I walk into my home office and sit in front of the computer. Everything I need is at my fingertips—neatly arranged trays containing current work, drawers housing stationary items in nifty little containers, a filing cabinet with everything sorted into sensible categories, and a bookshelf that would put the Dewey Decimal System to shame. Then the alarm clock goes off and I shake myself out of my dream. Dang! My office is actually the one in the picture above. At least I had the good sense to move the bra off my desk before taking the photo!
As you can imagine, having an office like this doesn’t lead to an efficient writing life. I know the old adage about ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’, but that assumes you actually have a spare spot where you can shove things as you find them. I have no spare spots. I have cupboards and bookshelves that have overflowed onto every available surface, like a lava flow from a volcanic eruption.
I started sorting, with a view to throwing things out and making room. But that’s when I hit another snag. What do you do with a Super Bunny toy someone knitted you twenty years ago? Where do you file a letter that gives instructions for your TV appearance on Jeopardy in 1976? Should I keep the piece of embroidery I started in 1990 and never finished? Where do I begin?
Over the last few months, God has shown me that my problem isn’t primarily one of being messy or lazy. Okay, well maybe a little bit messy and lazy. It also isn’t the result of being overly materialistic. It goes deeper than that. Why do I hang onto these things in the first place?
Two books have had a huge impact on me as I’ve navigated these issues. One is Bill Hybel’s book Simplify. As he notes, ‘simplified living requires more than just organizing your closets or cleaning out your desk drawer. It requires uncluttering your soul.’ (p. 3) Whether it’s taking control of your schedule and finances, making peace in your relationships, or finding work and recreation activities that feed your God-given passion, a simplified life enables you to become the person God intended you to be.
However, as much as I love Hybels’ book and highly recommend it, I found I was still thinking of decluttering as a set of steps to be followed. The message had gotten into my head, but not fully into my heart. That changed when I read Lessons in Letting Go by Australian comedian Corinne Grant. It’s a memoir that details how she developed a hoarding addiction, hit rock bottom, and eventually took back control of her life. ‘Well this will be a bit of fun,’ I thought. ‘She’s a comedian after all.’ I wasn’t expecting it to hit me between the eyes.
She talked about how she’d emotionally booby-trapped her house with things that didn’t reflect who she was or who she wanted to become. I could relate to that. I’d kept a lot of memorabilia of good times, but had also held onto things that weren’t good for me due to a mix of misplaced nostalgia, wanting to please others, and not being able to move on from regrets … and that’s just for starters.
After a day of sightseeing in a barren, Middle-eastern country, Grant offered this reflection:
… a part of me wanted to know what it would feel like to live in a place as empty as that all the time. I imagined my flat back in Australia completely empty. No more hoarding, no more stuff, nothing there but me. And I imagined myself, fearless in the face of regret, fearless in the face of what other people thought of me. I lay on the bed and listened to that little voice deep inside me as it whispered, ‘Go on, jump’. (p. 166)
That really resonated with me. I’m not the same person I was thirty or forty years ago. I don’t want to be the school kid who hardly answered any questions on Jeopardy because she was afraid to buzz in quickly and be heard. I don’t want to be the Uni student who shoved her poetry collection in a drawer because a close friend didn’t think it would be published. I don’t want to be the person who steers clear of certain topics in her writing because it might upset some friends and relatives. I want to be able to jump fully into the life God has for me.
So, as I’m cleaning out my office, I’m also trying to let God clean out my heart. To date, I have one tidy bookcase, two organised drawers, and one shelf in my cupboard that proves I never have to buy another notebook as long as I live. The heart stuff might take a little longer. Just as well we’re all ‘works in progress’.
And for the record, I kept Super Bunny, took a digital photo of my Jeopardy letter before tossing the original in the bin, and donated my half-finished embroidery to my craft-maven mother.
What about you? Are there things holding you back from being the writer God wants you to be? I’d love to hear your stories.
Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 150 short pieces published, including devotionals, true stories, poetry, short fiction, magazine articles and academic papers. She and her husband Tim have their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish. You can find her writing tips blog at their website: http://www.thewriteflourish.com.au