We sorted through paper last week and while there are a few remaining papers to tidy, it’s been yet another shocking case of domestic hoarding.
Ok, that’s an overstatement – hoarding – but at the same time it’s not.
No, we don’t have stacks of belongings and garbage with narrow pathways from room to room. Yet in each phase of this process, we’ve confronted a two-headed demon that often lives in a hoarders house: keeping things long past their usefulness or relevance “just in case” and keeping things that should have been discarded immediately but now they border in sentimentality because we’ve kept them so long.
I’ll share the results of our tidying at the end but first, I want to talk through the challenge of keeping/discarding things that were kept out of fear or sentiment:
Keeping things just in case.
In the 12 years since I’ve graduated from college, I have had 4 real jobs in 3 different cities. Each one has been a blessing at the time, offering good pay, benefits, perks, and financial resources when we needed them.
Now, imagine bright-eyed, super employee Amanda receiving her new employee orientation packet. It’s chocked full of good information and forms. I eagerly complete the forms and keep the information, folder and all, in my filing cabinet at home just in case.
Now it’s not a terrible idea to keep your new employee packet. After all the information is brand new and carefully cultivated for a new employee. But inevitably for me, the information changed over time as did the benefits plans each year. At the end of 3-4 years at that job, I received another packet with important information and forms for separation. I diligently completed the forms and kept the folder, tucking it neatly in front of my new employee folder in the home filing cabinet.
Now, do that four times and add to it important letters of hiring, performance raises, changes in position title, etc and it starts to look more like the start of a well-documented chronicle of my career.
Keeping things that should have been discarded immediately.
This category of “keeping” is a little harder to identify because things seem to be important in the moment and it’s hard to consider that it won’t be down the road.
Here are a few examples I found that fall under this category:
An old check register (dating myself here) that to my best guess was used during the Summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school.
A pay stub from my first job (ever) working daycare at our church when I was 16.
The packing slip for my Dell computer purchased in 2003 before I started my freshman year of college.
A piece of paper that I used to jot down all of my college courses by semester with credit hour totals to create my graduation plan in 2002.
Now each of these items had a short-lived purpose and things such as pay stubs and receipts should be kept for a time. Unfortunately, I kept all important documents in an accordion file until I got married and then when we started sharing files in a filing cabinet, the accordion file just went straight in, unchecked. The same story plays out for other files and other folders.
It reminds of me archaeological digs that tell a history of city being built on top of the ruins of another city.
As I sat at my dining room table going through each paper file, sheet by sheet, I was confronted with waves of nostalgia. The course list was familiar and I felt proud for completing the degree that historical me had worked so hard to plan out. The check register included special memories too like my first real grown-up purchase of a mattress and box spring.
While it was fun to relive those moments through those items, they do not bring me joy beyond that fleeting warmth of finding something I had at a different season of my life. So despite the fact that I had held on to them this long and they were sentimental, they were discarded for being unnecessary and lacking joy.
So, what were our results?
We went from owning a two-drawer filing cabinet and little stashes of paper all over the house to a nice plastic file box that will fit neatly in a closet. Truthfully, we could have downsized to a large accordion file but it would have been a little tight.
Another result is that I look at our incoming paper differently. Walking in with the mail last week, I immediately tossed some of it into the recycling bin and the shred bin. I was immediately able to classify things that simply looked important because of their origin (insurance, bank, etc) as being unnecessary or superfluous because of other documentation we keep.
Marie Kondo does talk in her books about the mysterious link between physically tidying up and mentally tidying up. I can see even through sorting our papers how the filter I used for things we already owned naturally and rather unconsciously translated to paper coming in.