by Pari

If God is a tree, I'm in trouble.

I realized this the other day when I printed out yet another few chapters of my latest manuscript. You see, I've printed out these chapters before . . . many times before. But every iteration demands better editing and changes, so many changes.

My office is full of old paper, too. Up until this year, I carried around things I'd written thirty-plus years ago. I'm not talking about the stuff of legend, brilliant versions of potential books that scholars and librarians might want when I'm nothing more than dust. No. This stuff was just baggage: old term papers, that snippet I'd penned while waiting for a cup of coffee in a now defunct restaurant in Ann Arbor, the address on the back of a napkin of a long-forgotten lover.

In addition to my own piles of insignifance, I'd kept magazines with articles about how to get published that were so old email wasn't even mentioned. There were references to agents who've been dead for decades.

On my no-Internet Thursdays, I've begun to tackle these useless relics. The joy I get when I toss that paper into the recycling bin has been wondrous. Even more pleasurable is the shredding. I LOVE shredding! My little machine has growled its way through reams and reams — more than three industrial size garbage bags — of surplus verbiage.

I'm tossing out many of the current magazines and newsletters I receive as well. The only one I keep consistently is from Novelists, Inc. and that one comes via email anyway. I'm more careful about what I print out from the internet, too. Alex Sokoloff is responsible for destroying a couple of trees because I now have her entire Murderati series about writing in a binder on my bookshelf. (Though the pines may not thank you, Alex, I do!!).

Other than that, I'm being mighty selective about what has access to my office real estate. Sorry, The Economist, you're toast after I've read you. See ya round, New Yorker.

Another paper saving measure: I now call all the nonprofits we donate to that market via snailmail. I ask them to send only one notification/request for funding annually. This means we don't want their newsletters or magazines either — just that one reminder. I decided to make this request because some orgs send so much mail it starts to feel like badgering. We stopped giving to Smile Train because of it. The same goes for National Geographic and The Smithsonian. If the nonprofits' databases can't handle the once-a-year approach; we don't donate to them any more.

And don't tell me we can opt for email contact. It's just as obnoxious (even though paper is no longer the issue).

I often call advertisers and ask not to be included on any of their lists. I don't want to know about their special offers or bargains. No, thank you. You're just cluttering up my mailbox and life with crappola.(Which is why I opt-out of almost all email contact of this sort too.)

When I consistently get something from these businesses after making the request to be left alone, I take what they've sent me — along with the other junkmail I've received — and stuff those postage-paid envelopes to the brim and send them right back. (Of course I strip all personal info off the printed materials.)

This second solution is extremely childish.

It's also incredibly satisfying!

In spite of my efforts, the deforestation continues.

Alas and alack . . .
I continue to print out multiple versions of WIPs for editing. I learned years ago that I can see mistakes and feel the flow of my prose better when I'm looking at hard copy.

So, God, if you're a redwood, please forgive me.

I am trying. I really am.

What about you?
       Are you a packrat?
       Have you developed methods to cut the clutter?
       Do you have a pet peeve as far as orgs/businesses that send you unrequested information via snail mail?
       Are you a hard copy or eletronic editor for your WIPs?

25 thoughts on “Clutterbug

  1. B.G. Ritts

    “Are you a packrat?”

    Yes! And I’m good at it too. One of my earliest email handles was JunqueJumper. I’ve never figured out how to totally stop the collecting of possibly useful stuff.

    About 20 years ago I weeded out about half of my papers from college (I’d been out 20 years then). I still have all my text books, but I’m considering giving them the heave — it’s just the idea of tossing any book bothers me big time.

    Recently, the local library got about 350 of my books and will probably get at least another 100. I’ve found people to give my old encyclopedias and sets of art/artists/museum books to (I used My Britannica Great Books went to the first year Early College school in my county, and I’m waiting to hear if they’d like the Harvard Classics too. There’ll still be hundreds of books safely ensconced about me when I finish, though.

  2. Jim Winter

    My ex-wife called asking me if I wanted a box full of old stories that somehow ended up in her storage pod when she moved out.

    We hemmed and hawed about where and when to meet as we live about 30 miles apart now.

    Finally, one night as I was getting frustrated that I couldn’t put aside any time for the current Mrs. Winter, let alone the former one, I said, “Just shred it. I’ve got boxes and boxes and two file cabinets full of stuff I’ll never look at.”

    She said, “Oh, cool. It’s all one-sided. I can recycle it.”

    So from too many scheduling conflicts, I reduced the carbon footprint of two people in one phone call.

  3. pari

    B.G.,Lest you think I’m in a clutter free zone, think again! (Though I do imagine you in an organized environment, even if there IS mucho paper.)

    I haven’t even thought about beginning to touch what’s in my file cabinets.

    But it does feel good to get rid of some of the oldest and least necessary papers, doesn’t it?

  4. pari

    Jim,Would that most of life were that easy and that environmentally sound!

    I think I still keep some of my earliest writing in the hope that my children might appreciate it someday — or that when I’m famous and known as a brilliant writer, someone else will want it.

