Several of the rooms in our small house have, over the last year, become scary places. One such place is the office where I work. Where I worked, I should say, before it became impassable due to my bad habits and poor housekeeping.
I haven’t always been like this. I used to actually work in that office. But in the last year, I’ve developed the slovenly habit of stuffing all the detritus of our life, regardless of its urgency, into a paper shopping bag and shoving it in a closet right before dinner guests arrive. (I know you do this too, which is why I feel like it’s okay to mention it.) The bags in the closet migrate upward, like warm air, and land in my office, untouched. This is how it looks now:
Actually, this is not a completely accurate picture of the conditions in my workplace. In fact, I had to stand on an Amazon box filled with bills and binders full of schoolwork to take this picture. Behind me? A lot more shopping bags.
You can’t tell, but inside those bags are a jumble of bills, notices from the boys’ schools, library books, invitations and thank you notes, baseball cards, a pair of those shoes with wheels on the bottoms. Need I go on? I’m sure you get the picture. Things have gotten a little out of hand.
When I looked at this picture my first thought was that I had no idea I owned so many shopping bags. Or that my lovely black ankle boots were in the middle of the floor. I also saw that someone had removed my chair from my desk (the one at the end of the room), apparently under the impression I’d left the country and wouldn’t be needing it anymore.
A year after this behavior began, I had two epiphanies.
One: it might be nice to have my desk back, and a new window to look out of. I was getting tired of writing my novel at the dining room table, which is sometimes being used to make dioramas of the California missions, or to fight World War Two, the sorts of activities that distract me from my mission of finishing my novel by October 1.
Two: it occurred to me that maybe there was something good in those bags: money, for one. Lingerie I’d bought and forgotten about. Books I might read. A gift certificate. An unopened love letter. A notice that I’d won something.
And so, with my children and husband out of the state this last week, and a lot of extra time on my hands, I’ve been going through bag upon bag of detritus. It’s not as glamorous as having been called suddenly to appear on Court TV and explain why the government’s wiretapping program is unconstitutional. Still, cleaning out those bags has been more compelling than I’d imagined. I haven’t posted in a few days because I’ve been having so much fun going through the bags. Also, I’ve been unable to get out of my office to make it to the computer.
At this point, I can tell you that I’ve arrived at the end of the room. I feel like someone who’s crossed the prairie in a covered wagon. The Pacific Ocean’s in sight. I didn’t have to eat people to get there. All I had to do was rummage through thirty-six shopping bags of detritus.
And so tonight I’ve returned from the end of the room, bearing some news: nothing very bad will happen to you if you shove stuff into a Macy’s bag and forget about it. It turns out that if you age your detritus for a year, it has no power over you anymore. Things that do matter have already escaped from the bags. And things that don’t matter will stay in there, becoming increasingly unimportant. It works this way: If the school event matters, your child will tell you about it. Unread New Yorkers are not interesting a year later. Chances are if there was something really good in one of them, a friend would have emailed you a link to it. Even bills have a way of getting paid. Without really knowing why, over the course of the year of bagging my detritus, I gradually moved my bill paying from paper to computer, where I could pay our debts without having to look at a paper record of them. Looking back now, I see this was because I couldn’t bear to look in those bags and fish around for the bills.
This is good news indeed. But I know you would like to know if there was anything good in those bags. You’ll have to check back tomorrow or the next day. I’ll post a picture. And a list of treasures. And then, back to writing, reading and cooking.