Weeding through the Clutter

Thanks to my anonymous Facebook Friend for this perfect picture of clutter.  Or is it?


I weeded through four years of my life one recent afternoon. Some folks might call it clutter. I called it memories. Or souvenirs.

It took me three hours to get four years of photocopied journal articles (copied beneath that omnipresent sign about copyright law), error-filled carbon copies of various papers I’d written, correspondence I once thought worthy of saving — thousands of pages in all — into a recycle bin.

I read each one before I tossed it, of course. Or decided to keep it. Or set it aside to read later. That’s what took so long: I had to make a decision with each individual paper. The word “overwhelming” somehow doesn’t quite capture the moment.

My office was getting a new floor and the filing cabinets had to be moved. Their sheer weight told me the time had come.

This was not my first stab at throwing out old papers, old letters, old evidence of a past life I still dimly recall. Each time, my hands quickly got dirty, my back eventually hurt, and my brain felt like it had gone through some spin-dry cycle hours after I’d said, “enough.”

I last wandered through these TWANLOVs (Things Which Are No Longer Of Value) ten years ago, a year before Woody and I left for Peace Corps. I was selling my three-story house in Philadelphia and moving to our little cabin in Virginia where we’d roost until our departure. That’s when most of the books went. But the papers were harder, more personal maybe. So I packed them up and put them in storage.


with thanks to loonyhiker via Flickr


When I moved my office to a spare bedroom last year, I knew I needed to weed through those old boxes. Instead I bought file cabinets and tucked them into a closet, out of sight. But Monday the room was getting a new floor. So Sunday, I dove in.

I had once been so certain there was someone, somewhere who would love to have my photocopy of The Theory of Modern Political Thought, even if it was written in 1962. I had all but four of its chapters. That person, however, is now out of luck. This was the year it got tossed. As did the complete Attribution of Responsibility literature, circa 1959 to 1980, that I used to write my masters thesis. Really. Every article written on the subject of how we determine if someone is responsible was once in one of those four file drawers.

Now I have only some of them.

Most of these papers once guided me toward a coveted Ph.D.  For years I assumed I’d pick up that trail some day. But while I’ve given up that particular path (I think), I found I still had reason to hang onto the remaining drawers: my grandchildren or (ideally) my great-grandchildren, in the days and weeks following my ever-so-tasteful memorial service, will want to wade through them.

In this futuristic version of The Bridges of Madison County — where Meryl Streep’s children find her journals and so begins the story — my grandchildren (or the ideal greats) are eagerly diving into my file drawers, giddy to find golden nuggets of Grandma.  Or maybe they find something so deliciously interesting, at least one of them decides to get a Ph.D. in sociology. I would have launched them.
Yes, I do enjoy my dreams.

Four years of my life were once stored in a four-drawer file cabinet in the closet of my office. Now, only three remain full and they’re going to the basement. I suppose I could have done a better job. Maybe in another ten years I’ll weed out a bit more, perhaps not. I have to leave something for those (great) grandkids to wade through.


Look at all that empty space where the file drawers once stood.


What TWANLOVs are stored away in your closet?  Do you know what dreams keep them there?
Do you struggle with clutter? What stories do you tell yourself about your clutter?

How would you feel floating on the ceiling watching your offspring sort through what you’ve left behind for them to sort through?

I’ve told you my story. I invite you to tell me yours. And, if you’d like me to tell you my sure-fire cure for reducing clutter, just let me know. Better yet, tell me yours.


21 Responses

  1. Diana Beebe
    | Reply

    TWANLOV–I’ve never heard that before. I love it! I have plenty of TWANLOV in two different closests. It’s time for me to declutter, but I’m a “collector” of things I might need or will need to put in a scrapbook…someday.

    • Janet
      | Reply

      Hi Diana,
      Yes. I’d never heard of them either. My husband came up with it at lunch on Sunday, when I was surveying what lay ahead of me. It works, I think. The scrapbook plan. Ah yes; that’s a good one. Thanks so much for dropping in.

  2. Frank
    | Reply

    Janet, I admire your gumption to tackle your files and envy your energy that enabled you to do it. In my case I think I’ve reached that stage of life or particular age where both my body and my clutter have achieved entropy.

    • Janet
      | Reply

      Hey Frank. How fun to see you here again. You made me smile with the entropy comment. Thank you for that. Woody and I are leaving here tomorrow, should arrive on Friday sometime. We’ll be in Accomack next Thursday. Hope we can see you. So glad you “stopped by” again. I love seeing friendly faces.

  3. Pauline Baird Jones
    | Reply

    I have letters and such that my sister and my mom wrote to me–but they stop about the time we all got email. It’s kind of sad. I tried to save the emails, printed out some, but finally gave that up. My grandparents had letters and journals, not sure what my descendents will have. Oh wow, they will probably judge me by my novels. Whoops. LOL!

    • Janet
      | Reply

      Oh, letters deserve their own special place, don’t they. When my grandmother died I inherited a suitcase filled with the letters that I had written her from age five? seven? I still have them, in the original suitcase, in another closet in the same office. Someday I’ll read through them again. Maybe.

      As for email, well, that’s a whole other post. I chuckle envisioning your (great?) grandkids smiling (are they giggling?) as they read through Grandma’s novels.

