How we lost 200 pounds in two weeks… and a little bit of ourselves along the way

A few posts ago, I wrote that my husband and I were beginning a period of intense paper-purging. Our file cabinets had become over-stuffed and we had boxes of papers on the shelves of our offices and in the garage. Our goal was to get rid of what was useless and to better organize and store the records we needed to hold onto. Simplify, organize, purge.

Although not yet finished – will that ever happen? – we have made great strides. We’ve dumped at least 100 pounds of paper into our recycle bin and have taken another 100 pounds or so to a commercial shredding facility. Our house feels lighter and our drawers and shelves have room to breathe.

As freeing as it has been to offload so much unnecessary paper, both of us were unprepared for the loss we are feeling too. Along with the financial statements that can now be found online, saved recipes and travel articles the internet has made irrelevant, and other paper flotsam and jetsam that we’ve squirreled away over the years, a lot of what we tossed was part of our history. Employment records, correspondence, reports that we’ve written, notes for talks we’ve presented, and even some recognition and awards we’ve received over the years.

Over 40 years of work either recycled or shredded.

Gone.

It’s hard to describe the conflicted emotions both of us are experiencing. While we are happy to be retired – thrilled not to be a part of the work-a-day world any longer – it is difficult to completely divorce ourselves from those two people we once were. We were full-time employees longer than we were students or have been retired… combined. Our careers meant a great deal to us. They helped to define us. Our job descriptions were how we answered the inevitable question, “What do you do?”

Now that we have empty space on our shelves, room in our file cabinets, and a garage that doesn’t feel quite so stuffed, we want to keep it that way. Like many retirees, our focus has is switched from acquiring stuff to having experiences. I imagine that the tinge of loss we are feeling now won’t last and will completely dissipate as we move on to our next adventure. Right now, though, we are feeling a little sad as we say goodbye to our younger selves and move further away from what we did then towards what we do now.

Author: RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

96 thoughts on “How we lost 200 pounds in two weeks… and a little bit of ourselves along the way”

  1. Congratulations, Janis! Maybe a glass of wine to celebrate your past work achievements and cheers to new beginnings with more space for experiences and less stuff.

  2. Great post, Janis. As I was reading this, it reminded me of the same feelings I had as I purged evidence of all my working years. It was extraordinarily difficult to let go – in fact there are still pieces that, 7 years later, I should be shedding.

    We all went through that same stage after university as we established our adult life. There was the inevitable process of letting go the miscellaneous souvenirs and mementos of high school and university. It’s like shedding an old identity as we move on to the next.

    1. You are right that we’ve all – if we are lucky – gone through several transformations over the years. The unlucky ones get stuck and never move on. Although some of the papers were hard to let go of, many of them made me happy to no longer be doing the 8-5 routine.

  3. Congratulations, Janis! Purging and decluttering in retirement is a long, ongoing process. I just pat myself on the back for one major clean-out, when other leftover relics take their place to taunt me. If you and Paul are available for hire, please let me know! 🙂

  4. Warning: You acquired a life-long habit of collecting things. Even though you are determined not to fall into the same trap again, your habit will resurface and start collecting other ‘retirementally’ related objects. Stick with collecting experiences, they don’t take any space in your drawers. Haha!

    1. So true! We actually have trained ourselves to think twice, and then think again before we buy anything “decorative.” One thing we have learned as we are going through this process of decluttering is that pretty much no one wants our stuff.

  5. I get this. It’s a little like me getting rid of some old scrapbooks. Do I really need to keep the swizzle sticks I got from that time my girlfriend and I went on a trip to Disneyland that was about 40+ years ago? Probably not but…

  6. Hi Janis
    In December, they placed a recycle dumpster outside my office. I threw over 12 years worth of papers, notes, trade journals, photographs, awards into it. It felt sad to throw away all those years of work, but at the same time, it was so freeing.
    I’m also little by little cleaning and clearing at home. The items I’m having trouble tossing are birthday cards, and other holiday cards I’ve received over the years. I haven’t been able to part with them yet.
    Enjoy the freedom

    1. Although I do envy them for their always neat and tidy homes, I’ve never quite understood those who keep almost nothing. I have a few cards and letters that mean so much to me that I will probably never let them go… and that’s OK.

  7. I sat in the basement sobbing as I threw away my career materials, 25 boxes full. Bittersweet, or downright pathetic. Although I am glad I don’t have it all filling up the house anymore, it still makes me sad to remember throwing it out.

    Jude

    1. I know that your transition to retirement was a bit rocky at first so I can imagine how hard that must have been for you. Of course, you also had a move to prepare for so it was even more important to get rid of excess papers. You say that the memory of throwing it out makes you sad, are you also sad because you no longer have the materials… do you miss them?

