Clearing Away the Clutter

My condominium is 859 square feet, according to the various bits and pieces of paper I have in my files. When I first looked at the place 20-plus years ago, it seemed quite large. Well, it was empty when my real estate agent and I unlocked the door. I remember thinking, wow, all that closet space!

Of course, all the rooms, and the closets, are now full. As my cousin Susan says, stuff expands to fit the space available, plus two boxes.

So the condo feels small now. But it really should be adequate space for me and a bunch of cats. After all, the cats don’t take up that much room (unless they all decide to sleep on the bed with me).

It’s the stuff. Too much stuff.

I’ve been cleaning my office as long as I’ve lived here. At least that’s what it feels like. I have a lifetime accumulation of books and assorted knick-knacks. Some of these have sentimental value, such as books that have been signed and personalized to me. As for the knick-knacks, they have sentimental value, too, such as that vase that belonged to my Great Aunt Flora.

Then there are those files of newspaper clippings, saved because they that might possibly find their way into a book. They sometimes do. I once clipped a small article from the San Francisco Chronicle and kept it tacked up on my work station, vowing that I would use it, some day. And I did. It wound up as an important plot point in Bit Player.

I’m such a paper magnet. Through the years I’ve written down story ideas and notes for plots. I still have all those pieces of paper. If I ever get writer’s block, I’ll know which file folders to mine for material.

At least I got rid of the old bank statements that went back years. The old contracts for books that are no longer in print? I think I’ll scan those and shred the paper.

Letters, remember those? Missives written before the advent of email? I save letters. The ones from my grandmother are tucked away in a folder, and they are important to me. So are letters from my mother.

What do I save? And what do I throw away? That’s a question Jeri Howard asks in Bit Player, as she sorts through old letters written by her grandmother to solve a decades-old mystery.

And that’s just the office we’re discussing. The dresser drawers? The closet of clothes I haven’t worn since I retired? Well, I’ve started a donation bag. That’s a step in the right direction.

I have reached the stage of life where I want to downsize. All that stuff I have feels like it’s dragging me down. I want to have less stuff.

However, getting rid of stuff is not a matter of opening a large garbage bag and sweeping the offending stuff into the bag. For me, at least, clearing away the clutter is a very personal thing. It involves going through the stuff to decide what to keep and what to throw away. Sometimes the answer to that conundrum varies, depending on the mood I’m in at the time. It could be, “Why am I keeping this?” Or it could be, “Maybe I’ll need this someday.”

I’m not at the “Hoarder” stage yet but sometimes I wonder. At least I got a short story out of the subject. It’s a cautionary tale, called “Pack Rat.”

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4 Responses

  1. Writers always have too much stuff because we gather materials related to our work. When Michigan State University purchased my current and future literary papers, one huge box alone contained manuscripts, research books and albums of site photos for one book that never got written. It goes on and on like that. The digital revolution doesn’t change the need to have physical contact with materials. And then there’s our other life. Spouse and I are going through our 4th or 5th bout of Spring cleaning (which is non-seasonally-related). we started with clothes closets and moved on to every other one: if it hadn’t been worn or used in the last five years, off to a charity. And we have three times your space and feel cramped. It’s the books. I swear they breed overnight…..

  2. Ditto here,Janet and Lev. 3 years ago we moved from a big old 4-bedroom farmhouse to a condo with two bedrooms, one of which is now my study. I’ve squeezed 3 bookcases into it, and the floor is littered with boxes of books. Almost no storage space, so I keep more books and stuff on the glassed-in porch. I often feel like a fish, swimming through a thick mass of seaweed!

    • We’ve been here for 30 years and have no plans to downsize, just to keep from overflowing. 🙂 If only I can keep the books in line….

  3. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one grappling with this problem. In the meantime, I may have a handle on the books but it’s the paper stuff that drives me crazy.

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