Be Your Own Birder

Decluttering Birding

A new year is a time for reflection, and many people make resolutions for things they want to change in the coming months. One popular resolution is often to declutter, to rid oneself of the physical, mental, and emotional weight of things that may no longer be needed or wanted. But how does one declutter birding?

A Cluttered Murmuration - Photo by Airwolfhound
A Cluttered Murmuration – Photo by Airwolfhound

Physical Birding Decluttering

Physical decluttering – removing unused, old, broken, or outdated items from one’s physical space, is the easiest and often the most satisfying type of decluttering. For birders, this might mean getting rid of items such as…

  • Outdated or damaged field guides (great time to upgrade your field guide!)
  • Debris in the bottom of a field bag, such as empty wrappers, old lists, dried out pens, etc.
  • Birding clothing that just doesn’t fit well or doesn’t meet your field needs
  • Bird books that you aren’t interested in reading or have read and won’t read again
  • Back issues of birding magazines or newsletters
  • Broken gear, such as a frayed binocular harness, cracked lens cap, or damaged feeder
  • Spoiled birdseed, rancid suet, or other food no longer suitable for birds
  • Bird-themed decorative items that just don’t suit your personal style
North America Field Guides
Just a Few of My Field Guides – Photo by Melissa Mayntz

These items might be simply trashed or recycled, depending on their condition, or could be donated to thrift stores, libraries, or other organizations. If you have new items you no longer want, consider contacting a bird or wildlife rehabilitation facility to see if they run any auctions or raffles, or might sell such items to raise money for their work.

Physically removing these items from your life and your space does not mean you are any less of a birder, it simply means you’re a more organized, streamlined birder who doesn’t want to clutter up birding with unnecessary detritus.

Mental Birding Decluttering

Mental decluttering can be much more difficult. This means getting rid of mental blocks that may impede your enjoyment of birding, and could even mean adding MORE to your mental birding supply list.

For example, if you have difficulty identifying gulls, you might take extra steps to practice on these challenging birds so you can feel more comfortable with every gull you see, which will in turn eliminate some of the mental clutter. This will let you be more confident in your identifications, without spending as much mental effort that could be distressing or time-consuming whenever you see a gull.

Mystery Gulls - Photo by David Merrett
Mystery Gulls – Photo by David Merrett

You might also choose to go the other way, and decide that it’s okay not to identify every single gull, every single time. This can help you relax and enjoy more of your birding, without completely committing yourself to one type of bird. You can still work on your gull skills, such as occasionally spending one day on gulls or adding these birds to your list during the breeding season, when their markings are more distinct and they are easier to properly identify.

Taking a quick look at a bird and deciding NOT to identify it does not make you a poor birder or less committed. It means you recognize where your skill and interest is, and allows you to relax and feel comfortable mentally while you are birding.

Emotional Birding Decluttering

Emotionally decluttering is the most challenging of all. While we can physically remove things from our presence and may be able to mentally take those steps, we might be besieged with feelings of guilt, regret, or sadness as we make such changes.

Discarded Rose - Photo by Joseph Gage
Discarded Rose – Photo by Joseph Gage

If decluttering might mean getting rid of previously well-used birding gear, for example, there may be an emotional attachment to the items that could make it hard to discard them, especially if they may have been gifts from loved ones or were the “first” you ever had as you discovered birding. Similarly, changing a mental attitude may seem easy, until one is confronted with a mystery gull and has to actually take the step to accept that it is okay not to confidently identify the species.

This is and has always been the genesis of Be Your Own Birder – you are no less of a birder no matter how you enjoy birds, nor are you a better birder if you spend more time in the field, spend more money on birds, travel more to see birds, or otherwise lead a subjectively “birdier” life.

Be Your Own Birder’s Personal Decluttering

This year, I intend to follow all three types of decluttering for my own birding.

Physically, I have already cleaned out my field bag, adjusting some of its supplies to better meet my needs and preferences today instead of keeping items in the bag just because I always have. I’ve also reorganized my office closet filled with feeders, books, and other items slated for reviews and giveaways (yes, there will be more giveaways this year!), giving me a better look at what I have available.

Mentally, I’ve taken some deep breaths and done some introspection on the year that wasn’t, and am mentally preparing myself for a new year that will gradually get back to birding. I’ve already begun recording my year species list, and hope to grow my flock in the year to come. How long it will take, I can’t yet say.

Feather on Rocks - Photo by Ari Bakker
Feather on Rocks – Photo by Ari Bakker

Emotionally decluttering my birding is the most difficult bit. I’ve assessed this website and the statistics it generates, and have come to the decision to discontinue the Birder’s Bookshelf completely – there will be no more full book reviews posted. These are very time-consuming (as I always fully read each book I review, rather than cobble together thoughts from others’ reviews or editorial comments), and to be honest, have zero return on how frequently they are viewed on the site, clicked on for Amazon, or otherwise utilized by any Be Your Own Birder visitors. I can’t fault anyone – I myself am far more likely to visit Amazon or Goodreads for reviews if I’m interested. But as I’ve been putting together bird book reviews for more than 15 years, it’s a jolting change to my own emotional expectations.

Existing reviews will be removed by the end of January, though the Field Guide Directory will remain and continue to be expanded.

Beloved Old Book - Photo by latteda
Beloved Old Book – Photo by latteda

Part of this change is coming to terms with not providing the type of reviews that I may have previously discussed with authors, editors, or publishers. To not follow through on that commitment has me riddled with guilt, anxiety, and a sense of lacking in my own professionalism. Yet I know that times have changed, and it’s essential to change with them. The compromise is that I will leave much briefer reviews on Amazon and Goodreads instead, which will help each author with their own visibility (I wish more readers would leave reviews for Migration!). For exceptional books that I want to share, I may also do brief blog posts and other mentions. Nevertheless, the emotional decluttering will take time.

And that’s okay, for all of us.

Swallow-Tailed Kite - Photo by cuatrok77
Swallow-Tailed Kite – Photo by cuatrok77

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