Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Fine Art of Dejunking

I need to start off this essay with a disclaimer: You will NOT be learning the fine art of dejunking by reading this. So if you clicked on this link thinking you would learn how to dejunk like a pro, I apologize for misleading you. Indeed, you would be more likely to learn about particle physics from Paris Hilton than you would to learn about effective dejunking techniques from me.

So why bring this up? Well, yesterday I had one of those moments when you truly see something for the very first time. What I saw was my desk-- and really, I didn't see much of it. The truth is that it is awash in ten years’ worth of detritus. Really, the only visible parts of my desk are the top shelf, where our cat often sleeps, and a 15-inch by 10-inch spot where I place my laptop. The rest of my desk (and it's a decent-sized desk) is overrun by papers, notebooks, magazines, software, index cards, calculators, and the occasional dust bunny.

As I gazed on the monstrosity in my den, I suddenly flashed back about 20 years to my time on the editorial staff of MAD Magazine. At the time that I worked there Nick Meglin was one of the editors. Nick had been working at MAD since the mid-1950s and I'm relatively certain that over the ensuing four decades he never removed one item from his office, which contained six-foot high stacks of paper that were arranged in a way not at all dissimilar to the hedge maze in "The Shining." Of course, given where we worked, the chaos that was Nick's office was often the target of well-crafted mocking and ridicule. I'm sure I threw a zinger or two his way about his office decor during my time on staff. (Although the zingers were often blocked by the gargantuan mass of artwork and 30-year-old contracts that engulfed his workspace.)

And now here I was, looking at my own desk, which was essentially a mini-version of Nick's office. I decided that something must be done and so my dejunking project began. I sat down at my desk and turned my attention to the mess before me. Then I got overwhelmed, so I went into the kitchen and ate a Reese's Klondike Bar. Fortified by the sugar and cocoa rush, I went back to my desk and this time really dug in.

The top layer of junk yielded expected results-- recent bills and receipts that either needed to be paid or thrown out; drawings of Iron Man and flowers from my kids; and random movie ticket stubs. But as I dug deeper I began to surface more unusual items. A map I printed from Mapquest in 2009 to an address in Scottsdale, Arizona that has no meaning to me now. (I'm tempted to drive to it just to see what's there.) Jiffy Lube paperwork for an oil change I got in 2005 for a car I no longer own. (Ironic, since I have no idea where the paperwork is for the oil change I got last month.) A piece of loose-leaf paper on which I scrawled an idea for a children's book about an old codger named "Jimothy." (I didn't write down anything beyond that, so I don't recollect what the idea actually was.) A receipt for a Sonic milkshake purchased in 2003. (Glad I didn't throw that one out!)

While one might think the best method for dejunking my desk might be to simply take a blowtorch to the entire pile, the problem is that tucked in among the thousands of pointless items that I've been saving since the Bush administration (um...yeah...the older Bush) are things that I actually should keep. Instructions on how to change the filter on our humidifier. (Our kids get colds a lot.) The phone number for poison control. (Just in case someone in the house has a run in with a scorpion like my wife did in 2006.) A list of my 500 favorite movies circa 1998. (Hey, I like to see how my tastes evolve over time.)

For each item that one comes across in the dejunking process a choice must be made-- throw out or keep. Throwing out is easy, but what do you do with something that you keep? It can't go back on the pile, because clearly that defeats the purpose. We do have a filing cabinet and some items can go there, but the cabinet is only so large and could not possibly contain everything from the desk. I thought about the garage, but that's a hellish clutter fifty times the size of my desk. (Someday, when I have eight or nine months to spare I'll dejunk the garage.) I contemplated stuffing some papers under my sons' mattresses while they slept, but that doesn't seem like a very fatherly thing to do. So what then? Short of purchasing a larger house I'm at a loss.

And this gets me back to the title of this tome. I know that there are people out there (perhaps even you, dear reader) who are skilled at the fine art of dejunking. I need your help. Maybe you have a pamphlet or a manual that teaches the mysterious ways of this art. If so, please send it my way as I am in desperate need of this vital information. Well, on second thought you better not. It would probably just end up somewhere on my desk not to surface for another ten years.

Maybe just send me a blowtorch instead.