Monday, November 22, 2010


I'm tossing again.

Back when I first started claiming home office expenses related to my writing on my income tax, I had a lightbulb moment of why my house was so cluttered. In order to claim expenses, you have to provide what proportion of your home office is of your total heated square footage, right?

So I did. And I was aghast to find out that my heated square footage was about 1, 100 square feet. No wonder I was walking around piles of stuff with no home. I joked with The Husband that I had 3,300 square feet of junk crammed in 1,100 square feet.

Maybe we don't have quite 3,300 square feet of junk, but we have way too much stuff for such a little house. So since then, I've been going through spells of decluttering, with the hope of one day getting down to a Zen-like bareness.

To that end, I checked out a book from the library called IT'S ALL TOO MUCH, by my hero of decluttering, Peter Walsh, the guy from CLEAN SWEEP.

It's more of the same message -- you can't put three cubic feet of junk into one cubic foot of space -- but I like the way Walsh puts it. Sometimes I'm so dense that I have to hear the same message in about a million different permutations before it really sinks in.

His big push is that form should follow function. A person or family should decide what the mission is for a particular space, and then subtract out everything that doesn't promote that mission.

It was so basic and fundamental a principle that I put the book down and tackled the top of my bureau, a no-man's land of stuff that didn't really have a home. And I thought, as I did it, about life and writing.

Why is it that we tolerate so much clutter in our lives -- not just real, physical clutter, but "issue-type" clutter? We tip-toe around it and make what my mom used to refer to as "pig-paths" around the heaps. We can't do A because someone's feelings might get hurt, and we can't accomplish B until we accomplish A. We need X, but first we have to stop doing Y, just so we'll have the money or the time or the space for it.

Same thing in writing: it was such a lightbulb moment, a better way to look at it than the "kill your darlings" old saw that writing teachers always talk about. Instead of looking at your darlings, or as Peter Walsh calls clutter, your stuff, look at what you want to accomplish. What's keeping you from it?

So hopefully from now on, as I'm writing a scene or a chapter or a book, I can look at the purpose of a scene, the mission of it. What's that purpose? What am I hoping to accomplish? What do I need to get rid of to make that path clear?

In the meantime, I am back on the tossing wagon at home, so if you're hanging around my house, consider yourselves ordered to duck!


Linda G. said...

Great analogy. Getting rid of the writing "clutter" is sometimes just as hard as tossing the real stuff.

Donna Hosie said...

De-cluttering is such a great stress buster. I'm a bit of a neat freak and so every so often I will grab a garbage bag and fill it.

And the world is calm once more!

Meghan Ward said...

I LOVE decluttering! I need to do it more often, though, because I collect junk faster than I get rid of it. That's the problem with having little kids. Too much stuff! And I love those books on decluttering. I'll have to check that one out.

Anonymous said...

I can't have clutter in my house because I'm obsessive compulsive about it. If I see trash or something that should be put up, that's all I can think about...

Right now I'm in the process of "decluttering my book. :]

Jessica Lemmon said...

I'm learning this writing lesson the way I learn most lessons - by doing it all wrong the first (four) times. haha!

I love the book "Organizing from the Inside Out" by Julie Morganstern. There is a very organizy little monster lurking inside this creative body - and every great-so-often, she comes out and does things like clean out the junk drawer... and plot turning points.



This was a very helpful post, as I'm trying to figure out myself the mechanics of deducting home office space. I love the analogy, as it seems clutter is on its way out, according to our current minimalist zeitgeist. I do love creative chaos, though. Thanks for the post--enjoyed reading it!