With only a few days remaining in 2020, it is time to turn to the inevitable task of thinking about New Year’s resolutions. At my house, it began a few weeks ago when a crew of workers arrived to change out the leaky windows in my study. The job would take a couple of days, they explained, and it would get pretty messy, so they recommended that I clear the surface of my desk completely.
The desk in question spans the entire eleven-foot wall against which it sits. At first glance, it appears to be well-organized. Magazines, folders, stacks of mail and current projects are all in Container Store-perfect containers. A tray full of “must-haves” — such as tape, a stapler, pencil sharpener, tape measure, three-hole punch, paper clips, pens, pencils and highlighters — sits to the side.
Although I’m a UCLA alumna, my husband’s oversized USC mug holds a few scissors, a letter opener, a nail file and, for some reason, a shoehorn. Inexplicably, a pewter planter filled with reading glasses has made its home on my desktop as well.
This miscellany is couched next to the phone, the label maker, a small TV with a remote and a selection of chargers and cable connectors, many of which are connected to nothing. Hidden towards the rear are four tzedakah boxes forming a small community of their own.
I filled my arms filled with my desktop detritus and made many trips from the study to an upstairs bathroom, the only unoccupied place I could find to store all of these items for the time being. It was only after I’d filled the counters, floor and bathtub that I concluded it might be wise to reevaluate each item’s purpose before returning anything back to the desktop.
Two weeks later, the repairs were completed, and the pristine, white desktop was ready to become a functioning workspace again. I started by bringing back essentials. Then, the process of elimination got underway.
I immediately tossed most of the eyeglasses into the donation box. I threw away the outdated to-do lists and all of the expired coupons and gift cards.
It was easy to discard invitations and programs of events that had already occurred.
But a dilemma began when I considered the small collection of Hebrew primers that I intended for self-tutorial when I retired in 2009. Nearly untouched for more than a decade, they still haven’t served their intended purpose, but should I not keep the embers of my intentions alive by keeping those books in sight?
What about throwing out ten years’ worth of calendars published by the Rhodes Historical Society? Long out of date, they are filled with photographs and Ladino sayings that feed my hunger for tapping into my Sephardic ancestry. Isn’t that worth a place on the desktop?
The basketful of greeting cards reminds me that friendships endure even when they sometimes seem to go underground. Notes from my husband, my sister, my daughters and my grandchildren reveal sentiments and feelings not often spoken aloud. Who could submit such treasures to the blades of a shredder? And if they are stored away in a box on the top shelf of a closet, will they ever see the light of day or bring a tear to my eye? Like a child clinging to her favorite stuffed toys, I want to keep these things close to me.
Like a child clinging to her favorite stuffed toys, I want to keep these things close to me.
Unexpectedly, after giving up the search, I finally found the recipe for Kaye Israel’s biscochos lodged between the pages of a folder containing the neighborhood roster, and I found financial statements buried underneath a stack of holiday catalogs. How, I asked myself in a pique of exasperation, did these things get there? Why is the Facilitator Training book for Resetting the Table in the same pile as the reading selection from last week’s havurah? And where are the notes for next week’s book discussion (which I need to work on right away)? These were among the dozens of things that began to overwhelm me as I approached the task of reorganizing my desk.
The effort to re-organize my desk continues, as does my struggle to pare it down to the essentials. Although I’m making progress, I know I’m hanging on to more things than I should. Among these are newspaper and magazine clippings that I once enjoyed and still refer to now and then. Notepads filled with gems gleaned from lectures, classes and books may still provide good source material for future projects. I’d better hold on to them.
Yes, much of this material could be found online or in my digital folders, but in this digital age, I remain a tactile person. Something still speaks to me about holding a piece of paper in my hands.
A recent addition to that collection of clippings is the New York Times review of a new book written by Lisa Woodruff, a professional home organizer, titled “The Paper Solution: What to Shred, What to Save, and How to Stop It From Taking Over Your Life.” It couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Some of us have a complicated relationship with paper,” Woodruff says in her book. She admits that she has been there. “Regret, grief, condemnation, judgment, stress, worry, hopelessness — these are all emotions I experienced in going through my own Big Purge,” she confesses. According to the review, Woodruff counsels “improvement, not perfection.” “Organizing is a form of giving ourselves grace,” she adds.
Ironically, cutting out Woodruff’s words of advice may have been a small detour in the completion of my own “Big Purge.” But I will want to read it again and be comforted by knowing that I am not alone as I imperfectly navigate the miscellany that links together the many facets of my existence.
Cleaning my desk was a task thrust upon me before the deadline for making New Year’s resolutions. But I know that as 2020 becomes 2021, the archaeological tell of items that grows on my desk will regenerate. The stacks of papers will rise again, surprise mementos will creep back into view and the empty spaces will inevitably disappear. As long as I can find what I need most of the time, I’ve decided that it’s okay for now.
I have come to terms with the fact that having a desktop that qualifies for an Architectural Digest centerfold might be a goal for someone, but it is not something I will ever achieve. Here’s the thing: Living with the flotsam and jetsam of my life at my fingertips reminds me of the opportunities, responsibilities and accomplishments of yesterday, and keeps me apace with the exigencies of today and anticipation of tomorrow.
The photographers from Architectural Digest will probably not be coming around any time soon, but, who knows, the magazine editors of Current Archaeology might just come knocking at my door.
Rochelle Ginsburg, educator, facilitates book group discussions for adult readers.