I am, at heart, a packrat. I will collect random crap – magazines, craft supplies, kitchen equipment – in the belief that it will come in handy someday. I also refuse to let go of things that have sentiment, so I end up with T-shirts I never wear (usually ones that say “Arts County Fair” on them), birthday cards, mix CD’s, tchotchkes that friends gave as gag gifts, and any other random detritus you can imagine. Add to this my general bad habit of letting papers pile up on my desk, and it’s easy to imagine me sliding into the sort of living conditions you only see on TLC.
But I know and understand this weakness. This is why I fight so hard to stay organized. This is why I keep paperwork in drawers with neatly labeled folders, and why I keep instruction manuals in a portable file, sorted by manufacturer’s name, alphabetically (Need to know how my Cuisinart ice-cream maker works? I can pull the manual in ten seconds). It’s why I throw out junk mail the moment it hits the door, and why I stopped buying cheap secondhand books and just get them out of the library instead. If I can reduce the flow of things coming in, I can keep the clutter at bay.
But still, it piles up. I had a mass of random stuff at the bottom of the closet, a pile of papers and scraps on my desk. I still had a box of office materials I brought home when I went on maternity leave on the shelf by my desk. And then, as I started organizing it, I realized I needed to stop thinking, “what if I can use this?” and start thinking, “what if I had to pack up and move this?”
And suddenly, I was able to let go of a whole bunch of random crap. If it isn’t worth the effort to pack it up & move, when we eventually leave this apartment, then I don’t need to keep it now. Random craft supplies? Gone. Magazines I haven’t read, and probably never will? Gone. It’s liberated me to even throw out boxes and bags of stuff I cleaned out from other places, like the stuff I brought home from my office when I went on maternity, or the bag of random stuff I cleaned out of my old car before I sold it. The “would I take it if I moved?” question has suddenly helped me answer whether or not I need to keep dozens of tiny things that, all together, add up to piles of clutter.
I applied the same philosophy to my desk at work today as well. What will happen when I go on another maternity leave? What materials did I have on my desk that would actually be relevant to someone taking over my role, and which were just archives that no one else would find valuable? Suddenly, the stack of old day planners, with to-do lists and meeting notes, could be tossed, because any meeting notes in them should have long since been typed up and acted on. The files of old IO’s from campaigns past could go into storage. The dozens of vendor media kits that I keep….OK, I can only handle so much in one day. But I threw out the half-used notepads, filed the stacks of receipts from business trips, made a pile of notes that I needed to review and transcribe and threw the rest in an archive in a hanging folder. And suddenly, my desk – which is tiny – was neat and tidy and clear. Immediately, I felt like I could think better.
Looking at objects from a different perspective, forcing myself to assess their value, is helping me to work through all those random things that take up space. Belts and shoes I’m never going to wear again, cheap purses that look childish now, makeup that’s past its expiry date, old Hallowe’en costumes, stockings that are never going to fit, dried flowers (even those from a meaningful occasion), it isn’t that any of it might be useful, it’s that none of it would be worth the effort of packing it up & moving it. And even those things I do want to keep, like my maternity clothes, or my back issues of Gothic Beauty and BUST magazines, have to find a way to be stored efficiently in the meantime so they’re not in my way.
I’m still working on it, looking around the house, looking at each item as if I had to pack it up. I need to actually organize and pack up my nursing pump, for example – it’s been sitting out on a dresser since I weaned Ben months ago. But for the most part, I have been able to de-clutter more this weekend than I have in a while, and that makes me feel better. Every scrap of paper I deem irrelevant, every cardboard box I empty and recycle, every clothing item I take to the Salvation Army or Goodwill, is another step I take away from the trap of just being a packrat. At the end of the day, my home really is my haven, and having a clear, open space gives me a clear, open mind to function with.