The mind in winter

Perhaps it’s the winter season and I think I should be hibernating. Why else do I have the sense that I can’t get myself organized to write an essay? The ideas are there, piling up like laundry ready to be sorted and folded and put somewhere. They fly around in my head, meteors intent to land and make a big splash, promising to be the beginning of an interesting adventure on the page. But – the big BUT – I seem to have turned the lights off on the landing field. My brilliant gems zoom off untethered into the stratosphere. The end result: my mind is cluttered with bits and pieces, words, storylines, plot ideas, and nothing is happening on the page.

Writerly clutter


Peter Walsh, an authority on organizing the content of homes, believes that organization begins in the mind rather than in our basements, closets or garages. Walsh became famous as an organizer of clutter and cluttered minds on the TV series, “Clean Sweep.” He doesn’t focus on objects (things) when he helps people to tidy up, he goes right to the heart of the matter. He asks his clients: “What’s your vision for the life you want and the home you want?” He works room by room with people, starting with the purported “purpose” of the space. In each area he picks up objects and asks the owner if the thing moves them closer or farther away from their vision of the life they want. If it’s further away, out they go.


Let’s visit the area in my house where I do most of my writing (assuming I am able to write something.) My laptop and printer definitely contribute to my vision of a completed manuscript – but what about the pile of partially opened mail (mostly advertisements and bills to pay) sitting on my desk  next to the printer? They remind me that I need to be gainfully employed, but they don’t bring me closer to  my writer self. What about the mountain of magazines and newsletters next to the bills? They are mostly about writing and the craft of writing. Are they part of the vision, though? I don’t think so. They lure me into a lull of reading about writing, especially when I feel weak in front of the keyboard. How about the futuristic lamp I bought at IKEA, the bookends carved in the image of monks reading, the several Christmas cactus plants on the window sill? Those all seem useful and calming; important parts in the vision quest. How about the pile of Christmas cards and unanswered letters? Nope. They definitely need to be out of sight. They arouse my guilt about not writing because I realize I’m not even writing to my friends.


Monk practicing mindfulness amid my clutter

Okay. Flash forward. I’ve followed Peter’s advice asking myself the purpose of every object and scrap of paper in my writing area. I’ve tidied up, neatened the piles that must stay. I’ve put some books back in the bookcase. Now what?


Walsh says there is one more step that he calls “completing the cycle,” comparing it to the cycles of a washing machine.  If you let the clothes sit in the machine without spinning dry, they become moldy and stinky. Cluttered, once more. He says the key is to never say the word “later” again. If you let the mail pile up and drag in more magazines, you’re back at square one.


I like his philosophy of battling procrastination and I’ve decided to put it into practice – with writing at least. If I get an idea, I will sit down and make a list or sketch it out, make a storyboard – maybe even write something. The only problem is that I will have to say “later” to the mail, the dishes, the laundry and the rest of the house, but maybe I will un-clutter my mind.