I had a plumbing emergency Wednesday, and it worried me to let my landlord in to see it.

Granted, I spent a month on the road and still haven’t fully unpacked from my trips, but papers covered every available surface – the kitchen table, both tables in the living room, my dresser, even the couch and easy chair and the TV stand.

In the end, with little time to waste, I grabbed a bin and swept every paper into it to deal with later. Presto! The appearance of clean.

It’s that accumulata of life that gets in the way of living.

Papers to be sorted and filed, or read and discarded, take on a life of their own and take over everything. Piles of clothing, hiking gear, books – when not put away, they seem to grow and grow. Same with piles of unwashed dishes. It all multiplies.

I’ve been reorganizing my hard drives since I returned home, working on a mirroring scheme so I always have a backup. I’ve been at it for a week and seeing incremental progress. Data multiplies even worse than physical objects, it seems, for I have copies of my core photo libraries on six different drives, five at different stages of confusion as to which is the “right” one. I’m blending them into one with a single backup. It can take six hours to transfer one set of images from one drive to another. Somehow, I don’t think the cloud can solve this problem.

As I’m dealing with these masses of files, and these masses of paper, I realize that clutter – digital and actual – means millions of micro-decisions. Just the simple keep / toss decision, multiplied infinitely, leads to madness. No wonder I’d rather read a book than do the dishes!

The answer? There isn’t a magic bullet. Streamlining, organizing, and minimizing are all a part of the mix, but it’s up to you – and me – to put forward a burst of effort and unearth ourselves from these piles we create so we can focus our decision-making faculties on greater goals.

Spring cleaning, anyone?