These past few months I haven’t had a chance to write on the blog because I’ve been preparing for a big adventure. I’m moving to North Carolina!
It still feels strange to write that though the moving date is now days away. I’ve lived in New York my whole life so it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that I’ll soon be calling another state home.
But I’m excited for what the future holds, and I can’t wait to get past the craziness of moving.
This move so far has felt like a crash-course in becoming a minimalist. My parents are selling their house and moving to North Carolina too, and we simply can’t take everything with us.
So we’ve had garage sales, given away or donated furniture and books, and thrown out everything else that won’t fit in the moving truck.
Cutting Through The Clutter
Through this process, we’ve realized that many of the things we own we really don’t need. Sure, there are those items that are wrapped in memories. But the memories we’ll always have while the item itself is old now or perhaps ready to be passed on to a new home.
In my parents’ attic, for example, I found my childhood dollhouse perched on a table. I’d nearly forgotten how big and beautiful it was with its six rooms and wrap-around porch.
As a child, I loved creating stories about the miniature family that lived there and decorating the rooms with the furniture that fit so wonderfully in the palm of my hand. One day, my mom showed me how to wallpaper the kitchen, and my dad wired the rooms for electricity.
Unfortunately, I grew older before we had a chance to wallpaper the rest of the rooms. And up it went into the attic.
This month as I sorted through my things and tried to decide what to keep and what to part with, I nearly thought about taking the dollhouse with me. Maybe one day I’d have time to continue with those renovation projects.
But I knew there wouldn’t be room for it in the moving truck. It had to go to a new home, and so I gave it to my friend’s two young daughters. When I saw the look of enchantment in their eyes as they peered through the dollhouse windows, I knew I’d made the right choice.
My book collection faced a similar fate. There were many treasures I’d bought for 25 cents at library book sales that now had to be boxed up and brought back to the library. I’m afraid that I might still have kept too many books and will have to give more away.
At times, getting rid of your belongings is bittersweet. At other times, it feels almost tragic. But, in the end, it’s a relief to be free of so much “stuff”.
I realized this is just like writing.
Decluttering Your Writing
You’re editing a blog post or a manuscript, and you realize that there’s a paragraph that doesn’t fit in with the flow of the narrative. You must delete it even though it’s beautifully written. Or maybe your piece is too long, and you must cut out sentences ruthlessly.
In On Writing Well, William Zinsser observes,
Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon. [This seems to be a universal problem for any writer!]
Eliminating this clutter makes our writing tighter and more compelling. As Marion Roach writes in The Memoir Project (affiliate link),
The goal of a good edit is for the piece to read like a sleigh ride: smooth and fast. It can, if not a word is extra, not a phrase is flabby.
Of course, it’s a difficult process to get our writing to that final state. A humorous quote attributed to Blaise Pascal says,
The letter I have written today is longer than usual because I lacked the time to make it shorter.
Thankfully, though, we can save deleted paragraphs for future inspiration or even for a new piece. Marion writes,
And how about those paragraphs that go off in a totally different direction, bringing in an entirely new story? Hack ‘em, though here’s the message of the morgue: What you kill is there for another day, so put those excised sentences or paragraphs in a file where you can retrieve them later.
As you edit your writing projects this month, see how much clutter you can eliminate from your sentences and paragraphs. Avoid redundant words and phrases like “first began” when you can just write “began”. Delete those unnecessary adverbs like “very big” when you can write “huge.”
Instead of padding your sentences with extra words like “by examination of the following situations we see that…”, you could write, “The following situations show…”
Check out my post here for more editing tips. Of course, it’s important not to edit so ruthlessly that you strip your writing of all personality. Even when I was getting rid of many things while packing, there were still some “tchotchkes” — as we call them here in New York — that I just had to keep.
Ultimately, however, a room filled with clutter is not as inviting as one with lots of open space where everything is neat and organized (including the drawers and closets!). So too clear, concise writing speaks more powerfully to our readers than writing that is verbose and rambling.
What clutter can you cut from your writing projects today? Let me know in the comments, and if you have tips about moving, please feel free to share those too.
The next time I update the blog, I’ll be in North Carolina!