sabbatical update: reorg

July 10th, 2008 | Uncategorized

I’ve finally carved out time to work on my new book—the one that’s due in a little over a year. No more comic strip deadlines, or other pressing assignments. All I have to do is write. So, what better time to repaint my office floor? It seemed like a good idea—clearing out the old, making way for the new. Preparing a tabula rasa for my new project.

Hauling all the crap out of the room went fairly quickly. And even the painting was a pretty straightforward undertaking, once I figured out how to move my huge drawing table and massive flat files all by myself. (Crawl underneath and jack them up on my back like a turtleshell.) Here’s my new, pea soup colored floor.

But for days now I’ve been paralyzed by the chaos that all this dismantling has wrought.

That’s just a small corner of it. The rest of my house is worse. For days now I’ve been engaged in the Rubik’s cubelike puzzle of how to put everything back and set the office up in a better, more efficient way. While culling out the dead wood.

I’ve been racing out to the hardware store, moving filing cabinets and books, hooking up and unhooking modems, telephones, televisions, VCRs, DVD players, satellite receivers, and computer peripherals—and may I just say that figuring out any one of of these devices is enough to give a reasonably intelligent person a brain hemorrhage?

Finally I got to a point where I could start putting furniture back into the office.


But if I rearrange one thing, a whole chain of other things doesn’t fit. So I’ve been spending a lot of time just sitting in a stupor staring at it all while my mail and bills and to-do lists sink from view.

I guess i’ve just reached some kind of saturation point, physical and emotional. Here I am despairing over how to organize the shitload of drawings I’ve generated over the past 25 years.
I’m also grappling with the fact that I’m going to have to get rid of some stuff. Not art, but other crap that I’ve accumulated. Like my phone bills from 15 years ago. I basically haven’t thrown anything out for 47 years, which in some ways has served me well. All that archival material came in handy when I was writing Fun Home. But I’ve reached the point where it’s immobilizing me.

I find it very difficult to let go of things. But I have to.
God. I thought blogging about it might make me feel a little more organized. But it hasn’t. I gotta get back to work.

90 Responses to “sabbatical update: reorg”

  1. The Latent Lens says:

    and so it goes…..the life and times of the artful dodger

  2. Aunt Soozie says:

    Oh Alison,
    I know this place… live there sometimes. I did finally shred the old bills though…they’re all gone. I may have to move again soon and that is a terrifying thought. I still have unpacked boxes in my garage from my last move. I say put everything back where it was for now. If you possibly can. I mean the furniture and tv and computer… and then move the stuff around later… maybe just deal with the culling for now and not a total reorganization. My other advice, that I give, is to just move, don’t stop, just keep moving one thing after the other and look at it as small little projects, not one whole.
    Going through things like drawings to decide what to throw out can take decades and you’ll never get the crap back in there at all if you have to make all of those decisions first. sheesh.. Don’t know what else to say but that I completely feel for you and can relate to the paralysis.
    Try to keep moving, even if it’s slowly, one item at a time.
    Hmmm…. wondering what made you decide on green?

  3. Aunt Soozie says:

    Oh yeah, the other thing is to buy a really, really big shed and put all of your stuff in it, outside, with a Scarlett O’Hara promise to deal with it later.
    Climate controlled shed for preservation of fine papers and books (and old phone bills) of course.

  4. The Latent Lens says:

    green is said to be a calming color…..hopefully it does its job in AB’s attempts to get organized

  5. I just got a funny email from our pal NLC. He’s procrastinating too, and by clicking on one of the photo links above until he got this HUGE version, he realized…

    “… it becomes a “Where’s Waldo” puzzle!!!

    Can you find:

    – The word “explicit”
    – toilet paper
    – a bible
    – “Live Animals”
    – a book by Robert Kirby
    – Unplugged electrical plug
    – Charles Addams cartoon
    – Foil candy(?) wrapper
    – Cliff Notes
    – Biography of Freud
    – Cellphone box
    – skull
    – whiteboard
    – Hardcover copy of “Spawn of Dykes to Watch out for”
    – An isolated “Dykes” book (i.e. not stacked with other “Dykes” books
    – A book by AB which is neither a Dykes book, or “Fun Home””

    Hmmm. I’ve really gotta get this stuff put away.

  6. Ian says:

    OMG you’ll never get it done if you think about it as one big project. You’ll just get depressed as you stare at the overwhelming piles of stuff, wondering if you’ll ever get through it. I’ve still got boxes I’ve been hauling around various apartments and houses for the past 10 years.

    Do it bit by bit – the books one day, drawings the next, etc, etc. Have a day shredding which is either boring/surprisingly therapeutic. I’m sure Holly can find ways to use/recycle the shredded paper in the garden – it’s very useful as a mulch or as compost.

    My own device in getting over this paralysis – when you feel overwhelmed – is just to pick one small thing that doesn’t seem so bad and might even be fun and that I feel capable of doing. And I do one of those things per day. Even if it’s to label the bookcases by subject/topic and piling the books in front of them! Or just making sure all the piles are organised!

