My Inbox Collapsed

My inbox collapsed on Saturday. No, not my email inbox. My actual, physical inbox–at Staples they call it a letter tray. This was a brown plastic two-tray job that I think Mom gave me once upon a time. When you enter our house, the first thing you see in our kitchen is a two drawer file cabinet, and the letter trays were on top of that. The bottom tray was the outbox, where I put items to give to people outside the family. The top tray was the inbox, my to-do list writ large. At the time that the legs of the top tray gave out, the pile was over two feet and 57 pounds. (Yes, I did weigh it–in batches–after The Fall. Writers do things like that to make sure they have the details to make their writing interesting.) I’m embarassed to say it made me cry. Somehow it seemed like a metaphor for my life–collapsing under a mountain of minutiae–and yet more proof that I am not In Control. The fact that I hadn’t slept well for several nights might have also had something to do with it.

Like any other crisis, big or small, it did not come at a convenient time. I was trying to get ready for butchering day by cooking in advance, so as to stay out of the kitchen on the big day. I did not have time to sort through piles and piles of papers. That’s why they were there in the first place, because I didn’t have time! So I stuffed the piles into boxes in what I hoped was roughly chronological order, and prayed I would get to it this week. (Since I had really, really, really, wanted to tackle it last week, and hadn’t, this was not an optimistic prayer.) Why don’t you just throw it all out? ask those of my children not given to such difficulties. Of course, a lot of it can be thrown out, because I toss not-bills-but-not-sure-if-it’s-junk mail there, when it sits on the dining room table until it’s time for supper, and it has to get off the table right this instant, but I’m in the middle of cooking, so I put it there, just for now. But there are also a lot of half-finished projects in there: websites I want to check out but haven’t; books I want to request, but haven’t; ideas for blog posts or forum posts or website additions, as well as other writing ideas; organizational projects, big and small; as well as catalogs full of beautiful or interesting or practical things that maybe one day . . . And there are also things that need to be filed but I didn’t have time at that particular moment, things that need to be saved but don’t have a place yet, as well as a lot of partially crossed off to-do lists. In other words, there’s a lot of my life in there, put on hold while I take care of other things.

Ironically, I recently finished reading The Family Manager’s Everyday Survival Guide by Kathy Peel. I like to check out these types of books every so often, because I firmly believe that an old dog can (and ought) to learn new tricks. But I usually find, and this time was no exception, that I already know most of the tricks. You see, I may not be perfectly In Control, but I’m moderately in control. Food gets purchased and cooked, bills get paid on time, clothes and dishes get washed, appointments are kept. It turns out my big weakness, as I’ve already illustrated, is clutter control. And I already know the biggest and best trick for managing clutter: THROW IT OUT!!! Being an optimist and an information junkie, this is incredibly difficult for me to do. Of course I’ll throw out anything that isn’t important–who wouldn’t? But the information junkie in me wants to keep up on an amazing array of subjects–all important–and the optimist in me truly believes that tomorrow there will be more time in my day, and that I will use that extra time reading and filing. Nevertheless, I jump on the declutter bandwagon and vow to reform. I start tossing papers and what-have-you with evangelistic fervor, and then something–often several things–causes me to backslide. Illness, appointments, errands, quarterly reports, gardening, company coming, fatigue: somehow I lose the vision, lose the path to the Promised Land, and go back to wandering in the wilderness.

There was a quote in this book that gave me hope: “Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”–Saint Francis of Assisi. Okay, so for most of my adult life I haven’t managed much more than doing what was necessary. I would like to think (though I could be delusional) that the time in my life has come to start working on the possible. I mean, didn’t I sort through the family’s collection of coats, and give away 9 lawn-and-leaf bags of them to the Clothing Bank? Just because there’s 99 more piles of stuff to go, is that cause for despair? Stay tuned to the rest of my life.

While I always find some nuggets of truth in these type of organize-your-family-and-your-life books, there are always some bits of advice that are so far from the reality of my life as to be hysterical. Case in point: on p. 127, Kathy Peel advises that you just accept that a deep cleaning isn’t feasible more than once or twice a year. After all, she says, “No family ever died for want of bookcases that were emptied and dusted more than a few times a year.” I’ll say. We attempted it once, several years ago, and that was it–and none of us have died. Do people really empty and clean their bookcases twice a year, I mean, most people? I guess no matter where you are on the mountain of life, there’s always higher ground.

Well, thanks for reading. I know I really needed to get this off my chest, because I was writing it in my head at night, when I should have been sleeping. And how did She Who Has No Time make time to write this all down? I skipped my back exercises and my exercise biking, and am well on my way to skipping school, too. Mark it down as a mental health day.
…posted at 10:54 AM +