It's been three years since I did a thorough cleaning of my home office. This weekend, I decided it was time. I went through the piles of papers, the canvas bags of miscellaneous folders, the baskets of random stuff. I emptied the desk drawers and threw away anything I no longer needed. I weeded the files in the overstuffed file cabinet, making room for new files. I cleaned away the various items that had accumulated on the edges of the book shelves and rearranged the books to make room for the stacks on the floor.
During this archeological dig, I discovered bits and pieces of my life. I found conference nametags, stuffed with the cards and email addresses of colleagues, stirring memories of trips to other parts of the country. When my husband is out of town, he often sends me flowers, and I always save the little cards with the affectionate messages on them, even though it's always strange to see his words in someone else's handwriting. I found holiday cards made by my kids, artwork by With-a-Why, scribbled messages to myself, ticket stubs, play bills, a burned CD of sad music, and a worn friendship bracelet.
Perhaps the toughest part of cleaning my office are the feathers, rocks, and seashells that are gathered on the windowsill and bookshelves. I can't part with any of those, so they just keep getting moved around. I have a snakeskin draped across one shelf, as a reminder to myself that growing and changing sometimes means the painful shedding of old skin.
Of course, unlike my kids, who all have minimalistic tendencies, my inclination is to be a pack rat. Cleaning doesn't really mean, for me, putting anything in the trash or the recycling bin. Instead I filled a cardboard box with stuff and piled it neatly in the crawlspace below the house, near the other boxes I put down there the last time I cleaned. I am comforted somehow by the idea that I haven't really gotten rid of any of these bits and pieces of my life; they are safely stored. Someday after I die, my kids can toss this stuff away for me.
By the end of the weekend, the top of my desk was empty, the file drawers were no longer bulging, the shelves were organized, and all the carpet on the floor had been uncovered and vacuumed. I love the feel of new space, room for new projects and growth.