Now’s the time to clean up! Easy for me to say, right? A few months ago I invested in the services of a personal organizer and it was some of the best money I’ve ever spent. One thing I realized is that cleaning up, at least for me, is much more than just shifting papers around. It was saying goodbye to finished and unfinished projects, making peace with parts of my life that are over, and finding hope in what’s around the corner. That’s a lot to contend with when you’re trying to find room for stuff, but that’s exactly what happened.
The other thing I realized, which at first was hard for me to believe, is that to clean up in a meaningful way means that you must handle and examine every sheet of paper before you can decide what to do with it. Every single piece of paper must have contact with your eyes, then your brain and even your heart. The hard ones are the scraps of history that you can’t bear to part with and have been mysteriously holding you back. If you then place them in the recycling pile or feed it through the shredder, it’s finally gone. Poof! No more. But this is time consuming and so it’s essential that you periodically schedule time to sift through what grows and grows. I should know. Just three feet from me is a pile of papers and files nearly one foot high. Okay, it’s higher, but who’s looking besides me?
Of course that’s the problem and one of the reasons I struggle with clearing surfaces. My first response is to look away. It’s just too awful, I think. Attacking the pile feels like doing a week’s worth of laundry. But then I conjure up the presence of my personal organizer, Colleen. And I imagine all the questions she asked and the directives she gave and that inspires me to get my act together. It’s important to get rid of the stuff you don’t need. It may just be paper, but it’s baggage that just takes up space—the space you can see and also space in your mind. When we worry about something too much a friend might instruct us to let it go. I’ve heard the phrase, "It’s taking up way too much psychic real estate." As new age as that may sound I like the meaning behind it. It’s actually a good excuse to let things go and that’s basically what you’re doing when you begin to discard what’s never going to be needed.
Once you’ve cleared all this stuff out of your office you can more clearly concentrate on the task at hand. I knew when Colleen came to visit that we’d be doing some serious inventory. But instead of putting things away she helped me understand why it was okay to let some things go. It didn’t mean I was a failure. Getting rid of something didn’t even suggest that a certain part of my work life was over; I could always make a return trip.