CLEANING THE ATTIC #15: Paper Chase

Someone told me years ago that 90% of the clutter in our homes is reading material.

After working on my studio purge, I believe it.

I am a readaholic. Too bad there’s no 12-step program for me. But I’m beginning to see the light.

Being a readaholic is connected to having packat-itis. Whatever mode we use to collect information, that’s a cue to what we hoard. Whatever gives us inspiration, that’s another cue.

Great insights, all. But the simple fact is….

I simply have way, way, way too much reading material in here!

First there’s paperwork. Experts claim we only use 20% of the papers we think we need to keep “just in case”. So we can safely ditch the other 80%. But how to decide??

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but whenever you read expert advice about organizing your paperwork, the first thing they tell is to keep seven years’ worth of records in case you’re ever audited by the IRS.

That…is a lot of paperwork.

And that’s exactly the kind of boring paperwork I’d love to chuck. If I have to keep stuff, I’d rather it were stuff I like to look at…

Can you say “internet banking”? Or “Quickbooks?” Okay, you still have to keep paper records or be absolutely sure you always back up your computer files. I have a sad story to tell about that, and no, it wasn’t my fault. Another time.

I have one solution that works really well, especially if you have to clean a pile in a hurry. You put all your important papers in big grocery bags or boxes. Set them aside (preferably out of sight, like in a closet or under a desk) for oh, six months to a year.

Then, when you have a few hours to spare, pull them out and sort through them. (Tip: This works even better if you leave it long enough to totally forget you even have it.)

I guarantee you’ll throw most of them away. (This wonderful cleaning tip comes from my mother. Blame her.)

Okay, you might find a few papers that will make you slap your forehead and go, “Ohmigod, that’s where that form went!!” So maybe you should pull out the bills, show applications, etc., the papers you know you need to deal with–and put all the “maybe’s”, “we’ll see’s” and “oh geez” ones in those aforementioned bags.

It’s amazing how those “maybe” things just don’t seem so compelling six months later.

Next are the catalogs. I am a catalog queen. I love catalogs. But I realized there are really only half a dozen or so I need to refer to regularly. And with so many companies now offering online ordering, I only need to keep the ones that are really informative and fun to read. I threw out all the others.

Another professional insight: Years ago, I considered sending buyers my catalog on a CD. I hesitated, because I wasn’t sure how easy it would be for them to actually use it. In my purge, I found one company had sent me a CD of their catalog. I looked at the date. Sure enough, I hadn’t looked at it once in three years. So substituting a CD doesn’t work as an alternative to a really good paper catalog.

Then there are the magazines….where do I start? I have given away hundreds of magazines in the last few weeks. I quickly skimmed many of the trade publications to see if there was anything that begged to be kept. There were a few. But the rest got passed on to other artists. (My home and lifestyle magazines were donated to various waiting rooms across town, including the emergency room at our local hospital, and to Freecycle. Thank you, gentle readers and fellow Freecylers, for the great suggestions!)

Books. Ahhhh….books.

If you’ve been reading this series all along, you know we’ve already purged well over a thousand books from our attics, hallways, bookshelves and living room. I’ve even managed to move on a few cookbooks.

It got harder in my studio. Hey, they’re all such great books! How-to (make jewelry, dye wool, solder silver, succeed in business) books. Books about art. Books about how to make art. Books about what to do when you hit a rut and you aren’t making art anymore. Clip-art books so you can use someone else’s art. Books about African, Japanese, Native American and prehistoric art. Books about bugs, sea shells, rocks, textiles, dolls and beads. Books that I intend to alter. Books for cutting up to decorate the books I intend to alter. And books that teach techniques for doing this. Even books that feature projects I wrote for making….books.

I have to pull the box-and-stuff-it-in-the-attic thing for a lot of these. It’s just too hard to ask “stay-or-go”.

But it’s actually getting easier as I go along. I have quite a pile of really cool art books that just aren’t for me anymore. Hopefully, some lucky visitor to my Open Studio will go home with one (or several!) instead.

The short story is this: I looked at everything and asked myself:

Do I LOVE this book/magazine/catalog? Does it continue to excite me and inspire me?

Or are those designs and projects now ho-hum?

Does it inform me?

Or can I get the same information quickly and easily on the internet?

Is it still useful to me? Am I really going to make that project, use that image, try that recipe, read that again to get that one little insight again?

Or is that moment over for good?

It’s surprising how quick and simple the answer usually is. And if it’s not, well, I just set the item aside to go upstairs for awhile. Maybe when I check again, the answer will be more clear.

It’s easier to let go of a title these days. Even if I find I have to own that book again, I can always buy another copy. It used to be really hard, and sometimes expensive, to find a specific book. But with today’s powerful search engines, and great resources like BookFinder, you need never go bookless again.

It helps, too, when I think about writing my next book. This is all in service to that worthy goal.

I’ve recycled most of this paper stuff. It’s either getting passed on, sold or put in the recycling bin.

A new book is still a delicious treat, a new magazine is a cheap and quick fix. Nothing like it. Some women buy a new lipstick, I buy a new magazine.

And when I am researching an idea, I love to immerse myself in all the possibilities. It works for me.

But I think I’m going reacquaint myself with our local library, too.

Um….you’ll forget everything I said about cutting down on books when it’s time for you to buy mine, right?

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2 Comments

Filed under action steps, art, cleaning the studio, life, recycling, writing

2 responses to “CLEANING THE ATTIC #15: Paper Chase

  1. On the same topic – my new downfall is “hoarding” stuff to read online. There is soooo much fascinating, interesting, useful information available. I don’t want to miss a single blog or newsletter. Don’t even get me started on Twitter!

    I’m sure I’ll find the right balance to information overload. I seem to ebb and flow where I unsubscribe from a bunch of stuff . . . then slowly subscribe to more over time. And so it goes.

    My In Box is overflowing (even though I have a multitude of mailbox folders to keep things organized). I literally have to force myself away from the computer and get back to the art.

    I’m an anti-clutter organizing freak so I’ve really enjoyed this series, Luann. Thank you for writing it.

  2. you have no idea how much I need your words echoing in my head as I’m attempting this cleaning/organizing/purging not only in my own house where three very creatives live – but also at my parents as my beloved packrat dad just died last month. I’ve inherited all those wonderful genes and am trying to help my mom get some clarity in her new alone space. you can read about my adventures at http://1eyedmonkee.wordpress.com/. I stopped this morning thinking I was going to get at my own blog – stopped to read you first and will probably just try to get some work done first. thank you, I think!! HA!

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