Uncluttering Life

This morning I spent a couple of hours uncluttering my office: I
thinned the bookshelves, pulling out the books I’m no longer using to
pass along to someone else. I sorted through the piles on top of my
desk–my current writing projects–and filed some papers, set some aside to go to
the recycling bin, and generally reacquainted myself with the work I have in progress. I dusted the shelves and vacuumed the
polished cement floor, rearranged pictures and cleaned and organized my totems, favorite pieces of art, rocks, leaves, pressed flowers, and other objects
I collect to inspire me and remind me of why I write.

After an hour and some of sorting, purging, and cleaning, I ended up with two canvas bags crammed with books for to the local library’s used book sale. I freed
enough space to re-shelve all of the books piled in front of or on top of other books, except for a few
oversized volumes. I collected a six-inch-tall pile of paper for recycling,
and could actually see whole areas of the top of my desk.


(That’s the bookshelf and file cabinet wall of my small office in the photo above, looking much tidier than when I began. The top shelf is my brag shelf, displaying the books I’ve written and the anthologies that include my writing.)

I also ended up with a clearer mind.

Since Richard and I moved home from our sojourn in the land of brain cancer radiation treatment–Has it only been a week and a half?–I’ve been struggling to regain a healthy working rhythm. While we were away, life was simpler in some ways. My main focus was caring for Richard and helping him stay as healthy as possible–physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Beyond that, my energy went into taking care of me, which means doing yoga every day, taking walks, and writing the words of my heart and spirit. I had left the to-do list, the obligations, the everyday worries at home. It wasn’t hard to stay grounded and steady.

In the transition back home though, I somehow lost that cancer-cloister serenity. My life is suddenly cluttered by worries and obligations and to-dos. I worry about money. (Back to the real world.) I’m overwhelmed by trying to balance work, house, husband, and community. My to-do list seems endless: writing assignments, consulting, workshops to plan, a keynote speech coming up, presentations, schedules, bills, the house, yard and garden, friends, family….

This morning though, as I purged and dusted and organized my work space, I felt myself settle. With the clutter cleared away, I could see anew the life and work I’ve built in the treasures I’ve surrounded myself with: The books by authors I return to again and again because their words uplift, amuse, soothe and challenge me.


The momentos, like the pressed gentian flowers picked on a summer high-country drive, the stones collected with Richard as we walked an Oregon beach, the photos of family and friends, and the art, including a linocut by friend and neighbor Sherrie York, the broadsheet of writer Terry Tempest Williams’ words, and my desk, built by none other than my sculptor husband. (That’s a detail of the under-desk drawer fronts above. The square pegs are tenons attaching the drawer sides to the ash fronts.)

I was smiling by the time I finished, the worry no longer fretting at my mind. (It’s hard to hold onto a good fret when you’re faced with Myth and Whimsy, below, the two stuffed dragons in sparkling gold and purple lamé who guard my desk.)

When I get into worry mode–usually worry-about-money mode, I invariably clutter up both my mind and my time chasing opportunities for immediate pay and forgoing the opportunity to find work that’s more rewarding in the long-term (both monetarily and to my spirit). I know that’s what I do, I see myself giving away my time, crowding my schedule with commitments that may bring in a few bucks, but don’t feed my soul. But I can’t help starting down that path. When I finally come to, realize where I am, recollect my true direction and get my life and work on track, I think more clearly, feel more deeply, and write more compellingly. I do my best work–until I clutch, take the wrong turn, and start chasing money again. 

I guess writing is always a journey of
faith. Sometimes I allow myself to tense up with fear and I can’t quite discern my way. I blunder about, stumble, or race in circles. When I realize I’ve gone wrong, I stop, collect myself, and start anew.

Just as today I uncluttered my shelves, dusted my office, and in the doing, remembered what it is that I love about my work. Why I write: To think, to dream, to share my love of life, to light the darkness that lurks around the edges of this world. Writing is my way of living with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand. (Thank you, singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter!)

Put simply: Writing is how I love this world.


(Here are a few more of my treasures: a storyteller turtle figurine by Choctaw sculptor Randall
Chitto, a dreamy glass paperweight of jellies drifting around a
coral-reef, a Zuni pueblo bear with a brilliant turquoise spirit line, a miniature polished Santa Ana Pueblo pot holding a freshwater clam shell. The sandstone shelf they sit on, running the length of one wall
of my office, is one of Richard’s functional sculptures. Yes, I know that I
am lucky.)