Detritus. Gone.

Here’s evidence. That’s my desk at the far end of the room. I have a chair to sit on now. You’ll notice there’s not a shopping bag in sight. (If you’d like to see how many shopping bags could fit in this room, go here.) The shopping bags are all neatly stowed, inside the largest of the bags, downstairs next to our refrigerator, to be used to take things OUT of our house. You’ll notice a second desk, on the right. That desk is not really under my control, belonging as it does to the other adult in this household. He’s pretty neat though, most of the time.

The most significant gain from this effort? I feel no fear when I walk in this room. I hadn’t really known just how bad it was until the anxiety left the room, along with eight bags of recycling, one bag of things destined for the shredder and a bag of stuff to give away. I’m much happier now, knowing there’s nothing in any of those shopping bags that’s going to start smelling or cause someone to come and bang on our door in the middle of the night making some sort of demand.

Here are some things I learned from this exercise. The list is illustrated, because I found the cord that connects my camera to my computer.

  • I own more colored pencils than any single woman in America. Eighty-one to be exact. That’s a lot of colored pencils, especially for someone who doesn’t color anything. What’s the half life of a colored pencil? Twenty years? Please remind me I own a lot of colored pencils the next time I decide to pick up a pack of them.

  • One of my sons managed to buy six sharp daggers, disguised as “letter knives” on a school outing for which he was apparently given too much pocket money. The daggers were stuffed into a grocery bag by me, his horrified mother. I have fished them out and secured them in a hiding place so secret no child will find them until he becomes an adult and thinks to look in the box where the Christmas cards and wrappings are kept. (To the left of my desk.) Come to think of it, he won’t find them when he’s an adult either. The only person who ever does the Christmas cards or wraps the gifts is the mother. (And sometimes the father, because he is a Nice Man.)

  • I love my pink thermos. And that is one cute child. Enough said.

  • I found a lot of things I bought to give people and then forgot about. A bottle bag (brother in law who is a vineyard manager), a package of purple pencils (pre-teen girl), a pair of candles shaped like sandals (friend who loves Hawaii), colored pencils (amazing, I know), Christmas ornaments (who cannot use a particularly charming Christmas ornament?), socks with Christmas patterns on them (ditto — sister in law gift, in particular), and an already wrapped glass bowl my husband bought for a birthday gift and then did not give because it was in his luggage that was lost and not returned until after the birthday party was over (who knows?). I put them all in a basket, and I plan to give them away this time. For real.

  • We are in less trouble than I thought in terms of getting ready for the boys to go back to school. I was able to find the lists of required school supplies and then, much to my delight, stock everyone’s backpacks with supplies we already own. You’ll note that colored pencils are listed as “optional” on the supply list. That is because the school knows, just from sizing me up at the single parent event I have so far attended, that I am the sort of woman whose son might very well come to school with eighty-one colored pencils in his backback, enough to supply the sixth grade class with colored pencils basically forever.

  • I located each and every one of my sharpie multi-colored pens. And put them in a Moroccan tea glass. This makes me especially happy. I love sharpies, especially the thin kind and the colored kind. They make many marking jobs much easier. Not having them all in one place was the kind of thing that bugged me, and about which I could do absolutely nothing. Until now, that is. And that toast rack I bought in Paris a long time ago? It’s great for holding file folders.

  • Another daunting organizational issue that arose was what to do with the cards we give each other and other people give to us. I have never even been tempted to make those into some kind of craft project, thank you very much, so don’t even think about suggesting it. But we do like to look at the cards. The solution? I discovered that I own TWO one-hole punches. It was the work of an instant to punch holes in the cards and then put them on a binder ring, the kind that costs about .25 at your local stationery store. I did not have to buy one because I already own, like, fifteen of them, knowing they would be handy for something, just not realizing what or how much.

  • In a piece of book-related news, I discovered a $25 gift certificate to a bookstore in our neighborhood. I also realized I really want to read the new Richard Pevear translation of The Three Musketeers. And so, I got rid of that gift certificate and acquired one thing I really want to read and own. Beyond the one gift certificate (and a coupon entitling the bearer to one slice of pizza), I found no negotiable paper, no jewelry, no love letters. Oh well. I did find a place to put my computer. My desk.

