Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cleaning Up the Clutter Zone

My desk is a French bistro table about 4 feet long. It has a striking gray-and-black striped marble top; sometimes I go for so long without being able to see its surface that I forget how pretty it is. It has no drawers or filing cabinets, of course, and is continually piled with papers, note, articles, mail, useless but intriguing info, old bills and bank statements, coupons, cat toys, phones, photos, hand creams, measuring tapes, kleenex, notebooks, a calendar, and other miscellanea. It could easily convince anyone that it belongs to a person with a hoarding disorder.

Because it's the first thing visitors see as they enter our condo, they often seem taken aback — and then pleasantly surprised as they discover that the Collyer brothers didn't decorate the rest of the place.

I've managed to do my freelancing — writing, editing, and graphic design — at this poor excuse for a desk for 11 years now. Before that, I didn't have a desk of my own, so it seemed magnificent at the time. My next desk will have DRAWERS.

The rest of our apartment, except for my husband's tiny office, is relatively neat, with a place for everything. We don't have much clutter beyond our desktops, except for a few big piles of overflow books because we've run out of shelves. But our cabinets, drawers, and closets don't overflow. Clutter in this little apartment is under control, except for the desks (and, uh, well, my teetering stack of bedside magazines).

Back to my desk: In lieu of a sensible filing system, I've been keeping unsorted wads of important papers stuffed randomly in an antique silver-plate toast rack that was a wedding present. Whenever I need to locate something, I have to dump the whole thing on the sofa and sift through it.

Pens, clips, pad of sticky notes, and other supplies live in an antique candy tin commemorating the San Francisco World's Fair (1915). More bits of junk live in tiny oval Japanese woven trays. I have a wooden box on the floor next to the desk that holds a few, rarely touched file folders, notebooks, CDs, and cables. I also have a shopping bag brimming with random stuff, which has been sitting around, waiting for me to deal with it since Christmas.

I could have saved you from reading all that simply by posting a photo, but I couldn't. It's too embarrassing. And it's beginning to affect me; I forgot to pay a bill last month because I mislaid it among the piles. I persuaded the company to drop the late fee and finance charge. And I promised myself that it won't happen again.

Today, I cleaned it all up. A cluttered desk, especially in the entryway, has got to create bad feng shui and I'm tired of being ashamed of the mess. We could use more good fortune around here; I believe that a clean, comfortable, healthy home leads to a happier, healthier spirit. If you want to explore this idea, read this excellent book (and just disregard the chapters at the end about decluttering your digestive tract).

I piled all the papers, junk, and onto our bed, and spent the Red Sox game (sad, so sad) going through it. I filled a shopping bag with recycling and a wastebasket with trash, labeled new file folders and filled them with items from the toast rack and some other stacks. I sampled the iced-tea-flavored hard candy I've been hoarding since I found them in Prague in 2001 (meh, I tossed it). I still have a few papers in the toast rack (mostly current information along with silly things I can't part with), but I hope I will remember that most of that stuff is neatly sorted in a folder now.

I have a bag of things to sell on eBay or give away. And a pile of non-paper junk (cute little tins, ribbons, etc.) still has to be dealt with.

But the good feng shui is already beginning. Our elderly Persian, Snalbert, who has spent the 10 days since Wendy the kitten arrived looking so grave and pompous that he resembles Winston Churchill, just let Wendy play with him a little. They were smacking each other next to my desk and having a bit of a chase as I wrote this. I was hoping that my clean desk might lead to good fortune of the financial/employment kind, but I'll take whatever I can get.

I wonder what will happen if I can persuade myself to get rid of a few dozen books next.

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