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Shredding and Other Forms of Therapy

December 15, 2010

It is truly hard for me to believe, in the age of all things digital, how much paper still exists.


My mailbox is full of paper every, single day of the week (except Sunday because we don’t get any mail on Sundays). Furniture advertisements, grocery store circulars, real estate flyers, credit card promotions… oh… and bills–even though we have the vast majority of our bill payment set up online. Tons of stuff. It used to be that this lovely collection of junk we don’t need would pile up on the counter in our kitchen.

We had a specific counter set aside just for the piles of it we would receive. Once upon a time, we had a plastic shoebox there. We would stack and pile and shove until the shoebox was overflowing. Then we would stack and pile and shove around it. Finally we got rid of the shoebox because we thought for sure if we didn’t have a shoebox we would be more responsible with the piling and stacking and shoving. Instead, the piling and stacking and shoving just got more creative… and larger since the whole counter was fair game.

Under both the shoebox plan and the full-counter-is-fair-game plan, once a month or so, or whenever the pile became so large that it would teeter on the edge of the counter like a Jenga game gone wrong, we would set aside a three-hour block of time to go through the enormous pile of stuff and throw away what we didn’t need–which was most of it.

Last year, Velma sent us on an all-expenses-paid guilt trip of epic proportions over the fact that we did not recycle all of this ridiculousness. She hyperventilated over the sheer number of trees we were killing, and demanded suggested kindly that we purchase a separate trash can for paper, and plastic bottles, and cans, and glass to keep in our kitchen so that we might join the environmentally responsible group. She whined, cried, and yelled proposed this idea several times until we finally broke down and did it.

Since then, our actual kitchen trash can has been much less full and our recycle can has been full to overflowing with crazy regularity. We used to stress out over the fact that the trash man cometh only weekly. Now we stress out over the fact that the recycle truck visits every other week instead of weekly. It’s good stuff, I suppose. At least we have a place to keep the mountains upon mountains of paper that arrive in the mailbox, and we can feel good that it’s being recycled.

But all of this paper-consciousness has brought into sharp focus the issue we have with paper elsewhere in our lives, in our home. I didn’t realize just how weighed down, how literally buried by it we were until we started digging out.

The recycling was the first step.

Unloading was the second step. For so long we’d been in the habit of just stacking and piling and shoving. It was tough to train ourselves to actually toss the junk right into the recycle can as we came through the door, but slowly we began doing that. The pile grew more slowly, and as we saw progress it was easier to do more. We took 10 minutes here or five minutes there to go through some of what had accumulated prior. The pile dwindled.

We bought a shredder–a shiny, new, diamond-cut shredder. Anything we no longer needed that might contain personal information went there. The sound of shredding junk mail was therapeutic. Seeing how much could go in before it overheated was a game. The kids even got into it, arguing over whose turn it would be to shred next. Then we went through the filing cabinet upstairs and shredded things we no longer needed–pay stubs from ten years ago, the soccer schedule from when Shaggy was eight, insurance information for cars we no longer owned. Before long, our filing cabinet was down to a few folders, one drawer full of information instead of three.

I felt lighter.

But there was still more to do. The final frontier for me was court stuff.

Over the years since our first rodeo in 2001, we have amassed an INSANE amount of court-related paper.


Motions, orders, e-mail (not deduplicated), medical records, receipts, daycare stuff, taxes, work history, therapy information, report cards, teachers’ notes… pick a feature, we needed to have it with us every time we went in front of a judge. We typically showed up with a 5-inch binder full of evidence–sometimes two. Somewhere along the way I got a little smarter with converting those documents to electronic format, but each time we’d go to Court (and it was a LOT), we’d have it all printed, in exhibit order, and take a notebook. Since the issues were different every time, reuse was nigh on impossible.

We generated binder after binder after binder. After each hearing, those binders would go into the bookshelf in our office… just in case. Eventually the bookshelf got too full and the shelves collapsed and we moved a ton of binders to the basement for safekeeping. I never realized how the sheer volume of evidence was weighing on my soul. Boxes of stuff, page after page of ugliness, proof of it, taking up space in my home and in my heart.

Over the summer, I had a few days to just be at home. And I began to whittle away at it. I know someday we may need something from it all–I cant just get rid of it. So my first order of business was to make sure that our electronic files were organized. Once that was done, I shredded like a crazy person. The sound of the shredder hacking through pages–eight at a time, the slightly electrical smell of paper moving through its steel jaws, the physical act of emptying bin after bin of unrecognizable bits of it into enormous black garbage bags… it was heavenly.

Into the shredder went reminders of unpaid medical bills, motions that didn’t go our way, the stress of worrying about the felon that was picking up the kids, arguments over sunscreen and daycare payments and school arrangements and unattended kids’ activities. Sorrows, frustrations, anger, fear… released.

Never before had I paid attention to how those things, just sitting there in those binders, hundreds of them, thousands of them, were speaking to me in whispers in the night. Never–until they were gone.

I’m down to just a couple of binders now–things that need to be converted to electronic format. My bookshelves are filled again with things I like to read–mystery novels, my treasured Little House on the Prairie series from when I was a kid, The Chronicles of Narnia, my husband’s collection of Louis L’Amour, our family Bible, photo albums. Things that should be there. My basement shelves have space on them for keepsakes, and camping equipment, and holiday decorations.

It’s good, this paper removal project. It was necessary, and it’s refreshing. I have reclaimed my home, my office, my sanctuary. I have let more go than just the physical pieces of paper–I have let go of the emotional baggage that was attached to them, as well.

I feel like a new person.

I can’t believe I waited so long!

Next on my list? Opting out.

You can do it, too!



3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 15, 2010 2:40 pm

    I love the idea that Laura Ingalls and family’s pioneer challenges are on your shelf now instead of Legalese. enjoy!

  2. Krysta permalink
    December 16, 2010 1:59 pm

    Thanks for the link to recycling. Time to get that going strong in my house as well! 🙂

  3. December 17, 2010 6:33 pm

    Unfortunately, I’m not where we can shred just yet. The custody trial was supposed to be this month, but the Guardian Ad Litem report is not done. We’ve had the court date for a year, but for some reason, unbeknown to us, this report is still not completed yet. So we are back to the unknown. Supposedly, February 1 is the new ETA of the report and God only knows when the trial will be now. Currently we have 10 3 inch binders. 3 organized chronologically (currently 1591 emails) and the remaining 7 have everything else….the motions, all correspondence between attorneys, doctors notes, counselors notes and all emails separated by subject matter, etc. I hope one day that we can purge….I’ll be happy when and if that day ever comes. I’m glad you had the opportunity to do this.

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