It took two weeks of back-to-back snowstorms, but I finally got around to the monstrous amount of filing that’s been looming over me in my home office for, oh, about five years. I’d staved off utter chaos and degradation a couple of times over the past couple of years, once enlisting a friend who was out of work for a while in a filing marathon (that’s how you can tell who your real friends are!), once or twice when my son was on school vacation (though I had to twist his arm to get him to work for me, even at more than minimum wage!) and again in a failed attempt to bring on an office assistant to help with my overwhelming workload. But in a couple of days straight, followed by mop-up operations over subsequent weeks, I filed for hours on end, and even more satisfyingly threw away five bags of trash and recycled about four feet of stacked magazines, folders, travel brochures and papers. I donated boxes of books to Friends of the Library and I got A Wider Circle to pick up a piece of furniture that would find a place in the new home of a family moving out of a shelter. I purged and organized (mostly the former) like a fiend.
I am sufficiently self-aware that I realized pretty quickly that all this organizing and decluttering was an attempt to impose order on one room while the bigger picture was that my life was spinning out of control. More and more commitments and obligations, some externally imposed but many I will own to having placed on myself. Even the interesting things on my calendar, the theoretically fun upcoming events, the meetings of organizations I find meaningful, were crushing my spirit. There was no space in my days and my nights any more. I was working from the moment I rose in the morning until the minute I blessedly fell asleep. Which was another problem—I was having horrible insomnia, the kind where you stumble around all day with sore eyeballs barely able to keep your lids open, the kind where you are in a daze, like someone put glue in your brain. Something had to give.
I woke up one morning last week and somehow these words were right there at the front of my brain: “I just can’t keep opening up endless portals into my life, endless claims on my attention.” Like most messages, I had been hearing this message from the universe for some time, and nodding, and then going right along being “crazy busy.”
I realized that for all the editing I was doing in my writing, what I now needed to do was edit my life. So I have been. I’ve been processing the sheer volume of “stuff” in my life—“stuff” being everything that demands my time and my attention, two commodities that are too precious to waste. I’ve been practicing discernment about what to keep and what to get rid of in my life just as I was deciding what papers to file and what to shred in my home office. I have withdrawn from the steering committee of an organization I remain committed to in other ways, and may be scaling back some of my writing outlets (among them, some book reviews I’ve been doing for a national website that have turned my favorite thing in the whole world—reading—into one more thing on my to-do list—SO not cool!).
I’m also reassessing my connectedness through technology. It is a blessing and a curse, one of the many “gray areas” I love exploring in life. I’m a big fan of email, but I’ve just unsubscribed to more than half of the e-newsletters I used to get, and got off of notification lists on “deals.” And I’m trying to spend only a limited time on my computer at night, though that’s challenging because that’s when I do most of my writing. I love Facebook, and I love reconnecting with old pals from my hometown and friends from college, but what does it say if I find a couple of them living in the same area as I do and we want to get together but just never seem to have the time? I worry that I am a tree with roots that are expanding but not deep enough to keep me strong and growing.
I’ve also been in a period of hypercreativity, but that, too, is a double-edged sword. It keeps my brain churning nonstop, and all the connectivity I’m feeling, like sparks flying and synchronicities firing with new people I’m meeting, whether in person or not, all of that requires follow-up and time, too.
All this decluttering of papers and junk is liberating and empowering. But just as the biggest challenge in filing or tossing is not letting the piles reaccumulate, the biggest thing for me now is figuring out why I commit to or seek to experience more than I can healthily accommodate in my life and how to stay focused on the people and activities that matter. I have to edit the story of my life, day by day. And make space for grace.
"I want to touch you in real time
Not find you on YouTube.
I want to walk next to you in the mountains
Not friend you on Facebook."