Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thinking about some spring decluttering

While a colleague and I were chatting this past week, I happened to mention I'd been feeling out of sorts lately. Remembering how focussed and upbeat I'd been when I was training to run a marathon last summer as part of Team in Training, she suggested that perhaps what I needed was a new project. At the time, I thought that suggestion was a good one but, upon further reflection, I'm not so sure. Maybe what I really need is to deal with the many unfinished projects -- not to mention clutter -- taking up space in my house and in my head.

On that assumption, I set aside today to begin the process of decluttering my life by tackling my office. Rationally, I know it's full of stuff I don't need -- back issues of running and home decorating magazines, books I'll never again read or lend to friends, half-finished knitting and quilting projects, university textbooks, letters and photographs I never look at, etc. And yet -- here I sit writing about getting rid of the clutter rather than actually doing anything about it.

Apparently, I'm not alone in my aversion to disposing of clutter. Whole books have been written on the subject. An excellent one (though I confess I've so far only read excerpts) is Does this Clutter Make my Butt Look Fat? by Peter Walsh. (For an excerpt, click here.) In a nutshell, Walsh's theory is that people hang on to stuff not because they're too disorganized and lazy to get rid of it but because it represents something important to them. In some cases, it defines who they are. In others, it's a placeholder for the people and experiences they don't want to leave behind. In still others, it fills gaps left by unfulfilled aspirations or unsatisfying personal relationships.

While I honestly think the main reason I've never fully overcome my tendency to clutter is that I'm fundamentally lazy and disorganized, I have to admit that Walsh's theory resonates. It would, for instance, explain why I hang on to some of the books and texts I studied at university nearly three decades ago. Maybe they represent all the youthful hope, optimism, and intellectual curiousity I felt back then, not to mention my dreams of being a writer or editor one day.

So far, so good. But why on earth hang on to 8 pairs of old running shoes, and dozens of old tee-shirts? In the case of the runners, I'm pretty sure it's just laziness since my plan is to (eventually) wash them and donate them to Soles4Souls. The tee-shirts, or some of them at least, are another story.

Tucked away in my drawers are four or five tee-shirts, now more than 20 years old, that I acquired during my days as an international development worker and community activist. There's no reason to keep them. It's not like I ever wear them. They'd likely disintegrate if I tried. And yet I suspect I'll still be refusing to throw them away when I'm packing up to move to a retirement home because those tee-shirts remind me of the time in my life when I believed -- really truly fervently believed -- that positive change in the world was possible. I don't ever want to forget what that felt like.

Other clutter has less positive associations -- the unfinished knitting projects for instance. For many years, I knit a lot -- sweaters, hats, mittens, socks, afghans, you name it. However, the truth is I've hardly picked up my needles in the past five years. If I could figure out how to knit and surf the internet at the same time, I might eventually get around to using up all the left over wool kicking around in my closets, but, given how unlikely that is, the better choice is to pass it along so that I can stop feeling irritated and frustrated every time I look at it.

So -- here I go at last. While procrastinating, I stumbled across this article by Katherine Gibson which I'm hoping will provide just enough practical advice to get me started. Fingers crossed.

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