about their art and science.

    2. I use wall-warts and old transformers as a quick source of thin magnet wire, which is often a bitch to obtain. It can be used for any purpose where you need to suspend something or tie it up with fine wire, also in repairing little things, and making igniters for fireworks, or tripwires etc.. The steel cores can be cut with hacksaws to make cores for electromagnets, solenoids, other electromechanisms such as relays or hacking together a galvanometer – saves you from sourcing a panel meter.

      Or they can be just used as something conveniently heavy for ballast, like adding weight to the useless robot, so you can package it for christmas and have the person believe they’re getting something expensive.

      1. Me too! The really ‘cheap’ transformers are actually best for this. Some only have a few wraps of tape around the core and made of very brittle ferrite. One snap with a vise grip and it’s a spool of free wire.

        But your last sentence…. Dick move man! Lol!

        1. The way USB cable connectors keep changing, I would say that RS-232 is going to hold out longer than USB in its original state. Besides, for really slow stuff, and paradoxically low latency, serial is way better than USB. I measured 5-8 ms for 1 byte to be sent to a PC through the USB cable on Arduino Uno (switch closure event – to USB cable levels changing). On Chinese clone with CH340 it is more than 30 ms. Therefore we are coming to improbable conclusion that any serial faster than 2400 bps is faster than USB for single byte data. Cable was cut, and oscilloscope was used to connect directly to cable wires and to switch connected to Arduino acting as input event trigger.

  21. Guilty as charged, my workplace at home is really chaotic, but tools are always on foreground and their distance from reach is proportional to their frequency of use. Every week end tools get re arranged by their effective use.
    The 3d printer was a revolution as before i was stocking also plastic parts. Now i can happily throw them knowing i can remake them. I still do thrash diving, but devices gets out of the case, and insides scavenged and put in a stack box pile. At the end of the quarter the lower box of the stack is reviewed for thashing out.

    Printed parts failed get in a bin and get part in experiments involving soldering iron, chemicals and molding. Parts which do not have any use are donated to a friend with an extruder.

    Older microcontrollers get sold to students who want to begin mcu programming.

  22. I retain way more equipment and parts than I’d like to admit.
    However, one tends to standardize around the area of engineering you service.

    1. Shop Function: Test equipment stacks should always be minimized
    Every few years when I swap in new equipment, I am amazed at the additional freed work surface.
    2. Organization: Metal shelving, transparent project bins, and labels with dates.
    If its old or you can’t remember what it was for…. its likely for the recycler.
    3. Hand tools: Anything that isn’t on the tool-wall may as well be buried in the back yard…
    Tool chests are only useful for stuff you don’t use very often, as most are likely too busy to search through it anyway.
    4. Power tools: Take how much it costs divided by how many times you will use it…
    Did it actually save time/money?
    5. Chemical Cabinet: how much and how often do you use the stuff?
    Will the stuff age badly or is it dangerous to store around kids?
    Example: Never store used paint for more than 1 week…
    6. Parts: Smart people standardize inventory to match their design style.
    For example: rolls of standard value 0603 for 16v caps, 0805 for 1 % resisters, and favourite regulators/LEDs.
    Orphan silicon is a bad design habit, and should be written off as an office consumable on its way to recycling…
    7. Broken/Surplus stuff: it will waste more of your time guessing what’s wrong…
    Even if a bin contains parts that may/may-not be useful. In general, old projects get put in a dated storage bin as a precaution to prevent accidental deletion/destruction, but will still get thrown out in a year if still unused.
    8. Consumables: rod/bar/plate stock is for a machine shop, and should be kept around people that will use it.
    9. Staging: For security reasons, some may store a wide range of material to obscure their research areas.

    Shop/Lab policies really depend on location, and what kind of work people do.
    Once a month, one should reorganize the shop to re-oil parts, dump waste, and empty old project boxes.
    Another good rule is enforcing that all work surfaces must be cleaned, or it is binned at the end of the day.

    When several people use the work area, a set of safety minded policies is the only way to tame the chaos.

  23. My supplies mostly come from scrapyards, so it’s all been thrown out once before.

    I think that anything that will decay (e.g. wood, glue) should be thrown out or given away quickly.

    Most of my collection is small adaptors. An iPod shuffle dock adaptor has a USB female port on one side, and dock connector female port on the other. It wasn’t useful for years, until I started needing to test Lightning-to-Dock adaptors.

    Or my HDMI-to-VGA adaptor. It’s in my backpack every day, but gets used very rarely. The last time I needed it though, it was an absolute lifesaver.

    I bought the Tarkan iFlash CompactFlash to iPod adaptor when it came out, just because I thought it was cool – flash memory was too small capacity back then. But now the memory technology has caught up, it’s an essential part of my pockets.

