May 5, 2003
In my last entry, I somehow failed to mention an important part of my plan to end my goal year with a better organized, less stuffed with stuff house than I live in now: tackling the clippings. I learned at my mother’s knee to tear things out of magazines to save for future reference (remember, this was long before the Internet, when looking something up meant waiting until the library was open and having to go there and write stuff down with pen and paper), and I took that lesson to heart. (I learned at my father’s knee to save entire magazines, so I do that, too, in some cases, but that’s a different entry. Remind me to tell you sometime about my quest to find the three issues I need to complete my collection of Traditional Quiltworks.)
In college, I had an accordion file of clippings. After graduation, my collection grew to fill one filing cabinet drawer. When we moved into this house, we bought a second filing cabinet, and the clippings expanded to fill two drawers as I added a quilting section. Right now I’ve got the two drawers and twelve (!) boxes of clippings that have yet to be filed. The boxes are small ones, true, but still that’s quite an embarrassing backlog. Of course, the drawers are not big enough to hold that much more stuff, so it’s not just a matter of putting the stuff in the boxes into the appropriate files. Since I’ve decided I don’t want to buy any more cabinets– I’ve got to draw the line on my compulsions somewhere, and with the clippings, I’ve drawn that line at two drawers– I need to weed out as I go, discarding irrelevant things as I put away the ones I want to keep around. It’s a big job, with lots of decisions to be made, so I’ve been putting it off, meanwhile continuing to read magazines and tear things out of them and thus making the task even bigger. But I’m determined this year is going to be the year I tackle this monster. What finally convinced me was counting the boxes stacked in the basement– finding there were twelve of them seemed like a sign. I would work through one box a month and be done by the end of the year. (Hush, those of you who are thinking that I’ll have a thirteenth box before long at the rate I’m going). To keep myself on track, I promised that anything from the box of the month that was not in its proper file at the end of that month would go straight into the recycling bin.
“But Karen,” you say, “why don’t you just put it all, boxes and files both, into the recycling bin right now? Wouldn’t that free up lots of time to do other things? Sure, the silverfish might suffer, but do you really want to be dealing with all this paper when you live in an age when you can go online and find pretty much anything at any hour of the day or night?” Well, those are good questions, and I’ve thought about them. In fact, thinking about them is one of the reasons I’ve been putting off the project. Do I need these files, or is keeping them just a habit? Am I holding on to them because they serve a purpose in my life, or because I have problems letting go? Well, a little of each, I think. I do refer to the files and use information I find in them, so they do get used. Could I do the same thing with Google, though? Maybe, in some cases, but in others the Internet wouldn’t work as well. I’ve got files of quilt pictures that I flip through for inspiration before I start work on my own pieces, and that would be much more tedious to do online, even if all the images were available there. Sometimes it’s the juxtaposition of things that gives me an idea, and it’s hard to lay things out and rearrange them on a small monitor screen. I can justify keeping the files around. Maybe after I’ve slogged through boxes and boxes of backlog, I’ll feel differently, I’ll decide it’s not worth the time and effort needed to maintain it, but I’m not there yet.
So, determined to get my clippings file act together, I grabbed a box to start with. It wasn’t a hard choice because I just picked up where I’d left off the last time I’d gotten determined to attack the backlog. The file folders I use to sort the clipping into broad categories– Quilting, Clothes, Journal, Collage, Articles, and the unlabelled folder into which I put things I want to do something with sooner rather than later– were there just waiting for me to get back to work, which I did. Going through the things in the box, I found a lot of them just didn’t grab me any more. Rule #1: If I couldn’t tell why I’d kept something, out it went immediately. I did not put it on the bottom of the pile to give it a second chance. Rule #2: If I could remember why I saved something, but would not save it if I read it today, out it went. There’s no point in keeping articles about navigating the corporate rat race when I’ve left it behind; if I ever go back, I can get new, updated information on succeeding then. Since I was able to toss so much stuff, I got to the bottom of the box and got everything I was keeping filed with several days to spare, so April was a success. I’ve now started on the May box, which is proving to be more difficult to weed out because it’s more recent, so more of this stuff connects with who I am now. But I will be strong; I will sort it out– or throw it out.