Measuring Our Lives

Some people (okay, me) love to label things, measure, weigh and calculate statistics.  We measure the moon cycles, the seasons, the years.  We label them with names and dates and numbers and tick them off in days, hours and seconds.

Without fail, a number of us (okay, me again) take stock of things on or around that day labeled New Year’s.  We reset the annual chronometer to 01/01 (and in this case 01/01/11, rather cool, eh?), and we can’t resist the thought of starting fresh.  We eagerly usher in a new year that makes us (yeah, me again) giddy with possibility and positivity.

Of course, to achieve true giddiness, we need to cast off any negativity that weighted us down in 2010. Like those unwanted extra pounds we gained at the holidays, little things tend to accumulate around our homes over time. It happens so slowly, they become invisible to us.

I first became aware of this phenomenon when I went through a five-year period in my life where I moved seven times.  Nothing like packing up my entire life annually (or more) to make me realize all the unnecessary clutter I’d gathered.  I couldn’t even tell you where half the stuff came from.  I just knew I wasn’t packing and moving it so I could unpack it and try to figure out what to do with it.

I haven’t moved since 2006 (thankfully), but I haven’t forgotten the lessons I learned during “the mobile years.”  I now use New Year’s as my excuse to cull, donate, toss and destroy the numerous things I find in my home in an attempt to also cut loose the old year’s invisible negativity.  Lighter-minded and more centered, I approach the new year ready to soar with all my goals and resolutions.

I’ll quickly outline my process for any who may wish to try this one day.

1.  I tell everyone I know not to have expectations of me on New Year’s Day.  It’s my day.

2.  I buy a bottle of nice wine, a baguette, brie cheese, some almonds and a little fruit.  I also splurge on a couple bottles of Fiji water so I feel really pampered.

3.  After turning on the stereo system, I start the day in my home office, usually by mid-morning with a pot of coffee and a box of trash bags.

4.  I clear everything off my desk—actually, off of every surface.  Nothing goes back onto a surface unless it’s absolutely vital.  This includes the desk lamp, the computer and the phone. I then argue with the cats about whether the cat bed on my desk is absolutely vital.

5.  Historically, having lost the argument with the cats, the cat bed goes back on the desk.  About now, I open the bottle of wine.

6.  I clean out my filing cabinet.  This has files of bills from the past year, insurance documents, paycheck stubs, and lots of other things.  I go through file by file and pull anything that isn’t necessary.  Water bill from March 2010?  Shredder.  Privacy Notification mailer from I don’t even remember who?  Paper recycling.  Homeowner Assoc. Letter with gate codes from July 2010?  Shredder.  You get the idea.

7.  I clean out every drawer in the office.  Oy, this includes tossing the bottle of dried up white out from 2006 (the one I couldn’t bring myself to pitch the last four years), cutting up expired credit cards, reviewing five versions of an unsold manuscript and asking whether I’m ever going to really write that book on the revision process.  I find birthday cards from last year—most I toss, but a few I may file (now that there’s room in the filing cabinet).  If I haven’t done so already, I start nibbling bread and cheese.

8.  I work through the office closet.  This means reviewing the binders and tossing old calendars, planning sheets, info from conferences, old magazines, and reminding myself of the sewing projects I have stuffed in there.

9.  I cull through my books.  Anything here to donate to the annual library sale?

10.  I redo my bulletin board with fresh pictures, quotes, and my 2011 goals.

At the end of the day (and it’s usually a long day because of the reminiscence factor), I have a (mostly) empty bottle of wine, a (mostly) full bag of trash, a bag (or more) of shredded paper, a bag (or more) of books to donate, and a cleaner, more organized closet, drawers and filing cabinet.

I feel loads lighter.  While I hadn’t noticed most of this clutter for months, it had slowly been growing in my office, like vines or weeds choking the roots of my concentration until my work had slowed to a standstill.

I feel centered because I’ve reviewed much of what I’ve done. I’ve taken time to look at things and decide what’s important and what’s not.  What should be archived and what should be thrown away and what should be shredded beyond recognition.

This has become my New Year’s ritual, and I look forward to it with fervor by the time Thanksgiving rolls around every year.  Being the type of person who tends to hold onto to things, it’s important for me to, at least once a year, openly battle my pack-rat tendencies. This year’s I-better-keep-that-just-in-case could very possibly be next year’s what-the-heck-am-I-keeping-that-for?

And I’m doubly giddy this year. Because it’s a full holiday weekend, I plan to take January 2nd and clean out my clothes closet, too!

