Sometimes it pays off to be a COH, grand-daughter of self-affirmed packrats, and from a family of collectors. Today I was advising a student about types of assessment he can expect will studying in Switzerland, and as I pulled out a file from a history course I took in 2001, I caught sight of printouts from my research that year in France. Low and behold, I had kept all of the hard-copies from programs I attended and that happen to be relevant to a paper I’m writing right now. I was convinced that I would never be able to verify the historical point I was trying to make in the paper, and suddenly references are in front of me dated 15 October 2001. Thank you to whichever ancestor who also taught me how to file things.
Tag Archives: organize
Chained to my computer today while I revise an article under a tight deadline and desperate for distractions, I just had an epiphany about my research. I have been working on the concept of hoarded memory of the Algerian War for a few years already and I’ve been overwhelmed with the sheer volume of testimonial and pictorial debris I have to sift through. Often it is one author who produces an excessive number of volumes about his or her past.
Why does it only occur to me now that I have been trained for this my whole life? I am trying to make sense out of that layered, piled up story of a traumatic past, just like I have always been sifting through my dad’s stuff to reorder it, to pare it down, to make it accessible to those who live with him. There is some good stuff in his metaphorical curio cabinet, but it is getting destroyed and obscured as more is layered upon it.
A couple of months ago, I thought it would be smart to buy a very cheap printer/scanner to be able to print out a few pictures here and there for S. who is having an increasing number of school projects. The machine is total crap, but it is allowing me at least start on one project I’ve put off for many years.
I began journalling at the age of 10 with very insightful entries like “Dear Diary, Today I went to school.” I still have that journal. In the back of my mind, I always thought one day it might help my child to have my journals so they could know whatever they are going through is not so unknown. That was pretty presumptive on my part. S. would probably read my journals and say, “OMG TMI!”
In any case, I moved all of these notebooks here to Australia and I’ve decided that I might be able to digitize them. I’m glancing at pages here and there and sort of cracking up at my 1993 version of myself: very religious, very dramatic, very in love with my first serious boyfriend at university. I should dump the journals completely, but for some reason I can’t let go. Those notebooks were sometimes a lifeline to me. Writing has always helped me untangle very complicated and painful knots and has offered solace when there was none from the humans in my life. Sometimes I think I should publish them as a journey, but no one would want to read the thousands of pages of crap about my daily life – not even me, really. So here the pages go, into the computer, one by one, to maybe never come out again. At least another shelf will be clear.
My paternal grandmother died of cancer when I was 8. I inherited her sewing kit which I have faithfully moved around with me and constantly used and added to over the years. It’s here now in Australia and I opened it yesterday to add my newer sewing resources. It was in disarray. How did this knot get there? It’s like the little ends of thread from all the bobbins and spools worked their way together when no one was looking. The only way out of it was to break off several strands of this now very antique and newly hip thread on real wooden spools. A metaphor of my attachment to things: collected to preserve and rendered useless.
I set about organising the box yesterday as I realised I was not honouring my grandmother’s memory very well by holding on to the debris she left inside. I emptied the box, entirely, for the first time ever. I laid out the pieces. S. watched, asking questions, as she rummaged through my other inherited items looking for treasures she could play with. I dusted the box, discarded some items, but could not part with some of the most hilariously useless things. Captioned photography of the excavation below.
I went through a psychiatric evaluation during graduate school at my primary care physician’s request. He was certain I was depressed; I said I was not. Now that I’m in a much happier place, I wonder about my ability to assess. That aside, the psychiatrist spent a good amount of time trying to assess if I had OCD. I like my belongings to be kept a certain way, even when they’re messy. The psychiatrist concluded I had been through a lot but that I was not depressed or riddled with other psychiatric illnesses. She did say we could continue treatment if I would like to deal with my anxiety. I declined.
Last night I commented to D. that I’m really having trouble with my desire to have things in a certain place, but it’s all confined to our sleeping space. I have been getting up 2 to 3 times from bed each night to readjust the curtains. There’s a logic to the madness: I don’t want the sun to come in through the gaps. But still, I should be able to rest without worrying if there’s a wee little crack of light coming in at 4:30 a.m.
This has had me thinking about my HP and his odd but apparently characteristic fear of germs and contamination. At the worst point in my life with him, he would stand by the dish drainer and inspect each dish washed, handing me back each item with an invisible speck. More than once he demanded I rewash every dish because I had left them too long in the drying rack. He believed we would get dysentery if the dishes were not immediately dried. The house, when my brother and I lived with him, was immaculate. Any sight of lint on the carpet was cause for yelling. We spent endless hours cleaning the house during our summer vacations. Bathroom grout was scrubbed with a toothbrush until it glistened, floors were always perfectly vacuumed, preferably with the lines showing the path, drawers were neatly ordered. Our own rooms, as I previously blogged, were somewhat more liberally organized but still regularly inspected. I still make my daughter’s bed with “hospital corners” while my own is pleasantly rumply with a duvet that doesn’t require tucking.
