Monday, October 19, 2009

An Untidy Life

Here’s the thing: whether it’s working out a knotty design problem on my computer or making a shadow box or trimming the hedge, I use up my energy on the doing. Which means that I rarely have any energy left to adequately clean up after myself. Needless to say, that does not make for a tidy life.

Sometimes I’ll bundle up whatever I’ve been working on and shove it into a drawer or pile it on my worktable, and later regret that I didn’t take the time and care to put things away properly. Or I’ll spend an hour cleaning out and reorganizing my art supplies, but then will come across something that just doesn’t fit into my scheme. If my energy engine has run out of gas, I’ll just toss that outlier in there somewhere, thus compromising my rare attempt to straighten things up.

The worktable in my studio is anything but. It’s actually a work storage table. All of my projects seem to end up there, waiting for me to take the next step. It’s a heap of stuff that ranges from little plastic animals to sand dollars, fabric, hot glue sticks, corks, and frames. I walk by the door, see the disarray and quickly glance away. I work on my dining room table instead; because it’s front and center in my house, I tend to keep it clean. When I’ve exhausted myself making boxes on the dining room table, I gather everything up and—you guessed it—dump it on my worktable upstairs.

I have friends who are total neatniks. Their houses are clutter-free, their workbenches and desks clean and organized, so that when they next go to fix a chair leg or write the next chapter in their novel, they start with a clean slate. In some ways, I envy them. I’d love to have all of my stuff properly organized and put away, with some rational system for finding it when I’m ready to work with it. On the other hand, the amount of time they spend cleaning up is time they aren’t spending making things. I'd rather make things.

Yes, yes, I know—in the long run, the neatniks are probably far more productive than I am. And they probably have fewer self-made disasters, where the pile of stuff on my worktable falls to the floor as I try to add just one more thing to the pile, or when I get hot glue all over my kitchen counter because I just had to put a piece together in the kitchen.

But their work is tighter, too. As beautiful and inspired as it may be, their process feels constrained to me, with nothing unplanned, with little or no opportunity for the happy accident. It’s like skiers who ski a slope with a plan in mind, mapping their course out before starting down, versus those of us who ski in the moment, with the attitude that we’ll handle whatever comes. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t, but there's always the possibility that it will be the best run we ever had.

There are times when I wish I were more like the neatniks and the planners. But mostly not. Much as I'd love to have my house and worktable orderly when I walk in the door, I love the fact that I am never really done with the doing. May it always be so.

1 comment:

lucyfree said...

Although I am of the untidy group, always gathering more information and objects than I can sort, I can recommend one happy development: the occasional intervention by a friend or paid organizer. Never gets all the way through the clutter, but my life is lightened up and made clearer at least for a while. I say this as I retrieve the box into which I dumped the unsorted stuff when I last cleared surfaces. Must follow David Allen's advice and deal with every piece in the pile in order. Good luck on that one.
Kudos to you for your honesty and self-observation!