Here’s the thing: cleaning

I am trying to get myself into some semblance of order these days. It’s working. I figure it’s a new semester, I am in the process of getting a new (American) agent, I have a book coming out…blah blah blah. Pulling myself together and all that. But I am finding that getting rid of clutter also brings up lots of things I didn’t want to address. Some things are better left in the bottom of a messy desk drawer or in the recesses of my email inbox. As an aside, I had over 3,000 messages in my inbox. All read, mind you. But that’s a lot of crap. More on that later.

I went through my desk drawer and threw away old packs of gum and a petrified lone TUMS tablet at the very end of a ribbon of foil wrapping. I tossed dead pens and deteriorating rubber bands. I found well-preserved fortunes, fastidiously flattened and saved from cookies long ago. I discovered my undergraduate college ID card (hilaaaarious, by the way). I stumbled across lots of old black and white Polaroids taken inside bars I don’t recognize. I found postcards advertising shows with bands I’d never heard of. There were greeting cards I’d purchased because I liked them and figured I would find a recipient for them eventually.  I came across three dog washing tokens for a place 2,700 miles from my house.

Here’s the thing:  I am a pack rat. I save everything. I am not a Hoarder (as seen on A&E…wait, it’s on A&E, right?). I don’t have animal feces and lost siblings and 94 years of New York Times editions piled around me. But I have trouble letting go. I’ve got cigar boxes and drawers and bins brimming with mementos and scraps of paper with ideas that seem to come and go like spectres. In said desk drawer were three (THREE) maps of Venice, Italy. All of them were pocket-sized. I can remember my rationale for buying each. One I got for a trip to Venice some six years ago. The other two I got for my trip there last summer when I couldn’t find the original map (probably because it was in the back of my desk drawer). I only need one. Hell, I probably don’t even need one anymore.

Do I need these maps? No. Did I get rid of them? No. I seem to hang on to everything, whether the memories they hold are good, bad or indifferent.

This brings me to my email inbox. Of the 3,000+ missives, a good number of the emails were junk that I should have deleted immediately after reading: CNN breaking news alerts from two years ago, emails from students telling me why they missed class and asking for assignments, reminders about meeting that I never planned to attend. A significant portion, though, were from a fellow I used to care about very deeply. I cared, and it turned out he didn’t. The end. Relationship over. But before that, we had what I thought were lovely times, times spend actually using those Venice maps to navigate the city, times spent laughing and listening and marveling and an incredible amount of time that I spent holding his anxieties as my own, working constantly to try to fix any and all problems that came his way. The emails are a record of all that. I should have just deleted them all. There were more than a thousand. But instead I picked through them in some sick act of self-flagellation.

Did I ever delete the emails? Nope. I put them in a folder that I promise myself I won’t look in again. What the hell is wrong with me? Well, among other things, I am a pack rat. I carry all of this with me — the good, the bad, the indifferent. I should embrace impermanence and mental health and just get rid of everything. EVERYTHING. Emails, maps, old junk, ratty t-shirts, earrings I never wear. But I keep it…ALL. I can’t help it. It’s my history and it’s me. I am composed of dimming photos and paperclips and souvenir pens and novelty key chains and bookmarks and funny news articles and nice things and broken things and five wristwatches (at the latest tally). And I guess that’s okay.

And on that note, I shall close with a clip I wish I could use at the end of most conversations. It amuses me.

Author: elizabeth dutton

i traffic in words

2 thoughts on “Here’s the thing: cleaning”

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