Saturday, February 04, 2006

It's All Dr. Phil's Fault

Occasionally, if I see a commercial for an upcoming episode of Dr. Phil, I'll tape, and this past week, I taped one focusing on "Extreme Packrats." I had taped it upstairs in my bedroom, so when I started watching it, I was sitting on the bed not doing much. That changed pretty quickly.

I'm afraid of clutter. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a phobia, but it definitely can make me anxious. I wouldn't say my house is ever immaculate, because I don't have any anxiety about dirt and grime, but I do a lot of picking up and putting away. And other than the times when we have people coming over, any tidying and/or organizing I do is fueled by compulsion. I don't separate things into piles, throw things out, loads bags of things to give away and the like because I really want to -- I do it because I have to. Fortunately this compulsion to organize, to tidy, and to purge my home of items we don't want always has positive results, so I'm not unhappywhen it happens.

I have to have a lot of compulsion going on to tackle some of the bigger projects. For instance, our bedroom closet has needed cleaning out for probably 2 years. I'd done the floor a couple of times, but I just couldn't seem to make myself take everything off the shelves -- don't ask me why. I'm not going to try to claim any of this makes sense. It just hadn't gotten done.

Well, I watched that episode of Dr. Phil for less than ten minutes before I threw open the closet door and started pulling stuff out and putting it on the bed. Before long, the closet shelf was empty and the bed was full. I was ruthless as I decimated my completely out-of-control purse collection, tossing a good five of them into the donation pile, and I also finally went through the things hanging in at the end of the clothes bar that were left over from when I used to work in an office over 11 years ago, were way over-sized even then, and were never going to come back into fashion no matter how much I want them too.

(I will say that today I am mournng the loss of my bright green over-sized blazer with the shoulder pads, which would have been a brilliant part to the outfit I'm planning for the Bride's 80s-themed birthday party at the end of this month. Then again, I can always go down to the SPCA Thrift Shop this coming week and see if I can buy it back. It's hard to imagine they will want more than five bucks for it. Otherwise, everything that went in that pile was good riddance. I love the SPCA Thrift Shop. They'll take anything, and when I'm driving away I always have the urge to punch the accelerator and yell "Ha ha! Suckers!" out the window.)

Eventually I came to the pile of manilla envelopes growing on the floor on Reasonable Man's side of the closet. I have a very simple acounting system, in which all the bills, receipts and check duplicates we acquire are put into a manilla envelope bearing the month and year. These pile up. A few years ago, I decided we could probably part with everything corresponding to any year that started with 19, and set out to burn roughly 6 years worth of paper. Since it was spring, I would throw papers into the fireplace and then close the doors -- at one point, a great burning mass of them fell against the glass and one of the doors exploded across the room. I fortunately was a ways away and not in the line of the trajectory to be hit at the time, so I didn't get hurt. The incident did, however, cause to me feel this was probably not the ideal way to dispose of my documents in the future.

I do realize that a device called a paper shredder has been invented to deal with this sort of issue -- I just never thought I really needed one. My friend Sue has never been able to believe that I don't own a shredder -- she can't live without hers, and merrily shreds practically every scrap of paper that has the misfortune to come to her house. I could always see how it could be handy to have one, but I was never moved to actually buy one until this past week.

It so happened that on Thursday, the day I gutted my closet, Mermaid had what I will indelicately refer to as a shitload of homework. Lest you think I exaggerate, I think by the time she was finished, she'd had literally spent nearly 4 hours working on it. It was a bit ridiculous. Anyway, in addition to the two years worth of receipts, etc. I finally decided it was time to get rid of, I also found a shoebox full of check registers both empty and full and several books of unused checks with our old San Luis Obispo address on them. So while I sat and helped Mermaid deal with her pile of homework, I took on the mindless task of shredding the unused checks by hand. This, in a word, sucks. My thumbs quickly cramped up and it just generally wasn't pleasant. And it took a ridulously long time, considering that it was maybe 5 or 6 books of checks.

The pile of manila envelopes full of paper bits that needed shredding filled my laundry basket. In a box out in the garage, they weren't bothering me, but in a pile in my laundry basket, they had become clutter and needed to be dealt with immediately. My thumbs were still sore from ripping up checks the day before, so I decided the time was ripe, and I hit Office Max yesterday to buy a shredder. It was more expensive than I had expected, but it works very well. And so I got to work a-shreddin' all those paper bits.

(By the way, I do realize it's foolhardy to store financial information of any kind in my garage, which is left unlocked all the time. The stuff I have left over is safely stored in the house now, and no, I'm not going to say where in my blog.)

But here's the thing. Efficient as my shredder is, it still takes a long time to shred two years worth of receipts, bills and check duplicates. And you can't do a whole lot while you're doing it. You can't really read anything -- you need to keep your eyes on what you're doing. You can't really watch TV -- the shredder is too noisy to be able to hear it, and you can't watch it either. And so I have settled on the option of listening to podcasts, which are somewhat more engaging than just listening to music.

And this is why I am now listening to all the podcasts done so far this season by Tim Gunn, the guy on Project Runway who comes in and bosses the designers around and tells them that their designs have him "concerned" and basically makes them feel worse when they're probably already feeling rushed and stressed out. How awesome is that? I love the internet. And I'm even beginning to love this shredder for giving me an excuse to sit here and listen to this silly stuff.

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