Happy New Year. Welcome 2012. It’s time for resolutions, reassessments, and resolve.
Will this be the year I finally clean my office?
I’ve been cleaning my office for decades. Or not cleaning it. Sometimes I’m writing a book or a story and I just have to shove the clutter to one side and write. After all, writing is the first priority. When I do get around to the clutter, I feel as though I’m rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Paper in, paper out, and still the paper piles up.
I have to do something. Believe me, the cats aren’t doing it. They’re more likely to sit on top of the paper.
I am a stage in life where I want to get rid of stuff. But I’ve spent 40-plus years accumulating stuff. I just hope it doesn’t take 40 more to declutter.
I grew up with a Depression-era dad who kept things, on the off-chance he might need them. Or just because. Must be genetic. I certainly got that habit.
On the other hand, I think of one of my cousins who lost his home when a tornado leveled Greensburg, Kansas. I saw him on TV telling a reporter, “Stuff is just stuff.”
Unless I’m going to take the meat-ax approach and toss everything at once, getting rid of stuff takes time.
I have a hard time parting with books. I’ve adopted a mantra that works for me as I go through bookshelves: “I read it. I’m not going to read it again. It’s time to let someone else enjoy it.” If I need the book for research or have a sentimental attachment to it, I keep it. Otherwise, it goes. The Friends of the Library twice-yearly sale has benefited greatly from my book-buying habits.
Most people don’t save letters. I do. I’ve been going through letters during the past few years, thinning out the paper. The ones I’ve saved take up space, but I’m very glad I have a packet of letters from my grandmother, who has been gone for a long time.
In Bit Player, my recent Jeri Howard book, letters are a major tool in Jeri’s investigation of her grandmother’s past. Jeri muses about this in an early chapter:
“What we keep and what we throw away. It was logical that Caro [Jeri’s aunt] would preserve her parents’ wartime correspondence. And just as logical that she would winnow out what looked like chaff, the letters from people who were not family members. These days we’re drowning in paper and clutter. We can’t keep everything. So we make those choices of what to keep and what to throw away.
“I wondered what this would mean to future historians, the people who rely on personal correspondence to reveal the lives and characters of historic figures. Somehow scrolling through e-mails doesn’t have the same cachet. And electronic communication is so easily disposed of, gone in the click of a mouse, dumped into a symbolic trash can.”
Clutter is also very personal. At least I got a short story out of mine.
Some years ago, I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, about obsessive hoarders. That led to my short story Pack Rat, about an obsessive hoarder and a crime. It’s called Pack Rat (now available on Kindle and Nook!).
You see, the article was accompanied by a quiz, the kind where if you answer “yes” to a certain number of questions you might have a problem.
I won’t tell you how many yes answers I had.
But when it comes to pack rats, takes one to know one.
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