“I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw them out the window in disgust.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden; Or, Life in the Woods
When looking to simplify, identifying one’s junk is a good first step, and there’s no better place to start than with just-in-case junk, that whole host of things we hold onto for the rare occasion in which we might need them. But just-in-case junk is not the only type that might be hiding in your house, so let’s continue our taxonomy with yet another of junk’s (easier) disguises.
#2: Component junk (stuff you’re pretty sure belongs to something else)
That bag of wires with their strange and one-of-a-kind connectors, the box of owner’s manuals stuffed away in the closet, tiny little plastic pieces that are part of something—you know that much, but nothing more—component junk is perhaps the easiest type to identify, as it tends to quickly gather with its own kind, tossed into the ever-growing heap of parts-that-I-don’t-need-right-now-but-that-I-may-need-later-on (in this sense, component junk is a close nephew of just-in-case junk).
Everyone, myself included, has a container of component junk of some size. Smaller collections might be limited to a mysterious remote, an outdated adapter, and a few tangled wires, whereas broader assortments will often boast 90s-era phone lines, splitters from the days of dual dial-up, and about twenty-seven of those three-pronged cords that used to plug into the backs of printers and computers but have since faded into obsolescence.
The problem in eliminating component junk is that, often, it’s so indistinguishable from its neighbors. It works like this: we buy a new appliance or device and we rip open the box and we set it up and we find that, for whatever reason, we can get it working without all the included parts (whether they’re spare parts or unnecessary parts doesn’t really matter). We think the component is useless, but rather than toss it, we stash it away just in case we find that the device actually does need it to perform some crucial (or secondary) function later on. And so in the box it goes with the rest, where we quickly forget what it is and what it’s for—it’s simply absorbed into le components—and as such, it regularly outlives the devices themselves.
Sometimes we deliberately add to component junk: if we’re scrapping an old printer, we’ll strip it of seemingly “useful” wires: USB cords, power plugs, and those terribly expensive printer cables—into the box they go just in case we need them to serve another master in the unforeseen future.
However it gets there, technological obsolescence—often planned obsolescence—suggests that the lifespan of those accessories won’t be long. Technological standards are a good thing, and it’s wonderful to see the industry moving toward them and thus extending the life of the ordinary USB cable, but for that proprietary and outdated hardware that has undoubtedly congealed in your crawlspace over the years—the monofunctional remotes, the cords that were clearly made for one (and only one) device, those red-yellow-white cables that used to tie the audiovisual universe together, the phone lines—they’re probably good to go. If you haven’t needed them within the first month you’ve been using an appliance, you likely never will. This goes for non-technological bits and pieces as well; component junk also includes the screws and brackets and nuts and bolts that were for some shelf or cabinet or table but were never actually called up to serve.
Because component junk practices strength in numbers, the best way to combat it is to keep it all separate from the get-go, leaving those random accessories in whatever packaging your item came in, so that when you’re ready to toss the box, those pesky components go with it. If you really want to hold onto things a bit longer, bags or bread ties are a great way of keeping components divided and labeled for what they belong to, ensuring that you’re not later tricked into thinking some cable is for something you, say, still own. Of course, the best way of limiting component junk is buying less junk in the first place, and when purchasing non-junk, buying quality items that will not only last, but that adhere to industry standards.
As for tossing that old box of wires? I’ll talk more about actually getting rid of junk later in this series, but for now: most of the components mentioned use resources that are both limited and hazardous, so a landfill generally isn’t the best place for them. Ask your local electronics store about their recycling program; many larger businesses (like Best Buy) will accept nearly anything electrical and ensure its parts are being either reused or safely discarded.