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Drowning in paper

twinsmamatwinsmama 1599 replies53 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1,652 Senior Member
Yesterday, I tackled the huge pile of paper that had accumulated on my desk at home (the place where it gets thrown when no one knows what to do with it - including me). That was bad enough, but I had a real anxiety attack - not something I am prone to - at the thought of dealing with all the other papers that have accumulated in boxes and file cabinets and heaps in that area. Some are useful or must be kept for some amount of time, some are memorabilia, some are trash, some need attention, some needed attention a while ago, some are just of interest. I have a hard time letting go of anything that even loosely falls into the category of memorabilia (for various reasons, one being that my memory is terrible and I like to keep tangible reminders of things past). I had an organized system in the past but it hasn't been maintained for at least the 5 years that I have been working outside my home (neither has my house, but that's another story! :-) ). Does anyone - with a similar tendency to accumulate too much paper - have a manageable way to deal with it? Be aware that if you say throw it all out, I will ignore you as I do my husband and Marie Kondo (although I let her tell me what to do with many other things, she doesn't understand books or papers). I have also been purging and organizing computer files (less anxiety there), but it takes so damn long to open up each one...
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Replies to: Drowning in paper

  • thumper1thumper1 73299 replies3189 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 76,488 Senior Member
    We keep a shredder near where the papers used to accumulate. We read and either use, or shred. If something is used...it’s only kept until we don’t need it anymore. Really, that’s not much. We have a small drawer where we keep things like insurance policies...but really they are online too.

    For memorabilia...take a photo of it...and create a memorabilia album in your photos.
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  • twinsmamatwinsmama 1599 replies53 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1,652 Senior Member
    I should clarify that I am perfectly capable of setting up an organized system, I have a document scanner, and I just ordered a shredder (without telling my husband, who doesn't get why this is necessary). What terrifies me is the thought of the time and immense boredom that must be devoted to dealing with what is already there.

    And I disagree about memorabilia. I have done it both ways, and although certainly some things can be handled that way, a tangible item matters far more to me than an image.
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  • IgloooIglooo 8051 replies205 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 8,256 Senior Member
    immense boredom that must be devoted to dealing with what is already there.

    I had a shredding "party". When the floor was being refinished and I was allowed only in one room with the file cabinet, I went through the files and shredded a stick of about total 6'. The diner is when I get going, it is such pleasure, I tend to over shred that sometimes include items that I would need in the distant future.
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  • 4kids4us4kids4us 558 replies4 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 562 Member
    edited June 23
    Mom of four here - amazing how quickly the paper accumulates. I wish I had a system. Before kids, I was incredibly organized but for a variety of reasons, most especially lack of a dedicated office, I haven’t been able to keep up! I always have at least one stack on the counter. A lot of my problem is the things that need attention but not immediately. Or paperwork that Dh needs to see (he travels frequently, so doesn’t get to it immediately). This year was especially bad as I had loads of mail/paperwork related to S19’s college app process as well as I put senior year stuff, in addition to D23’s h.s app process and “graduation” stuff from her K-8 school. I had three piles going...one on my desk (which isn’t really a desk but a converted armoire which houses my Mac), one on the formal dining table and one on the counter. So busy in May that finally just last week I went through it all and was relieved to whittle it all down (of course after going through it all, I now have new paperwork b/c within those piles were directions to websites for S19 and D23 to download and print out a ton of health forms, etc.

    I do have a shredder so I immediately shred anything personal/financial that doesn’t need action, and I also immediately go through the mail and recycle right then whatever we don’t need. We’ve gone paperless with most bills. I file what I can right away. Honestly I think most of our paperwork is kid-related. As far as memorabilia, I have a Rubbermaid bin (maybe 2-3 now 😏) under my bed where I store things I want to keep. Coincidentally, I happened upon, in an odd place amongst a stash of greeting cards I keep on hand, a drawing D17 made for a neighbor who used to babysit for her. She couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 - I took a picture of it and sent it to the babysitter, who said she actually remembered it and must’ve left it behind after a babysitting job. Crazy to think D is now 20 and the babysitter about to turn 30. Not a piece of memorabilia to save, but it was fun to stumble upon it after all these years.

    What gets me is every time I go through my stack(s) of papers, I swear I’m not going to let it get out of control again but it inevitably does. And makes me crazy b/c my nature is to normally be very organized.

