25 March 2014

The Irreducible Minimum

Is this reducible?
Is there an Irreducible Minimum near you? - a pile of papers, fabrics, whatever that, even when rigorously sorted, even when 80% goes in the bin and the rest gets filed, has a few things that defy filing and somehow can't be thrown away ... yet ...

And then there are the out-of-sight lurkers...

Hidden from sight in my various cupboards and rooms are files of papers labelled "To Be Sorted"  (and there's a non-hidden location that I'm all too aware of - more of that later*). These papers comprise notes from long-forgotten workshops, inspirational clippings from art magazines, and goodness knows what else (things that just never managed to get thrown away). 
So ordinary ... and lovely somehow,
the blue with its orange bars
These files of items gathered in pre-internet days should be reducible - or perhaps binned unseen. Notes on any technique you'd want to try (and I want less and less of this) are available online, on websites, on youtube. Inspirational images can be found at the touch of a search button. Many of the books we've so thoughtfully collected can be replaced by ebooks, freeing shelf space.

Freeing - that's what getting rid of things should feel like. I love to see the wood on the corner of my desk, and the bottom of that dumping-ground of a big bowl. And yet ... having that heap of papers is a reminder that "something needs doing" - and it provokes me to do "something more interesting". Perversity, don't you love it? It can lead to all sorts of surprises. Sometimes we need something to push against

The Irreducible Minimum pushes back. It's a bit of conscience. It goads us on to other things, perversity notwithstanding. (Is it perverse not to be organised?)

You could argue that being "perfectly organised" is a waste of time - a waste of opportunity, even. Where will we get juxtaposition, serendipity, surprises, delight, sparks, if there isn't a heap of papers, a scrapbag, to rootle through -- to use your hands, get that tactile (and gestural) input that comes from physical involvement? Tapping a few keys to get instantaneous access isn't the same thing.

The counterpoint to the Irreducible Minimum is the Very Necessities. These all have their place, where they are returned to immediately after use and can be found when needed. This aspect of being organised is a habit (which does however need to be established). It's automatic to gather all the scissors and put them into their flowerpot at the end of the day, and to put the passport in its habitual place after the trip; to connect the phone to its charger at bedtime, and to make sure the stapler is next to the tape dispenser.
(Writing this post is proving very helpful in getting the desk area tidy - extraneous objects must be removed before the photo is taken!)

In my Irreducible Minimum pile - along with reminders of things I fully intend to blog about one day - are, for example, a printout of a 1998 email from an Australian friend about the pre-tense-trip stiff shoulder syndome "experienced by middle class, middle aged, professional women flying with mixed feelings between continents towards family"
- a handout on the elements of composition, with a checklist for your work
- an explanation of S and Z twist in threads, printed on the back of a photocopy of page 6 of the Education and Debate section of BMJ, 31 August 2002
- a page of miscellaneous quotes, including a spanish proverb: God says take what you want and pay for it.
- the leaflet for City of London Tree Trail - a nice walk when the weather gets better and the leaves come out - ah, available as a pdf ... but so much nicer as a leaflet
Would taking photos of these items make it possible to dispose of them? Is mentioning them here enough to allow them to go? Why am I hanging on to them? Do they have some use, or is it just sentiment that keeps them here?

Questions to feed into the subconscious ... and in the meantime, a chance to find homes for the leaflets of upcoming exhibits and events, for artists' books to be looked at another day...

And the remainder of the papers will be put in yet another "to be sorted" folder, to be tucked somewhere and rediscovered in months or years, and opened with a sense of anticipation, not dread ... these things were worth hanging on to for some reason, will they still be intriguing on rediscovery? If not, you and I have permission to simply bin them, leaving ourselves breathing space.
Air routes of the world, a Guardian centrefold
something else of interest from the newspaper
* The non-hidden location mentioned earlier is a former kitchen cabinet which between 1994 and, oh, 2004 or so, collected "what's on" leaflets and all the images harvested from magazines etc that I considered lovely and interesting.

It's in my son's room and for quite a while now he's been gently suggesting I should "deal with it" - a suggestion that has made my heart sink. As soon as the subconscious has pondered the questions for a while, its time will come ... before my next birthday, perhaps?
Reduced (relocated), if only temporarily







10 comments:

Sandra Wyman said...

And then there's the "if only" ones that get chucked away (like my friend's collection of early Habitat catalogues (I think it was) - they later made good prices on the open market!

Imagine what it would be like living in a house with too much space - I have two roomsful to sort through....

irene macwilliam said...

I find I sort my sewing room when I have a lack of inspiration for new work.It makes me feel I am being constructive even though I understand the psychology behind it. It is just a need to do somehting related to textiles.

Re value of unsorted areas. We have my husbands mothers desk with contents just as she had it many many years ago when my husband was young. Our 3 children never disturbed it, so I think it might be time to let the grand children examine the contents of their great grandmothers desk! This seems an amazing idea, can you imagine being able to go through your great grandmothers desk.... of really not important stuff. Sometimes the daily ephemera of a past era of family life is the most interesting stuff

patty a. said...

You hit home with me in this post. I have piles that need sorted everywhere! Then I have this habit of writing myself notes on scraps of paper and those are stuff in pockets, my backpack, laying around on my sewing table, and on my desk - what a mess! I keep thinking I will get it wrangled someday. I do like your map of the air routes. I like the contrast of the white continents and the taupe background. I don't think I could get rid of that.

The Idaho Beauty said...

For a minute there I thought you were going to make me get rid of all my stacks of paper, binders of magazine pulls, reference books. Because yes, I've discovered that so much of what I've coveted and saved and let fill bookshelves and boxes and flat spaces really can be found and often stored via computer.

But thank goodness, you sing the praises of The Irreducible Minimum. Without it, I fear I would simply stand in whatever room, lost, not knowing what I'm supposed to do...

Still, a good purging and filing is in order more frequently than I get around to, and as you say, always ends with things still in piles, things I don't know what to do with but know I must keep. Never ending battle!

Diane-crewe said...

my daughter "sorts" and throws away all the time .. it drives me MAD .. she knows I have lots of "useful stuff" and so come s and finds what she wants from me! I just cannot bear to get rid .. I know I will need it next week! lol x having said that I do occassionally begin the process .. then get distracted by all the memories x

Deborah Levine said...

I have just such a pile on my desk. Every few months I go through the bigger pile that accumulates on top of it with the aim of clearing up all of it but there is always that last bit - photos of me and my mother, the foldout on what chemistry has done for us, the quotes written on scraps of paper....irreducible.

rosecolouredworld said...

Great post!! talk about resonance!

Sue Andrus said...

I love the term irreducible minimum! It definitely fits the bottoms of many stacks in my studio and other areas... When purging, there always seems to remain that little batch of treasures that just "have" to be kept. I have gotten much better at purging things now, keeping a small trash can everywhere I tend to accumulate "stuff", much easier to toss the unimportant immediately. A little less builds up, but those really interesting tidbits always will... Someday I feel I will find just the reason I kept such "treasures"...

Uta Lenk said...

wonderful term, irreducible minimum. And yes, don't we all have them. imagine living without them. or in a house that has enough space for every little one of these stacks. and, imagine having a brain that knows exactly where every little bit is...

LA Paylor said...

we have piles so like yours. I can't get rid of them, they repel organization, they don't quite fit in files anywhere but they annoy me by their being there. What in the world do those people do with clean houses, and I know a few. No magazines laying around, no snippets of articles, books, maps, pictures. Don't they have any interests?
LeeAnna Paylor
lapaylor.blogspot.com