Since then, she’s bought a house of her own, and she doesn’t need mine. Nor does she need all my papers, and neither do I. Or so I’m trying to convince myself, but the process of divesting myself of years of accumulation is wrenching. Yesterday I threw out four years of my life in the form of Franklin-Covey day planners. They were four years I’d just as soon forget – 1998 to 2001.
I’d shut down my home health care agency, ElderSource, Inc., on Halloween of 2007, and I hadn’t begun writing my mystery novels. Those years were ones of flux and uncertainty, pulling up stakes in New Paltz and trying to adjust to the Capital Region where I knew no one. My mood swings veered toward the depressive end of my bipolar spectrum. Yet I kept those day planners compulsively – two facing pages per day, one for my (nonexistent) appointments, the other for my goals and accomplishments. They’d made sense when I was running an agency, less sense during my long stints of idleness punctuated by the potholes of various low-level temp jobs
I didn’t want to reread those planners, and I recycled them properly, separating the papers from the fake brown leather binders. “Are you sure you should have thrown those out?” my husband asked later when I was crowing about my accomplishment. No, I’m not sure, but downsizing is essential, since our house is half the size of our old one. For too many years it’s been choked with plastic bins and cardboard cartons of papers and memorabilia, and we need to open it up to the possibilities of the next phase of our lives. Renting a storage locker for over $1,000 seems like a cop-out, bleeding money while it lets us postpone the inevitable confrontation with clutter.
Besides, my husband wants the pink room for his office. That’s where much of my stuff is stored – an upstairs bedroom painted Pepto Bismol pink, where the papers jostle with old art and jewelry-making supplies. My own office already occupies the adjoining bedroom, and he deserves a room of his own instead of the sunroom that’s destined to become a dining and garden room if we can ever get our act together.
What’s so unnerving about jettisoning big chunks of my past? It has to do with posterity, the notion that someday someone will want to read all my meanderings – the journals and morning pages full of kvetching, the first drafts of my novels. Consigning them to the recycling bin means surrendering to the knowledge that no one really cares.
Things came to a head yesterday when Richele Corbo, our Nia teacher, asked us to bring photographs of ourselves as young children, so we could dance to our inner child during a beautiful routine with music by Christine Aguilera. To my chagrin, I couldn’t find a single one, though I know I’ve got a few stashed away somewhere in those cartons. (Interestingly, none of the other women brought photos either – they couldn’t find them or “forgot,” or as one woman, a therapist said, “My inner child’s too shy to show herself.” We’ve got photos of our children and grandchildren, though.)
When my mother died in 1970, I was too shattered to return home to Milwaukee and sort through family memorabilia, so I left the task to my father and brother. Equally devastated, they weeded out and destroyed practically everything – the home movies, the high school yearbooks and family photos. To this day I blame myself for lacking the courage to go back and salvage more of those tangible memories.
Now, while I’m still sound in mind and body, I have the chance to do things differently, so that my daughter and granddaughters aren’t faced with those overwhelming choices. Can I distill the essence of those countless cartons into three or four carefully culled archival boxes? Maybe so, if I make believe I’m moving to – heaven forbid – an apartment in a community residence.
What about you? Do you have trouble divesting yourself of your paperwork past? Any stories or helpful hints to share?