A report on my personal and so far successful campaign to get organized.
If you’re of a certain age or you’ve studied the Reagan era, the name Fawn Hall will mean something to you. As Oliver North’s secretary, she shredded documents related to the Iran-contra affair. She also had memorable hair and was fined for eating a banana in DC’s Metro, but that’s neither here not there.
Fawn Hall has been on my mind lately as I’ve held a shredding party of my own. I consulted some of the excellent Lifehacker’s tips on how to tame the filing beast. I got out my old files. I got a shredder. Then I was ruthless. I took no prisoners. Old student-loan applications and credit-card statements? History. Ancient pay stubs and car-repair receipts? Confetti. I shredded four trashbags’ worth of paper, all of which went out with the recycling. (Thank you, DC recycling people, for taking it all.) The daily files–the ones I really need on a regular basis, and there aren’t many of them–went into a small filing cabinet next to my desk. The others have gone into deep storage in the basement.
I turned my newly ruthless eye on my email inboxes. My personal email accounts are being culled too, without pity or remorse. I want to be able to see everything on a single screen. My work email account had accumulated something in the neighborhood of 5,000 pieces of mail. It’s down to under 400, headed toward zero. It may never get there but it will get pretty close. It will stay that way.
I don’t want all that stuff, paper or electronic, cluttering up my mental space any more. I have thoughts to think and writing to do, so all the potential clutter must go–into a file, into the trash, into the shredder. I’m thinking of it like a military campaign, with supply trains here and mobile troops there. Let’s have an end to the desk-and-inbox equivalent of trench warfare and the sense of being besieged by information. I want a rapid strike force that will dispatch each piece of information to its final destination. A competent commander doesn’t linger too long over decisions but assesses the situation and acts. And unlike Fawn Hall, I won’t be smuggling any documents in my boots. The shredder, however, I’m going to hang onto.
Here’s wishing you luck with your own organizational endeavors. If you have de-cluttering tips you’d like to share–or horror stories you need to get off your chest–feel free to add them in the comments.
Fawn Hall sought to break the rules in a provocative way by preserving certain documents outside of official filing systems.
Your internal rebellion may not be complete.
Beth Blevins says
Thanks for posting this. I am basically a split personality when it comes to organizing my own papers and files. There’s the ruthless woman who wants to throw everything away and make a clean slate/break, who struggles with the sentimentalist who sees her life in little scraps of paper she can’t toss. But, at least with this advice, I can start with the utility bills and work my way up from there.
Jim: First the outer revolution, then the inner one.
Beth: I know what you mean about having a split personality when it comes to stuff. I come from a family of sentimentalists who never throw anything out, and I have a strong pull in the opposite direction. But some things do have value, however defined, and I realize that my dream of living with just a desk, my netbook, a shelf’s worth of books, a pair of jeans and a couple of tee shirts isn’t really practical either.
A couple of things helped me get started on my current organizational campaign. I had to overcome the sense of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task. It helped to identify one smaller goal: I wanted to be able to sit and work at my desk again. That meant doing something about the stacks of paper that were covering the desk.
I’d been subscribing to the Lifehacker daily emails and remembered seeing one about how to tame your home files. That was a big help, because it laid out some sensible rules about what to keep and what not to. The idea of having a few frequently used files near my desk and the rest in deep storage in the basement turned out to be a good one. Once I got some momentum going, the process got more fun, especially as I started seeing progress. I’ve used my desk every day lately, after not using it for months.
Encouraged by that, I’ve been tackling other areas of the house, too, and have really been enjoying the results. The streamlining of stuff has helped me feel calmer mentally, too, which reinforces the desire to stay organized.
Good luck with your campaign!