Living in Chaos

Barbie_green_2 From Loretta:

Last time, you remember, the refrigerator broke while I was trying to finish my manuscript.  The new one is coming, allegedly, on Tuesday.  This means taking all the refrigerator magnets, cartoons, comics, post cards, and appointment cards off the old one, and deciding what to dump and what to keep.  As you are all aware, there are various approaching to dealing with accumulated stuff.   We Wenches have been discussing privately our methods for organizing–or not–our pictures, and author groups often talk about what to do with old manuscripts, foreign editions, etc.

Organizing is a problem for a great many of us, authors or not.  Whole shelves of bookstores are devoted to the topic.  TV shows, e.g., Clean Sweep, entertain us with other peoples’ chaos.  Excess stuff is a major problem in the U.S., much to the mystification of humans in less affluent/wasteful quarters of the globe.

A few years ago, inspired by What Not To Wear, I went through my closet and threw out almost everything: clothes that didn’t fit, clothes I’d been holding onto since college, even high school.  The experience was liberating.  Now, if I buy something new to wear, I get rid of something old.  This rule is not hard to follow.  Well, except for the shoes, but I’m working on that.Slipper_1813

Slipper_1814 Overshoe The rule definitely doesn’t work with books.  And it doesn’t work well with papers–the volumes and volumes of manuscripts, business papers, and personal papers one accumulates, especially if one works from home, as I have done, at least part-time, since graduating from college.

Naturally, since I do work from home, my house contains more than the normal quantity of file cabinets, and I am a pretty good filer.  The trouble is, those files go back as far as my old wardrobe.  Every year, as I finish a manuscript, I resolve to (a) clean up the mess I’ve made in the throes of deadline and/or revisions and (b) go through at least one file drawer–or one box in the basement–and clear it out.  Usually, I make a start at this project, and always, things get bogged down.  It’s much harder to decide about papers, I find, than about clothes.

It is, at least, if you stop to think about it.  I strongly suspect that many of those boxes in the basement do not require much thinking about.  Do I need to keep my correspondence since the eighth grade, and all my early efforts at writing?  There’s sentiment, yes.  But when will I have time to sit down and muse over my younger self?  Certainly I see no reason to keep it for posterity.  Posterity will do just fine without my adolescent angst and ramblings.  It’ll do fine, in fact, without anything that isn’t between book covers.  The books represent the best of what I can do as a writer.  The rest is…detritus, some of it downright embarrassing.  The trouble is, getting rid of it isn’t as easy as it used to be.

In 1860, as Charles Dickens was starting GREAT EXPECTATIONS, and getting ready to move, he burned all his correspondence.  Yes, all of it.  Baskets and baskets of letters from famous literary figures and not so famous people and probably the butcher and baker and maybe even the lawyers.  It all got dumped onto a big bonfire. Firesm I don’t know about your part of the world, but we haven’t been allowed to burn stuff in our yards in Massachusetts since the 1980s.  This means that anyone with a concern for privacy has to put her papers through a shredder.  The volume of papers I’m considering will want one of those giant shredders you park in the driveway.  Otherwise, it could take months to get through the stuff.  Maybe years.

Today, as I prepare to work on revisions that, it turns out, must be done at faster than warp speed, I’m thinking about Mary Jo’s comment to last Saturday’s post:  “I look at the mess and think that it would really be easier to write another book.”  It’s easier to do revisions, too.  In fact, I’d rather write scripts about grinding wheels (as I once did, and actually enjoyed) than try to bring order to this chaos about me.

Today we ended up saving almost all of the refrigerator magnets, the various comics and cartoons I’d cut out, and post cards going back to the year we bought the house.  One of these days, maybe, we’ll throw it all out.  The mess in my office remains, but I’ve got revisions to do.  Then I’m hoping to take a vacation.  And when I get back, well, it’ll be time to start the next book.

Meanwhile, hope springs eternal that one of these days, I’ll unburden my life–or the basement at least–of the detritus.  Any suggestions?  How do you do it?  Do you do it?

24 thoughts on “Living in Chaos”

  1. Sadly, I live in what my grandmother calls “a state of organized chaos”. LOL!
    There’s just always somethig more pressing, more interesting, or just plain more fun to do than to clean out the clutter.

    Reply
  2. Sadly, I live in what my grandmother calls “a state of organized chaos”. LOL!
    There’s just always somethig more pressing, more interesting, or just plain more fun to do than to clean out the clutter.

    Reply
  3. Sadly, I live in what my grandmother calls “a state of organized chaos”. LOL!
    There’s just always somethig more pressing, more interesting, or just plain more fun to do than to clean out the clutter.

