DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Jan 23 2013

How I spent my fall vacation

by Dea Anne M

Back in October I took a “staycation” with a specific purpose in mind. There’s a spare room in my house that, over time, had become an impossible mess. Towering piles of paper sat on every available surface, and I do mean every available surface. I’m including the floor. Yellowing, long unread paperbacks jammed the book shelves. Craft supplies were stowed neatly in plastic boxes but I never used them because getting them out was an exercise in frustration. Dust and disorder reigned in that room and I hated going into it or even looking inside. My mission was to get the room cleaned out, organized, and ready for use as a dedicated art and craft studio. I am fully aware, of course, how fortunate I am to have enough space in my home to even contemplate such a project and this awareness served both to increase my frustration with what I had allowed the room to become and provided an impetus to get the project finished.

Tackling all that paper was the first step and it took me three full days to sort through, shred, organize, and file everything. Allow me to let that sink in with you for a moment. Three. Full. Days. I’m talking years worth of paper here – unopened junk mail, bank statements, long paid bills, stacks of receipts, tax returns – stuffed into canvas bags or stacked all over the previously mentioned surfaces. I guess the good thing is that if some official type had suddenly demanded that I produce the water bill I paid in February of  2005 then I would have been able to do so. Maybe. Finding said bill would have been a very different matter. Somewhere around the middle of the second day, I started feeling a lot of negative emotions about the whole process. “How did I let it get this bad?” I moaned. “What kind of person does that?” Fortunately, I realized that this sort of thinking wasn’t going to make the paper disappear by itself. I was lucky enough too to have access to fast and sturdy home paper shredder and finally the job was finished.

Do you need to wrangle your papers into some semblance of order? If so, then I trust you aren’t facing the same sort of disorder that I did but even if  you are, just know thatfinancial you can do it. You really can. My advice would be tackle the project and when it’s done keep it going. Go through your mail at least once a week and toss, shred, pay or respond, and file. Once a year, go through your files and do the same thing. Find out what records you need to keep and for how long and, honestly, I think going paperless when you can really helps although not everyone is comfortable with this and that’s okay too. Two resources from DCPL that I have found helpful are One Year to An Organized Financial Life: from your bills to your bank account, your home to your retirement, the week by week guide to achieving financial peace of mind by Regina Leeds and Russell Wild and Get It Together: organize your records so your family won’t have to by Melanie Cullen.

Once I had the paper squared away, I was able to toss or donate unwanted items, deep clean everything, and start arranging the room to fit my vision. I was pleased to find that, other than the purchase of a few storage boxes, I actually spent very little money on the project. I was able to rearrange and repurpose the existing furniture and pull pieces from other rooms to make a tidy and functional craft room that I just love working in. Now all my supplies are near at hand, nicely displayed or contained,  and readily available for any project I have in mind and that makes me very, very happy.  If you’re contemplating a similar project then I highly recommend two books, both available at DCPL.  Inside the Creative Studio: inspiration and ideas for your art and craft space by Cate Coulacos Prato features artistsstudio who work in many different mediums and their work spaces which range from purpose-built constructions to industrial spaces to corners of living rooms and studio apartments to closets. Some of the tiniest work spaces are the most intriguing but all bear the stamp of the individual artist and all provide inspiration to help make creative dreams come true. Creative Time and Space: making room for making art by Rice Freeman-Zachery focuses of artists’ work spaces too but also addresses the processes by which artists make mental space for their art. It’s a gorgeous book and just wonderful to read. You may find yourself thinking “Hey, I’m an artist too!”

Working on my art room has led to an interest in tackling other areas of my living space (and life really) that lack organization. Is that true for you too? If so, allow me to suggest two resources available from DCPL that I have found very helpful. Shed Your Stuff Change Your Life: a four-step guide to getting unstuck by Julie Morgenstern has been a revelation and if that sound dramatic…well, so be it. Morgenstern takes an “inside out” approach to organizing that isn’t so much about possessing the right filing system or closet fittings so much as it’s about what’s holding you back or distracting you from what you really want. Her aim is to help you release what isn’t enhancing your life and make time and space for what matters most. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. My best indextake away? It may sound silly perhaps and not everyone can, wants to, or even needs to do this but I’ve started delaying checking email until I am at least an hour into my day. You might wonder how useful that can be but all I know is that it’s working for me. Finally, don’t miss Stacy Platt’s wonderful  What’s A Disorganized Person To Do? Platt’s book addresses all aspects of home organization and the ample photographs will make the snarliest challenges (Fitted sheets? I’m looking at you!) crystal clear. Not to go all hyperbolic, but this book has changed my entire approach to folding laundry and if you think that’s insignificant…well, you never saw my linen closet in its woeful “before” condition. Now, I have a linen closet that will sometimes draw me upstairs just to look at. If I could enter it into a tour of homes, I probably would…I’m that proud of it.

Next project?…my clothes closet, otherwise know as the Black Hole of Alston Drive.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Joseph M January 23, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Thanks for the recommendations! My house is definitely in need of organizing. I think I would need a good three days to sift through and organize all my papers, too!

Effie C. January 24, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Dea Anne, this is just the kick-start I needed. I have visions of conquering my paper mountaintop. OK I will take your words to heart. I can do it. I really can. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks and enjoy your new craft room.

Ev January 25, 2013 at 12:16 PM

We have a wood burning fire place. We recently went through some of our paperwork and had a nice little fire.

Veronica W January 26, 2013 at 9:51 AM

I recently burned out an inexpensive paper shredder by deciding to finally deal with the stacks of papers I stepped around or avoided looking at. I now have purposed in my heart to be more proactive about handling unnecessary paper…or get a better shredder.

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