The other day I was looking for a document that I needed. I realized that it must be under some other things piled up on my desk. In order to find what I wanted I had to move things and that led to something I had been putting off for way too long: cleaning my office. Not the dust-and-sweep kind of cleaning, but a real find-the-desk-top cleaning. I’m not a good housekeeper. I tend to put stuff on top of other stuff with the promise (to myself) that I will put things away properly, but that at the moment I am too focused on the task at hand. I’m also a serial saver.
I found the paper I was looking for, and a few hundred others I had forgotten I ever had, plus a lot of other stuff I knew about but hadn’t thought about in a very long time. When I worked in other places, when my office was not in my own home, I had three trays on my desk: In, Out, and Hold. The first two are pretty common in both name and use. "Hold," however, is a different kind of place. Into that box went things I either didn’t know what to do about; things requiring research or input from others. I was reasonably efficient with the In and Out boxes. The Hold box, however, was really a place for a different kind of efficiency. I characterized it as a place where the six-month rule applied: anything in it older than six months got one more glance and then it hit the fourth box, the one on the floor beside my desk. And I never missed the material because after six months it was a totally dead issue. Gone. In my office now, all of the surfaces seem to be marked "Hold."
Driven by need, I began a week ago to go through the materials on my desk, on the shelves that line the walls, and things living on the floor. I filled two large plastic tubs with things I absolutely can’t get rid of: unfinished manuscripts, stories finished but not ready to submit, research information related to the stories, or to stories I might want to write but haven’t started. Then I pulled all of my old journals. When I’m gone they should be burned, which means I should probably burn them today, even though I fully expect to be around for many years. I just can’t throw them into the fire, so they are in another tub. I plan to put them in one of the storage buildings we have, for someone else to burn later.
When we built this house we decided not to have a basement or an attic. Aside from the need to blast tons of rock in order to go deep enough into the ground for a basement, we agreed that both that area and an attic are simply places where we would put things we should get rid of, and we didn’t want that burden. So we have two storage buildings instead. And they are getting full. But there is still room for the two tubs. But there is a problem.
The problem is that when I went looking for another file to look at contracts for two of my books, I discovered that I need at least one or maybe two more tubs for files I don’t need to keep in my office. My desktop is now cleaner than it has been in years (though there is at least another tub or two of things I need to sell or give away or return to someone else to treasure). I like the feeling of space my office now offers me, and for the first time in months I feel free to approach the unfinished book and un-submitted stories that filled notebooks and shelves and are now in more manageable locations. It is amazing how much freedom organization can bring.
I don’t make new years resolutions because they are just something I should be doing anyway, things I know I should (and can) accomplish. I do make promises to myself, about things I would not otherwise be motivated to do. Everyone, I an sure, has something with which they straggle to maintain a simple and achievable life. Maybe I have finally discovered mine.
For now I’m putting it in the Hold box.