Published January 11, 2011

Shelia Shares....

At the start of this new year, I want to share a guest column that I need to hear – and then act upon. Maybe you do, too. – Shelia

Clutter and Chaos
By Shirley McMillan

"Mom, you need to get rid of some stuff," my son announced. "Your place is beginning to look like an old lady's house with boxes of junk you can't bear to part with. Your office is cluttered with boxes of stuff, and your desk is piled high with stacks of paper. I don't know how you can find anything when you need it."

I knew Jimmy was right. Clutter and chaos are all around me. Last year and the year before, and the year before that, I resolved to take charge of my space and get rid of clutter and chaos. Now I find myself surrounded by more of it than ever before.

Piles and piles of papers stare back at me. "What are you going to do about me?" they taunt, like rebellious teenagers beyond parental control.

And like a frustrated parent, I vow to put them in their place. The trouble is, I don't know where their place is. I've run out of places to put things.

What do I do with Christmas cards and birthday cards and Mother's Day cards received over the years? What do I do with boxes and boxes of photographs, the record of a lifetime of events and relationships? Will anyone care about them after I'm gone? Probably not. But getting rid of them seems like sacrilege. Like throwing away pieces of the past or discarding the people in those photos.

What do I do with piles of gorgeous magazines that entire staffs of editors and writers, artists and photographers spent months planning and producing? What do I do with all those "Writer" magazines and the helpful notes I've taken at writers' conferences? Not that I ever actually refer to them when I'm working on an assignment.

What do I do with reports and records and receipts that I might need to refer to sometime? What do I do with books that I've read, and might want to read again? I might need to look up a reference or quote for a piece I'm working on.

What do I do with electronic equipment that I no longer use and no one else wants – a typewriter, a word processor, a printer and a four-in-one scanner-copier-printer-fax machine, old telephones? And what about the box of framed and unframed pictures on the closet floor? And the collection of 33-rpm records that I can't play without a stylus for my stereo? And the quilting fabrics for quilts I will never make?

Would more filing cabinets, bookcases and storage racks solve my problem? Or would they only become places to accumulate more stuff that I don't need? I already know the answer to that. Stuff seems to multiply while I'm not looking.

And then there are the boxes and bins in the garage, boxes that have not been unpacked since I moved here eleven years ago. I don't even know what's in some of them. I tell myself that if I haven't needed their contents in all this time, I'm not likely to need them in the next eleven years, or however long I live. I really must do something about all this stuff, but the task is too big for me, and there's always a reason I can't do it. In the summer it's too hot to work in the garage, and in the winter it's too cold. In the spring and fall there is so much work to be done in the garden that it leaves no time for sorting and disposing of things in the garage.

Is this mess a picture of my interior space? What kind of junk have I been hanging onto and cluttering my life with? Are things like anger and resentment and unforgiveness taking up space and crowding out peace and contentment and agape love?

As I sit here amid my clutter and chaos, I make a decision. I will get rid of the junk. If I don't do it, someone else will have to do it when I'm gone. I can see them now, sorting through my stuff and wondering aloud, "Why in the world did she hang onto that?"

And from my new home in the sky I'll be watching and wondering too – and hearing again the comment Jimmy made the last time he mentioned my clutter.

"Don't worry, Mom. It won't take me long to get rid of it after you're gone."

This article copyright 2010 by Shirley Gall McMillan, all rights reserved, used here by permission. May not be reproduced without written permission from the author. Adapted from the book, Angels Watching: Memoirs of a Country Girl from Wakarusa, published 2007, available from and

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