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.

Paper Purge

Up until recently, my husband and my efforts to reduce clutter have been mainly focused on things like clothes, books, and miscellaneous household items. I am fairly satisfied with our progress and am pleased that the “public” areas of our house are, if not clutter-free, at least not embarrassing if someone stops by unexpectedly.

Now, we’ve turned our attention to the gobs of paper engulfing our offices. These include financial documents, articles and recipes saved to do something with “someday,” and an astounding number of lists – written on notepaper, on the back of envelopes, on post-its, and at the bottom of other lists. The paper that clutters the top of my desk is bad enough but lurking inside my file cabinets, and in boxes in my closet, are even more papers, and they need to be sorted, shredded, or recycled.

At least I know that I come by my paper problem honestly. My mother had a hand-made sign on her desk that read:

“Those who keep a neat desk will never experience the incomparable joy of finding something they thought they had irretrievably lost.”

I’m not sure if she was the author of the quote (she was a writer/editor) or if it was borrowed but it perfectly described her desk… as it does mine.

So, for the past several days, my husband and I have been slowly working through our piles and files. Boxes with documents for shredding are filling up, as is our big blue recycle can. Although we still have a way to go, we are motivated by three notions:

  • Security: We enjoy traveling and plan to continue for as long as we can. So far, we’ve been lucky to have trusted friends take care of our house while we are gone but that might not always be possible. Our goal is to have limited personal/private documents so that if we participate in a home exchange or arrange for a housesit, securing these papers will be easy.
  • Flexibility: Although we are happy with our current home and neighborhood, recently we’ve talked about alternative living situations. Would we be happier in a condo (no yard to maintain, minimal upkeep, more security when we travel, etc.)? How about an active retirement community or, at least a smaller town with walkable neighborhoods? This decision may be many years away, but why not start purging now so it won’t be as difficult later?
  • Reality: Am I really ever going to read the articles I’ve saved? Nope. Especially with the Internet as my go-to source. Some of the information is worth keeping, but most can be tossed. And those random notes and lists? I am trying to corral them all into one notebook, and as I cross out items, or no longer need the information, the pages can be ripped out and recycled.

Although the process has been slow, the experience has been very satisfying. My desk is neater, my files drawers aren’t nearly as full, and – even better – a couple of times I’ve experienced the incomparable joy of finding items I thought were irretrievably lost.