Sunday, March 2, 2014

Letting go

I love this writing office of mine. It's in a spare bedroom of our house, and it contains my desk, files, writing-related materials, bookcases and books, a bed*, a stereo, and various flotsam and jetsam.

In recent months I've begun to clean it out, which is turning out to be a long process for two reasons. One is that I can only do a little bit at a time, partly because of my busy schedule, partly because too much at once would drive me insane. The insanity derives from different sources: some of the cleaning-out is mind-numbingly boring. And some of it involves decisions that wear out my mind after a while: Do I need this? If I don't want it but it's too good to throw away, what on earth should I do with it? If I can throw out this paper, does it need to be shredded? If I need it, where should I file it?

The other reason this is a long process is that I have been a packrat for most of my life, a saver, a preserver, an archivist. You would not believe some of the things I've held onto. Electric bills from a place I lived in six changes of address ago. Receipts for things I no longer own, and which have no connection to any tax paperwork. Pens that no longer write. Magazines I've never read. Magazines I've read that have a few stories I want to reread but I'm not sure which issue they're in.** Plastic flowers. Address labels for manuscripts (which I no longer need because submissions are done electronically now).

I held on to so many things in case I would ever need them again. Or because they were too good to throw out, Or because so-and-so gave them to me, and I wouldn't want to hurt so-and-so's feelings or insult so-and-so's memory. A lot of these are issues I discussed with my friend Kelly Fineman as she embarked on her own downsizing project. Now that I'm finally in a place where I can let go of much of this stuff, I'm doing it. But there is a LOT to let go of.

I continue to do it at my own slow pace, noting each small bit of progress. For example, the neatness of my closet now knocks me out whenever I look at it. Whenever I need encouragement in this endeavor, I just admire my closet, this oasis of orderliness, for half a minute. I can also say that my office is getting less cluttered over time--rather than more cluttered, which was its previous trajectory.

I wish I had known, years ago, how much of this stuff I really wouldn't need to save. But some of this isn't even about the stuff: it's about a scarcity mentality, a fear of being unprepared, a fear of loss, that led me to accumulate so much in the first place. I don't want to get too psychological here, so I won't take that much farther, but I'll just say it feels good to be letting go.


*We originally designated this room a "combination guest bedroom/writing office." But this room only hosted guests once, years ago. My writing has pretty thoroughly conquered this space. Now I just use the bed for lounging about on (usually while reading), or for holding stuff the floor doesn't have room for. Right now, the bed holds a blanket, a stuffed elephant, a box full of writing-related correspondence, a book I haven't read yet, a box of bookmarks, pens, and random papers.
**Because of this, I now have a new system. For any story or article I want to save, I dog-ear the page and save the issue. If I don't dog-ear any pages in an issue, I throw it out as soon as I've read it. But that doesn't help with my years of back issues.

6 comments:

  1. I'm basically a non-hoarder, but with a few notable fetishes. Rubber bands - can't throw them out. Don't know why. Ditto bubble wrap. I've got bags of it in my basement. My family can mock me all they want, but someday they'll draw comfort from the fact that for the rest of their lives, they will never want for rubber bands or bubble wrap. I'm only thinking of them.

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    1. I save rubber bands, too! They are useful. But after a while they dry out and break, or get gummy and stick to one another.
      I don't have much bubble wrap, but I do have a bag full of the kind of tissue paper used in gift wrapping.

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  2. I am naturally a packrat, as well, probably because of the scarcity mentality. I have, however, become very good over the years of throwing stuff away right when I get it. Whenever my daughter catches me throwing anything of HERS away, though, there is usually a fight or tears and lots of guilt. It's a constant battle in my head: "do I need this? what purpose will it serve later? imagine how it will clutter up our tiny little space." Some people say they want a house because they want more space. I'm pretty much the opposite. I want to stay in a small space so I don't accumulate more stuff to keep. Minimalism makes me feel efficient these days.

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    1. When people move to new, bigger spaces, I tell them, "Don't be in a hurry to fill that space up." At some point I know they'll be glad to have breathing room!

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  3. When it comes to paper items, like bills and receipts, we use our scanner or camera phone to make a record of something before we shred it or toss it in recycling.

    By the way, I just wanted to offer my condolences for the loss of your writer friend. I didn't see the comment link for that particular post, so I just wanted to let you know how I feel here. I hope you're doing okay.

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    1. I have different issues with electronic records. They're getting to feel as overwhelming, for different reasons. They take up less space, but I worry about format obsolescence on one hand, and I worry about their security on the other.

      And thank you for your kind thoughts.

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