    The irony is that I used to work as a very efficient secretary/PA who designed filing systems and organised offices, but can I do it at home? Can I buggery!

  7. mamanongrata says:

    Maybe you need some swishy institution to host (& organize)the Alison Bechdel archives.

  8. shadocat says:

    I like the green floor. And the table is beautiful.

    Perhaps some of the pitching could be delegated? Friends, girlfriends, assistants? I know that sounds crazy, but if you agree on some rules of what to keep, what to give away and what caqn be pitched, it can work. I did this when I moved this spring, and it actually helped.

  9. meg says:

    My year of (academic, not comic) sabbatical is at an end, and I’m having the same feelings about moving back into my office. What had been in my office has been loitering in boxes in every corner of the house, and now I have to haul it back in, heavy box by heavy box.

    The probably-futile hope is that I’ll find the magical new arrangement of stuff that will permit me to be far more productive than before sabbatical. Yeah, go ahead and larf.

  10. shadocat says:

    okay, “can be pitched”…

    and what qualifies as a “swishy” institution? Just curious…

  11. cybercita says:

    completely off topic — i was reading my daily distress when i heard a really loud flapping noise. a pigeon had managed to fly into my manhattan apartment!

    i was able to get rid a bunch of things as a result — nothing i had ever intended to let go of, but the poor thing flew all over in a panic, trying in vain to perch on my shelves, which are crowded with picture frames, chinese vases, and handmade bowls.

    {not any more.}

    i finally chased it into the bathroom and eventually out of an open window, after it knocked down all of my hair care products.

  12. jude says:

    alison i love you so much it would hurt but it feels so good to see so much of my own stuff mirrored in your process. i get so much done when i have a show coming up. so far the show i’m sposed to hang in three weeks has gotten the house clean, the garden weeded & the dog shaved…

    your home is wonderful. would have major desk lust if there weren’t a similar altar here. floor color is inspired.

    hope you are too. soon and often.

  13. NLC says:

    P.S. For ten extra bonus points:
    – The picture of the “Shaker Lady”

  14. oh my goodness! a pigeon in the apartment!

  15. LizBn says:

    I read this great idea earlier this year (I think on LifeHacker) you take a picture of the obsolete object in question and save the file. That way you still have the artifact but not the 3-d object. Best of luck.

  16. beth says:

    my favorite method of rearranging furniture is to measure everything, draw the room to scale, draw boxes to scale that represent the various pieces of furniture, cut them out and play with them. It’s best if the cat doesn’t help with this process, and sure beats hauling that table across the floor on your back turtle-like more than once! An engineer’s scale (you know the ruler shaped like a long triangle) makes drawing to scale manageable for someone like me (ruler-challenged)…

  17. oh my god! That’s an awesome idea, LizBn! I could digitize my whole life, and toss all the virtual stuff out!

  18. Debs says:

    Alison, can you have someone help you? I get paralyzed by this stuff too, but somehow it’s easier to shred/recycle/burn a whole bunch of old phone bills when someone’s doing it with you.

    Another trick: when it’s paralyzing, don’t sit there and think about it or let it paralyze you. Shrug it off your mind and immediately start doing something else.

    This is a huge project. It’s not going to get done right away and it’s not necessarily going to look better after each step.

    Been enjoying the kitty pictures lately, by the way.


  19. rinky says:

    Ahh, I think you need a purger to come and assist you. I would offer myself if I wasn’t so far away. Someone to come and say, “Do you really need this? Why? No, sorry, reason not good enough, it goes out.” -Scarey huh? But think how streamlined your life could be.

  20. Sara says:

    Yes on the purger idea. It’s SO easy to look at someone else’s stuff and help them decide they don’t need it. You (I mean my) own stuff? Impossible.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Is that a red super ball on the green floor? Gorgeous. How did you keep kitty off the floor while it dried???

    Regarding arranging/culling/etc: Have you tried taking time off from it? Even for an hour, say, go out to the Dairy Queen and get a maple creemee, for example, and stare at nothing while you lick away (from the bottom of the cone). Or go to the library and borrow a Mary Oliver collection of poetry and veg on it.

    Better yet, I’ll reproduce a Mary Oliver poem right here.

    Wild Geese
    Mary Oliver

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.
    Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
    are moving across the landscapes,
    over the prairies and the deep trees,
    the mountains and the rivers.
    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
    are heading home again.
    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.

  22. Holly just saw my 1987-2002 issues of Lesbian Connection on the shelf and said, “What are you saving those for? I’m sure the Lesbian Herstory Archives has copies.”

    I kind of think of my basement as an extension of the LHA, I guess.

  23. M-H says:

    It really can feel good to let it go. Trust me, I’ve done it. Another alternative is to box the old stuff and put it in storage. You have to pay to keep it, and after a while you do tend to balk at that bill, and that can lead to a rationalisation.

  24. tmcmistress says:

    You know, at this point, I’m starting to think that I’m the only person on earth who thinks those croc shoes are pretty close to being the most god-awful, goofy looking things eeeeever.

