ladyarkham (ladyarkham) wrote,

What Terraforming Mars taught me about cleaning my house

One of our new favorite boardgames recently has been Terraforming Mars. Players are competing mega-corporations, buying projects and building assets to raise the temperature of Mars to a livable range, increase the oxygen in its atmosphere, and install oceans on the surface. Each incremental improvement of Mars increases the company's income each turn, as well as their total score for victory at the end.

I read online yesterday that the average American house contains over 300,000 items. (Half of which, I believe, are unmatched socks.) It inspired me to set about decluttering my cluttered spaces. As I began stuffing unwanted items into a trash bag (the cardboard outer wrap of a baby toy, a shirt that would look great on me if the sleeves weren't ripped out, a pair of underwear I hate wearing but I keep around because it gives me one more day before I have to go hunt down laundry,) I realized that I was drawing on some principles I had learned by playing Terraforming Mars. I then realized I could procrastinate on cleaning more if I stopped to type those up!

1. There is value in incremental improvements.

I usually procrastinate cleaning because I have an idea that when I clean, I need to Clean This Room. In order to do this, I would need several hours free of obligation to focus on Cleaning the Room, and no distractions to pop up. This will never happen.

But in Terraforming Mars, you don't usually want to wait to improve temperature until you can do several points at once. (With some exceptions.) If you can Terraform this turn, or do something else this turn and Terraform next turn, you almost always want to Terraform THIS turn, because it increases your opportunities for next turn, as well as the rest of the game!

I shouldn't procrastinate making small improvements in livability. It increases the resources I have available for the rest of my life. So what if I don't have time to do all the dishes, scrub the counters and the floors, and clean out the refrigerator right now? Doing one load of dishes is going to make doing the next load, and cooking dinner, a lot easier.

There are a few exceptions to this rule in both the game and housecleaning: sometimes you delay grabbing a temperature or oxygen bump because the level after that offers a bonus reward. Similarly, sometimes it's better to hold off on cleaning out the fridge until the day before trash day.

As a general rule, though, increase livability NOW, even if it's only a little, because a more livable environment facilitates future improvements.

2. Don't hold on to things for an uncertain future!

Each turn in TM, you get to choose from a set of cards which you want to keep in your hand to play. These cards never leave your hand until you choose to play or sell them. Each card costs 3 credits to keep.

One of the things I tell new players when explaining the game is, "Don't hang on to a card for the late game. You will get new cards that are just as good, and you're wasting money to keep these cards that you could use NOW to improve your income."

Similarly, I shouldn't hang on to items that I have no use for now, for vague future plans. It doesn't cost me money, necessarily, to keep some of the items I'm hanging on to, but it does cost me space, and it does cost me in mental power every time I see that item, and time when I have to move it or find a new home for it. Those half-skeins of yarn for a baby blanket I started crocheting eight years ago, but the blanket bit got stained and so I cut the yarn off to save it for another try? I'm not going to find a use for a half skein of blue yarn. (My sister might!) I should throw it out.

(I have discovered that "I should save this to give to my sister who lives 15 hours away and we see maybe 2-3 times a year" is the same as "I will keep this and never do anything with it." Also, she probably has as little use for a collectible Mario toy and old crochet hooks as I do.)

Sometimes resources seem too good to let go of. A really good Asteroid card in Terraforming Mars might take an entire turn's resources to play, so you pay for it and hang on for that perfect turn to arrive. When I do that, I often find that by the time I'm in a good situation to play it, the board state has changed such that it isn't the great move I thought it would be!

Similarly, I bought a case of assorted Great Illustrated Classics books for the baby a few weeks ago. Brian and I both remember reading a bunch of GIC books, which, when we were pretty small, gave us a good working knowledge of a lot of classic literature. But now I have 15 assorted GIC books (bought at a steal from ebay!)... sitting in my living room... taking up space. We have no spare bookshelves right now. The baby is getting no joy from them. I am getting negative joy. I bet if I had waited eight years, I could have still gotten a lot of GIC books off the internet for a similar price. And now, what if in eight or ten years, the baby doesn't want to read these books? Or we have to move, and now I have an extra box of books to cart around that nobody really is currently attached to?

So Terraforming Mars taught me to not expend energy, money, time, etc., on items that are not worth something to me now. Fortunately, in TM, you can pitch cards bought by mistake and get some of your credits back. In real life, you can donate or trash things and get some of your space back.

3. A little organizational containment saves a lot of time

Like most modern board games, TM has a lot of pieces. It has a massive deck of several hundred cards, it has map tiles of four different types, it has resource cubes and player markers. When the game is over, there are two approaches to putting everything away: sweep everything into the box and shove the lid back on, or sort the pieces, like with like, into plastic baggies so that they're easier to locate for the next game.

Similarly, having containers for types of things saves time when I'm cleaning. I have a basket on my dresser that I really should be using to contain my jewelry and make-up. (Yes, I have jewelry and make-up, but I rarely wear it because I can never find it!) There's a shoebox on the floor of our bedroom full of medication. (The shoebox should be somewhere more secure and out of the way, yes, but when my husband needed some cough syrup he knew exactly where it was.) We've put a catch-all bowl on the kitchen counter, which is not particularly tidy but it has saved us a ton of counter space because everything in it used to be spread out over the available flat spaces.

TM taught me that taking the time to make containers for alike things, and to put them back in those containers when I'm done with them, makes actually using my house and my board game a lot easier.

I'm sure I can derive more organizing and decluttering principles from Terraforming Mars, but I have procrastinated long enough now. ^_^

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