From Where I Sit – Doing Life’s Laundry

As I sit in front of my laptop in my favorite chair in my favorite room, I’m struck by the ‘piles’ that regularly sprout up around me.
You’ve probably got some too wherever you’re sitting.

In my case the piles are stacks of books—textbooks and study guides from Athabasca University or current novels that I hope to get to or vintage and secondhand books from flea markets or thrift shops. Other piles represent ongoing ‘paper’ projects in various stages of completion.

I’ve also got books in the studio, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom. I’ve got books in bookcases, on tables, and of course in piles on the floor. Not an uncommon condition among writers, I understand.

Today there is a movement afoot on TV and in print media to get all of us to de-clutter. Though my problem with books and paper is nowhere near the state of those featured on these programs it’s gotten me thinking about what I’ve got and why.

BBC’s “The Life Laundry” seeks to find the reason we hang onto things. Dawna Walter has spent the past 10 years helping people organize their lives and sort through the chaos. She makes us aware of the burden that hanging onto excess furniture, clothing, and ephemera brings to our lives. By asking some pointed questions about mementos and memories and motivation, Walter helps participants see that it’s possible to deal with illness, divorce, retirement, death, children and everyday issues without losing control of their environment.

The purging of decades worth of stuff can rekindle buried emotions arising out of either very painful or even very happy events. A divorcee was forced to deal with her downsized circumstances. A retired teacher breast cancer survivor had to part with 35 year old papers and 15 years worth of clothes that no longer fit. A mother of 4 learned that photos of her children wearing special outfits are easier to keep than the clothes themselves. Her husband learned that letting go of some of the trophies and medals he won as a long jumper does not diminish the achievement.

We are reminded that in order “to breathe again” we must honor the things we value by either displaying or using them. Everything else goes to charity, to the garbage or off to a sale. Losing things in chaos and filth dishonors bequests from the significant people in our lives.

“Clean Sweep” is TLC’s version while HGTV has something called “Mission Organization.” In each case professional organizers, designers and carpenters make use of built-ins, baskets, boxes, bookcases, storage benches and specialized equipment to house or display the items that remain after the purge. There’s something to learn from each episode.

As for my books, experts recommend removing one old one for every new one coming in. As soon as my three new bookcases are installed I’ll be taking a long, hard look at each book. It’s just another step towards breathing easier, from where I sit.

*Reprinted with permission