  25. anonemus says:

    Oh Woman, Lesbian Connection?! Did they stop publishing in 2002, or is there some other reason you don’t have it through 2008??? I haven’t thought of or seen that delightful little publication in almost as long as you’ve been keeping the archive! Slow down and take some deep breaths (from the mimeographed pages of LC circa 1987).

  26. LondonBoy says:

    Oh dear, that “before” picture looks just like most of the rooms here. And I thought I was the only person who saved phone bills (and gas bills and water bills and electricity bills) for 15 years. My family think I’m mad, but my view is you can never be sure that you won’t need them one day.

    My study is stacked full of books, but I prefer to think of them as tools I need in my work, not clutter.

  27. LondonBoy says:

    BTW, Anonymous, I love the poem.

  28. Aunt Soozie says:

    oh yay!!! Just got my copy of the Daily Distress in the mail.
    (thank you Alison!) (and Katie)
    now… where am I going to archive that treasure… hmmmm….

  29. Bre says:

    I recently did this with my girlfriend. She’s a huge packrat and refused to let go of anything (school art projects from when she was 13, walmart reciepts, christmas cards from family friends she never talks to..) It was helpful to make boxes for things she absolutely couldn’t part with (personal letters, for one) and then throw everything else out in a bag that was seperated from the rest of the trash so that if she reconsidered it wasn’t gone forever. Then a week later we threw away the stuff she hadn’t decided to keep. Cleaning was much easier once she’d gotten rid of all the stuff she’d dragged around for so long.

  30. shadocat says:

    Are the people who are getting the book getting a copy of “The Daily Distress” too, or did I misunderstand?

  31. Colin Tedford says:

    I’ve spent the past year purging my possessions bit by bit, and though it has not been easy, it has been GOOD. I found that I made faster progress when I set all the paper and books aside (each to their own place) and dealt with other things first, the bigger the better. Sorting through paper and books can turn into a huge distraction, and they are both in mostly regular shapes that can be packed away efficiently. When other things are more cleared up, then it’s time to start digging through the bags of paper. What’s helped me with that is to first sort through it quickly, just throwing out the obviously useless stuff.

    Good luck!

  32. Colin Tedford says:

    tmcmistress: Well, there are at least two of us left…

  33. Ginjoint says:

    fuh-REAK-eee. I just said to my friend (*koff*therapist*koff*) this afternoon that tomorrow is the day: tomorrow I will attack The Closet. No, it’s nothing metaphorical, I mean a real closet, the one in my bedroom. The only one I have. The one that’s presently so messy, so very unorganized, so breathtakingly slovenly, that it’s literally stopped me in my tracks. (Also, the closet doors themselves keep getting jammed on the tracks because of all the crap in the way.)

    “I can’t think,” I said to her. “I’m way behind in my bills. I can’t create anything, I can’t move forward, I am completely unable to start any other home improvement projects, and I know it’s that closet, that closet, that fucked-up black hole! It’s where feng shui goes to die. It LOOMS over me. It affects everything! Help me!”

    Then I come here and see this, and I don’t feel so alone in the universe. What was it George Carlin said, something like, “My shit is stuff, but your stuff is shit”? Anyway, I’m gonna go try NLC’s picture game. But tomorrow’s the day. By putting that on the internet, it makes it true!

  34. Ellen says:

    I’m a fiction writer, so can always imagine a reason for keeping a broken bead, beat-up book, or too small boots. Fortunately, I’ve been spring cleaning this year. I got rid of a lot of clothes, including two gay pride shirts I never wear. I labeled them “vintage” and gave them to our queer community center.

    I have things I acquired after my aunt died and after my parents moved. It’s hard not to be sentimental about them, but I try to remember that giving “their” things away doens’t mean I love them less.

    No, if I can just get a handle on my stacks of paper.

    Here are a couple of websites with good advice:

    Good luck. Life is brief and clutter is wide. How do you want to spend your time?

  35. kendall joy says:

    a professor i desperately admire just retired this semester, unburdening all her old drafts and proofs and prints and reviews on a plucky PhD student who will commit them, with vigor, to posterity. the brilliance of her plan does not elude me: rather than actually throw anything away, she has only given it over to someone who’s interest in it will possess him the way generating it possessed her.

  36. andrewo says:

    Maybe the Gay Historical Society (I have the name wrong) here in SF would want your old phone bills?
    Or you could promise your papers to an institution or university and then it would have to take everything over and catalogue it.

  37. sk in london says:

    i moved back to london from the Pacific NW last year to live closer to and spend time with my dad who is in a process of …um… departure… let’s call it that. he could go on for years, but ‘he’ is changing daily and becoming his next thing so really ‘he’ has kind of gone already (though what has appeared is amazing and a treat to get to hang out with, bizarre and unpredictable as he is, it’s an improvement as far as i am concerned on what he was….)