  5. CJ

    I felt guilty about this too so here’s what I do now:

    I print out using LIGHT GREY ink —

    and correct with pencil

    then I print in light grey ink on the other side of the paper

    again I correct in pencil

    then I print in BOLD BLACK ink on side one — and correct with DARK ink — I offset the page so it prints IN THE LINE SPACES of the first draft so it is EASY to read…

    and then do the same on the other side

    so one piece of paper — used for FOUR printouts

    I feel a LOT less guilty — plus the light grey ink saves on INK too…

    offsetting the page so the second print prints in the line psacing was a stroke of genius and made this possible

    I usually find after 4 drafts that I am ready to put it away for a long while — ready to start again later on


  6. Jake Nantz

    I am auch a packrat it’s ridiculous. But i do edit on the screen. It just works better for me. But yeah, my wife hates when I just put things somewhere, because I might need them some time.

  7. Gayle Carline

    I am a packrat who stuffs things away for months, then purges everything in a mad fit of organization. Then I find I’ve thrown out some piece of paper I needed. Still, I don’t learn my lesson.

    As far as pet peeves, I have a few:1. I signed up for paperless billing and still get snail mail offers from the credit card company, wanting me to spend more money.2. I get business cards, flyers, brochures and more stacked up on my front porch, in the gate, and stuck in the door. They want to mow my lawn, paint my house and sell me Avon. I want them to leave me alone.3. Flyers in my windshield. I don’t want a manicure, or to make extra money stuffing envelopes. And now I have to throw the damn things away.I’d like to reduce my eco-footprint, but these companies are not helping!


  8. J.T. Ellison

    I’ve been trying so hard to limit how much paper I use. I buy expensive notebooks so I’m not tempted to write three words on an 8 1/2 x 11 page and rip it out. I unsubscribe for email solicitations and don’t allow my name to be shared to other lists, and have limited my magazines to those that I can’t live without – Elle, Architectural Digest, La Cucina Italiana, People and Yoga Today. It does seem to be helping.

    But I’m not a clutter person – if it needs to be in my life, there’s a place for it. We just bought a great big filing cabinet (from Habitat for Humanity, so it’s recycled and inexpensive) that will hold all my stuff. In a past life, filing was a misery, but now I enjoy it. I like knowing where my things are. Embrace the OCD, JT.; )

  9. Brett Battles

    Total packrat here. I’ve got boxes and boxes of stuff stored under my parents’ house that they keep asking me to go through and throw out. UGH!

    Like you, Pari, I used to have to print out my manuscript to edit it. But on my last book I decided that I was wasting way too much paper so I decided to try and edit on my computer. (It’s the way Rob Browne does is, so if he could do it, I knew I should be able to, too!) And you know what? It was actually just as easy for me, and I felt better for doing it that way. Going to try it again on the book I’m working on now, and see if I can keep it up.

  10. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    I’m trying to subdue my inner pack-rat, but I agree there’s no substitute for looking at a printed-out piece of work to see if it works on the page.

    But, I use draft mode on the printer, one-and-a-half line spacing instead of double, and then when I’m done with it, I stack all the old paper in a box and use the clean side for making notes for the next chapter.

    On top of that, we recycle all our other paper – shredded and plain – tin cans, tin foil, plastic bottles, plastic bags and wrap, cartons, and glass, and we compost. All we usually put out for our weekly kerbside rubbish collection is the equivalent of a small knotted carrier bag’s worth.

    If it makes you feel better, when we built the house although we had to take out three old spruce trees that were where the foundations needed to go, we did plant ten new trees in their stead – all native Cumbrian species, with the exception of a Tibetan cherry. I just loved the red satin bark.

    But the best way to avoid pack-ratism, we’ve found, is to move house. Andy and I have moved ten times in the twenty-one years we’ve been together, and when you’re faced with the prospect of carting boxes of old paperwork up three flights of stairs, it tends to focus the mind on getting rid of excess clutter … ;-]

  11. pari

    CJ,What a beautiful solution. I love the idea of using pieces four times. That’s a stroke of genius, all right.

    What kind of printer do you have? I’ve really babied my laser printer — and haven’t had problems with it yet . . .

  12. pari

    Jake and Brett,I admire you both (and Rob) for being able to effectively edit onscreen. I can do it for short works, but not my novels. I just miss too much.

    Maybe it’s a generational thing?

  13. pari

    Gayline,I think we were separated at birth. I share the same pet peeves and do the same kind of purging-collecting-purging you do.

    I am trying to retrain myself, but it’s slow going.

    Your list of pet peeves really hit the spot. I especially don’t like the flyers under the windshield wipers because often I don’t see them until I’ve started driving.

  14. pari

    J.T.,I’ve seen your house . . . NO you’re not a clutterbug, not even on the same planet.

    I think part of my problem with clutter is that it also grows with two kids and a husband who has the same tendencies or is too busy to go through his paperwork.

    But I can’t blame it ALL on them.

    OCD, hunh? Um, how about KEOTP> (Keep everything on the planet.)

