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Awash in paper

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Various things from the past couple of months have motivated me to finally get moving on dealing with the paper-drifts that have covered most surfaces in my room for ages.

I've now filled five paper grocery bags with old mail to be recycled—catalogs, solicitations from nonprofits, newsletters, credit-card offers, junk mail, the envelopes that all those things came in, and so on. (Plus another half a bag with nothing but unnecessary receipts from the pile on my desk.) My room turns out to have a floor! Kind of exciting.

Mostly this stuff is three and a half years' worth of mail. Mail comes in, I glance at the envelopes and determine that they're not important for me to open right now, and I put them on a stack on my dining-room table. After a month or two of that, there are a couple of biggish stacks there, and people are coming over, so I move the stacks to my room and put them on the floor there. And then I never look at them again.

It would probably be most efficient to just recycle all the stacks without looking at them. Two-thirds of each stack is obvious junk, and most of the remaining third is stuff that I want to keep for my records (like electricity bills) but that I would probably be better off just tossing.

But there's also good stuff in amongst the chaff. I'm being sustained in this endeavor partly by coming across things like cards and photos sent by various friends over the years, mostly at Xmas/New Year's or to announce new babies, but also occasionally at other times. I do want to hold onto that kind of thing.

And at least for the moment, I also want to keep the old bills and such. Plus things like HOA notices and mortgage statements. So I'm spending more time than is probably strictly necessary going through the stacks one item at a time, which helps assuage my packrat instincts.

I'm down two two or three eight-inch-high stacks of paper to go through, which is pretty good given that I started with about ten such stacks. But just as I began to feel good about the possibility of getting through everything, I noticed a cardboard box on my floor.

Which turns out to be filled with unsorted paper from before last time I moved.

And when I went out to the garage to find an empty box to put some stuff in, I rediscovered about six more boxes labeled “unsorted papers.” One of them, in a handy note to myself, helpfully adds “2002ish.” The others are undated.

On the plus side, the percentage of stuff to keep from those old boxes will be even lower than the percentage from the past few years. But on the minus side, six or seven boxes' worth of papers sounds pretty overwhelming. I'm telling myself to take it one box at a time. Box by box.

I'm also attempting to instill in myself the new habit of opening all mail as it comes in, and tossing the junk. Once I get the old stuff filed, I'll attempt to add the additional habit of actually filing the new stuff. We'll see whether I can get that to stick.

But when it someday happens that someone else is left with the task of sorting through my papers (which I hope will be many long years from now), I'm hoping that they won't have to spend a lot of time sorting through my old junk mail.

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