Saturday, July 25, 2009


HBO featured a science fiction/thriller/horror series called "Ray Bradbury Theatre" from 1985 through 1992. Each episode was based on the writings of Ray Bradbury, usually on one of his short stories. The introduction to each episode consisted of footage showing Ray Bradbury arriving in his studio, which was cluttered with posters, photos, notes and every sort of tchotchke imaginable. Bradbury explained in a voice over, as he took his seat at a typewriter near the center of the flotsam,, that this studio is where he gets his ideas.

"I'm surrounded on every side by my magician's toy shop," explains Bradbury, "I'll never starve here!"

I have a home office something like that. My home office, or perhaps "den" is a better word, is an attic room. I claimed it as my den when we bought the house because it features lots of shelving and cabinet space, which I knew I would need. Even so, every available surface in the room is occupied by books, binders, boxes, discs, caricatures, miniatures and brick-a-brack of every kind.

Clutter rules my life. Sometimes I see this as a bad thing. I admonish myself to be more organized. I remind myself to get rid of the old stuff that I no longer need. What's the rule? If you haven't looked at it in 2 or more years, you can probably throw it out.

However, the introduction to the Ray Bradbury Theatre suggests that clutter isn't always a bad thing. Some of it has to do with surrounding yourself with things that make you happy. Looking around my den, it quickly becomes obvious that I'm a big fan of The Simpsons and Star Wars, and that I love airplanes, computer games and books. Spending time there tends to make me feel good because I look around me and see my favorite things. (Not to worry; I'm not about to start prancing about the room and singing, Julie Andrews style).

Beyond just making one feel good, clutter can serve to inspire. It can help to set the creative juices in motion by bringing dormant ideas to the forefront and sometimes highlighting obscure associations. In Ray Bradbury's case, the clutter in his studio helped to inspire some of his renowned literary works. In my case, well, it gave me something to blog about this week.

It's also possible to be too neat and organized. One of my favorite quotes about computer programming suggests that "structured programming is for compulsive neurotics who were prematurely toilet-trained, wear neckties and carefully line up pencils on otherwise
clear desks". Speaking of which, I think that most people, when they see a co-worker sitting at a clean, uncluttered desk, assume that person must have no work to do. Clutter suggests busy-ness.

Perhaps the happy medium lies in eliminating the clutter that comes from simply not putting things in their place or throwing out the unneeded, but keeping those things whose presence stimulates and inspires, even if they have no obvious practical use.

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