Friday, February 01, 2013

Getting Out From Under

In 1947, Homer and Langley Collyer, two recluses, died together in their home on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hoarders, who had retreated into their own world, the Collyer brothers were done in by their clutter. Their sad lives have been the subject of documentaries and a novel by E. L. Doctorow.

I think I have an inner Collyer brother, who is lurking inside my head, waiting to get the better of me. This is why I never allow newspapers to accumulate. Out the door and into the recycling bin for pickup. I may one day be crushed by something falling off a shelf in my closet, but not by a pile of newspapers.

Actually, my clutter is not that bad by most standards. It is the immobility of my clutter that troubles me. In two rooms of my house -- the small room that I intend to make into a guest room and the second bedroom that I claimed as my office when I moved in by putting my desk there -- in these two rooms, there are boxes stacked up against the walls, leaving walking space, but insistent in their presence. They say, "Why don't you store my contents away or toss what ever this stuff is out?" This is the same question that the papers in the three baskets -- my system that no longer works -- on the desk in my office at school have been asking me for months.

I make this confession of my tendency toward immobile clutter as a sinner would who is seeking salvation.  For the past two weeks, I have been working my way through the clutter in my office at work. I am now up to my fourth large garbage bin of paper -- old student papers, articles I have read and don't need anymore, notes to myself, greeting cards, maps -- things I haven't seen in years and am now tossing. I have at my side a small book titled Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston. I may never do the feng shui. In fact, the last time I tried this a few years ago, I read the book but didn't do much else. But this time around -- having reached the point when I don't know what I have and sometimes can't find what I'm looking for -- I have been converted to the idea that, even though this is taking time and effort, when I am done my life will be better.

I am holding on to this belief even though at the moment there is nowhere for anyone coming into my office to sit. The thing about de-cluttering is that it creates chaos. I have articles piled in my two visitors' chairs until I can sort them into the proper file boxes. I also have articles and books piled on my desk. I am peeping at anyone who comes to the door over piles of paper. And wondering in moments of panic if this is actually a diabolical scheme by my inner Collyer brother to get control.

But, no, I tell myself. It is okay. I have gone through my largest file cabinet and now I actually have space to file some of the article stacked on my desk. I can now get to my window without stepping over file boxes containing old student papers.

As to why I am writing about this here -- I keep coming across notes I wrote to myself about books or short stories. One of the notes I found today was an idea for a short story. A really good idea that I apparently had and then completely forgot and would probably never have thought of again if I hadn't found the note tucked in side a folder.

In spite of my anxiety about the piles of paper stacked around me, I am enjoying this process. When I finish my office at work -- sometime this weekend -- I'm going to come home and tackle those two rooms with the boxes and my closets and drawers and the kitchen cabinets. Probably another week's work . . .

Yes, I could be writing. I could be doing half dozen other things that I need to get done. But Ms. Kingston seems to be right. Getting rid of clutter frees up psychic energy. Tossing junk has reduced my stress and improved my mood. I should write better when my offices (work and home) are neat and tidy. Or maybe I'll write better just because I've proven to myself that I can stand up to my inner Collyer brother and take control of my environment.

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

Frankie, I wonder if the two old men were the basis for Marcia Davenport's book, My Brothers Keeper. It's old and marvelous and a very haunting story.