    Reply
  4. I write software, not books, so the leap to an archival quality CD for storage isn’t a giant one. The downside is that they don’t burn nearly as well as paper. 🙂

    Reply
  5. I write software, not books, so the leap to an archival quality CD for storage isn’t a giant one. The downside is that they don’t burn nearly as well as paper. 🙂

    Reply
  6. I write software, not books, so the leap to an archival quality CD for storage isn’t a giant one. The downside is that they don’t burn nearly as well as paper. 🙂

    Reply
  7. I don’t. Same as you.
    I have two huge suitcases full of what seems like 800 pounds of old photographs accumulated over the years. A fair number of them going back to before Mom and Dad got married. There are pictures from both sides of the family so your Mom, Dad, you and your sisters are there. So are Grandma and Grandpa, Auntie V, Uncle John and Sylvia, Aunts Teddi and Tefta and more besides. I think I’ve even got one of your Dad in his old OSS uniform. At least I have vague memories of one.
    I’ve been meaning to scan them onto a cd so the hard copies don’t take up the room for years. In fact almost two years ago Mom, Dad and I sat down to go through them all and making notes on the backs of each photo to identify everyone. But have I scanned them in yet?
    Of course not.
    So I’m afraid I really can’t help you out here. I’m just as bad it seems. Although next time you’re in Milford I’ve got some pictures to show you. Don’t worry, it won’t take any time at all. 😉

    Reply
  8. I don’t. Same as you.
    I have two huge suitcases full of what seems like 800 pounds of old photographs accumulated over the years. A fair number of them going back to before Mom and Dad got married. There are pictures from both sides of the family so your Mom, Dad, you and your sisters are there. So are Grandma and Grandpa, Auntie V, Uncle John and Sylvia, Aunts Teddi and Tefta and more besides. I think I’ve even got one of your Dad in his old OSS uniform. At least I have vague memories of one.
    I’ve been meaning to scan them onto a cd so the hard copies don’t take up the room for years. In fact almost two years ago Mom, Dad and I sat down to go through them all and making notes on the backs of each photo to identify everyone. But have I scanned them in yet?
    Of course not.
    So I’m afraid I really can’t help you out here. I’m just as bad it seems. Although next time you’re in Milford I’ve got some pictures to show you. Don’t worry, it won’t take any time at all. 😉

    Reply
  9. I don’t. Same as you.
    I have two huge suitcases full of what seems like 800 pounds of old photographs accumulated over the years. A fair number of them going back to before Mom and Dad got married. There are pictures from both sides of the family so your Mom, Dad, you and your sisters are there. So are Grandma and Grandpa, Auntie V, Uncle John and Sylvia, Aunts Teddi and Tefta and more besides. I think I’ve even got one of your Dad in his old OSS uniform. At least I have vague memories of one.
    I’ve been meaning to scan them onto a cd so the hard copies don’t take up the room for years. In fact almost two years ago Mom, Dad and I sat down to go through them all and making notes on the backs of each photo to identify everyone. But have I scanned them in yet?
    Of course not.
    So I’m afraid I really can’t help you out here. I’m just as bad it seems. Although next time you’re in Milford I’ve got some pictures to show you. Don’t worry, it won’t take any time at all. 😉

    Reply
  10. I laugh now when I remember that I thought when I started working on a computer that it would mean that I had fewer papers to keep copies of. Now I have not only the papers in bulging file cabinets at home and office, but also stacks of floppies (including some old ones from the DOS bootable days) and CDs plus flash drives, three hard drives, and way too much stored in folders in my email program.

    Reply
  11. I laugh now when I remember that I thought when I started working on a computer that it would mean that I had fewer papers to keep copies of. Now I have not only the papers in bulging file cabinets at home and office, but also stacks of floppies (including some old ones from the DOS bootable days) and CDs plus flash drives, three hard drives, and way too much stored in folders in my email program.

    Reply
  12. I laugh now when I remember that I thought when I started working on a computer that it would mean that I had fewer papers to keep copies of. Now I have not only the papers in bulging file cabinets at home and office, but also stacks of floppies (including some old ones from the DOS bootable days) and CDs plus flash drives, three hard drives, and way too much stored in folders in my email program.

    Reply
  13. When the time is exactly right, I will find myself with a fist full of green trash bags, mind whirling. After peeling one open I begin to purge with great abandon whatever room I happen to be standing in. Whipping open draws, yanking open closet doors exposing items that haven’t seen the light of day since they were safely tucked away. Yesterday, it was my office. Bag after bag was filled, knotted and hauled away. It looked like my house had vomited at the end of my driveway. Boy, did I feel better. When will the urge hit again? Who knows? But, my family knows it’s best not to be in the room when it does, else they might find themselves bagged, tagged and at the end driveway.
    –Nina, wondering why I haven’t seen my dh in a while

    Reply
  14. When the time is exactly right, I will find myself with a fist full of green trash bags, mind whirling. After peeling one open I begin to purge with great abandon whatever room I happen to be standing in. Whipping open draws, yanking open closet doors exposing items that haven’t seen the light of day since they were safely tucked away. Yesterday, it was my office. Bag after bag was filled, knotted and hauled away. It looked like my house had vomited at the end of my driveway. Boy, did I feel better. When will the urge hit again? Who knows? But, my family knows it’s best not to be in the room when it does, else they might find themselves bagged, tagged and at the end driveway.
    –Nina, wondering why I haven’t seen my dh in a while