    128MB microSD cards seem useless and small. But then I wanted to make a mixtape for someone special, and realised that she doesn’t have a CD player on her computer. I gave her a postcard with a microSD taped on the front instead, with the MP3s on it that I wanted her to listen to.

    There are some things that are bulky clutter (e.g. Xilinx Virtex II FPGA board). I haven’t needed it yet, but it’s expensive to replace if I ever do need it.

    I have 2 broken bicycles, because it’s cheaper in Taiwan to buy a scrap bicycle than a new pedal. I finally fixed another one last weekend using parts from the broken ones, so now I have 2 working bicycles. Leaving it outside would let it rust (see the decay section above), but thankfully I have a garage now.

    I have one level of redundancy for most of my parts. That way I can lend things out freely. It also helps me carry less in my bag, if I keep one set at work and one in the house. The heaviest things in my bag aren’t the little adaptors, it’s the cultural items (I still carry a paper Bible and DSLR camera, just because people respect them more than smartphones).

    1. “I think that anything that will decay (e.g. wood, glue) should be thrown out or given away quickly.”

      Gorilla Glue starts to dry in the bottle once you open it., I’ve promised myself to never buy a large bottle again. But last month I drilled into an 8 year old bottle and some fresh stuff oozed out for me to use.

      1. Gorilla Glue can last a long time if you keep the bottle in a glass jar and add the desiccant packages that come with electronics. Dry them in the microwave or a little solar dryer for a few hours. These types of glues are actually H2O cure and I love them except for the shelf life.

  24. “A clean work space is the sign of a sick mind”. Or something to that effect.
    Ferrite core transformers, like in switching power supplies, are the easiest source of fine wire. A sledge hammer.is a “fine adjustment” tool.It’s also a “fine” adjustment tool. The problem with this article is that it assumes only a single path to productivity. It also assumes that productivity means the same thing to everyone. The artist, the engineer and the hobbyist are just three of the sub-species of Homo-sapien-sapien. All with different needs and abilities. …But if the clutter is getting in the way of the work, you can’t just stop the work. Something has to be done about it. If this solution fits your needs, go for it! Otherwise, keep looking.

    1. Agreed, and the author’s responses in the comments don’t help me be less ticked off. I definitely share the opinions in your post and some of the same salvage experiences. I wonder how this article would have gone over if it were directed at fine art painters on a painting website, or if it were aimed at potters, or sculptors.

  25. Sigh… this article was properly timed for me… had a discussion yesterday about keeping, giving away, selling, or throwing away stuff…

    It’s really difficult for keepers like me and also my dad, so I think I inherited that from him. We both like to build things, hate to see things go to waste, especially if these things cost you money in the past, and therefore keep stuff.
    If you have more than one hobby, than the space will get cramped: electronics, wood working, computers, general handyman work, etc… In the end, you have no space left to move around, or get things fixed (needed a new heating system, now the garage is filled with lumber and electronics and not the car..) because you can’t temporarily move it to another room, as this is filled as well…

    So for me, I have to let go. Some things need to go, even when it hurts. Thank you for the article and flow chart.

  26. My first real job out of college, the boss had a sign hanging over his desk in his office — “A Tidy Desk is a Sign of a Disorganized Mind” :)

    That said, if it takes up a lot of space and it’s not being used, it does go. If it’s not worth selling online, I offer it up to local hackerspace/2600 meeting/friends, and if that doesn’t get it moving it goes to be recycled. How many 1280×1024 LCD monitors does one need? Should you keep your limited 8-line logic analyzer when you have a nice 72-line HP analyzer? Do you really *need* a spare oscilloscope that you never use?

    I work on “legacy systems” as part of my day job, so keeping spare parts around is basically a requirement, as is buying equipment in lots to get single items. You’ve got to come up with a workable storage/inventory system for the stuff you keep, and a way to *quickly* process the items that come along with the good stuff.

  27. My method is rather simple:
    I put everything in banana boxes
    (about 50x30x20cm),
    I mean everything, even my winter clothes, tents,
    sleeping bags, power supplies, frequenvy inverters,
    etc, etc.
    I put a number on the package. And I photograph the content inside it, and i built
    a small webpage (database) around it.

    So i can quickly find
    (using my mobile phone
    or computer) what i need.
    I also automatically have a timestamp on the box.
    I strictly update the database if i remove something
    from one of the boxes.

    I put invoices, and other papers in banana boxes too,
    so after 5years i burn that box content.

    Basically I digitalized my life. I have currently
    96 banana boxes.

    Banana boxes are the perfect candidates,
    because their sizes are standardized,
    they are “heavy duty”, cheap, always available,
    most things fits inside.

    Im really fun of this system. Everything is
    boxed and only use space up in the attic.