My concern is that I’m starting to grip a little tightly to the patterns and now S. also wants things a certain way. She breaks down into tears when her socks won’t pull up just right from toe to heel. Am I passing on a neurotic behavior, or is it engrained in the genes?
Oh Ikea, it’s always all about you. How could we survive without accumulating your gadgets to make our clutter go away? I have to admit, though, that I have a soft spot for organized hoarders. Maybe it’s because my father is on that path with his alphabetized and chronologically ordered crap. Maybe because it’s the kind of hoarder I would aspire to be.
I’m reading the Q&A on Randy Frost and Gail Steketee’s recent book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (see amazon.com), and the following explains perfectly my own struggle with stuff.
Q: What factors contribute to the development of hoarding?
A: People who hoard often have deficits in the way they process information. For example, they are often highly distractible and show symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These symptoms make is [sic] difficult for them to concentrate on a task without being diverted by other things.
Most of us live our lives categorically. We put our possessions into categories and use those organizing systems to store and retrieve them easily. But categorization is difficult for people who hoard. Their lives seem to be organized visually and spatially. The electricity bill might go on the five-foot-high pile of papers in the living room, to keep it in sight as a reminder to pay the bill. Hoarders try to keep life organized by remembering where that bill is located. When they need to find it, they search their memory for the place it was last seen. Instead of relying on a system of categories, where one only has to remember where the entire group of objects is located, each object seems to have its own category. This makes finding things very difficult once a critical mass of possessions has been accumulated.
How many times have I started to sort only to get distracted by the first object I found? And then I spatially move around to the next object, and the next, rearranging without really decluttering. Fortunately for me and my loved ones, I’ve been able to learn a more efficient system over the years. Above all, I value efficiency. But I also wonder if part of the help has come in the form of electronic storage. All of those papers are now somewhere stored and shuffled about on my hard drive.
I woke up in the midst of a long complicated dream this morning. Someone, a relative, had died. I was supposed to help a young woman (perhaps a cousin?) go through the house and prepare it for sale. After the real estate agent had been through the house, we set to work removing damaged Christmas decorations from the garage. Apparently the mother of the family had committed suicide, but we couldn’t work out why she had been preparing for Christmas if she was not planning to be around.
The garage was not filled to the brim (unlike the photo here), and we could walk around in it unencumbered, but there were various fishing rods and tackle, about 15 bicycles lined up, bags of Christmas decorations, and so on. Everything was very neatly organized in rows or tacked up on the walls. The sadness weighing on the house was clear as I tried to strip away the things that made it ugly. While I felt separated from the stuff, each object had specific memory engrained in it. But the hoarders had abandoned the collected things, and no one was home to guard it.
This is a picture of my workspace and this is the cleanest it has been in a year. We’ve been away, and I cleared it off the best I could for our house sitters. In general, I keep my desk neatly organized, but I never realized I might have an issue with my stuff until I completely cleared off the desk in my office about two years ago, and my heart started to race. To me, it looked like I hadn’t been doing anything. Instead of feeling organized, I felt completely lost and somewhat panicked. It felt like getting back to work would just take more time, because I’d have to find my things all over again.
My “things,” and I know they are just things, are categorized neatly in my mind. About two weeks ago friends of a friend lost their belongings in a fire. I’m the same size as the mother of this family and volunteered to donate some of my nicer clothes that I have been hanging on to but know I will never wear again. Problem was, we were away and had been gone already for about 4 weeks. Nevermind that … I had my friend call me from my house and I walked her through three different rooms and told her exactly what she could and could not take.
All my stuff is there in my mind, easily accessible. I know where it is, and I pride myself in knowing it. I can even tell you the exact moment in my life when I decided it was important to me to know where my things were. I know where I was standing and what I was doing although I was not more than seven years old at the time. But that’s just it – my stuff is my stuff and I know where it is. The box of things gone missing in a move 9 years ago bothers me just as much as a blouse left in a hotel in August, and these missing things nag at me, seeming important, even though I can obviously live without them. My mind has monumentalized them. Absent markers of my past.
This is my shelf, filled with “important” items that I almost never touch, but constantly look at. It’s organized, everything in its place, and there is obviously still clear floor in front of it. But the more I look at my clutter that comforts me, the more I can see that it creeps and has to be tamed back. It is a constant effort to sift through, weed, delete, gift items, donate clothing, sort, shuffle, move. I do this mostly at my minimalist husband’s gentle urging or example, but also sometimes out of my own need for neatness and my wish to be unhinged from this stuff. I live very well without it when I’m away, but it is so comforting to have it in front of me, at arm’s reach, tangible. It’s not just in my memory, it is in front of me as a reminder.