    OK, why am i writing this? well, i moved away from this scene at 17 and lived as far as possible for the next 25 years (India/OZ/Pacific NW) and coming back i discover my dad, the horder, and all his boxes of everything.

    with all my own moves and relocations i own almost nothing and store 20 boxes in Oregon for my return…. and yet here, here in London my dad has memorabilia pouring out of every drawer. it’s strange to have so much of his life stored, seems almost narcissistic as he pulls some old letter of recommendation for his first job as a Dr or some card of gratitude from 1972 out of a box…..then again my own narcissism springs up when he pulls out some random letter i wrote to them from the foothills of the Himalayas in 1986…:-) brings out big identity questions i guess – what are you? what makes you you? …

    …there must be a middle ground between the ‘i have lived in one place for 40 years so everything is here’ and the i have lived in 20 places in 20 years so there is little to schlep….

    …having said that, when my dad recently pulled out a small diary from 1945 Poland, having survived the holocaust and the loss of his entire family and world, it did leave me breathless that such a thing still existed in pristine condition there in his attic in North London….

    …and i confess i did think “i wouldn’t mind adding that to my 20 boxes when he is ready to pass it along”… so on we go!

  38. jp says:

    The reference to the LC collection cracked me up. Each time I move—and there have been a fair number of them in the last decade or so—I find old copies of the LC in the oddest places. I have no organized collection; I just feel guilty about throwing them out. First, they’re fabulous ephemera. But mostly it’s because I can feel the Ambitious Amazons’ discretionary warning that “non-lesbians do see LC.” What if, through my careless purging, someone was inadvertently outed? And then there’s LC’s value as a reference resource. What if I need to review that lively debate on fat acceptance or the one about “accidentally” involving the family pets in sex?

    SK in London: your reflection is fascinating and your writing is lovely.

  39. Birka says:

    Alison, have you heard about Karen Kingston`s book “clear your clutter with Feng Shui”?
    It has incredible good ideas and thoughts about how to get rid of clutter, reorganize and also everything about the immobolizing part of clutter.
    It has helped me each time I moved and is a well read book in my shelf.
    Getting rid of clutter cleans your soul!

    Good luck to you

  40. Maggie Jochild says:

    Box it up without sorting, send it to LHA. If they are missing ONE copy of LC, your collection will be a boon. If not, they’ll know what to do with it. They BEG for people not to “throw stuff out”. Especially yours, Alison. If anyone from LHA is reading this, call her and help her out, okay?

  41. Matron says:

    As a frequently procrastinating academic, I’m not too worried because if you’re anything like me you will have that inbuilt clock that will tell you to the nanosecond when you will actually have to sit down and start working in earnest to make that deadline – well to miss that deadline by about a week but no more(which seems to be acceptable to most publishers).

    As far as decluttering goes, I too often feel paralysed by all the stuff arout me, and travelling around the world a few years ago has shown me how wonderful it can be to own nothing but what fits in your rucksack. The incredible lightness of being, so to speak. But while I constantly get rid of material possessions, I do cherish anything of an even remotely personal value and wouldn’t part with it for the world.

    The first thing I threw out in a recent decluttering exercise was a book called “How to declutter your life” which encouraged me to part with all my old letters from friends and family. B***** that! The way I look at it is that when I am old and decreptit, I will want to spend cold winter evenings nostalgically going through the evidence of my life (hell, I do that now sometimes). If I have thrown everything away, I will deprive myself of that sweet pleasure.

    Old lesbian papers would fall into that class of general life debris: if they have had meaning for me or remind me of a specific time in my life, they stay. And I am sorry, but I have no idea if the Lesbian Herstory Archive or its British equivalent will still be around when I’m 85, or if I will be in a position to get there, so I’ll hold on to my own copies, thank you very much.

    However, that doesn’t mean that I need to keep that stuff in sight constantly. I now have a number of boxes which, when I move house, are never even opened. They just get carried from attic to attic, and every now and then, when the fancy takes me, I’ll open one and remember. Bliss!

    Happy procrastinating!

  42. Mame says:

    oh yeah. That’s it. Send your old phone bills to a gay archive. Someone will write a dissertation or something on you and will spend weeks pondering why you called some old girlfriend ten times one night or what you were up to on a 900 line…

  43. Kaptain Equinox says:

    You know, about those mounds of paper — get a cheap scanner (you probably have one already) and a cheap high school student or something, and go paperless. You might even be able to text-search the results.

  44. ccr in MA says:

    Sometimes you have to be immobilized for a while, stunned by the what-next chaos, before pieces fall into place.

    It’s hard to give up even the little nothing-things sometimes. But you’ll feel liberated when it’s done!

  45. Hayley says:

    Oh, how I relate to this discussion. Indeed, it is the bulk and bane of my life to deal with all this stuff. Not only am I a collector, my gf is a collector, and we together for 15 years are collectors but I am a pack rat, an only child with no children, the end of line, the end of the line also in a freaking magazine chain…contributed to by grandma and aunts and my own mother. I have thousands of books, record albums, 8-tracks, cassettes, vhs, beta, video disks, cds. If I don’t know how to recycle it, I save it…like my house is a cryobank for styrofoam, batteries, flourescent bulbs, onion bags…And the overflowing filing cabinet of not just old, old bills but recipes and gardening articles and places to go and things to do. Rocks and birds nests and my mother’s idea of a legacy including the world’s largest corn flake and twin, fused cherry pits. AB, I know what you are going through. I go to the various hellholes of my life and am immediately awed and horrified; motivated and paralyzed. It all boils down to two lines: “But I might need it someday” and “I don’t want this to end up in a landfill.”

