Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 17, 2002

Clearing the paper trail

I struggled all last weekend to get a handle on my paperwork at home. I do all the things the experts in clutter-control talk about: I open my mail near the trash can so I can immediately throw out junk mail; I put all our newspapers in a grocery bag once we've read them; I have a special drawer set aside for bills, stamps and address labels; I have the school calendar near the phone so I can note upcoming activities for the family; I cut out the school lunch menus and post them on the refrigerator; I try to answer correspondence once every week or so.

I pay bills on time, usually send cards within a few days of people's birthdays, and have started a file for 2001 taxes, but no matter what I do, I seem to have piles of papers everywhere.

Whoever said that computers would help us become a paperless society didn't understand human nature very well. I don't know if I'm the only one who does this, but even my "in" and "out" boxes on my computer are cluttered with messages that I might someday need to print out.

So why is my life cluttered with paper? My husband has one answer: most of us in the family are clutter bugs. He and I both save letters from family members and friends in case they provide clues for future family history questions. The girls (and I) save their papers and artwork from school. I've saved almost every card that people have sent me for birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions. I even print out e-mails from family members and friends and file them. I go through magazines and cut out articles on how to take care of antique linens, how to get kids interested in family history and how to organize my life. I clip recipes, patterns for quilts, decorating ideas, comic strips that remind me of friends or family members, gardening tips and holiday craft ideas.

My grade school, high school and college lives are pretty well contained in a single box. So when did I develop this need to save paper? Perhaps it's the idea that I can "save" moments in time. If I save drawings that my girls did when they were toddlers, perhaps I can somehow relive those days. If I save a letter from my Grandfather, maybe I'll feel his presence at least for a short time. If I save a recipe, perhaps I'll actually get in the mood to surprise my family with a new dish for supper. If I save quilt patterns, maybe I'll one day be inspired to make a quilt.

Probably the correct theory, though, is that I come from a long line of packrats. A few years back, my husband and I were going through some old trunks on my parents' farm. Inside, we found piles of books and, underneath them, dozens of old photos and even some letters from the 1850s written by my great, great, great grandparents to their daughter and son-in-law. What a treasure! Needless to say, we saved those for future reference.

But somehow I don't think that much of what I save is going to excite future generations. So, back to the paper trail I'll go to attempt to clear out part of it.

Or, maybe the best clutter-control device I could have asked Santa for would have been a paper shredder.

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