Clutter Bulimia

We’re getting ready to have a large spring sale at the bookstore where I work. Selected titles will be discounted 30% — and “selected” means close to a fourth of our current inventory, so there are some real treasures to be found there. We’re trying to reduce our inventory level in anticipation of remodeling the book department, hopefully before the Christmas rush kick in six months from now.

Cleaning is not my long suit. I’m a packrat and a magpie, I love to fill my life with interesting books, magazines, CDs, and trinkets of various sorts. The end result is a chaos of clutter. Normally I just tolerate it, but I get antsy about the clutter when I get busy — and these days I’m very busy, between practicing the bass, writing a book, this blog and the forthcoming CCEL book group, and of course my job and family life. Yee haw! Ironically, it’s when I’m busy that I feel the urge to clear the clutter: when life is more relaxed (and I have more time to work on cleaning), I’m more tolerant of the mess.

There’s a link between creativity and disorder that I never fully understood until one day in the mid 1990s when my printer was on the fritz and I had a job that needed to get done in a hurry, and so I went over to a friend’s house to use hers. She is a prominent full-time artist here in Atlanta — she’s a college art professor and has had numerous showings and public installations — and she lives in a converted warehouse in the city that now functions as both her living space and her studio. When I went to see her and use her computer, I literally had to push piles of papers, books, etc. away from her desk just to see her Mac, let alone use it! Indeed, her entire office was a sea of clutter. Here was one of Atlanta’s most successful artists, and her work space was if anything in greater disarray than mine. It was a moment of profound liberation. At the risk of sounding Nietzchean, I came to the realization that artists have an entirely different relationship to the question of cleanliness and neatness than do ‘ordinary’ mortals. I started paying attention, and have noticed again and again how people who are high-functioning in the world of creativity often seem to be hopeless in the Martha Stewart department. It’s rather amusing.

But I’ve also come to see that I’ve got clutter bulimia: once in a while I have to stop everything and go on a binge of throwing things out, listing books for sale on Half.com, and generally trying to impose some small modicum of order on my pulsating clutter. It’s always a satisfying purge when it happens, and invariably I settle back into a more relaxed period of letting the piles grow, mold-like, pretty much everywhere in the house.

I can feel one of those turns coming on. Hey, it is time for spring cleaning.

Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
Mysticism and the Divine Feminine: An Interview with Mirabai Starr
Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • http://http.//www.virtualteahouse.com Beth

    Hi Carl–
    Reading your blog backwards, I think this post was made before you knew that your house had been broken into? At any rate, it was an interesting juxtaposition to this post–you felt a purge coming…but you didn’t expect it at the hand of ‘the other’?

    Thanks for writing about your experience with this–

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Yes, I wrote this the morning I was hit, so, literally within a few hours before our uninvited guest came to call and helped himself to many of our most resellable belongings. The irony of it does not escape me! Needless to say, our spring cleaning has taken on a new urgency: not only are we clearing clutter, but we’re also clearing out negative energy, feelings of vulnerability or victimization etc.