Essays & Confessions

7 Things I Learned From Doing A Paperwork Purge

By | Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Until last night, I had two large Tupperwares full of paperwork, and one small one. The envelopes and folders and knick-knacks had accumulated around the house and eventually found themselves lumped in those big, plastic bins, where I told myself that they would hang out for a bit until we either moved or redecorated. Now, as we’re well into the throes of redecoration and giving our apartment a general facelift, I knew that I would have to finally address the large amounts of paperwork that had sadly been collecting in the corner of my bedroom.

I finally went through all the things I’d been putting off since moving to New York, and I can say with confidence that I learned a lot about bad habits, and the greater rules of Keeping Your Shit Organized. Here, the seven biggest lessons I got from the experience:

Before & After

1. It’s easy to have hoarding impulses when it comes to paperwork, even if you have it with nothing else.

I am usually (relatively) good at getting rid of stuff I don’t need, and don’t have an impulse to buy unnecessary amounts of things. I’ve never been one of those girls with dozens of shoes, or handbags that spill out of my closet, for example. But when it comes to paperwork — cards, letters, bills, old school stuff, work stuff — it’s so easy to just hang on to and accumulate a little bit of everything, because some part of you believes that it either was necessary at some point, or will be necessary in the future. It’s all about soothing you, psychologically, I think, because the direct feeling you get is “if anyone bursts through my window asking for documents, I got ’em!”

2. You probably have at least one thing you should unsubscribe from.

When I cleaned out my paperwork, I got rid of literally more than thirty automated letters from Time Warner Cable, even though I ~swore up and down~ that I had unsubscribed from the paper element and had gone all-electronic a million times. And weirdly, some part of me thought I had, even when I continued to receive them. And the same goes for catalogs I get, letters from banks that don’t concern me, and menus from local restaurants. Some things you can’t opt out of, like the menus, but everything else you normally can, and should do everything in your power to stop receiving them, both for your own mental clarity and the poor trees who have to go into them. Finally getting my stuff in order gave me the perfect opportunity to finally sever the ties with these paper-pushes.

3. There needs to be a better solution for old greeting cards, because they’re one of the things you feel absolutely terrible about throwing away.

I imagine I’m not the only one who has a hard time with this, and am confirmed by the fact that there are a lot of scrapbooking ideas out there for them. But I know myself *Drake plays in the background*, and I am not going to scrapbook. I was able to get rid of a few lesser cards (people I didn’t really know, canned sentiments that would be totally meaningless to me if I were to ever look back on them years from now), but I was left with a good batch of cards that are important for the time period/person/our relationship. And I found this little ring system to store them, which seems mostly sane. Though, knowing myself, I think I’m going to get a small, pretty box that I actually want to look at to put them on, and put them on a shelf.

4. There are at least three categories of things you should have a specific place for.

When I broke down my paperwork (and there was an entire box I didn’t even picture, that was entirely full of papers from elementary school, all the way through college), I realized that there were a few main categories of things I needed a place for: Accounting/business stuff, mementos I want to keep, and personal paperwork for everything from my lease to my dog’s vet info. Your categories might look different if you’re in school, or on the job hunt, or at a job that requires a lot of physical paperwork. But either way, you can usually tease out the categories pretty easily, and once you have that, you can get thee to an IKEA (or a container store!) and get the right storage unit for it. It no longer has to be all jumbled together, sifted through in a panic when you finally need something.

5. You probably are late on at least one thing without realizing it, just from it getting lost in the shuffle.

And isn’t that part of the reason we don’t go through our stuff? Because we’ll stumble on things we should have taken care of forever ago, that we secretly knew were lurking? Well, that happens. And it happened to me. And you know what? Now I can take care of it — better late than never! — and the prospect of it no longer haunts me. Now I can get on with my life, and my organization.

6. More than with anything else, you need to be ruthless with paperwork.

As a general rule, unless it’s something of deep nostalgic value, anything that hasn’t been touched or looked at in over a year (and isn’t necessary for some sort of accounting or medical emergency) should go. You don’t need to keep old copies of receipts from two taxes ago, notes from people you don’t remember, paperwork for apartments you no longer live in, or registration forms for things you’re never going to finish applying to.

Surrounding yourself in unnecessary paperwork does not mean you have your shit more together because you’re ~prepared, it means just the opposite. It means that when you need something of actual importance, you will be left to swim through a moat of unnecessary shit to get there. Being ruthless about your accumulated paperwork will make you pay more attention to the things you should actually be keeping, and allow your “files” section of your room/home office feel like a place of calm and necessity, instead of a panicky place of a bunch of shit you no longer need.

7. Not having a comprehensive place to organize your paperwork in the first place is dangerous.

Probably the best way to avoid having to go through a purge like this (if you don’t already have a ton of accumulated stuff), or to avoid it in the future, is to invest in a nice paper organization system that a) doesn’t look totally heinous, which will make you want to use it, and b) makes actual sense for what you need to store. When I was putting away the things I kept yesterday, I realized that the layout alone of having a few little Tupperwares was going to lead me to have the same problem again, so next week I’ll be getting a small paper organizer, so that I won’t fall into the trap of “throw it in and deal with it later.” The more you’re exposed to something in a positive way (and can’t push it out of your head, like a stuffy box) the better you’ll be. I need something that I see every day, and which I am forced to keep neat. But that’s just me.

Featured Image: ECBoom

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