The Den

This post was published more than a few years ago (on 2011-05-01) and may contain inaccurate technical information, outmoded thoughts, or cringe takes. Proceed at your own risk.

I am listening to the audiobook of When Organizing Isn’t Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life. It’s a lot of obvious fluff, but it included this (probably apocryphal) gem:

A well-known Zen parable tells of a wanderer on a lonely road who happened upon a fierce stream that had washed out the bridge to cross over it.

The man, afraid to swim against such a strong current, decided to build a raft. He spent many hours cutting down trees and vines for the project. In the end, the wanderer had a very sturdy raft that brought him safely across the river.

Once on the other side, he thought to himself: This is a good raft. If I meet with another stream ahead, I can use it again to navigate the water.

And so the wanderer carried the raft for the rest of his life.

I’ve struggled for years with… well, I’m not sure that I’d call it hoarding. I take some small consolation that I’m not quite as bad as the people on Hoarders [shudder], but I certainly have way too much stuff.

I come by it honestly — my Grandpa had a basement full of stuff that I thought was awesome as a kid. Ancient letters, stuff from my mom’s childhood, old Byte magazines and National Geographics, Super8 cameras and Lionel trains and 78 LPs. I loved to explore this space when I was a kid, discovering amazing treasures. And hideous spider webs.

And then, when my Grandpa died, my parents spent months carting junk out of that basement, very little of it useful or beautiful. I resolved then that I would never leave such a task for my survivors, but I still struggle with it mightily.

My friend AAlgar has often joked that my den, The Den, is a sentient being that possesses any structure that I inhabit, compelling me through some telepathic suggestion to feed it enormous amounts of stuff, to some nefarious end. I have, at times, wondered if this might be true. No matter how hard I try to purge items from my space, no matter how I love the amazing freedom I feel when faced with a clean, open area to live and work in, I seem to let it creep back in.

Sadly, this is not a blog post of triumph. I still haven’t conquered the beast. I don’t know why I keep reading these organizing/purging books — they all pretty much say the same thing. (I admit I am the sort of fellow who will buy a book about something, subconsciously thinking that simply acquiring the books will somehow convert knowledge into action by means of some sort of osmosis of focus and excitement.) I suppose in the end, it is that I am not committed to it enough. I get excited, I clean, I focus on other things, it creeps back in.

I have, over the years, become better at letting go of things that are no longer needed, but it still takes me a very long time. I still hold on to a few outdated books because of their sentimental value due to being owned by my Grandpa, which… I suppose if you look at it objectively, is probably related to my lingering unresolved issues of not being able to talk to my Grandpa in his later stages of Parkinson’s, as if his books hold some information that I could not receive from him directly.

It’s tough. I keep working on it. I need to keep keep working on it, instead of it becoming this semi-annual sine wave of purging. It needs to become a weekly, even daily habit to keep things in order. To keep my notes and thoughts organized.

It’s tough. I keep working on it. It gets a little better.