De-cluttering Before Breakfast

Not long after getting up on New Year’s Day I knocked some papers off my workside table. This was nothing new. What happened next was: I straightened up — “excavated” is probably the better word — the table’s top.

This was not — I repeat, not — the result of any New Year’s resolution. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I do, however, keep a running “to-do” list, and this had been on it for a couple of months already.

Any visitor to my studio apartment might guess that I have a high tolerance for clutter, and they would be right. There is, however, a limit to my tolerance. My workside table exists so that certain necessities are ready to hand when I want them, but there were so many papers, folders, and clipboards piled on top of my reference books that I rarely risked pulling one out, and the stack of papers, folders, notebooks, flyers, magazines, and newspapers next to the books was close to a foot high. More to the point, I had no idea what was in there and I didn’t dare look.

Transit station for paper overflow, partially sorted. Unsorted pile is at right. Piles include one for each of my two credit cards, an unruly stack of health insurance stuff, and material from various political projects.

So I went to it. First I moved the stack of papers to my bed. Here’s what they looked like with the pile only half sorted. One of my goals was to extract the credit card statements so I could enter them into Quicken in preparation for getting my 2019 tax stuff together. (This had likewise been on my to-do list for several months.)

No, I did not take a “before” picture.

Next step was to get real about what reference books I actually used. I hadn’t opened Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary since I subscribed online. I didn’t need the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style either; I subscribe to that, too, and besides, the 17th edition (which I do consult regularly) is on the floor next to my work chair. And did I really need four years’ worth of the island phonebook?

My stripped-down reference shelf, with pens at the ready

I kept Words Into Type, The Copyeditor’s Handbook, two years’ worth of the island phonebook, and the user guide for Serif PhotoPlus X7. To them I added two frequently consulted books that kept getting lost in the chaos on the other side of my work chair: The Writer’s Chapbook and the AA 12 + 12.

Please don’t be rolling your eyes at the clipboard on top of the books. It holds the attendance sheet from the last MV Democrats meeting, for which I’m currently writing up the minutes. The postcards on top are ready to mail: they’re going to Democrats in Kentucky’s 38th state senate district, urging them to vote for Andrew Bailey in the January 14 special election. In other words, they aren’t going to be there long enough for me to pile more stuff on top of them. OK?

As I said at the beginning, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I have heard that how you spend New Year’s Day affects how you’ll spend the year — or maybe it’s that you should spend New Year’s Day doing what you want to do the rest of the year? I scratched one item off my to-do list (clean up papers), got started on another (enter credit card statements in Quicken), and generally made my workspace a little more workable. This is all about getting ready and it’s a good thing too: 2020 is going to be a watershed year for the country and the world.

In fairness I should also note — as you may have already noticed — that this New Year’s Day post wasn’t written till January 2, and the MV Dems minutes are once again getting written up at the last minute. So it’s not like I’ve turned over a new leaf or anything. It is, however, satisfying to brush by my workside table without knocking anything to the floor.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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