Outer Chaos Inner Calm

“If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
~ Albert Einstein

My arms hang limply at my sides as I survey my small apartment. Helplessly I gaze at what I call my ‘heaps’ which lie everywhere. From all sides they crowd me, my collections of fabric, stacks of bills to pay and bills to file, coupons I might (will never) use, half-read magazines, college catalogues filled with courses I am interested in but will never get around to, and projects I have started but lost the momentum to finish.

Most days I am oblivious to the clutter. I enter, my arms full of the day’s accumulations. Motorcycle gear is tossed on a chair, mail is taken to the kitchen counter to peruse as I cook dinner. Keys, sunglasses, purse and lunch bag are left on the dining table for easy access tomorrow, only to be pushed aside later when I sit down at the table to work on my current sewing project. Certainly there is no room to eat at this table, but it troubles me not.

My unease with the general untidiness today, however, tells me it’s time to again repeat the never-ending cycle of fabricated organization I have created.

When I pare down my heaps I feel a sense of anticipation. Once they are organized and put away, I will be well-positioned to complete … something. It’s terribly elusive, this dream I grasp at; the vague notion I need only to straighten out my physical chaos and mental calm will be my reward. With said order established, I will complete projects, my home will be uncluttered and I will be, as they say, master of my domain. For now, however, I stand inescapably surrounded.

And so I once more attempt to make molehills of my mountains. From the assembled coupons, those which have expired are thrown out. I reconcile my bills weekly, when I am paid rather than in response to a specific statement, so the to-pay stack, left ignored, is added to those to be filed, and fresh unpaid invoices replace them. Periodically, when the to-file pile can no longer be kept from falling over, I will sort them into my ever-expanding accordion file. That too needs to be purged of useless paper.

Course catalogues for a semester already begun are crammed into an overfull bag for recycling. Old magazines are taken from the coffee table and added in chronological order to a larger, but hidden, stack of past issues, kept in case I ever wish to revisit an article. Every year or so I thin these out, adding to the recycling those periodicals I feel most able to access online, or those whose content appears dated and arguably unnecessary. Some, I will be convinced, may still be of use and I believe I may regret not having access to them, and so they will remain.

The unassembled pieces of my boyfriend’s quilt are re-folded and tidied with a renewed intent to finish this undertaking begun more than three years ago. I put away (but do not throw out or sort through) leftover fabric from a gift I actually finished – a deadline provides a wonderful impetus to wrap up a project.

The reprieve I anticipate after such an assault on my heaps escapes me. Rather, I am freshly aware of my overall lack of organization resulting in these periodic emergency clean-ups. Instead of obtaining inner peace, I struggle with the knowledge I have only temporarily managed to overcome my persistent state of procrastination. Reorganization was required to cure my discomfort but far better is the blissful ignorance that permeates the majority of my days.

Tomorrow I will return to my comfortable ways. I will increase my quasi-organized piles – one for new coupons, another for important papers. I will dispose of anything with my address on it if the shredder is plugged in, or create a new pile until the appliance using that outlet is no longer needed. I will enjoy the inner calm that is mine when I accept the contradiction of my physical and mental environments.

- 30 -

Outer Chaos Inner Calm


Geneva, United States

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Written as an entry into a WOW writing contest. The prompt was "In less than 750 words, tell us how recreating your personal space has changed your life, or how by making changes in your life, it has moved you to express yourself and recreate your home. These can be personal stories of love, loss, moving to a new area, or anything that has affected or inspired you to recreate your life and your home.

Only stories that have the Prompt incorporated in them will be accepted. You may do this any creative way you would like, just make sure anyone would know you wrote your story specifically for this contest."

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