  46. sasha says:

    oooooh…I get it. Big time. Now that Miss K and I are getting married next week (!!!), we had a really compelling reason to put the chaos in our house in order. The fact that it was a blockade to several real and actually fun projects wasn’t enough.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is we’d better keep it in order because I’m not sure how we are going to trump this marriage thing as a motivator.

    Can you call in some favors to plow through? I already know the answer to this.

  47. Lisa (Calico) says:

    When I moved from Burlington VT to Quebec City in 2002, I felt pretty much the same way. My gosh – how did I ever accumulate such stuff? I filled up an entire dumpster and then felt guilty about all the crap going into the landfill (and I’m a big recycler!).
    My Dad was the same way – a real pack rat with reaserch items and books (then again, he was a prefessional writer and teacher, so it’s more understandable in his case).

    I like the way Dr. is inspecting the new floor – cats really are quite the managers and bosses, aren’t they?
    Our neighbor’s cat has begun doing the Drill Sgt. thing with us as well as our cat. Meow meow hut!

    Good luck with your office and book!

  48. --MC says:

    I found the Chicken pillow.

  49. Leda says:

    Ok, I’m going to shove my bossy old oar in about the de-cluttering too…

    I definitely agree with all those who advise trying to break it down into smaller tasks, if it took 47 years to accumulate you are not going to get it sorted in one go, so you can stop beating yourself with that one!

    Why not start with as empty a room as possible then add in what you NEED to work, your equipment and such, then what you want around you because it gives you pleasure. Everything else is then for the chop (and if its to be given away or re-cycled do it ASAP) or to be archived.

    And if you are keeping something for posterity or occasional possible rather than actual regular usefulness, perhaps make a place other than your work space to do it, an attic say, or failing that a dedicated archive/library part of your workspace. If you only use/look at something once in a blue moon then it doesn’t need to be at hand and if archived properly its no bother to get it out when you need or want it.

    But beware: the archiving will take time and will need to be done in chunks. If you try and do this all at once and with the idea that nothing else begins until this is finished I can’t see how you will do anything other than fry yourself. As soon as you have done the first two things you can get on with the rest of your life (and you’ll have more energy to do so) and fit the archiving in do-able bits.

    The green is gorgeous by the way….

  50. julissa says:

    aa! i’m sort of in a similar situation if that makes you feel any better! i have to organize 20 years worth of papers at my center for women and gender (its my job so i can’t even procrastinate that much). its killing my brain!
    well good luck!!!

  51. Katie says:

    Hey Shadocat,
    The DD’s haven’t all gone out yet, so if yours has not arrived quite yet, it will. You’ll get a DD and a book when it comes out.

  52. Kate L says:

    I live in the house I grew up in (yikes!), and in the basement is a massive safe on wheels that my father bought decades ago. I dread moving THAT!

  53. Jo says:

    The book ‘Organizing from the Inside Out’ has done wonders for me! Julie Morgenstern applies a Kindergarden Model of Organizing to everything. I just checked what she says about getting rid of phone bills, but it only states about utility bills: “[keep] current bill and one previous year’s to check billing patterns.” Then again, reading the book might just be anoter way of procrastinating the organizing. Anywho.. Good luck!

  54. RoseRed says:

    If you’re having trouble breaking things down – try setting a timer for 15 minutes, and see what you can get done. It’s a manageable amount of time – not too overwhelming – but you can get a lot done!

  55. Suz in HK says:

    Buy a paper shredder and recycle – it is very cathartic and you’re saving the planet! Trust me on this, I’m from a family of hoarders… my father still has clothes that were his father’s (and my grandfather died in 1958)!

    Good luck.

  56. Dr. Empirical says:

    Harvey Pekar addressed the same problem in yesterday’s issue of American Splendor. He has someone coming in to catalog and purge his 50-year accumulation of books and records.

    When I finished grad school I purged my comic book collection, giving a couple thousand books to the children’s hospital. Nowadays, I’m constantly looking for things I know I had, failing to find them, and wondering if they went in the purge or if I just misfiled them.

  57. Pam I says:

    You know that sliding-squares puzzle game – 15 tiles inside a 4×4 grid, and you have to get the picture back where it started? I need to move the desk to the bedroom so I can get the sofa to under the window, but before I can do that there’s a bookcase in the way and the books gave got themselves on top of the desk…

  58. liza Cowan says:

    I second Maggie’s idea about sending papers to the Lesbian Herstory Archives. When I moved from NYC to Vermont in 2001 I gave them the bulk of my papers, including all the old Lesbian magazines I had collected.