    Reply
  15. When the time is exactly right, I will find myself with a fist full of green trash bags, mind whirling. After peeling one open I begin to purge with great abandon whatever room I happen to be standing in. Whipping open draws, yanking open closet doors exposing items that haven’t seen the light of day since they were safely tucked away. Yesterday, it was my office. Bag after bag was filled, knotted and hauled away. It looked like my house had vomited at the end of my driveway. Boy, did I feel better. When will the urge hit again? Who knows? But, my family knows it’s best not to be in the room when it does, else they might find themselves bagged, tagged and at the end driveway.
    –Nina, wondering why I haven’t seen my dh in a while

    Reply
  16. I’m noticing a distinct slant here towards the Not Doing It methodology…with the occasional Nina-style purge–keeping an eye out for stray husbands.
    Val and Wylene: While new technology has not eliminated paper and brings its own clutter, I do see a future with fewer boxes of old letters, thanks to email. Not good for future historians, but a great basement space-maker.
    Tonda/Kalen, there always are better things to do…but I do have this fantasy of moving…and not taking my entire past life with me.
    AgTigress, it’s true you never know when you might need it and you’re sure to need it three days after you get rid of it. But then there’s the thorny question of finding it if you do keep it.
    John, what a surprise! And what a laugh. Hmm, I thought. Putting the photos in suitcases isn’t a bad idea. And are you storing the suitcases under the bed, as in my mother’s house? As to scanning to disk–my dh is doing that right now to one quite small album of his photos, and the task has consumed the better part of two days.

    Reply
  17. I’m noticing a distinct slant here towards the Not Doing It methodology…with the occasional Nina-style purge–keeping an eye out for stray husbands.
    Val and Wylene: While new technology has not eliminated paper and brings its own clutter, I do see a future with fewer boxes of old letters, thanks to email. Not good for future historians, but a great basement space-maker.
    Tonda/Kalen, there always are better things to do…but I do have this fantasy of moving…and not taking my entire past life with me.
    AgTigress, it’s true you never know when you might need it and you’re sure to need it three days after you get rid of it. But then there’s the thorny question of finding it if you do keep it.
    John, what a surprise! And what a laugh. Hmm, I thought. Putting the photos in suitcases isn’t a bad idea. And are you storing the suitcases under the bed, as in my mother’s house? As to scanning to disk–my dh is doing that right now to one quite small album of his photos, and the task has consumed the better part of two days.

    Reply
  18. I’m noticing a distinct slant here towards the Not Doing It methodology…with the occasional Nina-style purge–keeping an eye out for stray husbands.
    Val and Wylene: While new technology has not eliminated paper and brings its own clutter, I do see a future with fewer boxes of old letters, thanks to email. Not good for future historians, but a great basement space-maker.
    Tonda/Kalen, there always are better things to do…but I do have this fantasy of moving…and not taking my entire past life with me.
    AgTigress, it’s true you never know when you might need it and you’re sure to need it three days after you get rid of it. But then there’s the thorny question of finding it if you do keep it.
    John, what a surprise! And what a laugh. Hmm, I thought. Putting the photos in suitcases isn’t a bad idea. And are you storing the suitcases under the bed, as in my mother’s house? As to scanning to disk–my dh is doing that right now to one quite small album of his photos, and the task has consumed the better part of two days.

    Reply
  19. I wish I could put them under the bed, Loretta. But they’re just much too thick to fit under there. So instead they’re taking up closet space which is in short supply as it is. And the time element is the reason that I have yet to scan them. It’s going to take weeks, maybe even months. I could give them to Lori but she’s in process of selling her place and isn’t sure what she’ll be buying. Joe, is likely to just heave them, somehow he missed out on the “packrat gene”, so I don’t dare. Looks like I’m stuck with them for the foreseeable future. Oh well, things could be worse I suppose.
    Hope things are going well for you and you’ve gotten a handle on the deadline blues.

    Reply
  20. I wish I could put them under the bed, Loretta. But they’re just much too thick to fit under there. So instead they’re taking up closet space which is in short supply as it is. And the time element is the reason that I have yet to scan them. It’s going to take weeks, maybe even months. I could give them to Lori but she’s in process of selling her place and isn’t sure what she’ll be buying. Joe, is likely to just heave them, somehow he missed out on the “packrat gene”, so I don’t dare. Looks like I’m stuck with them for the foreseeable future. Oh well, things could be worse I suppose.
    Hope things are going well for you and you’ve gotten a handle on the deadline blues.

    Reply
  21. I wish I could put them under the bed, Loretta. But they’re just much too thick to fit under there. So instead they’re taking up closet space which is in short supply as it is. And the time element is the reason that I have yet to scan them. It’s going to take weeks, maybe even months. I could give them to Lori but she’s in process of selling her place and isn’t sure what she’ll be buying. Joe, is likely to just heave them, somehow he missed out on the “packrat gene”, so I don’t dare. Looks like I’m stuck with them for the foreseeable future. Oh well, things could be worse I suppose.
    Hope things are going well for you and you’ve gotten a handle on the deadline blues.

    Reply

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