Monday, September 3, 2007


The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories says, "Clutter [late Middle English] started out as a verb. It is a variant of dialect clotter 'to clot,' influenced by cluster and imitative Old English word clatter. See clot." Clot: "Old English clot(t) is Germanic in origin and related to German Klotz. With reference to a person, a clot was originally (mid 17th century) 'a clumsy person' but it came to be associated with stupidity."

I spent Labor Day weekend getting rid of the clutter in my study, currently defined by the dictionary in my version of Microsoft Word as "noun: 1) an untidy collection of objects; 2) a condition of disorderliness or overcrowding; 3) images on a radar screen that hinder observation; or as a verb: to make a place untidy and overfilled with objects." There is some clumsiness involved in getting rid of clutter—we were tripping over piles and on boxes that are in different places. I think I've cleared paths now through the bags and boxes waiting to be taken to Goodwill or to the curb. On this side of the weekend, I am thinking it's a harsh, but perhaps accurate, judgment to regard clutter as a form of stupidity. What else can you call having had a space so full of paper that there are now twelve grocery bags of recycling waiting to go out? That doesn't count the boxes of things that have been organized, consolidated and trashed.

Several years ago, I read an article in the Boston Globe about the FlyLady. She's all over getting rid of clutter and I have to say that her clean sink trick is very helpful to me in knowing where to start in the kitchen or how to keep the kitchen clean: spend a few minutes to make the sink clean and shiny. For the office, FlyLady recommends Chaos Control. Of course, I just discovered that after spending all weekend at this task. My office at work is not quite as bad as my study was, mostly because it's smaller and because other people need to access the paper, so it stays more organized. But while not berating myself, how does a single room get so bad? ...

For those people who keep Sabbath in the letter, not the spirit, I would guess that my weekend cleaning and clutter-removing binge is not Shabbatful. Sometimes, however, spaciousness comes from our work to clear space. My long weekend's work now brings Sabbath and readiness for the coming school year. There is empty floor space and desk space and shelf space and drawer space, and plenty of paper and pens and pencils and binders, once lost in clutter, now found and accessible.

The spirit of the Sabbath is to set aside time to prepare yourself to emulate God's work of creation—sometimes that's rest and reflection and relaxation, and sometimes it's clearing out the space to allow creativity to happen. Just now, I'm going to bask in the emptiness. I have to say that I feel more joy looking at my clean study than I might after a worship service, and joy is quite central to Sabbath. This is holy and blessed time indeed.

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