Remember last fall when your husband’s parents called to say they were coming for a visit the third week of April and you thought April seemed like a million years away? Surprise, it’s April!
I’ve spent the past several weeks trying desperately to de-clutter my home in preparation for the arrival of my in-laws on Monday. In all fairness, they are very easy going people and have never judged my house keeping skills, but I think they appreciated that they could find their bed.
Like everyone, I want my house to be clean and neat. I don’t want excess; less is more and I want more. Or less. More or less. Whatever, my problem is that I love stuff. A lot. And I am sentimental. So I keep everything. I have the sweater I was wearing when my husband proposed. I have every scrap of paper on which my children created scribbled masterpieces. I have birthday cards, anniversary cards, and pamphlets/maps/postcards from trips I have taken with my family. And BOOKS? So. Many. Books.
It is possible I am a hoarder. I’ve seen the show, and while my house was not television-worthy, it was well on its way. So, when my husband’s parents told us they were coming, I thought it was the perfect time to purge. You know, like in Ecclesiastes 3, where it says there is a time to keep and a time to throw away.
Honestly, it especially felt good to get rid of clothes. My family of four seems to have significant trouble with our laundry, so we donated a significant portion of our clothing. Not only did it clean out our closets and drawers (and laundry room and garage), but it provided for others and it felt good. I know I feel like I function better with less “stuff” piled up everywhere.
Last night my mother-in-law and I were discussing the never-ending battle against clutter in our homes and it got me thinking about my writing. I know it is much easier for me to concentrate on writing when I have a neatly organized workspace, but I was actually thinking about the clutter within my writing. I know I am guilty of padding my writing with a lot of extra flowery wording in an attempt to sound literary and important. I cram words into sentences the way I cram laundry into laundry baskets; at some point they get heavy and overstuffed and in the end, you can’t really make sense of any of it.
William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, says that "clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon." Ouch! Get me vaccinated!
Luckily there are a few things we can do to de-clutter our writing. First and foremost, we must make every word count. Tell your story in the fewest words necessary. Also, we can work on shortening clauses and phrases, and avoiding redundancies. Furthermore, resist the temptation to use the words “very,” “really,” and “totally.” You know there is a better way to write that sentence, so do it! The same thing is true of wasting time writing with a bunch of vague words. Get out your thesaurus, and find that perfect, specific word. Finally, don’t open your sentences with phrases like “there is…” or “there are…” Just cut to the chase already!
William Zinsser also says that "fighting clutter is like fighting weeds--the writer is always slightly behind." For me it’s more like fighting my laundry.
~Heidi Larson Geis