Thursday, February 23, 2012

Practice Thursday—The Yoga of Clutter

"Three Rules of Work:
Out of clutter find simplicity;
From discord find harmony;
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."
—Albert Einstein

Somehow I’ve come into possession of a large supply of paper clips. I find them everywhere: in the washing machine, in the vacuum cleaner, in the silverware drawer. There’s always several in my jacket pockets. As a writer, teacher, and editor I put myself in the way of paper clips all the time, but there seems to be something unnatural in the way they stick to me this way (I once even found a paper clip neatly attached to the hem of my good trousers).

The paper clip deluge came into stark relief recently when I cleaned out a feral drawer. After excavating layer by layer, I came across a  strata of paper clips a good inch thick: big clips, teeny clips, binder clips, and pink clips. I tried to collect them up in one fell swoop, but they resisted, kept scattering in all directions. The dust on them felt sticky, almost like soot.

I would never have even approached this awful drawer on my own. But I had two professional organizers in the house, a team from a company called "Organized at Last" (yes, dear reader, it had come to this....). I hired them to help me deal with what I’d come to call my “room of shame”: the 2nd bedroom, overflowing with ancient files, used books, out-of-season clothes, broken speakers, chargers to things that don’t even exist anymore, dog crates: everything that couldn’t seem to find a place elsewhere. That room was making me grumpy. I knew I had to do something.

The organizing ladies dove in cheerfully, in their spotless blue aprons. They  boxed up papers and books, coached me as I cleaned out that horrifying desk drawer: how’s it going in there? they chirped, but by that time I was speechless, buried in an avalanche of paper clips intended to hold things together.

The ladies got me through it. They held open a plastic bag while I dumped in the paper clips. They hauled out over-sized furniture into the carport. They grouped “like with like,” and by the time the women were done, I felt as though  the room were really breathing for the first time in ten years. This company’s motto is “Experience Clarity,” and it’s true; I felt like I could now breathe easier—freed from the weight of all those unruly things.

For about a month, I felt in control: I bought a new white desk for the room, filed the mail when it came, kept the surfaces cleared. I had new floor-to-ceiling bookshelves built into the nook and organized them by genre. I framed the many broadsides I’ve collected over the years and hung them by the bookshelves, so that I could be reminded my business is words. My business is organizing words into clean patterns and shapes.

But gradually disorder crept back in. First one stack of mail on the desk. A couple of files pulled out and not put back. Recycling overflowing its box. A jacket I wanted to give away; a pair of boots that were never comfortable. Even the rug seemed to rumple itself, refused to lie flat. And because of this, the rest of the house began to follow suit: dog leashes hanging over the back of the chair; the dishes go undone one night and breed. Impatience is what does it: moving too quickly from one thing to the next.

Time behaves like this too. I start with all good intention to organize, to set aside dedicated times for writing, for exercise, for teaching prep, for internet—but before too long those boundaries blur, and I’m doing twelve things at once, and none of them well, none of them with the presence of mind I desire.  

On my writing desk I have a postcard propped on the lamp: a serene Thai Buddha head, surrounded by the floating words: Calm, Clear, Happy Mind. I’d love to call the organizing ladies back, have them lay hands on my mind— clear it out, box up all those dusty regrets, those heavy memories, those clattering paperclips of doubt and fear. I’d like to tag them with the labelmaker just in case I happen to need them again.


  1. I love this post, Brenda! It really resonates for me, as I am prone to clean surfaces and hidden clutter. At a certain point, the clutter seems to threaten from within the drawers and cabinets until I am forced to respond or suffer from a kind of paralysis. I love the idea of the blue-aproned ladies and their cheerful competence. I have been trying to be very intentional about limiting online time during writing "hours" and also find those boundaries challenging to keep.


    1. Thanks for writing Lorna! Yes, it does become paralysis, until we can eek our way into a semblance of control (even if that control is temporary, as all things are!)

  2. Well played, Brenda :) I was just feeling this way about my blog (as you saw with the meltdown). It's led me to reassessing what on the blog matters to me. I actually made a new blog for the final in your class centered around the transgender thing. In any case, hope you find order in the room again, in your mind, in place; it's nice to breathe. It really is.

    The new blog is by the way. Would expanding this work as a final or...?

    1. Thanks Jack! I think the new blog would be a great final project, especially if you work on making it a combo personal/professional blog, bringing in information about the transgender world from science, the arts, etc. You could also write a final reflection that traces the progress of your blogging this quarter and how it led to this destination.

  3. This is pretty much the story of my life. I'm trying to get rid of things before I move in a few's not going well.
    My thing seems to be post-its, not paper clips. I have a ton of post-its.

    1. And post-its are sticky, too, which makes them even more difficult to get rid of!

  4. "Impatience is what does it: moving too quickly from one thing to the next." Hear hear! (or better yet: Here. Here.).


What say you?