  8. I understand this totally. I’m not too bad at hoarding – as I think i’ve said before, it’s the other half of the partnership who has the real problem! However, I do still have some documents from my working life and in the loft I have boxes of assignments I wrote when I was a student which have not been looked at since we last moved over 25 years ago. I also know I have several boxes of ornaments – every so often, I get fed up with them and pack them up, attempting to be minimal. Then people give us more! Current problem: a variety of Chinese artefacts which John is sent home with nearly every time he visits. They are beautiful and probably cost a fortune but I just don’t know what to do with them!

  9. And yet, all of those presentations, awards, correspondences, etc have helped shape you into who you are now. So, in a very real way they may be shredded but are still part of the threads that make up the fabric which is constantly being woven into the ‘you’ of now.
    Congrats on losing all that weight!
    😉

    1. I love your perspective, Laura! So true and so positive!

      And congratulations on such amazing progress, Janis! When our kids were young and we were out hiking, they would sometimes look back to talk to another family member, at which point we would tell them, “Watch where you’re going, not where you’ve been.” Perhaps this comment would also be appropriate for those of us who find ourselves struggling to clear out a lifetime accumulation of paper and possessions.

  10. I suppose it is inevitable there would be emotions involved in purging one’s past. I try to purge as life happens, but if I started poking around in my files I know I’d find things that need to go and would be hard to part with. Thanks for sharing your experience – sounds like you feel lighter and heavier at the same time, Janis. -Molly

  11. Jealous. I’m just going to say it. We need to get shredding, too. I’ve been shredding personal stuff of mine and family photos, but our “together” papers are still filed in the basement in old metal cabinets waiting for us to get rid of our past selves. I’m looking forward to it, but other obligations have taken priority over it. Someday…

  12. I’m trying, I’m trying. Next week our carpeting will be replaced by wood floors in our two offices. Yes, we each have a room of our own.
    It is HARD to go through all that stuff and progress is slow. Out is even harder to toss stuff. I keep reminding myself that we are making it easier for our son, who will be spared the task when we move on to that final stage. That makes it a little easier.
    We are definitely traveling the same path!

    1. Purging now makes your home feel better, it frees you up for more adventures, and it definitely benefits your heirs in the long run. I still have items left over from my parents’ estate – sometimes those are harder to part with than my own stuff. Good luck with your purging and enjoy your new flooring!

  13. Congratulations on retirement & for taking on the task of ridding yourselves of all of that paperwork. I felt this way when I had to go through my mom’s things when she went to a retirement residence. Know that you have saved someone from having to do all of this for you. At the end of the day, it truly is just stuff. Enjoy the lighter version of you as you move forward into this next phase of your life. Fill it with wonderful adventure & joy!

    1. Thank you, Lynn! I’m not sure my parents ever did a big dump like we are doing because my brothers and I had to go through piles and piles of paper. Of course, they lived at a time that having records online and using the internet for research wasn’t possible. It’s so much easier now that we have so many digital options.

  14. When I began reading this post I thought, “Good grief, that can’t be pounds she’s talking about.” Then I had a good laugh as I kept reading.

    My dad always said that if you haven’t worn it, used it, looked for it in a year, then get rid of it. I follow that same line of thinking. I’m not a neat freak, but I can’t stand clutter. I can appreciate, however, how difficult it has to be to dispose of huge amounts of hard copy, which represents a huge part of your life, and to do so in a relatively short period of time.

    Congratulations !! That’s an accomplishment to be proud of! And anything you should’ve kept will remain in your memory. Win/win!
    🔹Ginger🔹

    1. It was definitely harder than we thought it would be but we are enjoying our progress and the free space we now have. We have little clutter in the common areas but our offices – and the garage – became the places we off-loaded stuff over the years. I hope that now I can say “no more”!

  15. I’m really, really good at purging – perhaps too good sometimes. While everything remains in memory, and I’ve got my DevonThink program to digitally store a lot that I’m not ready to get rid of, there are a few memories that I really regret deleting. However, on balance, the spaciousness and freedom to start my next chapter makes every bit of purging worthwhile.
    I can’t remember if I mentioned this in a previous comment and I’m too lazy to look back, but I often think of the British chain of stores, Marks & Spencer. They had two rooms of file cabinets and two full-time staff employed to take care of them. In a cost-cutting measure, they reassigned the staff and threw out the contents of the file cabinets without looking at anything. They kept track for a year, wondering if there was anything they threw out that they wished they hadn’t. There was – one sheet of paper. On balance, nothing to cry about. On balance, the purge was a good thing.
    It sounds as if you’re in a good place with this, Janis. It’s another transition and you’ve just made a very good ending. Mourning it is part of the process. Congratulations.

