Clean Up Your Life and Beat That Infonoia
> 6/26/2006 10:21:57 AM

The June 26th issue of Newsweek has a short essay in their "My Turn" section that discusses infonoia: that feeling of dread that leads you to save every receipt and shred every credit card statement. You know, "Just in case..."

In the piece writer Lisa Johnston relays a particularly nasty episode that led her to believe her obsession with shredding the multitude of printed information that crossed her path was more than a habit. It was a problem.

Maybe it was at the moment I found myself on my knees in my bathrobe, carefully prying tiny shards of paper out of the immobilized teeth of the shredder, that it finally hit me: The shredder had a paper jam. I had an info jam.

Johnston isn't the first to face this or similar problems, which are often linked to obsessive compulsive disorder and have been given many names from clutterer's syndrome to disposophobia. Even before spam hit our inboxes or online purchases led to innumerable catalog subscriptions, the legend of the Collyer brothers of New York served as a warning of how far infonoia could go.

When authorities were summoned to the Collyer residence because of the smell, they found both of the notorious hoarders dead in their apartment. While they found Oscar immediately, those charged with cleaning up the place would remove over 100 tons of junk before they came upon the corpse of Langley. The building had to be destroyed it was in such a state of disrepair.

In just the past couple of months a Utah man made headlines for his similarly prodigious hoarding. In his case however, the junk came in the form of beer cans, specifically enough beer cans to account for a case of beer a day for 8 years.

While both of these are extreme cases, Johnston paints a portrait of a compulsive hoarder that could be anyone. We are bombarded with so much paper work these days, whether it's receipts from lunch or W-2's, it's often difficult to differentiate what is important and what is just trash. This can inevitably lead to anxiety created by the concern that someday, somewhere someone is going to ask you for some piece of paper and you won't be able to produce it.

In reality, you will never need to account for most of the junk that crosses your path and the secret to maintaining your sanity is learning how to decide what is worth saving and what can definitely be thrown away. There are some groups, like Clutterers Anonymous, who seek to help those who find themselves saving beyond any reasonable expectations. Often the trick is to just start cleaning. As with exercise, it is easier to maintain a clutter free life than to turn around a clutter filled one. Lisa Johnston has a suggestion on how to start:

I'm going to start by tossing the cash receipt from yesterday's trip to the grocery store into the recycling bin before it gets stuffed in my wallet for fiscal year 2006. Then I'm going for a long walk in the woods without headphones or a cell phone to process the kind of incoming information I truly need to keep. The kind that restores the spirit. Birds, brooks, breezes. Anyone want to join me?

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