One of my projects these days is to de-clutter my office. Until recently, if anyone had suspected me of being out of control when it comes to collecting stuff, a glance around my office would have removed all doubt. I was about one stack of National Geographics shy of being a candidate for a “Hoarders” episode.
I’m making progress, slowly but surely. I can see a tabletop I hadn’t been able to see since last fall. Among the things on that tabletop was a folder containing about a dozen photocopies of an Aug. 17, 2001, article in The Washington Post about how to train your memory. Just think: we’re coming up on the 11th anniversary of my making those copies and then promptly forgetting to give them to anyone.
Until a few minutes ago, I was holding those copies, struggling, debating whether to toss them all in a recycling box or maybe save just one. But do I really need that one copy? Is what we knew about memory training in 2001 still applicable? I’m going to say “No!” and toss them all. If one of those copies somehow crawls out of that box and winds up back on my desk, I will let you know.
Books are my biggest challenge to de-cluttering. They are like old friends, each with a story, each representing an initial courtship, my cradling it at a bookstore, yard sale or flea market and pondering whether to take it home. I have hundreds of books, each representing that sort of deliberation. And, of course, there are many more I’ve received as gifts (and I’d like to think each of those represented at least some deliberation in the choosing).
Some of these old literary friends have been following me around for more than 40 years, through countless moves. They are squeezed onto shelves along three walls of my office (one wall has nothing but framed photos and other hanging objects). Some have taken residence on the aforementioned tabletop, and atop a file cabinet, my desk and other flat surfaces.
I’ve read that I have to be ruthless to de-clutter. It’s hard for me to be ruthless, even with clutter, but I’ve managed to fill a box with travel books, dumbed-down guides to now-outdated software, and a tome predicting a worldwide technological breakdown by 2010.
As I sit here and survey my office, I see more and more things I can part with, but I also see some that definitely will stay.
Among the items staying:
- A beat-up Diet Dr Pepper can, containing several nuts and bolts, with silver duct tape covering the top. In a July 1999 softball game, I foolishly slid headfirst into third base and shattered my elbow. Shortly thereafter I had my elbow reconstructed with titanium, and I spared myself no pain pills for about a week after that. Julie, her hands full with 7-month-old Abby, came up with the idea for The Can, which I could rattle to summon her if I awoke from my haze needing something and she was in the far end of the house. Babies love rattles, so pretty soon The Can became one of Abby’s toys. It will stay on a shelf next to a very old Dr Pepper bottle embossed with the slogan “Good for Life.”
- A tin plate upon which my mother painted flowers. I’m not sure what kind of blossoms they are. They are shaped sort of like hydrangeas. The leaves resemble those of a hydrangea. But I’ve never seen blossoms quite that color, a reddish-orange. Mom’s always been artistic, and went through a phase where she was painting still lifes and rural scenes on some of the myriad old things — skillets, saws, farm-implement parts — she and Dad accumulated (I come by my hoarding honestly).
- The guardians of all this stuff: a platoon of 2-inch-tall plastic soldiers Team Rhodes won last summer at an arcade in Arlington, Texas. Joining the platoon are two Batman figures and Spiderman. I picked up the latter objects at a yard sale last fall, and, while the purchase seemed a good idea at the time, I’m thinking these three may be expendable.
It’s time to be ruthless again. I’ll focus on items about which I have no clue where they came from. A seashell and a rock, for instance, will go in a flower bed.
I see that one of those photocopies about memory training is dangerously close to escaping the recycling. I will try to be strong.