Stuff and nonsense, 1/30/20

The beginning of the new year—and a new decade, no less—is a good time to shed one's baggage, which is why I ended up hauling a 63 pound suitcase to California with me back in December. (My New York apartment is a walk-up, and I do not have the upper body strength to lift 63 pounds down a flight of stairs, so to transport it I braced myself below the suitcase and essentially had it fall on me, step by step, as I descended.) "What's in here?" the cabdriver I hailed demanded as he swung it, with effort, into the trunk. It was paper, and not the kind you can buy things with or roll up dank weed in. It included my notebooks and readings from school to be filed away, a year's worth of receipts for tax deduction purposes, around 40 back issues of magazines, and approximately 20 books. 

I generally adhere to a Marie Kondo-like philosophy regarding my possessions—I prefer to own fewer objects that I prize; I store my clothes vertically in their drawers like file folders. But paper is the one arena where I veer from orthodoxy. "My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away," she writes, a statement I view as a direct attack on everything I stand for. Last semester, my kitchen table accumulated a beefy, unholy stack of journalism. I'd buy the fat Sunday edition of the New York Times every week, and I also started subscribing to various highbrow literary magazines on my teachers' recommendations. Once received, these would all go on The Pile—I never felt like I had time to read them during the semester itself. 

So I spent most of January decluttering: one week was spent nestled in a giant furry beanbag, plowing through issues of the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review, and Bookforum. I spent another week cozied up in bed sifting through my inbox. My email hygiene is also generally a hot mess—I open new messages, feel a vague sense of obligation, do nothing, then repeat the process until I have the time/emotional bandwidth to actually deal with them, usually months later. So I archived a year's worth of Lyft receipts and Venmo notifications and read newsletter backlogs and made the executive decision to unsubscribe from most of them. Poem-a-Day, I hardly knew ye.

But the promise of KonMari-ing, and decluttering in general, isn't just having less stuff and more happiness. It's also that, by getting rid of your extra stuff, you also remove the mental burden of having that stuff, which then frees you up to consider what you actually want from life. Once you've fully KonMari-ed your home, you might just realize what your true passion is, or go out and finally find a boyfriend (at least, that's how the manga version of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—which I read in its entirety standing up in a bookstore—ends). The goal, weirdly, is focus.

And yet I spent January feeling more lost about my career prospects than ever. It's our modern affliction that we have multifarious apps and byzantine ways to keep ourselves from constantly checking our email (where, again, the goal is focus). But it was the absence of email that was torturing me. I'd check my email, receive no new messages, stare into the abyss, and then focus really hard—on my own failures. Here, roughly, was the progression of my constantly iterating thought-loop:

1. no one is responding to my emails

2. my writing isn't good/literary enough to be taken seriously 

3. my writing isn't good/literary enough to make an actual career out of it 

4. i have no employable skills

5. oh god i'm going to hit 30 and not have any employable skills

6. maybe i should quit and take up another, more honest line of work, thereby contributing to humanity and a 401(k) like everyone else 

7. oh wait, see 4. 

8. i have wasted my life

9. is 27 too young to give up on one's dreams 

On the bright side, I've stopped checking my email so much.

I feel slightly less unhinged now that I'm back in New York, possibly because I now have plenty of paper to distract me. I edit book reviews for a website, and publishers are constantly sending me forthcoming books, unprompted. This sounds great—free books!—until you realize that I get on average one book a day. To change my address when I moved, I had to email more than ten publishers individually, and sometimes I wasn't even sure how they'd gotten my address. (Even now, some publishers are still sending books to my old Bay Area apartment.) 

This past Sunday, I went to go pick up a month and a half's worth of mail from my local UPS store. I gave my ID to the guy at the counter, and his eyes widened. "Oh, yeah, we've got packages for you," he said. Then he went into the back room and brought out a clear trash bag with fifteen packages in it. "We sent some back, but there were so many we stopped," he said. "Next time, leave a phone number." (Incidentally, when I cleaned out my inbox, I deleted or archived more than a hundred UPS email notifications.) Then I went home, unwrapped the books, and added them to the towering stacks on my beleaguered kitchen table. Right now, there are 129 books on it.