Paper Mad

December 15, 2008 at 6:19 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve started getting my house in order today. My paperwork house, that is, because I could build myself a five-storey cubby with all the paper-chasing in my life. I am surrounded by it. And when MS drafts are underway, well, let’s just say I have finally weaned myself off the superb procrastination technique universally known as “urgent spring cleaning,” so catching myself looking longingly at my pointless piles of paper is a sure sign that I have a commensurate amount of MS work left to do. Now that the latest draft is up at Varuna for Stage Two, I can finally turn my attention to all the jobs I’ve forced myself to ignore in the last few high-pressure weeks (laundry! Don’t talk to me about laundry! Anyone would think we had a dozen children the way those piles spun right out of control!). The office clean is a job I’ve put off a lot longer. I bought some archive boxes once I’d submitted my thesis and just dumped everything in there, and have continued dumping everything from press kits to greeting cards since, and lo and behold, it all goes away. Like magic. But ever since I first started this nasty (lazy) habit, I have eyed those boxes (there are six of them and counting) with a mix of dread and loathing, and wondered if perhaps I should have filled each one with a little more precision at the time. Perhaps it was a false economy taking the lid from the box and sliding my entire desktop inside?I saved time then, but I’m not saving time (or space) now. Because the paper will hunt you down. The paper will devour you. The paper will drive you from your home. Did I really need to keep that map of the South Coast from a freelance job in 2006? I seriously doubt it. What about that information pamphlet from the Big Guitar in Tamworth? Yeah, see, I think I can live without that too.

Llew’s convinced I should keep all my PhD research and chapter drafts in case I ever want to “do something” with it (“What, you mean other than adding it to the next neighbourhood bonfire?”). This paper pile accounts for three archive boxes after several surreptitious culls over the last three years. There was just so much of it that it felt like the full weight of the Warren Report was breathing down my neck every time I sat down at my desk, so I admit I’ve chucked some of it out. And have I missed it? NO! NOT ON YOUR LIFE HAVE I MISSED IT FOR ONE MOMENT. On the contrary. I often feel like celebrating its absence. And so going through these archive boxes again today (I made it through four and reduced by O-N-E – an outstanding effort I’m sure you’ll agree), at least until I lost the will to live, all I really wanted to do was turf the whole lot. Who cares, I thought. Sure as hell not me. Maybe documents should be like tax receipts, kept on a five-year rule. If I hold on to all this crap for another two years and still never look at it or need it or have any curiosity about it whatsoever, maybe it’s time to send it on its jolly way to “recycling” (I’ve heard ugly rumours that all our garbage irrespective of the colour of the bin lid is simply added to one monumental landfill the second it reaches the tip, and our diligence at the bins is really just about making ourselves feel better because it is doing zip for the environment… could this be true??).

And yet throwing out past greeting cards, even just Christmas cards with nothing more personal than ‘Dear Llew and Di’ and ‘Love so-and-so’ written on them, is a task I find next to impossible. I anguished over some today from 2005 and 2006 that bore no news, no photos, and no special sentiment other than that thoughtfully provided by Hallmark. Why? Well, I know it’s irrational, but it makes me worry that I am throwing their feelings away. I can’t bear the thought of disposing of someone else’s attempt to reach out to me, no matter how briskly it’s done. If someone bothers to sit down and pen a card to me, affix a stamp to the envelope and see it safely into the mouth of a PO Box, then it seems to me the absolute least I can do is keep it once it comes into my care. 

This has become less of a problem in the noughties because people write so much less: fewer postcards, fewer greeting cards, fewer letters. I myself write fewer of each than ever before. So a lot of what I am throwing out is the unnecessary and unwanted junk mail from service providers, loan sharks and eager credit card companies. I resent this kind of mail. On any given week I am shocked by the frequency of it, not least because of the sheer waste of natural resources it represents. And I’m saddened that it’s the majority of the mail I now receive (let’s not talk about the lost package). Still, all that junk mail makes for a very satisfying urgent spring clean.



  1. Pete said,

    I can relate to so much of this, but I haven’t thought of it as clearly as you have. That it’s about feelings (our own and those of others) that we’re hoarding in this way. The five year rule will be applied here in my time off but since I’ve studied off an on for about 10 years I still have a wealth of paper to say goodbye to. Good luck with the spring clean.

  2. Catherine said,

    Throw it out! Throw it all out!

  3. Paddy said,

    I’m moving continents this week (from Berkeley, CA to Amsterdam, NL), so I can relate somewhat to the overdue “spring” cleaning.

    On the other hand, I am getting a 20ft sea container (mostly to accommodate my kayak), so I have actually little incentive to throw out a lot (e.g. taking my credit card statements from ’03 with me). It is probably only postponing the inevitable and I will throw things out when the sea container arrives in NL and I go “Why did I keep this junk?”

  4. doctordi said,

    I think it is an emotional attachment, Pete… I suspect so, at least. And here’s one for you: thinking about this more just now, I wonder if this hoarding habit is why I still feel some connection to people I’m no longer in contact with. If they used to write to me, then I am still the keeper of their letters, still a custodian of their feelings, if you like, however long ago those feelings were expressed. And so that gives them a currency in my heart that is not always reciprocated in fact. It would explain certain things to be (like sometimes I want to “write back” to these people – like writing my way into my past).

    Catherine, as a writer and a Darkling, I am SHOCKED (but not surprised – you are ever even-keeled) by the utter pragmatism of this entreaty! Really? I confessed to my mother-in-law once that I wondered sometimes if I should get rid of a stuffed toy my best friends gave me before I went to Canada in 1989, and she announced, “You’ve got no soul.” I naturally REELED in horror – I have no soul??!! – and I have looked at my lovingly kept boxes of letters and cards ever since as soothing proof to the contrary. I couldn’t throw it all out. Old letters are easily as magical to me as old books.

    Hey, Paddy, you’re off to the Motherland! Wow – I’ll ask you off-blog about that, but that’s very exciting news! And yes, I have always moved in haste, I have a dreadful packing routine that results in many things being moved so far as AROUND THE WORLD, different hemispheres and all, useless things I don’t want and that should never have gained passage. I want to be ruthless.

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