Monday, December 27, 2010

Eliminating Paper...Finding Money...

As I have written in the past, I have issues with paper. Over the last several days, I've tackled a small mountain of paper (and emerged triumphant...even finding some $ in the process).

Last spring, I started working through a file cabinet that I had not touched in years. It had lots of newspaper clippings and other memorabilia from the past, as well as mounds and mounds of credit card bills, old apartment leases, explanation of benefits forms from the early 2000s, etc. (Actually, that's what was left AFTER I gave up in the spring.) On Sunday, I got my shredder going in high gear while N and I watched movies. Shredding is a great activity during commercials, even if TiVo can help us avoid them. My shredder worked very hard and only overheated about six times, which gave me plenty of opportunity to clean out other areas of my home. I went through the cabinet of materials for my home-based business and got rid of about 40 lbs. of expired catalogs and promotional materials. No joke--the stuff filled a paper grocery bag to the very top!

And so I shredded and shredded and shredded, eventually ending up with six grocery-sized bags of shreddings. I offered these to a friend who is packing for a move this week, but she declined, so off to the recycling bin they went.

I do have a small pile of paperwork rescued from the file cabinet for which I will need to find a home. I surmise that most of this will end up in a binder, as I am very good with keeping documents there.

Speaking of binders, I used my Facebook account to process some of my thoughts regarding materials that I have saved throughout the years.

Sunday, 4:00:
Boxing Day? I call this SHREDDING DAY! Just got rid of apartment leases from college, old credit card bills, and a lot of other stuff, too. (Kept all the Daily Iowan clippings of my letters to the editor.)

Sunday, 5:00:

... wants to know if you are like me--after college and/or grad school, you kept all of your notes and papers in neatly organized binders. Now, the real question: have you EVER referenced any of that material, and at what point did you get rid of it?

Sunday, 6:00:
... just recycled three years of [hard copies of youth group weekly bulletins]! What a great kick-off to my Binder Reclamation Project!

Monday, 2:00 p.m.:
HOLY MOLY! Just opened my 14th binder (out of nearly 40 from all my years of higher education) and found -- EVERYTHING FROM [MY HIGH SCHOOL] ADVANCED COMP CLASS! I'm going to skim quickly and recycle *everything* immediately.

The response was overwhelming. Many people had kept their old notes, readings, and papers, but very few had used them. Since I finished college ten years ago (and grad school five years ago), I decided it was time to DUMP IT ALL. As each binder was emptied, and my recycling pile got bigger and bigger, I realized the depth of unexpected excess in my life.

All in all, I condensed nearly a dozen college binders down to TWO--keeping papers and exams, but nothing else. It's nice to skim through those papers and see that I used to know some semi-scholarly things. :)

As a result of working in various religious institutions for the last 14 years, I have also accumulated a lot of photocopies of various religious texts, leading me to create a new pile--geniza. (Items with God's name on it cannot be thrown away or even recycled. They must be buried in a cemetery. Many Jewish institutions have receptacles where geniza can be taken; then the institution arranges for burial when the receptacle is full.) I have a pretty big stack in my geniza pile.

Working through graduate school binders was more difficult, as I did find a few courses with materials worth keeping, but most went into the piles. As I emptied binders, paper folders, plastic folders, I made two realizations:

1. I cannot go through everything at once. I came across several binders of resources on Israel education and leading trips for teens. Those will wait until another clearing-out process. Sometimes, we have other fish to fry in the decrapifying mess.

2. My living room looks like an office supply store. I have binders, notebooks, pens, paper folders, plastic folders, accordion files, tabbed dividers, manila folders, and hanging files. THIS IS FOUND MONEY! Sure, I need to find a reasonable place to keep what is worth keeping (and most of the binders will be donated to my employer's office supply room on Monday), but I DON'T need to run to the store the next time I need one of these things.

Open notice to local friends: if you want any of this stuff, you are welcome to it. I like saving your money, too.

So, friends, I really should mention the elephant in the room. I'm getting married in five months, and I'll be moving (just in the neighborhood, not too far) for the first time in almost six years. The prospect of packing everything is a little overwhelming, but my current process of working through the excess and keeping only the things that are beautiful or useful keeps me going strong.

Random Notes:
If you have trouble throwing things away, it's nice to have a friend over to coach you through the process. I guarantee she thinks something is less sentimental than you do.

Sometimes I find actual money while cleaning. Coins behind cushions, dollar bills inside books (rarely, but it has happened), stuff like that. I have a rule that all cash found while cleaning must go into a tzedakah box. I figure that if it was lost somewhere, I probably don't need it anyway. If I eventually find a $20, I'll let you know if I change my mind about this rule.

Yesterday, I went through the box of stuff I brought home after I cleaned out my desk when my job was cut in the spring of 2009. It's amazing how quickly I could get rid of 90% of the stuff that I simply couldn't part with 18 months ago. Very cleansing.

Sometimes, we find things that we don't use now and will never use. Sometimes, we find things that we don't use now but will definitely use in the next apartment. It's okay to keep things in the second category--since the next apartment is a very real part of the future, not some far-off fantasy. If I don't use them, the parting will be pretty easy.


  1. glad to see all the progress you're making. you're inspiring me to get back into the cleaning mode again.

  2. Do it! It's so liberating to get rid of stuff!!!!