Clutterbox and backlogs

(Previously in my torturous quest to figure out backlog-minding: Anki-fy Your Backlogs? The following is distilled from a couple daily beemails.)

Cleaning and decluttering is kind of overwhelming because there’s so much junk that’s so hard to decide what to do with (hashtag first world problems).

A couple weeks ago @bee and I had a simple idea for beeminding that problem. We have a nice plastic box that’s newly empty – it had been the box of paper that we’ve gradually beeminded down to a nice little stack over the last few years – and so we went around dumping all the clutter around the house into that box.

Then Bee and Faire and I all made clutterbox goals: just plain manual do-more goals to remove a couple items a day and decide where they belong (often the garbage).

We figure we’ll just adjust the rate control-systems-style: if the box is getting fuller, dial our roads up; if the box is nearing empty, dial them down.

And Cantor (age 11) agreed to give us carte blanche on throwing away his stuff but we’ll show him first and if he ever objects then he agrees to make a clutterbox goal along with the rest of us. PS: That didn’t last long and Cantor is now happily beeminding it with the rest of us. He called his goal cluttermania. [1]

In general I’m really loving the simple manual-do-more-goal approach to backlogs where I just have to dispatch or make progress on 1 or 2 things per day. I adjust the slope to make sure I’m dispatching things faster than I’m adding them and … that’s it.

It’s funny how much hand-wringing and over-engineering I did before settling on that approach!

[1] Cantor is pretty brilliant at naming Beeminder goals. Starting with his “sugarchew” goal when he was 6; then there was “japaneasy” for his Duolingo goal, “steparoo” for his Fitbit goal, and “squatshot” which is a dryland exercise for speedskating. And now “cluttermania”. I love it so much. Next time you need a goal named, maybe ask him for help? (Seriously, DM me and I’ll pass it along to him.)

This is actually relevant to an ongoing debate between @drtall and me about Beeminder’s URL-centric goalnames. I feel like Cantor has won the debate for me. The answer to Beeminder’s persnicketiness about goalnames is to make up evocative, one-word neologisms for them. It’s not an annoying constraint, it makes it easier to refer to beemergencies you have, both out loud and when interacting with the Beeminder bot.

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I guess a problem here is that it may be more efficient to declutter a batch of stuff at once? Not sure what it’s called in the US, but over here there is a thing called a “car boot sale” (UK boot = US trunk): everybody shows up at a field and sells their clutter from their car boot.

Same applies to charity shops etc. I do tend to pile clutter in one place but then ignore it for months, though, so probably I should pay less attention to efficiency – at least when I feel like clutter becomes a problem.

Wildly off topic and certainly not contradicting what dreev wrote, but can’t resist adding: let’s all mentally tack on “improving problems” whenever we see somebody say “first world problems”. I approve of the reflection taking place when people saying that – but as has been commented on in the public sphere often recently, we’re routinely failing by adopting a too-pessimistic outlook that can cause fatalism, perhaps because of news “bias” towards negative events and situations. Over time the developing world is presumably developing similar problems in this kind of area, and overall that’s a good thing, because they’re better problems than not having enough to eat, a bike to get to the market, a phone to find out what market prices are, etc.


Fair. I mean, if you’re on a roll you can always power through half the clutterbox in one go. You’d then have a bunch of safety buffer and could ignore it until inspiration struck again (or, more likely, until your next beemergency).

This is a bit related to another ongoing debate here in the forum: Binge and Purge (TV and video games)

Ah, sounds like a flea market maybe? Relatedly, “garage sale” and “yard sale”.
[googling ensues] I think “rummage sale” is the closest American term for a car boot sale.

Also fair!

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A beemail subscriber asks: “How does this relate to retracting what you’ve said on ‘neglect-minding’?”

Answer: Neglect-minding is a previous thing I’ve talked about as an elaborate way to beemind a backlog, to not allow anything to get too stale.

So I’m suggesting that these things can all be done with extremely simple manual do-more goals instead of beeminding clever metrics like the sum of the ages of the items in the backlog.

I said as much to the beemail subscriber who is, reasonably enough, not sold yet and replied thusly, reproduced with permission:

I remain a bit unconvinced on the idea that ‘do more’ can entirely replace that – I find if a goal is old enough that your descriptions of neglect-minding sound like a great idea for it (I recall you previously discussing it), manual do-more goals tend to skirt around it pretty often, as there’s always so much to do. But perhaps there’s a way around this by careful focus of the do-more goals.

One thing I frequently end up wishing Beeminder more naturally supported was one-off rather than ongoing goals. Habitica has ‘TODOs’ as well as dailies/weeklies. If I had to pick one-off or continuous goals, the latter is clearly more valuable, but having both would be really nice.

You might ask: how are these ideas linked? I tend towards broader do-more goals than would be ideal for scooping up the kinds of things I’d “neglect-mind” (if I were to neglect-mind) because of this facet of Beeminder’s design.

I’m not sure how to respond, other than that dirt simple manual do-more goals are working well for me.

In fact, I recently archived my old Pocket goal goal – an autodata goal with a metric of the sum of ages in days of everything in my Pocket reading queue – and replaced it with (blogs and articles, get it?). I think it works better because of anti-magic reasons. There’s no confusion or ambiguity about what I have to do to dispatch a beemergency, it’s perfectly predictable when beemergencies happen, and it’s easy enough to adjust the rate as I go to achieve the underlying goal. Namely, having my backlog of articles (maybe that’s what “blarticle” stands for, come to think of it) gradually shrink or at least not gradually grow without bound – redqueening it, in other words.

And as another Beeminder user put it (though I personally relate to this less):

Hand-entering a datapoint gives a dopamine rush, the feeling of “Yay! I scored a point!”, and that’s valuable in its own right.

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Maybe “dopamine rush” is not exactly the right phrase—perhaps it’s more along the lines of satisfaction at a job well done. But in any case, the feeling of “checking off” a goal that has been done is a good one, and (for me at least) definitely something worth keeping around.

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Idea from the Discord (it’s my idea, but I got it by someone asking):

You can get a +1 on your cluttermania goal by putting away something from the clutterbox OR by adding something TO the clutterbox.

(Arguably that means if you move an item from the floor directly to where it belongs, that’s a +2)

Also I think a blog post about the control systems approach to beeminding may be valuable. And “control system” makes it sound fancier than it is. Recap: if the box is getting fuller, dial the bright red line up; if the box is nearing empty, dial it down.

Ie, treat the slope of your goal as your accelerator in your red queen race.