Saturday, January 29, 2011


I've been steadily working through my stuff, purging and filing, working out my variation on David Allen's Getting Things Done system. I have boxes of stuff -- old letters, game designs, school papers -- I never unpacked from our 1983 move from Olympia to New Haven. And after that will come the great book purge: I plan to get rid of thousands of books. That is a rather daunting project too. But with the landmark of my 53rd year coming up -- a prime number, you know -- and with the recent experience of going through my father-in-law's stuff -- and with the kids grown -- well, this is end game, as far as stuff goes. A couple years ago I realized the name of the game was no longer acquiring stuff, and I consciously stopped doing it; I stopped buying books, for example. Now I'm committed to getting rid of it.

Or, more accurately, simply knowing what it is and whether it has any claim on me. I want no more surprises in my life. I want the edges of my commitments, particularly of my commitments to myself, to be sharp-edged and clear. The projects that aren't clearly to be done, or not to be done, must at least be clearly, and with an awake mind, put into a plainly marked “deferred” pile, and periodically reviewed to see whether they haven't slid over to the growing “not in this lifetime” pile.

I have never given Stuff its due, I think. Painfully, painfully, over the last few years, I've learned to clean the kitchen daily, and to keep my office / massage room in order. But I was a messy, disorganized kid and I've been a messy, disorganized adult. All my adult life I've had at least one room devoted to Stuff. At the old Milroy house in Olympia we called it “the Id”: it was the laundry room, but it was also where we threw stuff we didn't want to deal with. At our present house it's the basement. Don't know where it goes? Well, put it in the basement for now. “For now!” I want that phrase to vanish from my vocabulary. It means, I'm not willing to deal with it, but I'm not willing to let go of it. It means, it drops into the vague anxiety stratum, that noisome bilgewater under the planking of my mind, breeding pestilence.

Doesn't mean I have to deal with everything right away. Of course not: that's impossible. But it means knowing when I am going to deal with it. The Glomph is going into the basement? Fine. But it goes clearly labelled “Glomph,” and with calendar entry saying, “decide what to do about the Glomph in the basement.”

The thing is, every time you put a Glomph in the basement, you're making a half-hearted commitment to deal with it sometime later, and that commitment weighs on your spirit. That's David Allen's contention, a sort of 21st Century version of Feng Shui, and I think he's absolutely right. Stuff that is vaguely and indeterminately held is Stuff that eats at you, pilfers your energy.

But the present experience, although it feels liberating, is also deeply painful. What I'm doing, basically, is digging through a whole substrate of vague ambitions and half-hearted commitments, and renouncing them. Forty years' worth of them.

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