Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Confessions Of A Packrat

April 29, 2002

I have a confession to make. I collect paper. Too much paper. I justify this activity on the basis that I might need it someday. The only problem is I've forgotten that I have it. If I remember I have it, I can't find it. The truth is that since I can't find it or don't use it, I must not need it.

Some of my most frustrating moments have come looking for things I need and can't find. Many hours have been wasted, believe me.

Junk or treasure? Every once in a while I go on a massive organizing binge and clear out the junk. I end up keeping most of it as treasures to be filed and organized only to have them disappear in the new messes that quickly accumulate.

A friend of mine gave me his pet indexing system for creating a non-duplicating set of files. I lost it. Daytime planners are a mystery I can't solve. The top of my desk holds many secrets.

I feel really good after cleaning it up but give me a few days and the mess magically re-appears. My problem is I don't put things back or I don't file them in the first place. Clutter coupled with procrastination makes for frantic moments as deadlines loom.

I shared my weakness with a friend and he labeled it a form of greed. Wow, did that make me stop and think!

It is easy to recognize clutter in someone else's life. To me it's junk and to them it's treasure. Clutter isn't only possessions but time consuming activities also.

Here are some examples of ways our lives become cluttered:

- Too many goals or not enough clarity of purpose. There is a trap in chasing other people's goals instead of your own. Our lives can suffer from time clutter by too many obligations that interfere with our own basic goals and values.

- Too much information. In the world of the Internet and mass communications, we can drown in information overload. Only focus and discipline can save us from too much time in front of the keyboard.

- Too much collecting or pursuit of a passionate hobby. Fill in your own favorite obsession. Having an all-consuming hobby shuts out other important priorities.

- Too much work and not enough play. Or vice-versa. "To turn our whole life into a holiday is not only ridiculous, but destroys pleasure instead of increasing it." -Saville

- Having too many possessions or ambitions that consume life. In his book,

"The Gulag Archipelago," Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, traveling as a prisoner, overhears the petty and trivial concerns of his fellow train passengers who have their freedom. "And how can you bring it home to them? By an inspiration? By a vision? By a dream? Brothers! People! Why has life been given to you? What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want I'll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue that which is illusory -- property and position: All that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade...

"Rub you eyes and purify your heart - and prize above all else in the world those who love you and would wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger ..."

- Too much sports or reading about sports. "Dwell not too long upon sports, for as they refresh a man that is weary, so they weary a man who is refreshed." - Fuller

- Too many amusements and entertainment. "Amusements are to religion like breezes of air to flame - gentle ones will fan it, but strong ones will put it out." - David Thomas

Clutter can be...

- a way to cover up pain;

- a way of avoiding God, spiritually or coming to terms with mortality;

- a way of not being in control of your life;

- a way we allow out time or resources to be used that doesn't lead to real happiness.

Getting rid of clutter. Starting at the top and organizing new piles doesn't do it. That much I've figured out. Starting with a good indexing system and being disciplined about keeping up with it does help.

We need a good indexing system or software filter for our lives. We need to deal with the basics - the essential ingredients for our happiness. It is sorting through the things we need. It is putting first things first.

If we study our lives, our use of time, our work, our ambitions, our habits and our affiliations, we will spot the clutter. "Passion cost me too much to bestow it on every trifle." -T. Adam

In a world rich with goals, stimulation, amusements, diversions, information and interesting obsessions, it is easy to get lost in a cluttered path that leads nowhere.

"Men spend their lives in service of their passions, instead of employing their passions in the service of their life." - Steele

We give our lives to that which we give our time. The greatest gift we can bestow is the gift of our attention. What is worthy of so great a gift? In the sum total, eventually it will be the gift of our life. It is a gift not to be frivolously bestowed or lost in clutter.