This is a clip from the 1996 Sci-Fi film, The Arrival, starring Teri Polo, Charlie Sheen and Ron Silver. The alien drops off a ball that rises off the floor and sucks up everything in the room including a bird that got too close to an open vent louver. I very much wish it was this easy to get rid of clutter. I guess The Jetsons are a long way off, still.
In mid-1987 I was hired as a runner/mail clerk for a paging company. It was my first real job after college. I had a decently-sized work area with a desk, phone and postage/folding equipment. We used a lot of #10 envelopes in 500/ct boxes. I didn’t do a very good job of keeping the area tidy and got in trouble for it. One thing that exacerbated the mess was a compulsion I had for keeping those boxes for shipping. I didn’t think about the fact that we were going through envelopes at a rate that would guarantee a supply of boxes should I need to ship something. So I had them stacked which took up space and in my unconscious state I let it all crowd around me. My boss cleaned up the area one morning and left a note to just keep a couple of the boxes on hand. When I did that it got better. But the whole time I was there I struggled with the space.
The other thing I didn’t understand was how to manage people and their requests and I hadn’t learned anything about prioritizing. As a result, several types of clutter, people, noise, unprioritized tasks and stuff quickly became overwhelming. I straightened the place up several times while I was there but because the problem wasn’t being addressed it would get back in a pile before long.
Cleaning up by itself is only a temporary thing. It doesn’t matter whether the decision is mine alone or if I’m doing it as the result of someone else’s ultimatum. I have to wake up and become aware of myself, the space I’m in and my relationship to it. Maybe some people are naturally aware. Some are compulsively tidy and drive the people around them nuts with the compulsion. I know neatness comes every easy for some people. I’m not one of them. For me it’s a learning process and it’s not easy all the time. And I know I’m not alone in this.
I haven’t used mind-mapping extensively. I found this as I was looking illustrations of clutter. It is part of Volume One of Paul Foreman’s e-book series on mind-maps.
I started getting some things organized in my mom’s garage. Most of the boxes I went through contained stuff that belonged to me. I put that stuff out there in 1997 because I felt I needed to clean up here first.
Then I forgot about it.
When I told her I was pulling out all this stuff that was mine. She reminded me that I was supposed to come get it and never did. I ended up taking most to Goodwill and sold two more boxes of books to Half Price Books.
The house is a mess. Has been for years. I have a path from the bed to the bedroom door. There’s a path through the livingroom to the kitchen and front door. I can get in and out of the house okay. I need a pen or clipboard. I can’t find one because it’s been swallowed in the chaos that is my home. I head to one of the OfficeShack stores and buy another one or pack of several. And over the years the process repeats itself.
Years later I start to deal with my problem. Cleaning and clearing turn up two extra clipboards like the one already at my desk and two for 5″x8″ pads. I needed a clipboard. Because of the way I was living I kept losing clipboards. And now I have enough to share.
The same thing happened with padfolios. I have already donated several. I’ve found years-worth of pens, pencils, erasers and notepads. I stocked up intentionally on notepads. I like the grid rule and Cornell note style pads and once those disappear from stores after the school supply rush you have to special-order them.
In a few days I’ll have another bag or box headed to Goodwill. It will include clipboards, pens and other things I find around here that need to go.
Back in 2010 I started listening to podcasts and following blogs related to the preparedness/survivalist movement. Anyone who’s had to deal with a power outage that lasted more than a few hours knows that you might need a few candles and extra flashlights and batteries in addition to the one in the next to the last drawer in the kitchen that you can never seem to find when you need it. The writers and voices talk about the need for redundancy in preparation for personal as well as community disasters. That’s all well and good. I have a few extra batteries for the flashlights and a few candles.
The problem is that I approached prepping the same way I approached the rest of my consumer behavior…unconsciously. I didn’t look at the amount of space I have in the house to determine where and how to store things. I didn’t think about exactly what I needed and how I was going to use it. The place was still a huge mess back then. So anything put aside as a preparedness item ended up on the pile. I started working on a 72-hr kit and buying two or three of something when I had a few extra dollars. I even took a couple of classes in survival at a school down the road. Then I had a couple of reversals happen and all the “disposable” income I was using to pay for preps ended up going to a car payment and we had a major illness in the family which put my training schedule on the back burner.
As I’ve been removing things from the house, the twos and threes of things have become ones and in some cases I’ve taken all of certain things to Goodwill. I still believe in the philosophy. G-d knows that the ATM network in town goes down on occasion and having a couple extra bucks in the pocket is a good thing. I am really liking the openness now and being able to walk over and touch a wall without stepping on something. So I don’t want to stockpile or warehouse preps. I might put up an extra shed in the backyard next year. I don’t know yet. I just don’t want to keep racks or stacks of stuff around that I’m going to have to dust.
TEOTWAWKI is largely theoretical. A collapse could happen. Hell in some circles the world has ended several times in the past five years with the financial shenanigans and bailouts. I am starting to view my cluttered, but less so, home as a very real disaster that I need to keep recovering from. The priority is clearing my living space and seeing that it stays that way. If zombies come I have a claw hammer right where I can get at it.
It doesn’t take much to put us on the road to having a growing pile of new stuff collecting dust in our homes. A person might think, “Oh its just a few…one small bag.” So the books go on the shelf. And I wonder if we ask ourselves how long it will take to read them.
When I was a kid in California, I had a friend, Dr. Bob Perry, who started teaching me about spirituality and whom I consider my spiritual father. Dr. Perry was one of my neighbors in the apartment complex we lived in. We’d have talks and one time there were a couple of books on the table across from him. I looked at them and he said, “I’ve bought several books in the past few days. They seemed like good selections for my library, but I haven’t had time to start reading them.” That statement put the seed in my thoughts about having a library and as the unconscious buying started and got worse, I started to have books shelved and then others lying on top in the space below the upper shelf. I’d look at them from time to time and think, I need to get to those.
There were four bookcases in my living room and two in my bedroom. I’ve recently removed two. I reorganized and reshelved maybe a third of the ones from those shelves to the two remaining and took six file boxes to Half Price Books along with some CDs, DVDs and really old vinyl. It is still going to take a long time to read everything that’s left.
While I was at Half Price, I saw new books that looked interesting. While I felt an urge to buy, I left them there because l have to finish reading a few others before I get anything new. And I was in the store selling books that I had never gotten around to reading. I’m going to apply a five-one rule. I’m not going to bring in a new book until I have read and recycled five. Since I have to keep the two remaining bookcases in the living room, I’m going to use those as overflow as I reduce the population further, to the two bookcases in my room.
There is no difference between an unread book or a Hummel as far as its dust collecting ability is concerned. If I’m not reading it, it serves no purpose. My friend Roy Blizzard said recently, “The time we spend dealing with stuff we’re not using is wasted money and life.”