Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Dark Side of Organizing

The very first post I wrote for this blog outlined the issues my Third Third had raised. The second post was about de-cluttering, and included eight thoughts on de-cluttering. Here I am years later, and all those are still big issues.

In the first blog, I asked, “Why is this Third Third such a big deal?” I gave ten answers, but the first one began, “It’s colored by mortality.” So now, get ready for a pandemic-influenced, dark-outside, morbid blog.

This is how my Third Third began: with organizing! I loved organizing/de-cluttering! It meant things that were strewn all over the place found their preferred location in my now-orderly universe. That new place was more attractive, aesthetically pleasing, neat, accessible, tidy. So, for instance, my hundreds of Anchorage Daily News columns found their way into my handmade books. Books were donated and only favorites held prime spots on the bookshelves. Videos became DVDs.

Organizing made my present and future more pleasant, cleansed of clutter.

It’s not that organizing itself was always smooth and pleasant. Every project suffered from setbacks and lost momentum, but when they were finished, it was terrific!

But lately, some other feeling appeared. After finishing the glorious collection of family recipes in my exquisite, artful, photo recipe book, friends called it a “legacy.”

How lovely! In that first blog, the fifth point in “Why is this Third Third such a big deal” was “What legacy do I leave behind?” Wow, now I had a legacy!

One I’d leave behind. After I was dead. (Cue the dark and the pandemic.)

Then I tackled the photo albatross: I culled, I tossed, I labeled, I mounted in a photo album for easy viewing. I actually finished it! Victory! … Not really. It seems I went from De-cluttering Reason #1 (“You have to toss some of your old life to make room for a new life.”) to #8 (Your kids don’t want your shit.) In other words, my organizing stopped feeling like I was making a new life, but rather packing up my old life for posterity.

My sister says, “Yeah, but as you went through the photos, you were reminded of each fun time and enjoyed them all over again.” Yes, all those fun times in the past.

Here’s another example: Tim and I have been meeting with a financial counselor, as we have every now and then over the years. Previous visits were like: Is this the best way to save? What can we do now so we can REALLY do something big next year or in two years? And how big can it be? Now, our financial plan has this big word in it: Estate. We’re not just looking at bank accounts or mutual funds; we’re looking at our estate.

Estates are for dead people.

Oh, I am getting very morbid. Instead of feeling like every paper I put in its proper file is clearing my desk, I feel like it’s making it easier for my survivors to find.

My siblings, who have no children, have different reactions. My sisters worry about where it will go; my brother happily says, “In the trash.” “But who will sort through it? Who will handle it?” the sisters ask. “No sorting. Whoever gets the house just throws it all out.” And he sweeps his hand across the Zoom screen.

Just today, my friend Chris asked, “What if all your photos, all your saved stuff, just vaporized? Isn’t it just … stuff?” She’s right. My files of community projects, places we’ve visited, high school yearbooks, appliance warranties – those can all vaporize.

But I have a different feeling about my writing. My mother used to write stories – she called her collection “Chicken Every Friday.” I read them once as a teenager, and they were really good. But they’re gone. Just gone. I would have liked to sit with her innermost thoughts. I would have liked to remember her that way.

So every time I encounter another piece of my writing, I don’t think happy organizing, clear-the-clutter, how-clean-how-tidy thoughts. I think of being remembered. Isn’t that what we’d all like, to be remembered well? Isn’t that a part of our Third Thirds experience?

In the dark of Covid winter, some thoughts are too bleak to entertain. But in the dark of Covid winter, some thoughts just sit and sit. That’s why this post has been so long in coming. I gave you a warning sign!

(I have heard that opening the door at midnight is supposed to help put 2020 to bed. And for extra insurance, I’ve Googled how to make a hot toddy to toast the arrival of 2021.)

Sharing Button