  28. I also have a “Cave of Despair”, it has grown from the “Closet of Doom” in the other house. But I’ve managed to just keep pretty current stuff in it (only things a few years old). Things like Raspberry Pi’s sit in a stack so I can pull them out and use them (which I do from time to time). But in talking to my other Pi friends they also seem to have a stack. I’ve come up with that there are only 500,000 Raspberry Pi owners in the world and we all own 10 of them. :-)

    Second the post way up in the top. Use shelves, use clear containers or clear parts storage boxes, single items only in a labeled card board box. My best tool has become a pTouch label maker, every box has a label on it. I can also recommend keeping a notebook of “where did I put that.”

    My biggest sin was “I need to keep the box for XYZ in case that I move” Pfft, in the last move that never happened.

    I do feel for the Hams reading the article. There is a huge ecosystem based on old radio’s and manuals.

    Finally, your community has e-Cycle days, use that instead of putting the electronics in the trash.

  29. While, yes, the 5S system has its merits for new designs, it’s not a cure-all, and certainly not for hobbyists or those of us who work on older/legacy/vintage/antique equipment. There have been several projects I’ve started on then life got in the way, leading me from one unfinished project to the next. I’ve started cleaning out the basement and we will be having a garage sale by the end of the summer (half the basement is clothes that the kids have grown out of but in really good condition still). One of the biggest sources of clutter in my house is old boxes we’ve kept because 1) one shouldn’t throw out boxes right after getting new electronics–thieves see these boxes in the trash and know you’ve gotten new stuff and 2) it’s easier to return things in their original boxes (the intent is to keep the boxes for a year then trash them after removing serial numbers).

    On the financial aspect side, I’m always burning out or breaking stuff, so I buy duplicates or triplicates. It saves time and postage costs. If I see a really good deal, I go for it anyway. Case in point, I wanted to try my hand at ARCNET in 2007. I could order some of the surplus SIP modules for ~$2 each plus shipping. For 3 of them, it would have cost me about $11 total with shipping. I found a lot of 200 of them on eBay for $25 (I was the only bidder) with local pickup. I figured I’d probably end up burning a few out and experiment a lot more than I did. Fast forward 5 years and I still had 198 of them left. Only this time, they were going for $30 each. This is one of several times that overbuying something that is being discontinued or not very popular ended up being a boost to the wallet. Another time was buying a pallet (200-ish) full of SCA hard drives for $100 (with free local pickup) hoping to use most of them for a FAH/Bitcoin mining machine. That fell through, so I decided to eBay them. I couldn’t sell any there (shipping was atrocious), so I ended up taking them to the local scrap yard–and selling them for a little over $300.

    While I have been working on whittling my collection down (it’s about half the size as last year), there are still many things that I’ve had since I graduated college 20+ years ago. The main reason I haven’t gotten rid of a lot of things is because of disposal fees (especially TV sets).

    For some of us, it’s a learned behavior. My grandparents were all Depression-era children. This has led to a lot of “packrat” behavior (think Steve Martin in “The Jerk”). My grandfather is the last person in my family from that era and has a garage full of tools, most of them broken, worn, or rusted over. He only keeps them because “I”ll get around to fixing it one of these day” or “Someone might want it.” Where he lives is a small town and the closest recycling company is about an hour drive, so most things just sit and rot or rust. Plus, there are a lot of migrant workers who will steal anything not bolted down (and even then, take it bolts and all). This leads to a problem of him being afraid someone is going to misplace “something important” or “steal something valuable” if we try to organize stuff with him.

  30. Funny in ham radio we can move along our used/surplus/antique/projects
    at seasonal Flea markets when we are done/bored/replaced or have procrastinated
    about them. Oh or the significant other says don’t bring it back home.

  31. While this may be the “path to craftsmanship”, it is certainly not the path to hackerdom. Building something /with what you have on hand/, to me, is the very essence of a hack. And having a huge pile of seemingly-useless junk to draw from does NOT hurt. Even if the perfect part is at the bottom, and you don’t find it in time, the hack is only improved by the compromise you had to make (and the compromise or retooling you’ll make later when the “compromise” part is the perfect fit for a new project, and the bottom-of-the-pile part has turned up).

  32. My wife and I have been trying hard to eliminate things we don’t need. We’re aspiring minimalists, but it’s really hard. This article has been helpful. In particular the part about hanging onto the dream that you will someday do that cool project with that cool part.

    But I found I was still having trouble getting rid of the coolest of the cool parts, then I had an idea. I’ll pick one of the cool parts at a time, I’ll pick a time frame, something long enough to get the project to a usable state, but not much longer. Then, if I do the project in that time, great! I did it! If I don’t, then I don’t get to keep the part.

    Giving (boxes of) parts to hackerspaces really helps, because then I’m not throwing it away or donating it to someone who will just throw it away.

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