A guest post by Katharine
The Mysterious Case of the Tottering Stalagmites
In the magic land that is our home we have an enchanted forest. Trouble is the wicked clutter goblin chopped it down and made into paper that breeds when we are not looking.It spreads chaotically across my ‘supposed to be for making things’ desk It squeezes out of box files on the filing shelves, gasping for air It haunts my attic It pokes me spitefully when I am not looking from the sofa seat next to mine. And that is just stuff belonging to me. My OH’s style of paper management comes in the form of tottering stalagmite’s formation dancing across the living room floor.
So I needed a plan of action for breaking the curse of paper clutter.
This is what I felt mattered
I can only get ruthless with the stuff I own, no one else’s, so focus on my stuff first. Everything needs a home so I can put away ‘like with like’ easily. No more malevolent life forms spreading homelessly over our living space. I don’t want to keep what doesn’t enhance my life now. I want to let go of ‘aspirational’ clutter: it’s contributing too much to an undercurrent of failure to achieve. I saw one way of eventually tackling the tottering stalagmites was to create more shelf space for their contents by getting rid of mine.
This is the variety of paperwork I had to deal with
the official that needs to be kept (finances/tax records, car records, pension info, health info, employment and qualification records) the practical (warranties/instruction manuals & a hoard of receipts; house maintenance records/rent/purchase contracts the sentimental including aspirational clutter and ‘information that might come in useful one day’.
This is how I did it
I discovered with quick research online that the 10 years of paperwork in the attic, including legal documents relating to flats I sold 9 and 12 yrs ago, all phone bills, utilities and bank statements was O.V.E.R.K.I.L.L. I weeded my official and practical paperwork from the systems already set up on my filing shelves and stored in the attic and shredded everything apart from specific tax related details for the last 3 years. The shreddings filled 4 dustbin bags and what is left fills two A4 envelopes. Please note I am in the UK. How long and what you need to keep for tax purposes may vary depending where you live. My banking is all online. I have now gone paperless for these accounts and my phone. For now, I wish to keep one year’s hardcopy of utility bills as I find it easier to monitor our usage that way.
A very good shredder, set up at waist height that is easy to access immediately (including waist height wall plug switch). Have a filing system that is easy to access and use. Be ruthless with mail as soon as it enters the house. Over the last year, we have actually got very good at this: the envelopes and inserts and marketing go straight in the recycle bin; bills are filed in my A4 ‘Bills’ folder . The official and practical felt like the easy bit. Much more difficult was the homeless mess of sentimental flotsam and jetsam.
This is how I did the difficult stuff
I tackled one small pile of mess one at a time, gradually ‘joining the dots’ with many small clearances, keeping in the forefront of my mind the release I wanted to feel by it leaving my home and setting me free to live now. I remember the high from getting rid of the most difficult thing for me ever, last year, my flute: nothing was going to be as difficult as my struggle over that one and it has felt great ever since. I took each single piece or scrap of paper and put like with like in piles on the floor, weeding ruthlessly as I went. At the end of each mini clearance, I put each group in designated box files/folders. It helped that I have been decluttering for 3 months now: I’ve build my ruthless muscles up in that time.
The piles roughly divided into these
Papers related to hobbies (unfinished writing project with lots of research notes & articles, clock & mosaic making and a titchy bit of selling.) Family history research written on scraps of paper Cards I have bought because they would be ‘lovely to frame’ (dating back years) Cards I have been sent. Cards bought to send to people but I didn’t don’t get round to ‘yet’. Entertaining articles cut out from papers. Useful ideas and quotes written on scraps of paper. Sentimental bits of paper; including doodles I liked or quotes, or half filled notebooks. Memorabilia; tickets, pamphlets (many of places we ‘should’ go to…) Information; magazine articles with a good quote in them or interesting picture Course notes from numerous evening classes Articles that might come in useful one day
Nearly all the cards went,(plus a number of unused frames bought 2nd hand for these cards and the two never met); the quotes; the scraps; loads of excess envelopes and writing paper we will never get through if we live to 110; the university brochure I appeared in; the badly written poetry; the half filled notebooks; the course notes I hadn’t looked at since finishing the courses over 5 years ago.
IT FELT FANTASTIC
Anything just too difficult to chuck now, is now is a single box file and I can go through that whenever I am ready to. It’s ok to do this in stages. Results I was able to get rid of half a dozen boxes/files that were now empty, choosing to keep the ones I liked best. The attic is no longer haunted by the paper ghoul. I know I will do a further purge one day. My ‘creative desk space is clutter free and the sofa seat beside me empty. My total paperwork reduced to 1 ½ shelves. I have created 7 ½ ft of empty shelf space and one empty filing drawer for the tottering stalagmites. I converted 4 shelves down to 3 much more useful ones by raising them two inches so it takes the right size for OH’s files etc. So what next My next job is to “facilitate the organised & supportive demolition of the aforementioned tottering stalagmites, on to the shelves in a like with like labelled basis. Sounds so easy put like that…