    1. It is a little unnerving to toss/shred some financial documents “just in case” but items that have sentimental value are the hardest to part with. I’ve heard of DevonThink but it looks like it’s a MAC only product. I’m sure there is something similar for PCs. I hadn’t heard that story about the store, but I’m not too surprised. I had a colleague who, when he came back from a vacation, would delete all the emails in his inbox. He figured that if any of the emails were important, they’d send him another one. I guess that worked for him, but I am much to anal to do that 🙂

  16. I get this. During my career I did training and gave presentations. I maintained the program material until last summer (retired 6 years at that point). I tossed most and gave reference books to people still in the field. It was so hard to do. I actually heard a door slamming shut. I still have one program that I am occasionally asked to do but that was all I allowed myself. At this point I don’t really want to get gigs. Yet….I still have a shoebox full of the awards I got during my tenure at Toastmasters International. That’s going this summer. Maybe.

    1. Oh, those Toastmaster ribbons… I think mine are long gone but I remember how much I wanted the one for Extemporaneous Speaking and I finally did it!

      When we left work, both my husband and I thought we might do some consulting work so we kept items we thought would be useful. Turns out, we have no desire to go back… so out they went. Sort of sad, but very freeing.

      1. Sounds so much like my story. Maybe a consulting gig to pay for shoes. Nope, I prefer to have my time. If you’d like some TM ribbons I’d be glad to send them to you!

  17. Congrats on the weight loss! My husband went through some of the feelings you are experiencing, but I have to say I didn’t. I think the difference was that I changed jobs several times and went through continual purging -resources and identity – as a result. He stayed in the same, and has a stronger feeling about the loss. Life is change, isn’t it?

    1. I am having less of a problem than my husband is for exactly the same reason. I had multiple jobs over the years and several opportunities to purge as I went along. He was with the same company for pretty much all his working years. Life is change and, fortunately, we are both pleased about this latest phase.

  18. I’m planning another paper purge… and I know I will have similar mixed feelings. But I’m thinking after awhile, the lightness will win out…allowing space for new experiences, or just breathing room!

    1. I think the further away you are from the event, the easier it is to let go. It wasn’t the first time I had looked at the papers since I retired but, for some reason, I couldn’t get rid of them before. I imagine a few items that I’ve held on to this time will be tossed the next time I look at them. Good luck with your purge!

  19. Bittersweet actions. You expressed really well how you are feeling throughout and after this process of “simplifying” and “decluttering”. While I experienced similar feelings recycling everything related to being a student and a teacher, last spring, I did not toss 100 pounds. My stuff only covered ten years or so.

    New beginnings, Janis! 🙂 And, the new experiences will be savored mentally, physically, and in digital photographs. Did you take a photo of the awards and recognition docs you tossed?

    I think it is nice you went through all the paperwork together, so you could reminisce and show each other important memories and documents. I wish I could have done that with Mark, but, he wasn’t there, and he doesn’t read Dutch. 🙂

    1. I thought about taking a few pictures but my next declutter will involve my digital files, including my ten trillion photos so I don’t need to add to that load. One of the good things about purging together is that we encourage each other to get rid of stuff (his treasures look tossable to me, my treasures look tossable to him 🙂 ).

  20. Oh, Janis, we completely understand this feeling. The purging of all of those records from you past brings up the “Who am I now that I’m retired?” question. It seems a bit melancholy to get rid of all the trappings of a past career, but just remember…what you did during your career does not define “who you are.” At least not the paper part of the equation. It took a while for me to realize that I will ALWAYS be a teacher, whether I’m employed by a school district or not. And Jeremy will ALWAYS be an architect – he’ll probably always be designing something or other. It’s not the stuff you took from the job, but rather the characteristics you GAVE to the career that matter – You always had those, and you always will! ~ Lynn

    1. Wise words, Lynn. Both my husband and I had satisfying careers but we are more than that. And, you are right, what attracted me to my work in design and marketing will always be with me, and the same is true for my engineer husband.

    1. Fortunately, we have a commercial shredding service not too far from our house. If we had tried to put all of those documents through our household shredder, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have lasted very long. $4.95 to drop off, $7.95 to witness the shredding… it seemed like a pretty good deal!