    All this to say, no advice. I’m following too.
    edited June 23
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  • conmamaconmama 4086 replies298 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 4,384 Senior Member
    Do you have file cabinets and binders? That’s how we keep ours organized. I would start by deciding you are going to do an hour a day. Start by making folders and labeling the tabs. We actually print them out so it’s nice and neat. We have all sorts of categories.
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  • thumper1thumper1 73299 replies3189 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 76,488 Senior Member
    When my mother died, she left us with forty four movers boxes of memorabilia she just couldn’t part with, and papers she felt she needed to keep. I swore I would not do this to my own kids.

    95% of what my mom saved was not wanted by anyone in our family. 100% of the papers she saved needed to be shredded. We went through seven shredders.

    I understand that “some” memorabilia needs to be saved...especially if it is important to you. But, in my opinion, you need to be selective about what really needs to be saved...and why.

    One thing we did regarding our and our kid’s memorabilia...we did a walk through of our house with them, and asked if there was anything they wanted. They gave us their very short list. Sure, it was sort of sad to think they didn’t want this stuff...but they don’t want it. They each selected a couple of nice art projects they did, and we had those framed. Everything else went into picture format.

    I’m not telling you to toss everything...I’m just saying...make some hard decisions about what you really need to keep.
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  • Sue22Sue22 6092 replies106 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 6,198 Senior Member
    edited June 23
    Scan your papers and put them in an electronic file. There are a number of cloud storage systems designed for this. You don't need to have originals of things like receipts and tax returns.

    The other advice I try to follow (okay, not always successfully, but I'm trying) is to touch each piece of paper only once. Don't look at it and stick it back into the pile to be dealt with later. If it's something you want to read at some point force yourself to read it now or acknowledge that you probably never will and throw it away. If it's something that requires action take action now. Processing everything this way will feel very slow but you'll know you've accomplished something, not just shifted things around.

    If you're having anxiety about the scope of the piles try setting a daily goal, or even just a goal for today. "10 pages, that's all I have to do. 10." or "Every time the movie goes to commercial I'll spend that time on the first thing on the top of the pile." Or give yourself a reward. "Once I get 50 pages into the trash I'm going to sit down with my favorite book and a bowl of ice cream." If you can trick yourself into thinking of it as a not-so-bad challenge instead of a huge, daunting task it can be easier.
    edited June 23
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  • anomanderanomander 1651 replies4 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1,655 Senior Member
    I understand some memorabilia is hard to part with. I’ve been clearing out things pretty aggressively recently and if it’s been sitting in a box for 10 years, then that’s a sign to me that it can go. I went through a few months where my goal was to fill the garbage can every week.

    For shredding, be sure to buy a good shredder! I shredded a huge pile of old tax returns a few years ago, and being able to send 7-10 sheets through at a time was a blessing. Not sure what to tell you regarding organizing, other than I have everything labeled in either envelopes or folders, vs in loose piles. If it’s not legally required to keep, then it got shredded.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 6164 replies35 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 6,199 Senior Member
    I agree with not even considering tackling it all at once. Break it down to one hour increments/per day or even per week if that's all you can stomach. Go through a folder at a time. One of my friends did a drawer at a time and then found it so liberating that she started doing an entire closet at a time.

    I also completely agree with @thumper1 in terms of thinking ahead of what is going to happen to all this accumulated stuff. My mom is in a memory care facility and my dad just downsized from a huge house to a 2 bd/2bth condo with no storage. My brother took one moving box worth of stuff and I agreed to take a few antique pieces that were important to my mom, and all the family photos because I want to go through and digitize them and my D would have thrown that stuff out). That's it. My dad moved a small van worth's of stuff to FL and the entire rest of the contents was sold by an estate company.

    I helped sort through the office paperwork and my mom's belongings and it was PAINFUL. I found files and files of stuff like paid bills from my grandparent's old condo that that been sold 20 years ago. It was also very emotional to have to sort through their stuff at a difficult time. Can't imagine having to have done that after a death. Frankly I was resentful that my parents didn't bother to do it themselves when they could and were dumping the burden on me.

    The reality is our kids don't want our stuff.

    Like thumper, we've vowed not to do that to our D.
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  • suzyQ7suzyQ7 3926 replies55 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 3,981 Senior Member
    Open the mail in front of the trash can and toss 75% of it immediately. College mail from colleges of no interest? Goes straight to the trash.
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  • emilybeeemilybee 13139 replies35 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 13,174 Senior Member
    I shred immediately after opening the mail. If something needs to be filed I do it immediately. If something needs my attention I do it immediately. If it can wait a bit, I put it in my basket which I pull out on bill paying day *every two weeks, I do it then.