Confession time: are you a “collector?” (i.e. Pack-rat?) Are you a believer in the concepts of Feng Shui? Are you organized by nature, or do you get overwhelmed when things start to pile up?

About Amy Atwell

Amy Atwell is a storyteller at heart. After fifteen years in professional theater, she turned from the stage to the page to write contemporary capers and historical tales that combine romance and adventure. Her books are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. When not writing, she runs the online author communities WritingGIAM and Author E.M.S.
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24 Responses to Measuring Our Lives

  1. Tonya Kappes says:

    Amy, GREAT post!! I do clean out my office, BUT I’ve never done it on January 1st!! Great idea and I think I MUST still it. Happy New Year! May 2011 be the best writing year yet 😉

  2. Amy Atwell says:

    Morning, Tonya! I’m happy to share the idea and the fun. I started doing it because I worked retail, and New Year’s was a) a day off and b) after a busy holiday season when I hadn’t filed any papers for two months. LOL But now it’s a big purging day, and I feel loads better at the end of it. Hope you find it helpful!

  3. Berinn says:

    Awesome post, Amy. Your new year’s tradition sounds so refreshing, so fulfilling! I’m one who gets overwhelmed as things pile up, but it seems like lately that pile has been winning (it doesn’t help that my husband is a pack rat). 🙂 After the first of the year, I plan to conquer it – one room at a time.
    Happy New Year!

    • Amy Atwell says:

      Berinn, thanks for stopping by. Hope my list is inspiring. And you have the right idea–divide and conquer. Like goes with like. If you haven’t used it, lose it. (I have a lot of these catchy phrases.) And don’t be surprised if you have to create chaos to restore order. It’s all part of the process. (Wine helps.)

  4. Cynthia Eden says:

    I am such a collector. Sigh. I think I’m going to try and follow your list this year!

    • Amy Atwell says:

      Hi, Cynthia! Yes, follow the list. If you have a cat, be sure to include him/her. Cats don’t like change. Mine take it as a personal affront when I deep clean the office.

  5. Edie Ramer says:

    Amy, your idea of a good way to spend New Year’s Day is my nightmare. lol I do that stuff when I’m forced to do it. I’ve very, very bad and could use someone like you in my life to take care of it. That person isn’t my husband, who’s as bad as I am.

    I’m not a collector. I do get rid of stuff every once in a while, and I admit it does feel good. I get that same good feeling when I’ve cut an unnecessary scene in my book.

    • Amy Atwell says:

      Edie, I used to avoid this stuff, but the more often I do it, the less time it takes. And I agree–it’s much like cutting an unnecessary scene. I feel “the flow” of things works so much better afterward! LOL Enjoy your new year’s!

  6. Angi Morgan says:

    The hubby gets two weeks at the end of the year (almost every year)…and we almost always finish projects, clean, shred, make new lists. But the BahHumBug hit and we’ve been totally screwed this season with “super colds” and larengytis. Unfortunately at different times. HE was sick. Now I AM sick.

    So proud of you Amy. Enjoy your DOUBLE SHREDDING weekend. Glad I don’t fight a cat for desk space…but honestly, my desk is free of clutter under it, because I’ve had a dog sleeping there for 12 years. LOL

    HAPPY NEW YEAR and here’s a toast to everyone that 2011 be prosperous & great!

    • Amy Atwell says:

      Angi, so sorry to hear you and your hubby have been so sick! It’s an awful way to spend the holidays. Here’s wishing you good health and much joy in the new year. And maybe the dog will cut you some slack and give you use of your desk soon, too.

  7. LaDonna says:

    Amy, for once I think I’m going to follow a similiar plan. I think my “stuff” has taken over my office, and I do feel the clutter up there some days. Wierd how that works. Of course, I do have all the Christmas packing stuff sprawled up there, waiting for the tree to go down. I usually keep everything up till New Years.

    I do love the new corkboard visuals on your list too. Every new year, there’s a freshness blowing through our lives. Nice when you can capture that. 🙂

    • Amy Atwell says:

      LaDonna, I don’t pretend to know anything about feng shui (except I looked it up to confirm I was spelling it correctly), but when I skimmed the info on it, it talks about clearing away clutter so your mind and body can breathe. Fresh air is important. Light and fresh visuals are important, too. My bulletin board helps focus me. I’ve got my goals list on it, plus the many inspirational pix and quotes to help keep me going.

      Good luck with packing away the holidays. I skipped the Christmas decorations this year, so I saved myself a little time there. Just have two strands of lights to put away!

