My love affair with paper

As I type this, I’m sitting in my new office. It’s a beautiful room, with hardwood floors, two big windows, dark red walls and a perfect little nook for my desk. Charming, really. What are not so charming are the 10 boxes that are still sitting on the floor.

There’s a reason for those boxes, and it’s not just because we only moved in here three weeks ago. I don’t have to trip over them every time I walk in this room or kick them every time I sit down at my desk. I could forcibly remove them from the space – shove them into the closet or cupboard, or stash them somewhere in the basement – but I’m allowing them to stage an occupation here. I want these boxes out, in the open, visible, right where I can see them, where their presence will motivate me to finally do something about them.

Here’s the thing. Like many writers, I love paper and paper loves me. We have had a long, fruitful relationship, paper and I, but I’m starting to feel a bit smothered. Paper won’t leave me alone, won’t give me enough space, won’t let me move on. With each new home, I carry a bit more of it with me and I’m finally getting tired of it. Paper has gotten way too clingy, so I’m initiating a long overdue break-up.

Many of these boxes are stuffed with paper. I have print copies of nearly every article I’ve ever written, and that includes a box of newspapers from my first job out of college. I have letters I wrote as a child and receipts from restaurants in England and birthday cards from long-dead relatives. I have notes from that community theater book I never wrote, copies of my term papers, and nearly two boxes stuffed with photographs. Some of it is worth keeping; a lot of it is not.

I’m sentimental, so this isn’t easy for me. I’d like to pare all of this down to a treasured couple of boxes – really, I would – but it’s going to take some time to work up to that goal. This isn’t the kind of break-up you can do via text message. It requires a lot of face-to-face communication. It requires me sitting on the floor, opening each of those boxes, and really, really taking a hard look at what I’ve been storing. For starters, I’m sorting. Paper from Britain goes into Box No. 1; paper from childhood into Box No. 2; photographs go into Boxes 3 and 4; some of it will even go into the Box labeled Trash.

It’s a messy, messy process. It means my office is messy. It means I feel guilty for the mess, but at least it’s a smidge less guilty than when I wasn’t dealing at all with the mess. At least I’m trying to handle it, before I turn into one of those crazy hoarders we see sometimes on television, the women with dead eyes, who live in nightmarish homes because they can’t wake up enough to see that life isn’t actually all about the stuff.

I think that’s the real thing. I don’t save paper because I love paper. I save paper because I love the things that paper helps remind me of – the friendships I’ve made, the books I’ve read, the people I’ve learned from, the places I’ve been. Getting rid of the paper doesn’t get rid of those memories or accomplishments. It doesn’t change anything about the person I am. I know that. I do. But, I know I’m going to struggle in the coming weeks as I try to shake free of its grip. The hope is that I’ll come through on the other side, lighter and less burdened by clutter. I want to sit here in my lovely office and have my mind free to focus on the things that matter to me in the here and now. I’ll get there. One box at a time.