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Peterson: Home office clutter can’t be ignored much longer

Published: Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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I’m accumulating clutter, and I don’t know what to do with it.

I have more than 2,000 emails that are knocking around in my inboxes on my home account, and I don’t even want to think about the backlog of saved emails on my work account. We have a Middle Room at home, which is set up as, gulp, an office, and I haven’t touched the clutter all summer.

I’d rather not call it an office because that implies too much. The Middle Room is vague, yet accurate; it is the middle room, after all. It is loaded with a desktop computer, books, and so many files that I cannot keep track of them.

And I have textbooks and articles and papers scattered about. The top of the desk, as opposed to the desktop, is covered with papers to be filed, pens, markers, a thermometer and items too numerous to mention.

What I need to do is dive in and do a clean sweep on this, my day off. Fat chance.

In the garage, in what serves as an attic, I have a couple of large plastic totes that are filled with letters from many years past when I was a youngster. The only time I have looked at them is when I have condensed artifacts of my life from five to three to two totes. Now, I am at the bare essentials of my past.

I haven’t looked at them in years, but I can’t stand the thought of throwing them out. They tell the story of my early life, and I picture myself someday reading the letters when I have spare time. And I really doubt that will ever happen. It’s been 30 or 40 years since I’ve looked at them, and what’s another 20 years?

Are there thousands of letters? No, I doubt that. Maybe hundreds.

But in two years’ time, I have kept knocking around in my email inboxes an accumulating number of old emails. I’m afraid if I delete one – or a thousand – I will instantly need it, but it will have been permanently deleted from the system. It asks that question: Do you want to permanently delete this item from your files? Permanently?

There is such a finality to it. It will be gone forever, and it may be a sentiment that I one day will need to lift my spirits or rekindle the past accurately.

I am not getting any notices from my email provider that I have too much in storage, and my computer does not seem particularly slow because of all the email taking up space, so I take the path of least resistance and do nothing.

But the fact is, probably 95 percent of it is unadulterated junk that serves no purpose. Five percent might be real correspondence from real people, and I’d hate to get rid of that. But it is time consuming to delete that 95 percent, but I need to do it.

In the computer, it is out of sight and out of mind. I can easily ignore the email clutter.

But I can’t so easily ignore the clutter in the Middle Room, where the mess is there for one and all to see. Rather than fight it, I work around it. This morning, I took a shoebox from the Middle Room and put it with the recycling. That was a start. Really, it was. The box had been there for more than three months. Just in case.

But summer is almost over, and I need to do something before the walls begin to close in on me as fall and winter approach and the days shorten. I need to have a clear head, and a clear room, for those short days low on sunlight. I bought a tote for green hanging files to begin to organize the mess of the Middle Room a couple of months ago, but it has sat empty and untouched.

Today, I promise myself that I will begin to fill that tote with files and begin to organize the Middle Room. I will give myself a couple of hours. I will file miscellaneous papers, probably never to find them again because my filing system is inadequate. There’s no sense to it, for the most part.

Out of sight, out of mind does not work for the Middle Room because I walk past it several times a day, every once in a while sticking my head in and shaking it. Certainly, there is a way to organize it. The computer files are strictly out of sight and out of mind. But the Middle Room is a sight, and it makes my eyes sore.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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