Robert’s Review: No trees were hurt in the production of this story and no new piles of paper were created. Now that I have edited this story, I can scratch it off my to-do list, if I could just find it in my pile of STUFF.
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It happens every once in a while. Something awakens within me and I begin to notice THE STUFF. You know THE STUFF. Everyone has it. Sometimes we feel powerless under its spell. Sometimes we are just too tired with the activities of daily life to do anything about it. Often, we shove it to the side so that we can carry on with the important tasks at hand. Like making dinner or placating the cat. Then an adorable little person like Marie Kondo comes along to remind us that we are swilling in it. It is making us unhappy. It needs to go. Whenever I feel down, I picture petite Marie telling me to purge this shit. Well, she’s more polite, but I need a Tough-Love Kondo to kick me into action. So today, I am working my way through our general household accumulation to weed out the collection of flotsam compounding in our estate.
Let’s talk about paper. I was brought up in the Pen and Pencil Age. When I was a teenager, I possessed pens with re-fillable ink cartridges. I’m pretty sure this was eccentric even then, when the ubiquitous Bic pen was all the rage. I’ve kept the habits of my youth, with a stronger drive now to write everything down before I forget it. I am a maker of lists. And a poor curator of all I have written. That means I’m not able to locate the list of apple orchards when we are thinking of visiting and picking or the compilation of book titles recommended by caring friends and neighbors. Good things get lost in THE STUFF.
Seems I am not alone in this lavish use of paper. A generous heap of it arrives in the mail every day. Post-election, we are less engulfed in our government-delivered share of paper. It’s still pretty substantial though. Today I saved the grocery co-op flyer and the King Arthur catalog. As I survey our current collection with an eye to deplete its fortress-like structure, my hands hover over these new acquisitions. WWMD? I know, but I save them anyway.
I start in on the piles of paper in the living/dining room. Photos of friends and family, enjoyed when received, are clogging the fireplace mantel and various displaying surfaces because I feel such regret at tossing them. Same goes with greeting cards. I still have birthday cards received in August. I collect all of these and place them into a new pile in my studio/guest room; pile shuffling being one of the procrastinationary tactics in my arsenal of advanced organizational skills. Books, coupons, catalogs, receipts, mementos of plays and concerts, menus from favored restaurants and magazines (for which we have an actual basket for containment) are all overflowing our tables, shelves and floor like so much litter on the highway of life. I yearn for a crew of parolees on community service to come through with those stabby poles and large trash bags to rescue me from this assemblage. I’d promise not to judge them if they promise not to judge me.
My husband, being the heir apparent of a quasi-hoarding lineage, believes in the importance of keeping STUFF of sentimental value. We disagree on what constitutes “sentimental value.” Beer brewing and wood working magazines do not qualify (say I). I might agree with the retaining of certain items such as the tax bill and the bank statement, but stacking them, along with the advertisements, lists, notes and nonprofit solicitations for funds, into various piles on the dining room table renders their usefulness void because when we want to eat there, I have to stack all those piles into a grand central pile in order to make way for the plates. Once the piles start to outnumber the available surfaces for stacking and end up on the floor, I simply throw in the towel and place an enormous tower of paper, contents of which I have long given up on knowing, onto his desk. Once there, I abdicate all responsibility for finding the insurance cards.
So, sorting becomes the task of the moment. Sorting is that mission which consumes time and patience. And with the sorting comes the dreaded decision-making. Stay, or go. Unfortunately, there’s also the box of “maybes,” which in my case tends to fill up faster than the other two. However, if I’m at the point when I’d be happy to invite convicts into my home to clean for me, I know that box should not even exist. It’s too convenient a temptation. Ms. Kondo is all about organization, so I keep in mind that “go” is an easier option than “stay,” since the only follow-up is hauling the recycling bin out to the street on pickup day.
Once left with the “stays” of my paper cache, I cast about my many possessions for a vehicle in which to keep the stuff tidy while maintaining its accessibility. I spy a modest collection (2) of decorative file boxes and a handful of old manila folders I painstakingly saved when we were preparing to move here two years ago. I drag this organizational bounty out to my dining room table to evaluate its usefulness. Assessing my storage capacity, I toss a few more pieces of paper detritus into the recycling bin before I get started with the organizing.
The trouble with needing to find a certain piece of paper later is that your filing needs to have some sort of categorical significance, otherwise you could just shove it all together into a U-Haul box and stash it in the basement, where you might already possess a plethora of look-a-like cartons. With a limited number of file boxes and folders, I need to be creative with the labeling, which is more fun than the actual act of filing. I whimsically start by labeling one box Flotsam and another box Jetsam, but then I’m not sure what the criteria would be for filing in one box versus the other. I decide to eat lunch.
Glucose once again bouncing up to my brain, I see more clearly how to classify my bits of paper into two useful categories. Stuff I will be using daily and Stuff I will be looking for later, shortened to Daily and Later for brevity on the outside, are just the distinctions I need to start my two-box system. You may be wondering what I use every day—or you may be taking a long-deserved nap. Either way, in that box I place an enviable stash of scrap paper for making my lists, which once made, will be transferred over to Stuff I will be looking for later. My assortment of calendars, Sudoku puzzles, maps and the many sheets of address labels thoughtfully sent to me by my favorite non-profit organizations are ideal candidates for daily use. After stuffing that box full, I move on to the other.
In Stuff I will be looking for later, I find the need to use the file folders, which I tape at the bottom for the inevitable cramming. I hesitate. Does this mean I will need to make frequent, future decisions over the paper in this box? MK says yes, mark it on your calendar, which is stored in Stuff I will be using daily. If done on a regular basis, I won’t come to this agonizing point ever again. But who are we kidding here? I won’t be going over the stuff in that box until it’s too full to shove more paper into it and a new pile, formed on the shelf next to it, begins to fall on the floor creating an untenable/annoying mess .
Back to the filing. The potential categories are too numerous considering the number of file folders in my possession. I start with Business Cards. That file fills up pretty quickly. I move on to Receipts, which contains the receipts of big-ticket items. I don’t have to stash the grocery store receipts because they are already forming a border-worthy wall behind the pencil cup on the kitchen counter and I haven’t gotten to that room…yet. Bus Schedules (for when that happens again), Lists of just about every thing on earth I am capable of making a list of, Dog, Home Projects and Tai Chi folders take up nearly all the pieces of paper left. I resist creating the somewhat sorrowful miscellaneous file, so I simply label my last folder Farraginous, which is the best word I could find in the thesaurus. In future searches, I’ll be sure to start with this folder. It means confused mess, which best describes its varied contents with no describable home.
Now that this chore is finished and has provided me with enough fodder for a blog story, I am pleased with having completed this chore. Nothing feels as good as getting something done, except a glass of wine followed by a nap. THE STUFF is in its place, at least in this one area of the Hobbit House. There are three bedrooms and a kitchen to go. And they have closets and drawers, oh my. Marie! The convicts have left and I’ve made a new to-do list. It’s in the box marked LATER. I’ll be needing Tough-Love Kondo to help me retrieve that list and tame the rest of THE STUFF.
Still plowing out,
Guest Editor Robert could win top prize for paper accumulation should they ever be handing out awards for that. He is redeemed by taking the recycling bin out to the street on pickup day.