My living room has thrown up paper. There is a volcano in the middle of a table and the entire surrounding area is finding some form of order. I can’t get out until it’s done, I guess. - Shannon, a coaching client
Do you know that thing people say about it getting worse before it gets better? Well that certainly applies when clearing paper clutter, and I don’t know what it is about people and their paper but this program has me covered up in paper drama. They have documentation of birth, death, and all that falls in the middle, and not only their own paper but the papers belonging to their loved ones too. Sometimes even paper belonging to those who’ve made transition into the next (please, oh please, let it be paperless) phase of this experience.
We are covered up in paper… and not in the tie-it-up-with-a-pretty-bow way either.
Paper has to be one of the hardest kinds of clutter, at least in part, because it’s so easy to hide. You know what I mean, right? People are coming over for book study, so you look around and discover that stack of papers on the counter (or dining room table or coffee table) and you shove the papers in a bag or box, then stash it in the office (or spare bedroom or coat closet or attic), vowing that you’ll deal with those papers properly just as soon as your guests leave. You don’t. Then next month, when the book study returns, you put another bag with the first, and another…
You know you’re in trouble when you walk past that secret stash a few months (or years) later and think, for just a split second, that a well-placed house fire would give you the fresh start you really need. I get it. I really do but it’s not good business to invite tragedy over for dinner, so let’s find another way for you to take back your life.
You are not alone, lots of people are covered up in paper. I think it’s easy to be overwhelmed these days. Paper flows in at a Niagara-like volume. The pace we (attempt to) keep is certainly more intense than ever before. And then we have the cursed hows of getting rid of it. Paper certainly needs its own exit strategy. Where can we recycle? How long do we need to keep these things? To shred or not to shred? Now that is the question.
By the way, did anyone ever teach you how to manage your paper? That’s what came up during our last group call. If the people who raised you didn’t include paper management on things-to-teach-the-wee-one game plan, then you may not actually know how to deal with all of the incoming papers, and that’s a very real challenge.
And if those people were afraid to release their papers, you probably are too. This is, of course, unless you are one of the rare apples that falls off the tree and rolls directly to the other end of the spectrum. In that case, you are probably reading this article just to see if it’s really that important to keep things like birth certificates, journals, and your child’s first painting. (It is, I promise.) Either way, the relationship that the people before us had with their stuff has a powerful influence on the relationship we have with ours.
We’re really looking for something in the middle here. I believe we call it moderation. I personally prefer the simplicity end of the moderation range but to each their own.
Continued: Self-loathing is NOT a functional system for managing paper.