Papers and books and notepads. Two laptops and a printer and all the cables and chargers that go with electronic stuff. A box full of old gift textbooks that probably need to go to a better home (or recycling, because they are Pluto’s-orbit away from what we use at school and no one else wants them.) Reference materials that moved to my office over the summer because of work on “my” classroom. Stacks of teaching DVDs. Desk toys and a life-sized stuffed-animal lemur. The desk itself has stacks of books that I use to elevate the laptops to eye-level, and the necessary adapters as well. Behind those? Reference books, and three pigeon-holes full of back-up drives, blank CD/DVDs, stationary stuff, bills and other paperwork. Beside the desk? More books that need to go elsewhere, including a box of books to give away.
Not dirt, but clutter. So on Sunday morning, when I felt overwhelmed and frustrated because a second party hadn’t gotten something done yet, and something I had been looking forward to got postponed yet again, I started attacking paper stacks. I got the pile on top of the printer riffed and sorted, and the mess on top of the cat platform coerced into order. Already I felt better.
After worship, I tackled two overflowing boxes of financial documents, sorting and reorganizing. One of those will go into storage, along with five years of tax binders and folders. (I keep ten years of documentation, just in case.) I cleaned out two of the cubbies on the desk. The books still need to be rearranged and in some cases shelved. In other cases, they will go back to Day Job next week, after I get furniture relocated and book shelves wrestled into their proper positions. I found a piece of fancy candy that I was given as a gift in Schwäbisch Gmund, Germany.
There’s a lot of truth to Admiral McRaven’s advice “Make your bed,” and Jordan Peterson’s “Clean your room.” Clutter eventually leads to chaos and irritation, even if it is necessary and semi-organized clutter. We can only tolerate a certain amount of chaos. How much varies from person to person, but we all have our limits. I hit mine. I can’t do much about the chaos outside of my office. I can straighten, sort, and dispose of what is no longer needed. I can organize the DVDs and books. I can made a decision about the box of textbooks. The two cat beds will stay, but stacked in a corner out of the way.
I make my bed every morning, and straighten my bedroom. The office has been ignored for too long, even though I spend a lot more time—aware and looking at things—there than in the bedroom. Do I need day-planners from 2015-16? Probably not. Various holiday cards? Yes, those can stay because they will get sent out this fall.
Order out of chaos, at least for a little while. One small pocket of control in a large world that seems to be going crazier than usual. The world has always been chaotic, and always will be. But we need refuges of order, of self-discipline and control. For all the jokes about Marines thriving on chaos because they created it, they created it. We can also create a small, ordered space for ourselves, even if it is a closet or the downstairs washroom. Too much rigidity and order stifles. Too much chaos overwhelms and leaves us feeling helpless.
The balance is a tidier office and a comfortable but not show-place home. And a calmer, happier person. Some days, “I got rid of two stacks of papers and moved the cat bed out of the flow of traffic” is a great accomplishment, one to look at with satisfaction. Other days you can do much, much more.