    When I was visiting with my mom a few years back I helped her clean out her closets and declutter. She had file draws filled with bank statements (including cancelled checks) investment statements, etc ., going back to the mid 80’s.

    I bought her a shredder and on rainy days I’d just sit in front of tv and shred all day.

    And ditto on our kids not wanting our stuff (or their stuff they left behind when they moved out.)
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  • twinsmamatwinsmama 1599 replies53 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1,652 Senior Member
    edited June 23
    I think my key will be to, as advised, break it down into small increments. Maybe tell myself I will do half an hour a day. It really couldn't be more than a couple of weeks worth at that rate (well, maybe), I just hate that state of having lots of things out being sorted, which is why everything tends to be thrown into boxes to be dealt with later. :smile: I do have reasonably well-organized file cabinets but they still have more in them than they should. @4kids4us My main problem is also with anything kid-related. And I know my children are far less sentimental than I am, but who knows how they will feel when they are my age?

    I have at least four boxes of papers and assorted stuff from my parents' house, but that can wait until another time. I recently had all non-digital family photos scanned, so that got rid of a couple of boxes (no, I couldn't bear to throw out the originals, but at least they could go in the basement).
    edited June 23
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  • eastcoascrazyeastcoascrazy 2524 replies22 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 2,546 Senior Member
    You already have a system, you just have a backlog to deal with. Been there. Done that. Here’s how I handle those backlogs.

    It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Accept that fact.

    I sort everything into like piles on the floor. Or on a table, or whatever space you have. Label the piles of you need to, to keep each pile focused on one subject.

    Put any memorabilia in separate piles and don’t even think about those piles. You’ll get lost in the memorabilia and never finish the task at hand.

    Once everything is separated into piles, then relax and take one pile at a time to go through while watching TV. Do one pile a day, or one pile a week, just don’t make yourself think you need to get it all done today.

    Once you are looking at a single category, it becomes a lot easier to identify what to keep, and to shred old, outdated or meaningless stuff.

    File each small, greatly reduced category in whatever system you already have set up.

    Then, and only then, tackle the “memorabilia”. I have separate, pretty, lidded cardboard boxes (purchased at Michaels) for each kid’s stuff. Don’t worry about making toss or keep decisions for awhile. Seriously, several years later you can look through a box and roll your eyes at yourself. Much easier to make decisions about what to keep after a few years have passed.

    I have one of those boxes in a corner of my bedroom. It is where I have tossed all the memorabilia for the last four years or so (youngest kid’s college years). It is just about full, and time for me to go through it. I haven’t even glanced into it in four years, so I expect there will be a lot of stuff in there that I can toss.
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  • greenwitchgreenwitch 8654 replies41 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 8,695 Senior Member
    I have a summer project to deal with boxes of memorabilia. This is the 3rd summer I've told myself that! I will keep you posted if I get anywhere.

    One thing I started is with cards I wanted to keep. I bought a big album I could mount them in. Now, I just have to do it. I made one of these albums for my Dad with sympathy cards he received after my Mom died, so I have a sort of template. Just have to do it.

    I have a small file cabinet with files of memorabilia from my Mom and Dad. One file is their old resumes, which are great, and still on that "onion skin" paper we used to type on. It actually didn't take up that much room and it's very satisfying to have it all there in one drawer. I also bought a sort of shadow box and pinned some things in there. Embroidered patches were all the rage in the 60's and 70's and my Dad had a bunch - NYC marathon, Ben Franklin nuclear sub, etc. I added the one patch that was mine, from being a "mathlete" in HS too.

    As for shredding, I find it very loud, dusty, and annoying. If it's winter, just toss everything in the fireplace. Carefully, of course! We also have free shredding every couple of months at the city recycling center. Put it all in a box and watch that box disappear, staples and all.
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  • SybyllaSybylla 3448 replies36 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 3,484 Senior Member
    edited June 23
    Move house. That will light a fire under you. IMO your anxiety is caused by not addressing the issue, vs your feeling of being soothed by the collection. Manageable ways of keeping unnecessary stuff is called hoarding. ITA with the idea of approaching small jobs each day.
    edited June 23
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