On the Origin of Clutter by Means of Accidental Collection, or the Preservation of Favoured Artwork in the Struggle for Back to School Organization

Finally a new school year has begun for my children. For the most part it’s going well. My youngest loves his teacher. She seems warm and genuine and well organized, which is a great place to start. My older son is now navigating the halls of middle school, where he has so far managed to remember his locker combination and land in classes taught by teachers as wonderfully quirky as he is. I suppose it takes a special kind of crazy to teach middle schoolers.

What this all means for me is that I am a more or less full-time writer again, and that’s going okay, too. In the five days they’ve been back at school. I’ve managed to draft several short stories and prep a good chunk of the first draft of a novel for the impending painful process of substantial revision.

You know, maybe I’ll just shove the door closed and not open it again until the school supplies come home at the end of the year.

But I’ve also had to take a little time to get my space organized for long days alone in front of the computer. As I’ve mentioned before, I work in a little hidey hole of a room tucked down a dark hallway in my basement, a place where sometimes the dog even forgets to look for me.

I like having this space, but it can feel a little dismal at times, especially since it often becomes the staging area not just for my writing, but for my organizing as well. Like, for instance, when it came time to buy school supplies a few weeks ago, I started by sorting through the supplies from last year that had been unceremoniously dumped from backpacks on the floor of the closet of my hidey hole. The backpacks were there, too.

Also there were the remains of art projects and reports and poems and notes and all the precious little papers from a year of school that a mom can’t quite bring herself to throw out. And maybe a few from previous years as well.

I know, I know, it was my New Year’s resolution to pare down on the clutter, but in my defense, I also have yet to lose that pesky ten pounds. Actually, I’ve done fairly well sorting through and throwing away or donating my own stuff. With the kiddos it’s always a little harder. I know I’m not alone in this because even Charles Darwin struggled when it came to throwing out the artsy creations of his children.

I’m not always disorganized. And the hallway is maybe a little less dark these days.


We know because in 2003, Cambridge University and the American Museum of Natural History launched a collaborative effort to digitize all of Darwin’s writings and make them available online. The project is ongoing, but currently includes more than 23,000 digital images. This is pretty cool if you’re interested in getting to know the man behind one of the most influential (and contentious) scientific theories of all time.

But the coolest part to me is the handful of remaining pages of original handwritten text from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Man, was he good with a title! There are only about thirty or so of these pages still in existence and at least some of them are probably still around because a young Darwin artist or two drew on the backs of them.

Occasionally little surprises show up among my notes on the chalkboard wall in my office. I don’t erase them unless I absolutely have to.


The collection includes more than fifty examples of the Darwin children’s drawings and stories, all preserved on what the evidently thrifty Charles Darwin must have considered scrap paper, not realizing that his handwritten notes and papers might one day be of interest to posterity.

What it seems he did realize is that in addition to being the man behind the theory that lit the field of natural science on fire, he was also a father of some pretty great kids, and their contribution to his life’s work wasn’t something he could part with.

As I work my way through the clutter and get settled back into my hidey hole, I realize I’m not going to be able to throw out those little bits of creativity, either. I haven’t come up with any great scientific theories (yet), and I doubt very much that the mess from the floor of my office closet will ever be catalogued and digitized for the benefit of the world. But if I’m wrong, everyone will know that I’m the mother of some pretty great kids.



2 thoughts on “On the Origin of Clutter by Means of Accidental Collection, or the Preservation of Favoured Artwork in the Struggle for Back to School Organization

    1. Then someday when I pack all of their art projects I can’t bear to throw away into a boxes and make them take them to their own houses, they won’t be able to part with them either. I fear my future daughters-in-law might never forgive me.

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