  8. Dale Mayer says:

    Hi Amy,

    I have almost always done a complete top to bottom house cleaning, including closets, drawers, under beds etc. I’ve been trying to back off of being so nazi about it and have eased back slightly. This year, I received a new desk from one of my sons and that meant literally tearing apart my living room and finally collecting all my ‘office’ from every corner in the house. It’s been a great experience as I went through – are you ready? – 2 cases of floppy drives!!! Yes, they do still exist although as my son just bought a new computer for himself, I had to do it NOW because his old computer was the only one left with a floppy drive.

    I have to admit, the whole bottle of wine thing sounds like a great addition. I do tend to put on strong loud music and rock my way through the work!

    As always – best wishes for a happy day and an unbelievably happy 2011!


    • Amy Atwell says:

      LOL, Dale–two cases of floppy discs? Like you, we only have one computer left that can attempt to read that sort of media. It took me a week in Mac forums to find someone to tell me how to network two Macs on very different operating systems so I could copy the files over. But I did it. Saved all my early drafts of work from 2000-2005 onto my latest computer.

      Technology changes is another reason to do this kind of cleaning. Honestly, I’m now eyeing every video cassette in the house. At the moment, we still have a VCR that can play them, but it’s not going to run forever… I’m picturing beautiful, clean, empty shelves (before the cats claim them as new sleeping places). Happy New Year to you!

  9. Jill James says:

    I am an organizer by marriage. Not much choice when you are married to Mr. Clean. Sometimes he cleans so much that we have to go buy stuff he got rid of. A few years ago he got tired of the coffee maker, so out it went. This year he says, “Wow, I wish we had a coffee maker.” So we bought a new one. LOL

    I get overwhelmed by clutter sometimes and I totally have a meltdown. “Everything must go.” hahaha I like the idea of starting the new year with a clean office.

    • Amy Atwell says:

      Jill, I like the description of “organizer by marriage.” I suspect I do a bit of that to my spouse. Honestly, I had a collection of toys as a kid and by age 10 I had them card catalogued…

      Moving made the whole process painful and easy. It was timebound. The movers were coming and we had to make split-second decisions: keep or toss? I now approach the office annually with that same fatalism. LOL

  10. infinitieh says:

    Yep, pack-rat here. I’m not organized but I do know where things are, as long as I have seen whatever it is in the last year or so (and no one has moved anything). Still, I’m going to spend a day organizing for the new year like you do. At least then I’ll see everything and, if not filed, at least I’ll know where everything is for the next year.

    • Amy Atwell says:

      Infinitieh–that’s the spirit! LOL Truly, I know some people don’t want to part with things, but it does us no good if we can’t find what we buried. Every year I find “lost treasures.” One year, it was two photos from college stuck in a book. One year it was a ring (I think the cat stole it, then rolled it under the bookcase). Here’s hoping you find something magical that makes the organizing worthwhile!

  11. Liz Kreger says:

    Geez, is it that time of year again? The “get rid of that junk” time. You’re far more ruthless than I am. Being paranoid, I tend to keep paid bills and receipts for at least two years before shredding. I’m always convinced that someone will accuse me of missing a payment on something.

    As far as clutter, my office is pitiful. I’m still trying to finish the renovations that began over a year ago. I’m totally determined to get it done within the next three months … come hell or high water.

    You’re truly an inspiration.

  12. Dale Mayer says:

    Lol – we just switched up all our DVDs to an electronic system for the tv and terabyte hard drives. There hasn’t been a video cassette in my house for years, now there won’t be any CDs either!


  13. Oh, Amy, you are my hero 😛 . I want to do this on Saturday!! I definitely fall into the “collector” category and probably need to reserve a date to toss and shred clutter once every season, not just at the start of the year — so I love your idea. And I especially loved the way you phrased it as a way to “cut loose the old year’s invisible negativity”… Fabulous post!!

  14. Amy, I hate clutter, my husband, he’s convinced we’ll need whatever it is I want to throw out and wish we hadn’t gotten rid of it. I’m winning, though 🙂 Have a fantastic New Year!

  15. Amy: That sounds like an amazing day! I’m fairly organized myself and I don’t too attached to keeping stuff (even though my husband wants to keep every single piece of homework or art that our kids make) so I do this about once a month. Not a whole day but an afternoon – otherwise I get twitchy with all the stuff lying around.

    Great post!

  16. Carrie Lofty says:

    I generally don’t worry about decluttering or cleaning at this time of year, because I’m too focused on my big goals for the year. I love the potential in a new calendar. So much to barrel through and make awesome 🙂

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