“Our life is frittered away by detail. . . . Simplify, simplify.” So Henry David Thoreau pronounces in chapter two of Walden. I am trying, truly I am, to follow his advice. But lord, it’s hard.
Maybe Thoreau could live in a tiny one-room house for a short period of time. Maybe he could live with only a rudimentary wardrobe. I can’t seem to manage either.
Since retirement, and specifically since Dad died, I’ve been trying to simplify my life. In trying to sort through and purge the accumulations of decades (some moved from state to state, house to apartment to house), I am perplexed. Just how did I manage to acquire all this stuff?
Kitchen: Once a year, I pull out all the pots and pans and plastic containers in the kitchen cabinets. I throw out anything worn out or useless. I give away what I don’t need. I usually discover duplicates of some things. This is an on-going process.
Clothes? I’ve actually done an okay job, at least in terms of a yearly attack of purging and giving away/donating and throwing out. Yet I have to do more — I will simply never wear dozens of t-shirts, no matter how gripping or amusing the quotation/text/motto printed. And why do I have so many tops? So many pairs of shoes? (Okay, I get the shoes. I’m a shoe-aholic. Yet I am controlled in purchasing new shoes. Sort of. Not Imelda Marcos-level in shoe purchases.)
Especially since retiring, I’ve been periodically returning to purge more and more clothes. At least I have thrown out what’s worn out.
Then consider the books. There, too, is kind of an excuse: I taught literature and writing at university. I read. I read a lot. I have hundreds of books, lining shelves of various bookcases. There are bookcases in almost every room of my house. There are books in boxes on the floor of my back room — books I mean to donate or give away. I’ve done a fair job over the last few years of reducing my square footage of books. Now I’m ready to tackle that problem again after not having time to do so. I’ve sorted and thus the boxes — but now I must figure out what to do with the books that are going away. This summer I resolved to sort through the academic books spanning British literature and American literature and reduce what I keep. I know I won’t teach again, and so rationally know that others might well use the books. But again, I find it difficult to actually follow through with the rational recognition that it’s simply time to let them go. Or at least to let a lot of them go.
I’ve decided to be ruthless — I don’t need the Norton editions of so many books. Only some. I don’t need the British literature texts. Just Shakespeare. And A.S. Byatt. And a few more. But my shelves of Faulkner and Southern literature and criticism? Those have to stay for a while.
Autographed texts? Those stay.
Contemporary poetry? Stays.
Books on Greece and Greek language? No question at all — those stay.
And the travel books are here for keeps too — at least the books about travel. The out-of-date guides, though, will be purged.
Since I am an avid reader of “junk” fiction, I have accumulated dozens of paperbacks — mysteries, science fiction, fantasy. I’ve gotten rid of a lot. Yet there are still so many I can’t quite let go of. At least now I buy in e-book form.
Only this afternoon I’ve been working on re-organizing the books I want in my office, close to where I’ll need them. The craft books. The books on publishing. The books on poetry forms. The books on non-fiction. Decorating books? Those will go elsewhere in the house.
Magazines? I’ve thrown out bags and bags of these, yet where did the stacks on the bookshelves in the living room appear from? Those I plan to tackle one day next week, ready to dump most of them.
And just where did all of these duplicates of things appear? How/why did I end up with five staplers of various sizes and shapes? With multiple tape dispensers? And pens? With various colors of ink? I will keep one large and one small stapler for here, keep one of each for the beach house, and put the rest in the garage-sale pile of “stuff.”
Part of the problem, I’m sure, is that some items are boxed and only now am I sorting through boxes, discovering that I’ve bought multiples simply because I didn’t realize what I had. There are items from my work office at the university.
And then there are the boxes of “I’ll deal with this later.” It’s later. It’s time.
I’ll never be able to reduce my footprint so much that I could live like Thoreau in his cabin at Walden Pond. But I fantasize about at least eliminating and purging what I simply don’t use or need.
Record-keeping and sorting through files? Imposing order and labeling — that’s what I’m doing now. I’ve dumped lots of teaching files, but not all. Research files? Those are staying.
My nightmare? That I’ll end up a star on television — on Hoarders.
Don’t even think about the 10×15 storage unit that has what Kay and I have moved from Dad’s house (and in which some of my overflow acquisitions are stored). Most of my own stored stuff has been purged and sorted already — once or twice. I will attack it again, too.
Daily I think about two issues — accumulating and cluttering. I make headway weekly.
Clutter? I keep plugging away at organizing and controlling it as well. Much improved in this endeavor, but not yet conquered. Of course, you understand I’ve bought books on controlling clutter, which only contributes both to the book problem and the clutter problem.
Clutter. Chaos. Cheryl. Do you see the destiny revealed in those three C words?