And that’s it, organizing fiends. I’m done here.


28 thoughts on “Detritus. Gone.

  1. Congratulations! What an accomplishment. It was fun seeing the difference and also hearing what a difference getting rid of all that junk made in your life. My front porch used to be where everything migrated to and it used to drive my ex-husband crazy. Since my mother has a serious clutter problem, I’ve learned that when the bookshelf or drawer is full, I can’t bring anything new in unless I get rid of something. I love what you did with the cards–that’s a brilliant idea. Your home looks really lovely, by the way. I love the light in your attic office.

    I hope that one day we’ll see what you can do with those colored pencils. If you draw something related to a poem, there’s a website where such drawings are being collected and posted for fun:

  2. Hi Jana, I’d love to draw things and use those colored pencils, now that you mention it. Stuff is for using, as Ruth Kraus (she of “A Hole is To Dig” fame) would say. And this website looks like so much fun. xxoo, L

  3. I hold the title for Woman with The Most Colouring Pencils in the Southern Hemisphere (I do not dare even count them). I used to use them for colouring in materials for my students but now I’m taking care of the baby-o I don’t have much use for them. They are in a (huge) box with his name on, ready for him when he learns how to colour in (in however many years that will be).

    That is one cool pink thermos. What a lovely room. Do you go there to write?

  4. I’m with Helen in admiring your pink thermos – it’s gorgeous! And there is nothing more lovely than a bunch of freshly sharpened coloured pencils, just waiting. Well done on completing your project.

  5. Wow!!! Fantastic job! I’m sure you feel amazing after the accomplishment. It always feels so refreshing to get things in order. Sad how easy it is for them to get back out of order!

  6. This explains the period of silence here. I love the binder ring for the cards, I am going to do the same, thanks for the tip ! And you did a great job organizing this room.

  7. My dear comrades in the struggle against detritus, It is indeed lovely to have a real room to work in, and everyone is happy I’m not cluttering up the dining rom table any more. Now, I have to get back to novel writing, which is what should be happening up here more often. But I’d just like to say that the light isn’t quite that celestial, yak — I think it might have been the flash. And although the forces of detritus are generally stronger than those of order, at least for now, I’m a bit ahead. xxoo, BL

  8. Wow. That really is…a lot of colored pencils. I’d be hard pressed to find ONE in our home. What a great project! Our house is much less cluttered since I’ve changed spring cleaning into “change of seasons” cleaning…ever October, April, July and January I thoroughly clean, toss, organize, scrub, etc – as I followed your project I tried to think about what I could truly organize and go through and I actually think for the first in my thirty years I’m on top of the clutter. But reading your post kind of makes me wish I had some more, so I could go through the carthartic process of cleaning it out.
    Of course, please bear in mind, the above claim doesn’t hold to our garage. And I don’t yet have kids.

  9. Dear Lily,
    Here’s a link to an AOL featured article today about how your office reflects a lot of you, the person. (,4621,323650,00.html)
    Sort of a “duh” conclusion, and I usually don’t like articles like this, and it’s about a work office not a home office, but there is a comment about well sharpened pencils being connected to conscientious. I think the comments about self-identifiers in an office are interesting. Are your wall hangings messages for yourself or directed at others? I had some hypno-therapy for my messy office problem a couple years ago, but it didn’t work. So this is an important topic for me.
    Again, thanks for launching Messy Office Persons Anonymous. It’s helping.

  10. Courtney, I think you’re on to something with your quarterly clear ups! It’s good to have a rhythm to jobs like this. Smokey, thanks for that article. I hope you don’t mind that I just included the link, rather than the entire article — I think there’s some rule that you’re supposed to link to articles rather than cut and paste the whole thing, even though it’s much more efficient just to have the thing right there in front of you. It seems I’m only intermittently conscientious, which is accurate, I’d say.