  21. I remember keeping work papers for several years. Each time I looked them over, I’d get rid of a few but kept ones I thought I really couldn’t live without. Funny – once I pitched them there wasn’t a blip on the radar because you really don’t go back because you’re busy going forward. Enjoy that weight loss. 🙂

  22. This is a job we have been putting off but really need to address. We have accumulated so much paperwork and other possessions that it can be quite overwhelming on where to start. We also have to do the same for my mother-in-law who has moved to an aged care home. She has never thrown anything away so that will be a huge job. Thanks for the motivation to make a start.
    Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

    1. The project is very overwhelming, especially when you also have to go through the items left by a loved one (as we have too). We have tried to break our purging down by type of items (some people go room-by-room) since the biggest problems are our offices and the garage. Paper first, since we knew we would both have a lot to shred and recycle, then I’ll probably move on to my digital files, then stuff. Good luck to you… just give yourself time.

  23. I commend you both. Most of my work-related documents are gone now too. While I may have been a little too aggressive with some of the purging, in the main I’m glad it’s no longer with me. I kept a few important mementos, and I have my memories of events — recent revisions included. 🙂 – Marty

    1. Being a “little too aggressive” is a concern of ours. What if we’ve tossed something of critical importance? Oh well, chances are pretty good we didn’t. As work gets further and further in our rearview mirror, those items – including the memories – are less important.

  24. I can understand your feelings, I think. Change is hard, whether it’s in our own lives or in our surroundings, and with every new phase of our life a little something is lost. Luckily, even more is gained, but that doesn’t mean we make those transitions painlessly!

  25. Our empty spaces are hard won, but they’re freeing at the same time.

    I chuckled at your mention of those things we no longer need to store, due to the advent of the internet. It was almost physically painful to set free almost all of my cookbooks. Some held 2 or 3 favourite recipes, but took up a silly amount of space.

    1. Cookbooks are hard to get rid of. I still have many more than I need – and, in those, I actually use few of the recipes. If I want to make something I google it and get zillions of recipes. Every time I head to the charity store with a box of donations, there is at least one cookbook in the mix. One of these days, I may get rid of them all. Sigh.

    1. Gosh knows we don’t need more stuff (although I’d be lying if I said that I’m never tempted to bring this and that home with me at times). Not only don’t we need it, we have found that it is hard to get rid of… no one else wants our stuff either 🙂

  26. I know how you feel since I have not long ago got rid of a life’s worth of paper. All my University and career stuff…all gone. It does feel a little sad, but also very liberating. I have also now decided not to renew my Dietetic Registration and fully embrace retirement. I am looking forward to new adventures ahead. Congratulations to you for taking the plunge…it had to be done 🙂

    1. I love having extra room in my file cabinets and on my shelves. It’s interesting how that freed up physical space also creates freed up mental space and a new sense of calm in my being. I noticed on your blog that you recently downsized to a new home. Although we are staying in place now, I’m glad that we are decluttering now so that – if a move were to occur in the future – it would be a lot easier for us. Thank you for your comment!

  27. Playing catch up this week with blog posts. Love this, Janis, 200 pounds of paper gone! Years ago I finally gave away countless pounds of old paperbacks (kept a few classics) to the library and charity. Still working on paper, although I dumped a lot of work papers before I retired. Now if I can get Hans to get rid of his, I’ll be golden!

    1. Paul and I were very focused on this task and I think we’ve done really well. We both enjoy the extra room (NOT to be re-filled) in our file cabinets and on our shelves. It was definitely hard going, but the results are worth it. (Message to Hans: just do it, you’ll be glad you did!)

  28. Janis, congrats on the purge. I love your couple picture by the waterfall. It frames the purging nicely to enjoy and use the woods without turning them into pulp. Keith

  29. I am a born minimalist and ‘I don’t do paper’. Everything for me went electronic years ago. The easiest way to let go of where you have been is to get super excited about where you are going. Admittedly, I still have some moments when I miss my career (as it also defined me for so long) but I get over that quickly when I realize how much awesome is out there waiting for me.

    1. It’s amazing how, when you start, it’s hard to stop. It’s almost like we are on a mission. Now that we have a clear purpose to our purging (freeing our home up for more travel), the whole process has become easier. While I miss aspects of the working me, this playing me is so much more fun… and I wouldn’t give this new version up for the world.

      1. I come back to the same conclusion (why work when you can play). Do you think you would rent out your newly ‘clutter free’ home on AirBNB or do a home swap when you travel on an extended basis

  30. Great work executing your plan to purge your personal papers. As you say, the important things now are experiences. Fortunately, experiences won’t fit in a file cabinet, and they can never be shredded.

    1. Absolutely! Btw, I enjoyed your latest post about Puebla. For some reason, I’m having problems commenting on some blogs including yours. The problem is on my end, I’m sure, but I’m not sure how to fix it. Anyway, I love the Baroque architecture!

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