November 12th, 2006
Earlier this year, an amazing professional organizer named Agnes came into my entropic apartment and -- with a kind of charming, New Agey relentlessness -- whipped my things into shape. Much was thrown out. Much was filed away. Some was placed into storage. And throughout the process I longed for it all to be ... over. Not that I didn't enjoy Agnes's company. Not that I wasn't insanely thrilled when my wife and son returned from work and school, respectively, to find order where there had previously been chaos (almost all of it due to my habitual clutterosity). It's just that it was so very difficult for me to sit in the place where I had made a mess and face that mess. If Agnes hadn't been here I would have (a) slept, (b) gone to the cafe, (c) joined the Foreign Legion -- anything to get away from the piles of me-ness everywhere: bills, magazines, books, the occasional buried snack ... But whenever I showed signs of flagging, Agnes would cheerfully urge me on to the next task: open that envelope, shred those receipts, have a sip of coffee, now let's go to Ikea and buy some bookshelves! ...
It was exhausting. It was challenging. It changed my life.
And now I'm on my own. I mean, Agnes is still available; it's just that I can't afford her right now. Which is just as well, in a way, as the whole point -- or at least most of the point -- was for me to make a habit out of organizing my own stuff. And in the past, busy months, my desk -- pristine as of Agnes's last visit -- had again become overrun with papers, wires, DVD's, and such. I could feel the Old Me creeping back -- see it, actually, as it teetered on either side of my laptop, threatening to collapse. Would all of my hard work with Agnes have been for naught?
No, not for naught: What Agnes did was establish a place for each sort of thing to go -- plastic bins, file drawers, CD and DVD towers, bookcases, and little magnetic basket thingies for receipts and BART tickets. And what I learned this weekend was that I could summon my Inner Agnes. I firmly but cheerfully coaxed myself into sorting, throwing out, etc. I even made a couple of labels to put on things (never underestimate the pleasures to be had from a good labeler). And when the obsessive-compulsive person who lives beneath my slothful exterior showed signs of taking over and demanding an impossible level of perfection, I ordered myself to take a deep breath and a long sip of coffee, then went back to the task at hand (accomplishing it imperfectly).
All the while, the sadistic person living inside that obsessive-compulsive person would be reminding me off all the other tasks that I wasn't accomplishing. But fortunately my Inner Agnes would keep my eyes focused on the particular thing I was doing: a small thing in and of itself, but the kind of thing that -- in aggregate -- clears away the clutter of self-recrimination and makes space for ... life? work? happiness?
I don't want to get carried away here. I mean, I'm just saying I straightened things up a bit. But I guess I'm also saying that this felt wonderful and new and right. Thank you, Agnes -- both within and without. I think you're neat.