  15. pari

    Zoe,Your solution to avoid pack-ratism is brilliant and . . . well, inconceivable to me. I don’t want to move ever again. So, not only am I a pack rat, I’m a lump.

    Like you, we recycle as much as we can. We compost for the garden — and Albuquerque has a pretty good recycling program for plastics/aluminum and paper (including glossy magazines etc) — so I don’t feel as guilty as I used to about that.

  16. Allison Brennan

    Are you a packrat?


    Have you developed methods to cut the clutter?

    When I get into certain moods I have been known to toss out everything. But as my husband reminded me just yesterday, I have three huge boxes of paper stuff in the attic of the old house. He opened one and said, “Remember those books you said you were missing for the last fifteen years?” Yep! He found them! The second half of my Stephen King collection, packed in with magazines I had a good reason for keeping at the time . . .

    Do you have a pet peeve as far as orgs/businesses that send you unrequested information via snail mail?

    No. I toss it without thought. Phone calls? That’s another story . . . like you, I prefer to give once a year to my favorite charities.

    Are you a hard copy or eletronic editor for your WIPs?

    Electronic. I get hard copy copyedits and that’s usually the first time i read it printed out. I find oodles of stuff I need to fix, but honestly, I don’t have the time to print out on hardcopy (though I did for my first 4 or 5 books . . . ) However, because I have far more time to write the first of the Seven Deadly Sins book, I’ll probably print it out when it’s complete and edit it on hard copy.

  17. pari

    Allison,I wonder if I’ll be like you when I’ve got more books under my belt . . .

    If so, it’d be nice.

    It’s that old challenge of NOT having deadlines and, as a result, being able to dick around a lot more than I probably should.

  18. R.J. Mangahas

    I am a horrible pack rat. Everything from multiple drafts of short stories to old issues of God-knows-how-many magazines.

    Although I have gotten a little better. I tend to recycle a bit more now. But I still have to edit on hard copy. There’s just no way around that.

  19. Catherine

    My clutter intake/out take is a strange cycle…triggered into action by I don’t know what. Possibly influenced by how smoothly the rest of my life is going…though also a bit chicken and the egg. Without clutter I generally perform better because there is less visual distraction, less potential excuses to start a clutter purge. I’m presently trying to adjust my mindset that when something new comes in, something old goes out. Just having a mental picture of what a room needs to function well is helping…I just keep trying to maintain it to that standard.

    Actually Pari I find that helps the most, concentrating on how well something helps me. If it’s not beautiful, or functional it’s gone.I also donate a lot of books to the library and sell some to second hand dealers to buy new books.

    I feel for Brett’s parents.After countless requests to my children to come sort out my stuff was met with grunts and squeaks ,and no action… I’ve been packing up things they may regret being tossed in neat plastic storage boxes and drop them off every month or so. I think this lessens my having the weight of their stuff hanging around, and lessens the chances of wails of despair that ‘something’ is lost to them.

    I’ve vowed not to be the keeper of other people’s stuff after being imposed on by both an aunt and sister in between their moves…they knew I had the room for them to store some stuff, it was supposed to be temporary. Boy did that backfire.

    People, including me find it hard enough sorting out stuff we can see…no wonder the out of sight out of mind clause kicked in when they were able to offload their stuff onto me. Gah could rant too too long about responsibility of stuff, boundary setting and relatives.

    Going for a walk in the rainforest instead.

    I think the key to clutter management is to accept that there is a certain amount the tide brings in, and that it tends to lie about like so much debris unless you assist the tide on it’s way out.

  20. pari

    “I think the key to clutter management is to accept that there is a certain amount the tide brings in, and that it tends to lie about like so much debris unless you assist the tide on it’s way out.”

    Your whole commentary was wonderful, Catherine, but the concluding sentence was positively exquisite.

    One thing I’m trying is to throw 10 things away every day — they can be emails to paper to clothes to . . . whatever. Just doing that lightens the load.

    As to the children leaving their possessions for me to sort out, I’m so far away from that particular conundrum I can’t even think about it yet.

  21. pari

    I don’t know how you’d ever have TIME to dick around, Allison.

    I have this image of you as one of the most organized people in the world.

    Heck, I’ve got two kids and am frequently and totally flummoxed. It’s amazing I get anything done other than cooking and cleaning — and my success rate with the latter is debatable.

  22. R.J. Mangahas

    “What magazines do you feel compelled to hold onto? I’m curious.”

    Mostly my writing magazine, EQMM and AHMM, Mystery Scene and some other stuff I can’t even name off the top of my head right now. I’ve got a couple issue of MAD from the mid-90’s (I have no idea why), some martial arts magazine, even some magazine from when I was a kid (ie G.I. Joe Magazine). Again, I really don’t know why I have half the stuff I do.

  23. CJ

    my printer is a scanner, copier, fax printer thing…

    I get refilled cartridges which are cheaper and more environmentally friendly — and found a supplier who uses a more eco type of ink — can’t use it for final prints but wokrs great for the drafts!



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