OMG the Paperness …

There comes a time in every academic’s life when they must pack up all their crap and move. It’s a dread time, and not just from the whole physical hassle of boxing and schlepping and unpacking. The actual hard part is making all the damn decisions: will I need this again? How long should I keep these data sets/ copies of journal articles/ contracts/ professional reviews/ semi-legal correspondence? Bug Girl also did this recently, and I noticed that she never did post her final analysis … hmn!

I’m not really moving right now, at least not residences. But when I moved off-campus a couple years ago, a lot of stuff simply got crammed into available spaces and has sat there since. Plus, there was years of other stuff piling up, as paper is wont to do. My ADHD packrat qualities vie with my OCD-like* organisational quirks, resulting in mass quantities of themed file-by-pile that fill boxes and binders and file cabinets and document cases. But even organised too-much-crap is still too-much-crap. Changing careers a few times will do that to one, as will working (and continuing to work) on the same job for fourteen years.

So when I moved office from one room to another at home, I decided that this was High Time That I Get Things Cleaned Out. Time to purge the paper. And boy howdy, do I have paper! Well, my challenge wasn’t merely throwing things away — I had to sort through what was worth keeping. I also couldn’t spend an entire long day on the project, as my joints wouldn’t let me do that much heavy moving or sitting and sorting for long periods. So by necessity the Big Sorting has dragged on for several days. Every day I virtuously carry yet another plastic trash bag down to the rubbish bin.

  • I junked a foot-high stack of old class handouts.
  • I threw away all the rosters and room permits and old lecture notes from three giant binders, leaving but the tidy small stack of teaching contracts.
  • I chucked the duplicate drafts of my thesis with editorial comments by each of my committee members.
  • I tossed a whole file drawer of old exams and class notes from undergraduate classes.
  • I cleared out a file drawer of old query letters and manuscripts.
  • I dumped a box full of index cards I’d used as study flash cards until I realised a year later that wasn’t a viable learning method for me. (The amount of time required to make them, and the insistence of so many people that “flash cards are a good study method” made me loathe to toss them back then.)
  • I sorted through no less than three different binders of old business cards, many of which were to now-defunct businesses, to people whom I no longer remember, to people who no longer work at those businesses, and to businesses that have moved.
  • I added to the designated Used Book Store box several volumes of antiquated horticulture books, and it will also get unused cookery books in a couple of days.

I still need to move my binders of “tear-sheets”, the original copies of several hundred articles from my freelance writing days (exciting topics like real estate & automotive news ::yawn:: as well as horticultural advice).

It wasn’t all about trashing — I also found a couple of long-lost insect pins (bee and butterfly broaches, but no roach broaches), several very nice professional reviews (now neatly stowed together in a folder for easy referencing), and some Lire-Schillings-Pence that have been out of circulation for several years. After consolidating supplies I realised that I have hoarded enough re-usable padded mailers and manila envelopes to set up a small shipping company, and I also collected together a bunch of references I’ll need for a new class I’m going to teach next semester. Having freed space in the file cabinet (Nature abhors a vacuum, yadda-yadda) I moved a bunch of educational references from binders to labelled file folders, where it’s now easier to find what I’m looking for.

I also discovered that after teaching continuing education for years, I’ve not had a raise since 1995 :: grumble :: (I don’t think it’s me — my reviews are great; it’s just the general economics of higher education).

There are still big jobs ahead of me, such as painting the walls of the room being gradually emptied, then moving bookcases in and subsequently moving and sorting a couple dozen boxes of books to set the place up as a home library (don’t be shocked when I say that one of our offspring is an English major). But doing that should occupy no more than three pleasant (if necessarily protracted) days.

The biggest job ahead of me is the pictures. OMG do I have photos! I have no less than two xerographic paper (photocopier / printer paper) cartons full of loose 35 mm plant and insect slides that I need to sort out and file away (by category, then alphabetic by genus and species, naturally). I already have nearly a dozen binders of sorted slides to add these to. Thankfully purging all that paper freed up more binders. I will also be tossing the less-than-stellar slides, although I suspect that won’t make a giant dint in the supply. Last winter I spent free hours and hours scanning the slides I needed for my teaching PowerPoints, to the point where I have so many that I must back up the folder onto a DVD (and that’s at mere 400 kb size jpg files).

Last year’s seed catalogs are easy to pitch, which is a good thing, because hubby just brought me my first seed catalog of the season! (Ah seed catalogs — what one wit referred to as “garden p*rn”.) But right now I’m dithering on the several years’ supply of garden magazines. I think I’ll ask my gardening partner-in-grime and an art teacher if either wants them, and if not, then I must fling them into the dumpster the morning of trash pickup, and dare not look back.

Forward; with a nod to the necessary Primary Source Documentation of my life, I must continue to Look Forward. Otherwise I risk putting the floor joists to peril …

P.S. I’m sure a great many of you can relate to this (I couldn’t have said it better myself): the Procrastination Flow Chart.

* No, I don’t have an OCD diagnosis, despite jibes from my co-workers. I mean, just because I must to alphabetise, and line things up, and correct pictures that are 1° crooked, and leave a trail of straightened library book shelves, and get twitchy because the coffee mugs are in the wrong rows in the cabinet, and …


  1. Rose said,

    21 November 2007 at 13:03

    Last time I cleaned out the house, I did it without my glasses. Being extremely farsighted, if it didn’t look important/familiar, it was gone. I haven’t missed anything yet. Someday, I’ll get to the checks I’ve held on to for 25 years, for whatever reason.

    Thinking about your photos–be very careful! Have you ever written a book on Bugs? Your photos are sooo eye/imagination catching. Being a teacher, I’m thinking of photo illustrated books that would appeal to visual learners. One of the few things education is doing right is teaching to more of the senses and there are as many photos and illustrations as words in todays textbooks, which make them far less dry…

  2. Suzanne said,

    21 November 2007 at 12:23

    Good work Andrea. Look Forward. :)

  3. Bug Girl said,

    21 November 2007 at 11:29

    I ended up keeping a lot of stuff simply because I ran out of time to sort it all out. Maybe over Xmas break….
    That’ll happen :)

  4. wheelchairdancer said,

    21 November 2007 at 7:36

    I so hate losing my paper that I had an assistant scan everything. Every article. Every photocopy. And make backup CD’s. But then I would print stuff out …. and the whole thing would start again.

    Good luck


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