The Great Organizer Move of 2017 continues with our heroine facing the task of packing up personal items and moving them to temporary storage. We find her sifting through files in her office, carefully pulling out the old paperwork, photos, certificates, and other items of questionable historic significance. Suddenly, she stares off into the distance, mumbling incoherently:
“Wow, I didn’t remember how many emails I printed out from my last corporate job…some serious office politics back then (and why DID I print them out??). Oh, and those performance reviews from when I was still teaching in 19__ sure bring back some memories. Let’s see, the closing paperwork from our first house…And geez, vet records from Norm the Cat, who crossed the Rainbow Bridge 13 years ago. He was a great cat…gone too young…”
Soon, she finds herself surrounded by the memories, and an hour later she is still buried in the stacks...
I tell clients all the time that I can organize and sort through their stuff all day. All. Day. Long. I never get tired of it, especially paperwork. Paperwork and files are totally captivating to me because they represent hard copy records of so many details we may not immediately be able to call to mind (think about if you’ve ever found a stack of your parents’ love letters, or your college transcripts, or old concert programs). Maybe it’s also because I’m a read/write processor. Regardless of the fascination factor of the content, with clients I can quickly assess what stays, what goes, what needs to be scanned or shredded.
I don’t have any issues with getting rid of our clothing, outgrown toys, knick-knacks, kitchen gadgets, furniture, or even kindergarten “treasures” that have long since outlived their charm. But when it comes to my paper I know I’m likely to get a little distracted. Particularly this year, when we’ve already had so much transition, old paperwork has become an anchor to my family's past. When we cleaned out the attic in my parents’ house last year, I uncovered my 5-year-old Santa list (it seems I had a thing for wind-up toys), a letter my dad wrote to my uncle back in the 1950s (when he was stationed overseas and couldn’t get back to the states for a family funeral), and the financial breakdown my mom wrote out when they built a house in 1967 ($27,000 went a lot further back then!). I had to steel myself to keep from spending hours reading through all of the cards sent when my older brother was born. Even old utility bills can be interesting to me.
So how do I get unstuck? Fortunately, I have some methods I use to stay on track with myself.
1. Take a picture - it lasts longer. We live in a time where most people in our society carry around nifty little objects that have the power to create scans and pdf files instantly. When I run across a piece of paper that I have trouble processing, I scan it into Evernote with my phone, and then I can let it go. There are other scanning apps (some designed for keeping paper memories like Artkive and Keepy), and this method works well for items other than paper, too.
2. Box it up - but write the date on it. I still have a huge pile of paperwork that came from my father’s desk when he passed last year. Much of it is completely meaningless now - but I’m not ready to deal with it. I put it all into a box, labeled and dated it, and then put a reminder in my phone to unbox it six months from now (try to choose a timeframe of under a year). Yeah, I know, that’s sort of putting off the inevitable, but when you just can’t “go there” you can at least make a plan for the future.
3. Call for backup. I will go much faster in my decision-making process if I know someone else is in the room working as well. There is a concept in the organizing and ADD/ADHD world known as “body doubling”, where the presence of another person provides a physical and emotional anchor for the individual struggling to get something done. I have no idea why it works, but perhaps in my case it’s because I feel a little silly staring at notes or bills when I know someone else is around. Sometimes even having Lucy the Wonderdog stare quizzically at me is helpful.
Of course, some paper does need to be kept and maintained. You will want to have some sort of file box or drawer for things like the vital family records, legal documentation, records of the house and car ownership, insurance, and the like. For folks who really don’t like to file, I recommend magazine holders like this:
Because as long as you can find it when you need it, what difference does it make if it’s in a file folder or not? It just needs to have a regular home.
So how does today’s episode end? I took three boxes of old paper to our local free shredding spot and happily waved it goodbye, knowing that it will make moving my office far less stressful (cue the upbeat ending music). Now that I’m over that obstacle, I’m looking forward to the rest of the packing process (no, really). Stay tuned for Part III of Organizing the Downsizing where we’ll answer the burning question, “Who stashed an entire bin of crayons in the attic?"
Sara Skillen - I'm a Certified Professional Organizer®, coach, wife and mom, and serial list-maker. I'm excited to be in the process of becoming a Certified ADHD Organizer Coach. I love to help people from all walks of life get organized and productive - and I'd love to help you, too:
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