Breaking Down the Task

“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”
― Wendell Berry, Farming: a hand book

The storms blew in as the winds were whipping everything along their path. We hid in the dark of the most protected spot in the house and emerged when danger seemed to have passed.  Inspecting outside, we found a few limbs down and leaves pasted to the ground, but all in all we were ok.  Nervous laughter about what could have been led me to remark about the disarray of the garage : “If only the storm could hit just the garage and leave the rest intact.” Laughter because it’s easier to laugh at your own shortcomings before others can point them out, and nervous because we knew that what we might find when we left our neighborhood wouldn’t be funny at all.  We finally ventured out of the neighborhood, and there was nothing funny about it.  It has been several years of rebuilding for many people, and we have remained so grateful that the path didn’t hit our home, not even our garage. Berry’s words remind me, though, of the job still ahead of us in clearing out our clutter.

The books are out there telling us how to be better organized.  “Don’t handle a piece of paper more than once” sounds like a great way to manage the myriad of papers arriving in the mail or the notes from meetings, but the reason I end up with stacks of papers is the same reason the garage and storage unit have too much stuff in them:

My life is busy, I don’t really know what I want to do with many of the things, and quite frankly I often wish they would just go away and not tax my brain.  Yet, each morning I awaken to discover they are still here–the stacks of papers that I have already gone through to eliminate the obvious junk, the boxes of things that are meaningful to someone more so than to me so I don’t feel it’s my place to dispose of them, and the things that I want to spend time looking at and remembering why they’ve mattered.  You, too?

I’ve found a few things to help me through this time:

  • Taking pictures of things I have valued has helped me know that I can find new homes for the items or just dispose of them.  The photo requires little space and often holds great memories.
  • Putting papers I feel guilty throwing away into a basket to go through in a month means being able to throw much away because it will have expired by the time I get through it again. Occasionally, it has meant discovering invitations after the event, and I have tried to do much better with putting those on the fridge or in a desk calendar as soon as they arrive, but I still slip.
  • Remembering the feelings of accomplishment and orderliness that have come with cleaning out in the past can be enough to spur me to try again.

More than a year ago, I decided that life had become too cluttered in general.  I pulled all of the clothes from my closet, leaving two pair of pants and a few shirts.  For one month, I just wore those clothes.  The feeling of freedom that came with that change was so wonderful that I continued it the next month.  Twenty months later, I have added a few pieces of warmer or dressier clothing, but pretty much have continued in this simplified approach to dressing. Tackling a part of the house is next, and I hope that in the next 20 months there will be nothing I would be happy to lose to fire or tornado.

Choose a corner of your world today to value what is there and value more what is available in the absence of too much meaningless clutter.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: