Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Great Paper Purge

I reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally love little kid handwriting. It is mucho precious to me. Thusly, when my boys began to put writing instrument to paper, I saved. When they brought paper home from Sunday school, I saved. When they went to preschool, I saved. When they went to kindergarten, I saved. When they went to elementary school, I saved. By the time they were eight and ten years old, I had in my possession one giant box from every school year of their lives, plus another box per kid of every scrap of paper they ever wrote on when they were toddlers. That's fourteen boxes full of paper that my kids wrote on.

Fourteen.

That's a lot.

It's so much that I never, ever looked at the contents of the boxes. In fact, I avoided them and tried to pretend they weren't hogging my closet shelves, because I knew they needed to be organized and purged. But they kept falling on my head, as if to remind me that I had saved waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more than I could effectively manage.

About a year before we moved to Washington, I purged a little. I made a rule for myself that I could keep one envelope per school year. Except I chose oversized bubble mailers that measured something like 18x30". So I basically transferred paper from boxes to giant envelopes and didn't really get rid of much. Maybe a third, if I'm being generous.

For the next year, I avoided the giant envelopes and pretended they didn't render my desk unusable as a workspace.

Then Jeff got a job in Washington and went to stay with my brother and his family. And I knew it was time to purge. For real. So I decided to really restrict myself by keeping only one 2" notebook per kid... per year.

My cousin, Samantha, who also happens to be a professional organizer, came to help me purge. She pointed out that with my current plan, by the time my boys graduated from high school I would have THIRTY 2" binders. Hmmmm...

Sam convinced me to pare down to one gallon ziploc bag per kid per year. I got halfway through that process, and then gave up and moved my collection of giant bubble mailers and ziploc bags to Washington. When we arrived, I transferred the rest of the bubble mailer contents to ziploc bags.

But I ran out of ziploc bags and started using sheet protectors.

At which time I realized that if I could bring myself to let go of just a few more mostly blank pieces of paper with my kid's name scrawled haphazardly across the top (in SO adorable little kid handwriting), I could fit each school year in a sheet protector.

But I didn't have the heart to keep purging, so I shoved all the ziploc bags into a plastic file crate and dumped it on my closet floor.

There it sat for six months, maliciously jutting out and stubbing my toes as painful reminders that even though all the keepsake papers were in one crate, I still had more than I could manage.

Suddenly, summer vacation started. On the first day, I stubbed my toes on the stupid file crate for the billionth time. "That's it!" I said emphatically. "I am not going to have this damn paperwork project hanging over my head all summer. I'm finishing it. Now."

Mind you, keepsakes weren't the only papers I had to sort through. The first week of sorting, I put everything else besides keepsakes into a viable system that makes sense to me and looks pretty. I started with that stuff because I'm not emotionally attached to it, and you may have noticed that going through the keepsakes is something I tend to avoid because my feelings make me uncomfortable.

This week, there is nothing left to sort but keepsakes papers. They are separated into four plastic bins, one for each family member. Yesterday, I put the first half of James's life in sheet protectors. I will do the second half of his life today, and hopefully all of Jonathan's life as well.

And then, when the sheet protectors are filled, I will put them into two 1" binders. One sheet protector per year, one binder per kid. Per childhood.

I can manage that.