office shelf clutterI discovered you can successfully take spring-cleaning skills into the home office. My office mantra for 2015 is “This space is neither a museum, nor a symbol of sentimental journeys. It is a haven for peace, contemplation, musing and writing.”

When we moved here to Tucson, California Closets had been delighted to come in to give a fitting home to all the lovely boxes and boxes and boxes of writing books and folders I had brought with me from New Jersey, along with files and files of writing ideas, submission places, and old and very out-dated Poets and Writers magazines, and thirty-two photo albums documenting a life of mundane events, milestones, and celebrations that are only truly appreciated by me.

Granted each spring, I have discarded the more than two-year-old files that are truly outdated. But I share with you that I had a box labeled “Kindergarten Art Ideas–possible article?” I have neither taught kindergarten, nor been around munchkins, since 1995. You do the math.

I have a box labeled “Grief,” holding photos, newspaper clippings, letters from friends about the loss of my first husband. A 3-ring notebook stuffed with submission sites and phone numbers. Vertical organizers with five compartments for marketing materials for each book I’ve written. I also had hard copy docs of every event I’ve been at, organized, or thought about going to since 1997. The majority of the material was either out of date or online.

I took my spring-cleaning for clothes questions and applied to the office. Is it out of date? The twenty expandable folders will never get used again. Am I keeping this book out of friendships because someone gave it to me and quite frankly it was published in dire need of some heavy editing. Is it functional? Do I already have enough of the item? How many pencils, rubber bands, paper clips, does one person need? Is there a better way to store this? Some were easy to toss. A lot went from hard copy to computer docs or scans. Off to the Cloud.

This year, my zeal moved me to go deeper, expand, and take action.

“What abut those writing ideas/possibilities/lists of submission sites?” Is a particular idea, or saved article more like something that doesn’t fit in today’s trends, or will never fit me as a writer anymore? It’s out of date. Do I really need the 2009 Marketing Guide or an early millennial guide to publishing? Publishing and marketing concepts change at a dizzying speed. Many writing ideas in my possible articles folder were impulsive and weak “what ifs” hatched at the end of a writing retreat when I was creatively drained. Or an idea was a suggestion for revision from someone else that I admire, but the suggestion really doesn’t support my writing style?

The thirty-two photo albums have been drastically edited and scanned. If you are of a certain age, you may recall pre-digital film developing when you took every possible shot of the anniversary/wedding/trip, then sent the film away to some company in Connecticut, waited two weeks (yes, young friends, we waited), and then got thirty-six pictures of pretty much the same thing. Then came digital. But still I saved far too many. Most that I had accrued were easy to toss. The scanned photos from albums and current happenings chronicle my life. But also are useful in blogs for photo essays.

Granted almost all how-to information for writers is now online. Writers I use as mentors like Stephen King, Annie Dillard, David Brooks, Maya Angelou, Georgia Heard, and Natalie Goldberg, are nestled in their websites and have been quoted by thousands. Yet I still love hard copy and in print books. I write in margins in different color markers, and can sift back and forth faster in books than in documents on my laptop. Story Engineering, On Writing, Writing Down the Bones, Wouldn’t Give Nothing for My Journey Now, The Revision Toolbox, and Bird by Bird are on my bookshelf within reach as I write.

Culling through computer docs required more determination in assessment because if I wasn’t using them I told myself they had to go into the trash. A very final sounding word. Trash. Gone Done. That’s tough for me. Some went back to the Cloud with labels. “Still Possible Writing Ideas.”

Some, like the Grief box, moved from my office to my bedside to read and reread. Then I’ll decide. Toss? Save? There’s always the just-in-case file cabinet out in the garage. That’s off limits for spring-cleaning.

Some sifting through notes and folders and docs required time for a memory lane trip, acknowledging my continuing journey as a writer. Then toss.

And then there are the things I’m keeping for at least another year. I cherish them. They still move me emotionally as a writer. A framed first published article. The scrapbook from my first book launch. The first draft of a story from Thinking of Miller Place. Hand-written journals, spiritual quotes. Looking through the cherished books and ideas softens me, calms me, and reminds me how much I love words. These cherished items rekindle my passion for writing. And they either go back in the closet or up on the window shelf where I can see them.

What’s in your closet?