Coming unstuck


Although I love my label maker, I have also become more and more vigilant about removing unnecessary labels. I thought I was alone in this obsession, until I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. “KonMari” has a delightfully unique approach to tidying. While some of her ideas are on the daffy side, I wholeheartedly agree with her about reducing visual clutter by removing product labels.

What difference does it make? A lot. Labels don’t use much physical space, but believe me, all those words you read every day without even noticing it are taking up room in your head. Our brains are processing input all the time from all our senses. By turning down the noise, you make it easier for the important signals to get through, and you’re dialling down the chaos. Every little bit counts.

Most labels are designed either to convey information, or to convince us to buy. The first category includes ingredient lists on shampoo bottles, warning labels on the hair dryer or toaster’s cord, serial number stickers, care labels on clothing, those flimsy little stickers on fruit and vegetables, and the enormous energy rating stickers on major appliances. A lot of this information is useful to know before you buy, or once you’ve bought, but after you read it once, it’s done its job. Price tags are a guide for the buyer, not permanent fixtures.

It’s worth thinking twice even about the “important” labels, the type that always tell you DO NOT REMOVE THIS STICKER. If I drop my hair dryer into the bath, I swear it will be by accident, and my final thought will not be “This would never have happened if I’d left the label on”. I know better than to mix water and electrical appliances, knives and toasters, or eyeballs and lasers. My policy is to diligently read warning labels (and manuals!) when I first purchase an item, in case there’s anything unexpected I need to know. If it’s all common sense, I feel safe removing the label and opting out of the nagging. I don’t need to look at pictures of my imminent death every day.

Enough already with the stickers.

Enough already with the stickers.
Photo: Binary Koala 

Advertising labels are even more intrusive than informational stickers, because they are everywhere. Laptop manufacturers, for example, decorate any free surface around the keyboard with labels. A lot of these labels are required by their business partners (such as the manufacturers of the processor, graphics card, and operating system), and when you’re shopping around, they can be useful to help you choose. Once you’ve purchased, and are merrily typing away, it doesn’t matter any more if there’s Intel inside, or your computer was Made for Windows 98. Mac fans, I know your beautiful devices don’t come with ugly stickers, but don’t snigger unless you can say, hand on heart, that you’ve never stuck an Apple logo decal to anything.

Don’t worry about ruining an item’s resale value by removing an unnecessary label. You are more likely to bin or donate that $20 top from a cheap chain store when you’re done with it than to resell it as vintage. Save yourself some annoyance and remove the size label that always sticks up at the back, and the little satin ribbons that have appeared on everything, whether you’d store it on a hanger or not (I’m sure undies are next).

If you are struggling to remove sticker residue from whiteware, try smearing on some mayonnaise for half an hour. Something about the combination of oil and vinegar works to lift most glues, without harming plastic surfaces. Thanks for the tip, Internet!

1½ stars? Good luck removing this one.

1½ stars? Good luck removing this one.

Similarly, by the time you go to resell a gadget, it will probably be old enough that the information will be laughably outdated. I’m always amused at how many people leave the energy rating sticker on their appliances. Why spend five or ten years looking at an ugly yellow and red reminder that you chose price or features over efficiency and the environment? I have a theory that the strength of the adhesive is inversely proportional to the number of stars. If I ever buy a six-star appliance, the sticker will just waft off by itself.

Decals and bumper stickers on your car are strong signals of your identity, beliefs, and fashion choices. You will not be surprised, though, that the first thing I do when I get a new car is to take any unnecessary labelling off. This includes the dealer’s number plate surrounds, service reminders (my bossy car tells me when it wants an oil change—no sticker required!), and the repair shop’s advertising. I think an unadorned car says as much about who you are as a collection of logos. I do have a couple of stickers, but they advertise my own business and personality. Why drive a mobile billboard for someone else’s product?

What if taking off the label makes it hard to distinguish an item? Well, I’d expect you to apply common sense. If your shampoo and conditioner bottles are identical, removing labels may be foolish. Taking labels off medicines, or cleaning products like bleach or ammonia is just plain stupid; don’t ever do that. Most of the time, though, you can clean and primp yourself adequately without re-reading the list of ingredients. Removing labelling often reveals elegant or distinctive packaging, and you recognise the product by bottle shape, colour, and size more often than you realise.

If you really want to go all out, take the flimsy stickers off all your fruit and vegetables as soon as you get home from the supermarket. They often show the country of origin and variety, and specify whether the food is genetically modified, organic, or good old pesticide-coated. All very useful in the supermarket, but not once you’ve paid for it. If you remove them immediately, you don’t have to deal with one every time you want to eat an apple or use a lemon. You don’t see Gordon Ramsay pausing to remove a sticker before he zests a lemon over his squid linguine, do you?