      • Pauline Baird Jones
        | Reply

        Or the grandkids could be flinching. LOL! Not sure how I’d have felt about my grandma’s writing novels when I was young. Now I’d think it was cool. LOL One of my grandmothers loved writing personal histories. Did hers, her husband and her son who died in WWII.

  4. Lynn Kelley
    | Reply

    Hi Janet!
    Yahoo! This is the first blog I’ve entered my new WP site on. I wasn’t planning on having the blog up and running yet, but thanks to Jennifer, I was able to figure out how to import my Blogger posts. So how cool to officially have a working WP blog!

    Clutter? I think I’m the Queen of Clutter since we moved a year ago on New Year’s Eve, downsized from a 5 bedroom house to an apartment. I’m still not unpacked. Your photo looks like our extra room. I’ve been overwhelmed with clutter this past year. Babysitting full time for my grandbaby leaves me short on energy at the end of the day, so not much gets done around here. It’s been driving me bananas all this time, so I still don’t have that settled in feeling. But we’re making progress and will get there one of these days.

    You must be a speed reader to be able to read a couple thousand papers in three hours. Amazing! Yay for you getting all that done. Feels so good, huh?

    Your blog looks great, and your Peace Corps experience sounds fascinating. Your photos in the slideshow are awesome!

    • Janet
      | Reply

      Hey, Lynn. Thanks for swinging by. I’m honored to be first. I followed your Blogger-to-WP saga via my phone all day and was greatly entertained. It’s a great group. FYI, I didn’t have to read each complete article; just had to read the beginning. But there were so many beginnings. And each one brought back a specific memory. I think that was the more exhausting part. When do you cut off a memory? So glad you stopped by.

  5. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Wow, Janet is this post ever an inspiration to me! I love the term, TWANLOV and will keep it in mind as I forge ahead with my own de-cluttering process. I know it will take a lot of discipline to part with items I have deemed invaluable but what a feeling to clear out and start fresh. Thanks for the prompt!

    • Janet
      | Reply

      Hi Kathy, Thanks for stopping by. Wish I could offer you a cup of tea, then we could talk more about how we each decide what’s ready to go, and what needs to stay. I have often felt a sense of freedom and exhilaration in letting go. This time I’m still waiting for the feeling of relief to kick in. Curious.

  6. Pat
    | Reply

    This post inspired me to write my own post about clutter! Thank you!

    • Janet
      | Reply

      I’m so glad. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Jolene Navarro
    | Reply

    Going through old papers is uplifting and draining at the same time. My sisters and I recently received a box of my parent’s things out of nowhere. We got together to go through the old photos, papers and journals. I was so excited about the journals; they ended up being my dad’s flight logs and weather charts. (he was a pilot and rancher) Seeing his handwriting was very emotional and even though there was not any personal information in them, they had been what was important to his life (he died 16 yrs ago at 49 in a bi-wing plane crash). We didn’t know what to do with them. None of us had the heart to through them out. My oldest nephew took one of the flight logs (He is training to be a pilot) SO we took what we wanted and put the box in the garage and told my brother-in-law if the box disappeared that would be ok. We just could not be the ones to throw them out.
    Reading your post I realize have some friend pages on FB that have now become memorials. You can scroll through their pages and see what was important enough to them to post. Some were very young so they will always be “still in school” on their profile. Is that the way our great grandchildren will find us?
    Jeez, I think I have a beginning of a new post. 😉 Thanks for sharing.

  8. Jolene Navarro
    | Reply

    Wow sorry I got so long. o_O

  9. Janet
    | Reply

    Thank you, Jolene. I always enjoy hearing what you have to say. Thanks for dropping by.

  10. KM Huber
    | Reply

    Hi, Janet!

    Your post reminded me of how I weeded through 40 years of clutter just a mere 2.5 years ago. Once I got started, it wasn’t that bad but I still have too many books but to give you some perspective, I moved from a three-bedroom home to a small, one-bedroom apartment, and I have more books than furniture, which suits.

    Am really enjoying your blog posts.


    • Janet
      | Reply

      Hi Karen, I know the feeling. I gave away car loads of books when we were getting ready for Peace Corps, books that I’d had since high school. I thought of many of them as old friends, remembered where I was when I bought them, how many times I’d read each, which course it was connected with, and so forth. Of course, the “best friends” I kept. I wonder if the children growing up today will be able to say the same, Ereaders being what they are (and I have one and love it, I will admit). So glad you stopped by, Karen.

  11. […] week my focus is my office. Once again. One of my very first blog posts, Weeding Through the Clutter, walked us through an earlier sorting of office stuff, motivated in part by getting a new office […]

  12. Janet S Morrison
    | Reply

    I’ve always struggled with clutter. Most days the clutter wins. It’s overwhelming. When I have enough energy to deal with clutter, I usually choose to use that energy to do something I want to do — like writing, reading, or sleeping. My main motivation against clutter at my age is the thought that I really shouldn’t leave my clutter behind for someone else to have to deal with when I’m gone. But there’s always tomorrow… or next week to worry about it.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Janet. It is a constant challenge, isn’t it. I try to remember how energizing it has felt in past years when I’ve done it, how much lighter I feel, physically. Not always enough, but it’s where my head goes when I start feeling overwhelmed by it all. Good luck. And, I suppose, as long as you know where everything is . . . . 🙂

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