Saturday, August 11, 2012

Paper Clutter

Today is Saturday.  I'm sitting in the living room, cleaning out some paper clutter that has been weighing on me since... Oh, I don't know, I've had paper clutter weighing on me since I encountered adulthood.

This seems like a good moment to give a shout out to my friends from college.  In the early 1990's, not everyone had a computer to themselves, and I was one of the fortunate few who did.  It was an enormous "portable" computer with a six-inch green-and-black screen and two floppy disk drives (the luxury!) and it weighed about as much as an overpacked suitcase.  I had my own printer too, an utterly aggravating dot matrix that invariably failed to function on the date that any paper was due.  If I had a paper to turn in I always turned up about halfway through the class. (Probably I should have started my three page papers more than thirty minutes before they were due; putting words on a page has never been a problem for me).

Anyway, I was generous with my electronic access -- my friends could use my computer whenever they needed, and in thanks they tidied my dorm room up for me.  Thanks, Alene, Heather, Tiara, and anyone else unlucky enough to need me!  You guys rocked!!

As a resident advisor I had piles and piles and piles of paper coming through my inbox every day. I was expected to hang it on the floor bulletin boards.  Sometimes I did, usually I missed the dates.  I had no system for managing it and nobody ever suggested the idea of a routine to me.  I just made random choices moment to moment, based on what I "felt like" and what was most urgent at the time.  When I graduated from college most of the paper problem evaporated, but now that I have three kids in school it has returned with a vengeance (home ownership has an impact as well, though I haven't not been one long enough to see the improvement).

I'm a grown up and it's summer vacation.  I can take the time to create a process that will keep me from having to bring in help in dealing with all this paper.  I'd like to also model a rather better strategy for dealing with my paper for my kids, as well, so they find themselves less overwhelmed as they grow into their own paper problems.

So today I am clearing the decks.  I've got a stack of recipes that have been collecting wine spots on my counters and a stack of magazines to cull.  I found one this morning from 2002 -- YIKES. I'm pleased to see how much useful information I'm encountering, though, so I'll share a few strategies I'm working on to deal with all this crap these responsibilities.

1.  File folders.  Bonehead!  Yes, it has taken me nine years to figure out that I need file folders.  I'm sorry, but I'm a slow learner.  No, actually I'm not a slow learner; I've just been slow to appreciate that what I'm doing is important enough to merit file folders. In my former life as a CPA/corporate tax preparer, file folders, red and blue pencils, and my computer were the primary tools of my trade.  Somehow, when I stopped working in that profession, I devalued myself.  Only people with "real careers" need file folders, right? The rest of us are just indulging in org porn.  WRONG! I need file folders! I need to know where I've kept all the home maintenance receipts and the kids' school papers, the directories for church and school, the medical stuff... I need a lot of file folders. And it only took me ten years to value home management as a valid activity worth investing a few supplies... that I already have around the house. Aries is certainly a bone-headed sign...

2.  Binders.  My mother-in-law started me with my first binder when my husband and I were engaged.  She gave me a gigantic three-inch binder filled with magazine tear sheets in sheet protectors. It was all home decorating information: pictures of beautiful rooms filled all three inches (do you know how many pictures that was???)  That binder was a godsend when we bought our fixer-upper, when I was expecting babies and creating nurseries for them, and especially when we remodeled.  I added more binders over the years: a gardening binder, one for the holidays, and a recipe binder.  When my husband was doing more DIY projects I created one for him as well, though at the moment all but the decorating and recipe binders are currently disbanded.  I'm going to create two new ones that reflect my current interests and abilities -- no point in fantasizing about elaborate garden and holiday projects I can't indulge: articles about writing, and fashion inspirations.

3.  Evernote. The binder system works beautifully for image-heavy content; it's like the pre-Pinterest Pinterest, but not so great for more detailed information.  (reasons I'm not using Pinterest anymore here)  Sheet protectors prevent organizing tabs from being visible and I generally want a whole menu, rather than a single recipe, when I am coming up with meals.  I'm trying to be sort of low-carb and would love ideas for breakfasts that start me off successfully.  My kids love traditional breakfasts any time of day and I want to know how to make treats that are more nutritious for them. I have family recipes I don't want to lose track of, but that I also don't want to make more than once a year. My usual method for getting recipes is to pull them off internet searches, especially, and then I have a stack of cooking-stained scrap papers with ingredient proportions, no instructions; fifty-fifty if they have a recipe name attached to them.  The longer they hang around the more successful I consider them, but either way I have to read the ingredient proportions to know what it is.  I've been using Evernote for my novel planning, but it took my husband pointing out its usefulness for recipe organization.  Using this system will make it easier for me to prepare weekly menus and shopping lists, as well.

4.  Bins.  Every organizing article and book I've ever read (no small number) asks: What the hell do I do with all the kid output? In my attic I have a 30-gallon tote full of all the stuff my mom saved from my childhood. I know what's in it because it was my childhood, but otherwise it is of almost no interest to me. My husband has a 3.0 cubic foot moving box from his childhood. I might have looked in it when we were newly married, but I couldn't tell you today what is in it. We don't care a whole lot about that stuff, but we also recognize that when our children are older they might find it interesting. So I have designated a 17-gallon bin for each of my children to last the entire time they are under my roof.

When we moved to California from Virginia I learned that the further I get from the time the artwork was created, the easier it is to discard it. When I had been away from the children for a little over a week to empty the house and see to the boxing up and shipping, I couldn't bear to toss all their little drawings and projects.  A year after the move-in, I could not understand why I had trucked all that stuff three thousand miles. (Sure am glad I didn't pay to ship it!) I kept one piece. But with the bins, I have a place to store the stuff till I have enough perspective to choose my favorites, to see how they develop so I can choose the piece that is most representative of what kind of people they were, and to have new darlings that I need to make room for.

*   *   *

I've been silent for a week or more, as I struggle to put together a post that I should probably have done first.  I want to come up with a definition for simple living, a question that was posed by a friend on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. It has been harder than I thought (and not helped by losing half an entry from some kind of Blogger glitch), so I'm asking for some help.  What is Simple Living to you? What are you looking for when you read these posts?  What changes are you looking to make in your own lifestyle?

And in the meantime: Don't be afraid to invest in your own needs.  Take your role as Home CEO seriously enough to have a planned home for the documents that are generated in this not-simple world we are navigating and make your life a little simpler. Recognize when things that used to work don't, and be willing to adjust.  And most importantly, think about what works for you, your personality, your household, and your activities.

And if you're blogging, please be sure to use pictures and text that you have permission to use. Simple generally precludes being involved in a legal action.

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