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.
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.
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.