Sunday, August 15, 2010

Decluttering and Declogging are De-lovely!

I suppose it's true — your surroundings reflect the state of your mind. For the past few years, my surroundings have always been a tumble of books, papers set aside to be sorted out one day, suitcases that have yet to be unpacked from some trip or other, and even more files that need to be organized.

So I made a lazy Sunday list to make sure I don't enter a new week with my head still in a tangle.

1. Organize computer desktop. Every time someone sneaks a peek at my computer desktop they always let out an involuntary gasp. No fail. The second they see all file icons one on top of the other covering the entire screen, they wonder how I can I live and think this way, or how I can get anything done at all.

I have always treated my computer desktop like a real table top. And in files as in life, out of sight is always out of mind, so I make sure I see what needs to be done so I don't forget about them. This is, I realize, counter-intuitive. If I see them all at the same time I feel overwhelmed and end up procrastinating. Not a good way to live.

I made a little progress last night and now my screen is beautiful and spare, with blue folders neatly lined up on either side. What's in those folders is another story, but one thing at a time. Baby steps.

2. Organize real desk. My real desk these days is a glass half-moon with a metal stand that's a bit wobbly. It's not very inspiring to work on so I do most of my work on the kitchen table. This is also not good because that puts me within arm's reach of the small refrigerator, and I've been going through chocolate bars at an unusual speed.

Now would have thought that a messy desk would lead to added poundage? Going by that logic, that everything IS interconnected (the principle behind karma), I could conceivably lose the chocolate-weight I've gained by decluttering and clearing up my desk and working there, away from the ref.

3. Organize closet. Now this I've done in as logical a manner as I could think of. Clothes for going out, clothes for staying home, clothes for exercising, clothes for work. I'm not the sort of person who can manage having a lot of clothes; most of my life I've had to live with very limited closet space, so I've learned to keep my wardrobe hardworking and lean.

Here's the downside of a lean wardrobe: every time I need to go somewhere, I have to think hard if I'd worn the same outfit many times before. The usual answer is yes, and then I would have to get creative about mixing and matching or jazzing it up. Then I up pulling clothes out of the closet and tossing them on the bed, and returning home tired and ready to crash, and so make space for myself I inevitably scoop everything up and dump them in the closet.

The upside is this: I am traveling light, as I've always imagined I would. I don't know why I feel this is a necessary thing, to be able to pack all my clothes in three large suitcases and no more, but it's a comforting thought.

4. Organize books. I've moved around so much and lost more than half of the books I've ever owned to the four winds. Once, when I was living in Singapore, I kept a neat row of my favorite titles at that time by my bedroom window in Pearl Bank. And then I left the window open and stepped out during which it rained and I returned home to find them all soaked and beyond saving.

The lesson for me has always been to invest in something that would keep what you hold dear in a safe place. For books that means sturdy shelves, the ones that look nice, the ones that won't pepper the bottoms of upright books with yellow-orange spots.

5. Organize kitchen. Few people know this about me, but I like to cook (but cannot follow a recipe). I love cookbooks and actually own several good-looking ones, but the minute my eyes scan over to the recipes my lids become heavy with sleep and my mind wanders. It must be all the measurements and the numbers but yes I have to one day face this aversion.

In any case, I own the essentials: pots and pans, spatulas, a good corkscrew, plates, mugs, silver, a French press and a coffee pot, a few sharp knives, a peeler that is also a fruit scrubber.

I also own a few non-essentials that are nice to have anyway: a set of six demitasse with matching saucers that my mom gave me years ago, a metallic tea drain for loose leaf teas (but I don't really drink tea), and some large Pyrex trays that have no oven to go into.

5. File papers. This is by far the most challenging thing I might have to do. I have years and years worth of files and scraps of paper accumulated over the various incarnations of my life. The other day I found boarding pass stubs to and from Langkawi, Malaysia, for a trip I took in 2002. Weeks ago I was thrilled to discover that I've kept a stack of the original printouts of my first book, Getting Better, with scribbled notes on the margins.

Now the moment of truth has arrived: some of these bits and pieces of papers and CDs will just have to go and some can stay, but only after much deliberation.

Do I still need them? Will I ever need them again?

Are these pictures I want to see again? Ever?

Are these really important? How important are they? And what does important mean, exactly?

So yes, tonight I will be sleeping at 5 am. Wish me luck.

There's so much work ahead but thinking that I have every intention of wading through it is getting me excited. It's like living with a clogged nose and head for years, and finally getting to breathe properly again. As Cole Porter once sang, "It's De-lovely".


  1. Correction: I gasped because I was impressed. When it looked like Beirut, I laughed. Proud of you. :)