I am on a relentless quest to get rid of the paper clutter that’s bogging me down. Last March, I took an entire day to sort all of my papers and create a new, simplified filing system. I’m happy to say that nearly a year later, it’s still working. You can read about it here. And the six-month update is here.
Now that I’m keeping up with new papers coming into the house, phase two is eliminating all of the old clutter I let accumulate over the past twenty-five years. I recently read and really enjoyed this revolutionary little book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. I followed her advice to take care of clothing and books before moving on to paper clutter. I had success with this, which you can read about here.
One of the keys to her system is putting all of the items you’re sorting into one room so you can evaluate it all at once. This way, you know how much you’re dealing with. Then when you finish your sorting and discarding, you keep all of that item in one place. I had papers in four rooms of my house. Here’s what I started with when I put everything together, although you can’t see all of it because of a filing cabinet and a few stacked boxes:
At first I felt completely overwhelmed by the task ahead, but Kondo’s advice is to tackle a category all at once rather than a little bit at a time for a more emotionally satisfying experience and to prevent relapse. I treated myself to a large coffee and pretended it was a party (as you can imagine, this took some imagination).
The next step with paper clutter is to separate non-sentimental papers from those that you consider sentimental. This was the part that really gave me difficulty. Besides old bills and receipts and other nonessential paperwork, she recommends getting rid of all lecture notes. I have most of the papers I’ve written since high school, along with notebooks, syllabi, and other evidence of my education. They shouldn’t be sentimental; I’ve never looked at them again, so obviously they’ve long outstayed their usefulness. But it seems anything I’ve ever written is sentimental because “writer” is the essence of me and it feels like I’m throwing away a part of myself.
The task went faster when I put these items into my sentimental pile and instead moved on to boxes like this:
Shredding ten years’ worth of phone and electric bills was oddly satisfying (except in that fact that my local recycling center doesn’t take shredded paper.
When I was all finished (I think about six hours later), this is what left my house:
Unfortunately, this is what’s left for sentimental items:
About half of that is my kids’ stuff, and the rest is letters, history papers, old calendars, greeting cards, workout logs, and other miscellaneous stuff I never look at. I will save the next installment of my clutter journey to explore why these items are so hard to part with.
I highly recommend Kondo’s book. Check it out and please let me know what are the toughest material possessions for you to manage.
Thanks for reading and take care,
If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.