Reclaiming the nightstand and the brain

I reclaimed my nightstand this weekend. I had two goals for doing it: bust clutter and continue getting my electronics under control. Paradoxically, it took more electronics to do this.

Electronics and my attention span have been on my mind lately, ever since a bus ride I took a couple weeks ago. I got on, sat down and started scrolling through something — emails, social media, I’m not sure. I probably do this dozens of times a day. A few seats away was a man with blue hair reading a library book. “Cell phones make us stupid,” he said, before launching into a profanity-laced rant about the state of our nation. I was thinking about how I couldn’t really disagree with him, when he¬†got up and went to sit somewhere else. I thought about his words that whole day.

I grabbed “The Attention Merchants” from the public library, though I haven’t read it yet. I saw a CNN¬†article and learned a new phrase, “phubbing,” and wondered how often I’d done this to Lindy. (Or started a conversation about a silly animal video I’d seen on Facebook instead of something important.) And I read about how our eyeballs are being monetized.

I listened to a terrifying and funny Snap Judgment podcast about what happens when the devices start turning on us.

And I watched Simon Sinek’s interview about millennials in the workplace. He’s one of my favorite authors. (If you’re a leader, or a student of leadership, set aside 45 minutes and watch this too.) He talks about the wisdom of banishing devices from the bedroom — something we’ve already embarked on doing. And the last remaining excuse: “It’s my alarm clock.” Buy an alarm clock, he says.

So I did. I bought a small, basic, digital alarm clock that probably hasn’t changed its design in 20 years. I didn’t even know RCA still existed! It was a $10 purchase, and a counter-intuitive one. Another piece of electronics! And even worse, one that doesn’t set time automatically. I remember as a kid when daylight savings or a power outage was a half-day project, and I’d go throughout the house updating the time on every VCR, alarm clock and wall clock. We’re down to three of those now: Lindy’s alarm clock, my new one and the stove.

I used the alarm clock as an excuse to blow up my nightstand setup. We don’t have coffee tables or end tables in the house because they accumulate clutter. We eliminate every excuse for paper to pile up somewhere — opening mail in front of the recycling bin, going through XY’s school folder every night. But the nightstand was a vortex of chaos for me. I made it work by making room for the alarm clock, and by banishing my Kindle, my phone and my iPad to charge overnight elsewhere. I also moved the giant pile of library books to a spare shelf in the living room — a shelf I’d cleared months ago by getting rid of books I would never read again.

Nightstand, before


Nightstand, after

I didn’t follow Sinek’s advice to the letter, so the electronics spot I found was on Lindy’s dresser across the room. I also didn’t follow my initial instinct: buy a thing! A new thing! A thing to hold and charge the other things! Instead I took some Command cord clips and cable ties, bunched everything up nicely behind the dresser and plugged it all in. Voila. No more sneaking a peek at one last email or Facebook post before turning in. No more phone in hand first thing upon waking up.

So, success with the new strategy? Nope. I discovered this morning that the new alarm clock really works. I forgot to turn it off for the weekend, so I had the annoying electronic bleat to wake me up promptly at 5:30. Also walked out of the house this morning with a phone that hadn’t been charged overnight. Turns out there’s a switch on the surge protector I also forgot about.

It’s a journey…


Also published on Medium.

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