    It’s amazing how all this stuff – these historical materials – have become so hard to find, relegated first to the junk pile and then to the dump. Contemporary and future historians NEED these things to protect our stories from oblivion. Seriously. This goes for all of us, not just AB.

    And I’m sure the LHA could use a financial contribution, as well, from anyone who can afford to donate.

  59. Richard says:

    ah, I can relate; most of my house looks like the “chaos” picture of emptying the office, except it’s because I have so many books, work-related-folders, and crap I should have thrown out but haven’t …. I either need to
    1. Build an addition onto the house to store crap
    2. Move to a larger house (which means packing all this crap)
    3. Build a great pyre in the backyard and burn all this crap

    So far, I’m leaning towards Option #3, pending local fire code requirements.

  60. Alex the Bold says:

    Two things:

    From the Vermont Daily Paper:

    Alison Bechdel, local notable, was recently found, wearing only an ear-flap hat and a pair of Dr. Scholl’s, setting fire to a giant pile of what one rescuer described as “just a pile of crap: old phone bills, scrap paper, you know, that sort of thing.”

    Bechdel, an award-winning cartoonist and writer, was “under observation” at press time.

    Second, I see you’ve got the Cuisinart box from the episode where Sydney shreds her credit card bills while pursuing a smoothie before we’re all vaporized by the Axis of Evil.

    Seriously though. I know what it’s like to clean away the clutter, Alison. I recently trimmed back the piles in the living room, and it just never ends. It’s like I blink and it repairs itself.

  61. mulieribus says:

    Hi Alison-

    I have this problem too. Save everything. Get too overwhelmed to organize it much. I did a bit a few months back, and it definitely felt good to have done it, although now it’s getting messy again.

    Off topic, I made another attempt at an Alison-like nature video. This one cam out a bit better:

  62. Aunt Soozie says:

    Alex… love that image…
    jp thanks for bringing up the LC discussion of sex and pets…
    that’s the quintessential LC topic, in my opinion. I loved that dialogue.
    the fat acceptance/prejudice stuff also gets mighty juicy… pardon the pun.
    sk’s father’s diary… wow. not a good thing for those packrats among us to hear, just inspires more hoarding.

  63. sk in london says:

    hey Alison, in the where’s Wally mega-photo what’s that delicately placed piece of tin foil there on top of one of the 6 cigar boxes? Right next to the word “Swisher”….
    One of the Dr’s playthings?.. or…. well… the imagination goes bonkers:-))))

  64. Alex the Bold says:

    Quote: “Here’s my new, pea soup colored floor.”

    Oh Alison, get it out of the way now rather than wait. Take an open can of split-pea soup and drop it, so it goes all over the floor. You know you’re going to do it by accident when you eventually do get around to carrying something that same shade of green across the floor anyway … Why wait until then?

  65. Alex the Bold says:

    And my secret for decluttering?

    Pretend you’re “packing” your ex’s stuff. Not the ex you broke up with on good terms. Not the ex you broke up with on bad terms but now forgive. The ex who you still, 10 years later, fantasize about burying off the interstate. That ex.

    Don’t just toss it all out. No, you go through and take the things you always wanted. The 1978 World Almanac? Gone. That copy of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress that came apart at the spine and has three pages missing in the middle? Gone. That set of martini glasses? Yours. Those old black t-shirts that are starting to get holes? The ex’s.

    Cart all the swag back to your bedroom. Throw all the “ex’s” stuff out (or douse it in lighter fluid and cackle maniacally as it burns).

    Basically, you have to isolate clutter to kill it, so don’t put it all in one place. Recapture one room, then use it as a staging base to attack the second room …

    When you take a box of crap down to throw away? Don’t come back with the empty box. Throw it away or recycle it, but don’t let it back in the house.

    And none of this seven-box system of categorizing. It’s keep or don’t keep. None of this “See if Jezanna needs this.”

  66. Susan D says:

    the past is very hard to deal with. The crap that we collected during that time is even harder. Try my way…
    have a flood seep into your office saturate everything!
    Thats what happened to me and my art studio. I had to throw out 90% of my art. It was a huge relief actually. I had no chance to go through all of it. The mold killed it all!
    How about hiring a professional organizer? You could write it off on your taxes as a business expense. But something must be done or you are going to be paralyzed by your anxiety.

  67. Public Health Vet says:

    My grandma had a wonderful experience when she hired a professional organizer! The lady was very supportive and helpful in prioritizing what to sort first and how to get rid of stuff sanely. Good luck!

  68. anonemus says:

    Londonboy – re: Mary Oliver poem – thanks!

  69. Anonymous says:

    Londonboy – re: Mary Oliver poem – thanks!

  70. Andrew B says:

    Well, Alison, you elegant owl, now you have a beautiful pea green boat. So you and your pussy-cat can sail away for a year and a day, and FINISH YOUR DAMN BOOK. And then you can dance by the light of the moon, the moon.

    All sympathy for procrastinators. I’m one of the worst. But fussing about your procrastination is potentially recursive — next you’re liable to start fussing about how you fuss about procrastinating — and could go on to infinity. Don’t let it.

