My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Sat, 21 Jan, 2006

Culling the clutter

I've lived in my current apartment now for about 14 years. That is a long time to live in one place, at least in the United States. In those 14 years I have filled just about every space in this dwelling with stuff. Mostly this is books, magazines, papers, and other media storage devices such as CD's, DVD's, videos, and ancient vinyl records. I have a large amount of "archival papers," some of which I keep due to tax requirements and others which I keep either for art records or sentimental value. I have printouts of computer designs I did in 1992, printed on an HP PaintJet printer which left my possession thirteen years ago. I don't believe in putting everything on vulnerable computer hard drives or discs; paper is simpler and often more durable.

When I moved into the apartment in 1992, it seemed to be brimming with space, wonderful white space which I would surely never fill up. But over the years, the bookcases have multiplied and populated all those spaces; the big walk-in closets are full of things which I cannot get rid of due to various inexorable reasons. Spaces which I hoped would not have to be filled, are now filled. Everywhere I turn, there is stuff. And my workspace for flat work such as cutting mats is now reduced to a single surface, about 20 by 30 inches. That's the only open space left, and even that's often covered with papers, bills, art sketches, or junk mail.

In the winter, I'm confined within these walls when I'm not at work. Nowhere is there rest for the eyes. Where could I find any space? I must at least thin the shelves out. Cull the books, just as you would cull a herd of deer, nice things that you just have too damn much of. How do you decide which book will go? The usual way is to remember whether you have used it or even opened it in the last five years. Some dust-covered volumes on my shelves do not pass this test. Another way, regarding picture books, is for me to consider whether I will use the images on the pages as models for art. If not, then it's time to cull. But if I love the pictures just for their own sake, then it stays.

I want to find good homes for everything I remove. This means not just books, but articles of clothing, accessories, appliances, even unused art materials. I believe that there is a rightful destination for everything that is still in working order; I just have to find it. An upscale used book store takes the better books; a humbler store takes the lesser ones. I even culled a large, redundant physics book. CDs, even those of avant-garde or just plain bad music, can be traded in at a nearby used-CD store, strategically located under an ice-cream parlor. Unused clothing, fabric, or costume items go to my friends who make fantasy costumes. I handed no-longer-used kitchenware to a friend who was able to re-distribute it to people on an online sharing list. Other things, meant for discarding rather than giving, go to the recycle bins.

But no matter how many cluttery things I cull, there is no change in the overcomplicated texture of my dwelling space. Nothing so far has brought back the restful whiteness of an unoccupied stretch of wall or floor. I am forced to entertain the terrifying fantasy of moving to larger quarters. The thought of moving to a larger space reproaches me. Couldn't stop buying things, could I? Aren't you supposed to have bought everything you would ever need, by the time you were fifty? Haven't read all the ones you already have, right? Live with the clutter, then. I couldn't afford larger quarters anyway, especially in the neighborhood I live in. Clutter is a failure of "spirituality,"…holy un-materialistic types live in austere, uncluttered cells.

Every object that leaves my house, then, is a blessing. I rejoice in the departure of a trash bag full of old magazines. The opening of a single square foot of space on a shelf is cause for celebration. It's even more satisfying when I find a perfect home for an item I no longer need. But the process will always fail under normal conditions, because in my weakness I continue to acquire new things. There is no attractive force more powerful than an empty space on a bookshelf.

Posted at 3:53 am | link

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