Ten Reasons My Home Is Starting Look To Like The Collyer Brothers' — Help!

I love clutter
At least this guy even has a desk...Image by sindesign via Flickr

Whatever happened to the paperless world? I know, I know, some of you are 1000000% digital and every single piece of crucial data — from your pet or child’s next/last vaccination to every checking account entry — is digitized.

I wish.

I have been home from vacation (the word “vacate” is key here, as in vacating the premises) for one week and am already drowning once more in *&%$@#! paper: 1099 tax forms, old letters and cards, income statements, magazines, catalogs, theatrical and musical and academic direct mail pieces, bills, the book manuscript I’m working on, article ideas, newspaper and magazine clippings for my book and article ideas, recipes.

This, in addition (!) to the bloody bags and boxes of more of this paper in the garage and storage lockers. Yes, plural. Cringe.

As my partner says, in his doom-and-gloom broadcast voice: “Police tried to rescue an elderly couple today, but were barely able to gain entrance to find their emaciated bodies because the door was blocked by mounds of paper.” Yup, pretty Collyer-esque.

We’re not elderly yet, but the paper monster is really starting to fray my nerves. With so many of us now working from home, it all sounds so cool. No commute. Clutter! Not everyone has a 3,000 square foot home with multiple rooms, one of which you can simply fill up with crap and never have to look at.

A flame-thrower? An organizational maven who will charge me a LOT of money, so much it will really hurt? I am not, I swear, a hoarder. (Am I?)

Here’s why I’m drowning in paper — and will happily take practical suggestions to get rid of it all:

1) I’m working on, at all times, probably six+ projects at once, both current and future. That’s probably not very many, but each of them comes with paperwork somehow attached.

2) I read, a lot. I get behind in my reading, hence multiple — current count, three — stacks of unread magazines 2+ feet high.

3) I want ready reference to visuals and ideas; see, stacks of magazines, close at hand.

4) I live and work in a shared one-bedroom apartment whose five closets are filled with clothing, linens and household goods. There is very little storage space for all this bloody paper, which is why I try — hello, Augean stables! — to get rid as much of it as quickly as I can. Today I found my tax returns from 2003. Do I still need them? Time to check with the accountant.

5) I have yet to find a way to data-mine and efficiently store all the ideas, sources and contacts I come across in even one month, any one of which might prove useful to my future work.

6) Cleaning up and deciding what to do with all this crap takes hours. Every hour cleaning up crap is an hour I am not, as someone wholly self-employed, earning income. Ergo, cleaning up = lost wages.

7) Cleaning up and organizing is booooooooring. It never ends. There’s always more of it to do. My role model, totally, is Gustav Klimt, a man who really knew how to handle his mail — it’s said he saved it up in batches, unopened, and simply burned it. He might never have gotten anything decent out of his studio if he’d  wasted his precious time with all those envelopes and their dreary contents.

8) I love to travel and to plan future trips. Much of the material that helps me think about it is in paper form: maps, books, articles.

9) Ambivalence. Do I really want to take a watercolor class or see that Broadway show? Out of sight, out of mind. What if I change my mind?

10) Sentiment. I don’t, in any way, need to keep old cards from my Mom or sweetie, but I do. I value them and those memories.

Is anyone else out there struggling with this? Solutions?

8 thoughts on “Ten Reasons My Home Is Starting Look To Like The Collyer Brothers' — Help!

  1. inmyhumbleopinion

    Get a scanner and an external hard drive, in case your computer crashes. Easier to do electronic back-ups with an external hard-drive than remembering to insert a USB drive for back-up. (I’ve learned this the hard way.) Hire a student intern for a week or two to clean up the backlog of scanning and tagging, then you can conduct searches on the computer rather than keep hard copies. As for the lost wages argument, I’d calendar one to two hours per week for scanning/filing, once the backlog has been cleaned up. Consider it overhead and charge your clients, accordingly, to make your desired profit.

  2. Caitlin Kelly

    imho, thanks.

    But, she whined — even more machines?!

    The reality is that some of this, and maybe I am doomed, is I have to get away from the computer. I cannot spend my life chained to a screen and a machine. Unlike many others who live like this and love it, I feel I will truly lose my marbles, posture and eyesight if I spend every single minute staring at a screen.

    If not, I’ll be printing out hard copies….paper.

    1. inmyhumbleopinion

      Sorry for the late reply to this. OK, so if you’re screen averse, then get the intern to set up a bullet-proof analog filing system for you. Just be prepared to have all the file cabinets take over your apartment… 🙂

  3. dalina

    I can’t offer any advice because I too am a paper junkie. Diego has everything scanned and labeled as I struggle with growing stacks of clips, notes and post-its. (In my defense, I keep piles of paper surrounding the desk are organized by topic or subject.) I’m trying to keep it clean because we won’t be in this house much longer and I’d really hate packing much more of it.

  4. I recently moved. I had been in that space for 13 years, which is a dangerous thing. I’m not much of a pack rat and in fact, I am congenitally tidy. However, there were these cubbies in that apartment, high up, with doors that closed. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew what was there, but was still shocked when I unearthed several large boxes full of letters, cards, mementos from my early 20’s. Turns out that my college buddies and I were prolific. Just an insane amount of letters — old fashioned paper letters.

    I was overwhelmed. Finally, I decided to keep all the letters. But I tossed all the cards that were simply signed, without a longer note attached. Even that was difficult, but they are now all in one plastic storage tub, saved for posterity, so that if one of my college pals becomes really famous, some day one of her biographers will find a cache of letters written to me to help in his/her research.

    See, these are things I think about.

  5. Caitlin Kelly

    Jody, I agree. I find these things compelling. Not all of them, of course, but I really wonder what memories any of us will have 20 years from now if all we have are pixels and emails.

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