    (By procrastination, I mean anything of the form, “I’ll start the book after I …” or worse, “I can’t start the book until I…”.)

  71. d/f/ says:

    at the risk of restating what may have been said (i didn’t get through all the comments): as a fellow pack-ratter, an assistant / organizer is invaluable.

    i paid / bartered with a friend of mine to work with me, we used suggestions from one of those decluttering books, and it was super helpful.

    unfortunately we then both got busy. still have eight crates in the office.

    but… it did yield an uncashed vacation time check to the tune of a couple thousand dollars, just in time to get it re-issued 🙂 …

    well worth the effort.

    every time i spend time organizing my stuff, it pays off in terms of productivity, ability to find stuff, etc.

    best of luck!

  72. Ian says:

    I generally have a clear out of all the clutter that accumulates over a 3 month period. Although by the time I’ve cleared that, I’m too tired to go through the old stuff.

    Sadly I don’t feel liberated when I do it – I always feel a little lost without the clutter! I feel strange with nothing to stress about or procrastinate over. It’s very weird.

  73. Jesse N says:

    I agree with getting stuff ready to send to an archives (I love the LHA!) – Maybe you can get an eager library science student with an interest in archives and preservation to “intern” for a couple of weeks and get you organized…then send it off to the LHA or wherever you feel is right, and know that you can access it any time.

    Um, did I mention I am a library science student with an interest in archives and preservation? Heh…

  74. Suz says:

    It’s so much easier to clear someone else’s clutter than your own. I’ll echo the advice to hire or barter for help.

    FWIW, I’ve been de-cluttering my mother’s house (40+ years of stuff) and one of the best decisions I made was to hire out the shredding. I paid around $70 for a mobile shredder to show up at the door and cart away bag after bag of stuff and destroy it in a secure manner–fast and easy, and none of that horrible shredded-paper dust. I used Code Shred (they’re in NYC); their site has a link to other shredders nationwide.

  75. AndreaC says:

    Ooooooh, poor thing! I soooo know this feeling.

    Darn, nxw I’ve used up my letter ‘O’ quxta for this pxst in just xne line…

    The “I’m sure the has this archived” trick is a good thing. Just this weekend, I threw away a copy of LC someone gave me using that rationale.

    Julie Morgenstern once did wonders for my phone and electricity bill collection. Sadly, you have to keep up on it, and when my shredder trash can gets full…

    The best organizing book I’ve found, though, is “How Can You Make A Difference If You Can’t Find Your Keys.” My desk at work has been clean and organized for over a year now thanks to that book. And if you could see my desk at home, you’d know what a miracle that is. It’s got a little extra-hippy spiritual stuff thrown in the mix but I managed to ignore that which I found too out-there.

    Another tip found on Lifehacker was to get a sheet-fed scanner that takes a whole sheaf of your papers and scans them in and automatically makes them into PDFs. Then you can shred the paper, burn the PDF’s to one CD, and you’ve just reclaimed all that space. If it weren’t a $400 item I’d be so there.

    Here’s my favorite purging trick. “Would I buy this for a dollar, right now, if I didn’t already own it?” If no, out it goes.

    Yes, my place is still a huge mess, but it would probably be an Oprah-comes-with-the-backhoe-to-dig-you-out-on-national-television-level mess without the measures I’ve taken so far…

  76. Noominal says:


    You need a “bag shaker.”

    You probably know one. A bag shaker is a person who continuously SHEDS all their belongings frequently. The give stuff away, sell it, replace it, have garage sales a lot, rearrange furniture, re-pack, re-bag, re-shelf, eliminate crap and reorganize continuously.

    They do it with zeal, and fervor, delight and would LOVE to spread the disease communicably.

    The “bag shaker” part means, they make piles: now, later, save, recycle, don’t know… whatever relates to the room or project you have to organize, plus carry a BIG BLACK TRASH BAG that gets shaken with delight every time you hedge on what to decision to make with an object. They rotate you through piles of debriis repeatedly without a break until you are sweating and weak-kneed and the room is whittled down.

    They are ruthless and you want them dead in ten seconds flat, but at the end of the afternoon if you are still standing, the room is organized. There are also about ten bags of recycling, trash, good will donations, half-price books, and hazardous waste on the back step for you to deal with, but the room is organized.

    “Bag shakers” you know who you are! Volunteer to help the needy!

    I wish I still had my bag shaker… she moved to Seattle and my house looks like… well, the Collyer Brothers house again. Sadly whatever the bag shaker disease is, it’s not permanent unless you are born with it.

  77. Noominal says:

    P.S. tmcmistress– up yours with the crack on the crocs. I have a pair the same color and anything useful I do accomplish seems to occur in those shoes.

  78. shadocat says:

    Katie; My DD arrived in the mail this afternoon! Thanks so much to you (and Alison, of course). I shall be be reading it aloud to my S/O tonight, as she was stricken with a severe attack of vertigo 3 days ago, and it still hasn’t gotten better. They’re still looking for the cause, so positive thoughts are welcome!

