I’m not at all joking when I say that cleaning out closets, files, offices, drawers, bookshelves is one of my absolute favorite things to do. I love to think about things leaving my space (or the space of people whom I curse with my desire to purge). I love to see bags of recycling or donations for Goodwill. I love to watch the pile of books for Bookmooch teeter precariously. Something about removing excess just feels satisfying to the soul.
The same is true of writing, I think. Sometimes what we really need is a good “word” sweeping. Someone once told me, and I now tell my students – “Try to cut 1/3 of the words out of your piece.” There’s a power to tight, careful lines of language.
Another way to look at this is by considering all those things – those phrases, sentences, dresses from weddings ten years ago – that we see shimmering out from the rest of the words on the page or the flannel in our wardrobes. As someone – who I think is Flannery O’Connor (But maybe I just think that because darlings often died in her stories) – said, sometimes we have to “kill our darlings.” Sometimes we have to take out that brilliant sentence because it doesn’t work with the rest of the sentences around it. Sequined sentences don’t work in a denim story.
Sometimes the best thing we can do for our junk drawers, our essays, and our souls is to find the path to catharsis and decluttering. You never know what you might find behind the giant tangle of rubber bands.
“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”â€” Wendell Berry