  11. Fantastic! Phew, I feel like I lived through that one with you, bloglily! And you have much more interesting things amongst the junk than I ever find. It’s very clever to leave an incentive for cleaning up amongst the rubbish. I must remember to throw something thrilling into the spare room before I close the door on it next time…

  12. Uccellina, I’m guessing pink, of which I happen to have several shades. (I did so like your recent knitting project!) And yes indeed litlove, you could plant little treasures all over that room, or have someone do it while you’re sleeping. Books with nice covers, a gift certificate and … colored pencils? xxoo, BL

  13. Heavens, what a great office. I am covetous of everything from the windows to the colored pencils. Even better to hear about the gift card discovery – like a little reward from the Organizing Fairy, isn’t it?

  14. What a lovely room!! 🙂 I am trying to decide whether or not to get the new Dumas translation. You’ll have to let us know what you think! And I swear I have the same feather quill pen (and mine has a little jar of ink) that you have in that basket! My mom brought it back from Virginia just a week ago! I haven’t tried it out yet.

  15. I love all that airy white space you’ve got now! I just finished cleaning out my office– there was so much stuff that I’d been saving that I might be able to use one day, but all it did was make me feel burdened and obligated. I realized that some of it had already survived several other cleanings– that the only time, in fact, I ever touched it was when deliberating whether to throw it out. So I finally did.

    Love your solution with the cards. I hate to throw those away, too.

  16. Hi Ella, I’ve been admiring your clearing up efforts, as a matter of fact. (Those letters in your post were sweet.) Danielle, The Three Musketeers is really, really thick! I hadn’t expected that. But when I opened it, I saw why: it’s printed like a real story, with decent sized print and a lot of white space. So I expect the reading of it will be leisurely. I might even try it on my boys. (That feather quill pen looks like fun to use. I have some jars of ink, come to think of it, now that I’ve cleaned things up.)

    Welcome Kristin, Yes, I think you’re quite right: when the only thing an object does is act as a burden and an obligation, then out it should go. Now if only we could accomplish that with humans. Without getting into trouble, I mean.

  17. Cleaning one’s office is an endless task. Your feat is impressive; unfortunately, I am afraid you will have to muster such courage over and over again, unless you find a really good system to filter incoming stuff. As a rule, I do not allow anything in my office — which means that occasionally the odd book, or a really fine piece of stationery find their way through. Even this is too much and I still have to clean from time to time.
    This year, I have moved four times. Moving my office repeatedly was quite a stalinian purge, what with splitting my work-time between two places. I am beginning to believe I may soon reach my ultimate goal: a zero-stuff office. My office will be where my laptop is, with paper and pencil as backup when said laptop or associated wi-fi connection are unavailable.

    That way, I can make my dream come true: when it is finished, I want to use the room under the roof as my office (it should look like your splendid attic office, by the way), but I know it will have to be a spare bedroom for guests. With a zero-stuff office, It can be both.

  18. Yes, Ms. Mandarine, You are absolutely right — no one big clear out means a thing if you don’t have a filter for the detritus. Your stalinian purge sounds strict and, thus, very good. I cannot imagine having a zero stuff office — my own is sort of baroque — but I can imagine knowing what stuff must be kept, and kept in circulation, and having a home for each of those things and a way of keeping the unnecessary out.

  19. Hey, Bloglily, could you send me an email? I can’t find your email on here – anyway, I have some books that need a home, and I’m wondering if you’d like them. Let me know!

  20. LK — That pink thermos comes from right around the corner from us — Koreana Plaza at 25th & Telegraph, one of the most terrific houseware shops in the east bay. (There’s a really good Korean grocery store next door.)

    Edwin — Ah, I see you have a bit of … stuff…. in that room E!

    Sure Ella — books? You have arrived at the right place. xxoo, BL

  21. I love it — it’s made by a great San Francisco company called Timbuk2 and I’m pretty sure I ordered it from the apple website. (It’s a laptop bag and comes in a lot of colors.) And, best of all, not very expensive.

  22. How fabulous.

    I suspect that coloured pencils, in your case, don’t have a half-life so much as a double-life – the number doubles every five years.

    I’ve escaped the curse of the coloured pencils, but I have three jars for three different kinds of coloured pens, one for whiteboard markers, one for highlighters and one for gel pens. The only reason I don’t have a fourth jar for permanent markers is because I’ve only got one permanent marker and it sneaks in among the whiteboard markers, like a wolf in a nice wooly jumper.


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