  79. Rohmie says:

    I recognize some of those comics. Lyonel Feininger, Tom Tomorrow, … and are those some Tintins in the back?

  80. cybercita says:

    for more on the crocs question:

  81. Anonymous says:

    A good way to deal with all that paper ephemera (such as the 15 year old telephone bills!) that you cannot bear to let go of is to scan it in and then store it on a flash drive. I am currently scanning in my notes from my undergraduate Biology classes in case someday I’m in dire need of knowing the chemical structure of sucrose immediately.

  82. ksbel6 says:

    Wow…scan bills so that you can keep them on a flashdrive…I can’t imagine taking that much time to keep track of something that you don’t need! Clearly I’m not a keeper…I love to throw stuff out (shred, recycle, etc.). I do this to every drawer in my house at least once a year 🙂 Oh, and just because it is fun, you should all know that solving a Rubik’s cube isn’t that difficult if you take the time to memorize a few algorithms. So those folks who act like major geniuses by solving it in like 15 seconds, actually just have good memories and choose to practice.

  83. ready2agitate says:

    The utility companies themselves will happily give you the last many months of whatever bill, or the last two years for comparison. They have COMPUTERS now (and they love to track you).

  84. Anonymous says:

    I frickin’ LOVE this site! Swear to god, what pleasure I get from all the commenters! LOVE the Oliver poem! LOVE the de-clutter reading recommendations! My thanks.

    With all the scary wet weather of late here in Wisconsin and nearby Iowa, I’ve been imagining what it would be like to be flooded out down to the bare foundation. I fantasize about the “guiltless toss,” rather like Erica Jong’s famous “zipless fuck.”

    I think my Accumulation Anxiety Disorder is essentially disguised narcissism and the fear of death.

  85. Ann S in Madison says:

    The above “anonymous” was actually me.

    PS Also, I adore my crocs.

  86. Maggie Jochild says:

    The value of old phone bills depends on who you are (aside from the sentimental, of course). If you lived in a political collective in 1978 in the Bay Area, for instance, every call outside San Fran was logged on your bill, even to the East Bay. The network of relationships between activists could be plotted by looking at such bills. If you have a phone number, you can use the reverse city directory to get an address, and then find out who lived in that household at that time. (Which can tease out all sorts of fascinating connections.) I’ve used it myself. For anyone who was part of making herstory, these are not trash, they should be lodged with a repository where researchers can make use of them.

    And no, the phone company will not give you bills that old. They weren’t computerized then, or if they were, those records are not in a currently usable format, or it will cost you a small fortune to get copies. Our government is hiding everything it can. Try filling for FIOA right now, see how far you get.

    The Right has been on a thirty-year campaign to lie, distort, and erase progressive history from existence. Even the so-called “people’s sources” (such as Wikipedia) are prone to conspiracy, braggadocio, and particularly the erasure of LESBIAN contribution to liberation struggles. The errors are being copied endlessly by those with an anti-woman or anti-lesbian political agenda with no fact-checking whatsoever — research and quoting sources is scoffed at, for the most part.

    But primary source documents are the ONLY hope we have of proving the lives of women, people of color, poor people, and other marginalized groups have the impact which they do. As Paula Gunn Allen wrote (RIP), “The key to oppression is loss of memory.” If you own records which could be considered part of community memory, give them to a safe place for posterity.

  87. rokinrev (aka Andrea) says:

    That’s what PODS and SAMs are for Alison. Order one up for the backyard and stick everything in it, sort it at your leisure or just get them to store it for you…problem solved.

    Inuit don’t believe in helping becuase it stops lessons being learned…but Inuit don’t hord…..

  88. ready2agitate says:

    >>I think my Accumulation Anxiety Disorder is essentially disguised narcissism and the fear of death.

    Good point, Ann S. My papi has OCD and their place (well, his rooms) are filled floor-to-ceiling with papers & plastic bags & stuff. I think fear of vulnerability is a big part too; of not being invincible (yes, our mortality).

    I strive to keep things in check b/c I know that I have a piece of his organic OCD too. This blog has motivated me to do some de-cluttering. It feels very freeing. But for every lightening of the load, and every sigh of freedom, there is also a pinch of loss, of letting go, of grieving.

    Ginjoint, how’s that closet looking?

  89. Dale says:

    Two words: Garage Sale. Or eBay. I even held a party once where I fed my friends then let them rifle through a box o’ junk and take what they wanted. The rest went to Goodwill or on eBay.
    By the way – I received a manila envelope today containing my copy of The Daily Distress. Thank you!! I’ll have hours of fun dangling it just out of my friends’ reaches. *insert evil laughter here* It’s my precioussssss. They can’t have the preciousssss! It’s mine!
    Nah…I’m kidding. I’ll be nice and share. Maybe.

  90. CS says:

    Ah the dilemmas we pack rats face, eh? My partner has to throw out old cards (anniversary, greting, etc) when I’m not home because she knows I’d protest otherwise (“But I gave that to you!” “But that’s from a friend”, etc).

    Best of luck. hope it’s as stress free as possible.