Resolved – this clutter must be dissolved

Bishop’s Mantle column by Jim Bishop

By now, anyone who’s made one or more New Year’s resolutions has either notched some benchmark toward their goal or they’ve declaring, “There’s always next year.”

Believe it or else, I’m making progress on two resolutions made for 2007:

– To clean off my desk at work, discarding accumulated stuff that doesn’t need to be saved, filing those items deemed important for posterity and repeating that process for the dresser in my bedroom at home.

– To lose 10 pounds by (early) spring, the result of accumulation of age, yielding to temptation, especially over the Christmas holidays, and the good intention of continuing regular walking around our development several times a week when the weather turns colder. (I hope my spouse is reading this).

This collectaholic finds it difficult, nearly impossible, to discard anything. I’ve fallen prey repeatedly to the natural law that the moment one deems a given personal item no longer necessary it will quickly be declared a collector’s item. I know whereof I speak. Early copies of Mad magazine, 3-D comics, Big Little Books, metal lunchboxes emblazoned with pictures of childhood heroes, an RCA 45-rpm record player, a 1957 BMW Isetta 300 and a 1968 VW Beetle convertible all slipped through my fingers, and how I regret releasing my grasp so casually and carelessly.

It’s an ongoing struggle: How to decide what to dispose of when my files and folders are bulging, bookshelves are groaning, my record library can’t accommodate any more vinyl, cassettes or compact discs, and my wife gently but firmly repeats her mandate for me to clean up my act? The problem at the Bishop abode is acerbated by the fact that we have minimal storage space with no attic, basement or garage to help handle the overflow, which meanwhile languishes on smoldering compost piles. Essential items will demonstrate their indispensability by moving from where I placed them to where I can’t find them.

A dash of disarray, I believe, adds a bit of seasoning and zest to the stew of life. I’m suspect of colleagues whose workspace is always tidy, with bare deskspace showing, orderly files and no empty coffee cups, doughnut crumbs or candy wrappers in sight. Surely even extreme neatniks face a certain amount of clutter in their lives, and we all have areas that need reorganizing or to be discarded so that we can function better, see more clearly, reduce chaos levels.

So, where to begin? With the most obvious – the things really not needed again if we’re honest with ourselves. I just need some incentive, other than my wife’s gentle reminders, to discard or file things that need saving because of their intrinsic value and that I can return to on occasion but don’t drive our lives. One never knows when someone might come around and ask to see my collection of Wittenburg (sic) Door (the world’s pretty much only religious satire magazine) or weekly church bulletins dating back to 1986.

Clutter in one’s life takes many forms: becoming overwhelmed at the barrage of messages shouted in our face every day; starting projects and letting them smoldering incomplete; trying to please everyone at work and other settings and routinely falling short.

How do I get into these situations in the first place? I don’t set out to invite these gremlins into my life, but they’re only too happy to take up residence. They usually come subtly, without fanfare, and like alcohol or nicotine, become addictive before they’re realized.

I can’t go cold turkey – I’m too chicken – but it starts with a firm resolve to take the first steps while turning a deaf ear to the inevitable screams of protest. Withdrawal pains persist – “ah, c’mon, take another slice of that fudge marble cake; it’s too cold to go on that walk tonight; that pile of papers will still be there for you to attack a week from now” – and I fight the temptation to heed the siren’s song.

Better keep on paddling upstream, keeping both oars in the water and gaining fresh momentum from a friend’s encouraging strokes. Not only that, but I already know that I’ll look and feel better having shed some excess baggage, and my internal workings will thank me too.

Should I succeed in reducing clutter, keeping my mind out of the gutter, rarely reaching for the real butter, I may no longer mutter, “Somebody help steer – I’ve broken my rudder.”


Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University.


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