Letting Go Of Old Systems


One of my major tasks for my time away from the day-job was figuring out the storage problems in my apartment. I moved in with a lot of stuff and quickly discovered that there was no place to put it, whether that stuff was books or files or DVDs or kitchen utensils. I’d lived in a pretty sizeable two-bedroom place when I first put my stuff into storage, and the apartment I have now is single-bedroom and oddly shaped.

I’m coming up on my second year in the apartment and a lot of that time has been spent downsizing the stuff that was easy to get rid of. Lots of books have gone out the door. Lots of old clothing that I’m never going to wear again. A collection of sheets and towels that were well in surplus of what I’d need, bottles of wine that I’d been carting around for years (and can no longer drink). DVDs of films that I can now watch digitally. A second couch.

It’s refreshing, being forced to ruthlessly cut like that. Pretty much everything in my house gets examined with the question do I really want to store this in mind.

And yet, if you walked into my place, it wouldn’t like I’d culled a damn thing.

Partially this is because I’ve constantly moved in stuff that was kept in storage, which means that a new box arrives every time I clear the old ones out. Partially its because I’m really inefficient in my use of spaces, particularly when it comes to bookshelves.

And partially it’s because I am reluctant to let go of things.

For instance, I’ve been promising myself I will get better at filing and storing stuff for years now. I keep my filing cabinet in a prominent position. I have folders stacked up around the house, waiting to be used. I have an in/out tray for mail to go into, so I’ve got a central processing point.

Exactly why I still think I’m the kind of person who’ll magically get better at this after twenty years as an adult is beyond me.

The folders have survived three or four moves now, despite me not opening one in the better part of a decade. I went through them all yesterday – about a dozen folders that took up some meter and a bit of shelf space. Most of them contained old writing drafts – things I’d printed out, intending to edit them, and never gotten around to. Two of them contained notes for RPG campaigns that are now over. One contained print-outs of blog posts and web articles I wanted to keep handy in the days before Evernote (or, for that matter, easily set-up bookmarks and omnipresent internet access) in I needed to reference them.

In terms of content, the things inside the folders was pretty worthless. Storage for the sake of storage, or archaic systems supplanted by more efficient digital tools.

So I find myself wondering why I kept them, move after move. Why I kept finding space for them in places I lived, despite the fact that they’re pretty bulky and hard to place. Where did the reluctance come from?

In essence, the logic comes down to this:

  • I spent a whole bunch of money on these folders, once upon a time, and they’re a re-usable resource.
  • I was attached to the idea of becoming the kind of person who did use the folders properly.

In my head, not-using them meant that I’d wasted that money, and they were purchased during a period where I didn’t have money to waste. Worse, it meant that I’d wasted money on a problem that never actually got resolved, since the folders were not doing their job.

And so I ignored them, for the better part of seven or eight years. Letting them grow a film of dust, the metal fixtures starting to rust away, the paper growing spotty and fuzzy to touch.

One of the things I’ve learned in recent years – largely from reading The Accidental Creative – is that we shouldn’t hold onto solutions for problems that no longer exist. We are creatures of habit and strange psychology, which means objects and rituals will get invested with meaning above and beyond their actual usefulness, to the point where they actually become distractions.

So, yesterday, I went through the folders and culled them. Nine of the twelve went in the bin, ’cause if I really need another folder in the future, Officeworks is a few minutes away and the five bucks I’d need to spend is a hardship.

One of them got set aside to take to work, since I actually have a few things that could actually make use of there.

Two of them were kept so I can archive their contents properly – one, full of campaign notes, ’cause I miss the folks who were part of that game and want to read through it all for nostalgia purposes. The other, full of writing advice posts, so I can make sure I’ve got everything archived and properly tagged in Evernote.

And so new shelf-space has been claimed, and new books can go out on display.

Yesterday was a good day.

  1 comment for “Letting Go Of Old Systems

  1. 06/01/2016 at 9:28 AM

    For years, I kept, for the exact same reasons, around 20 lever arch files of all my engineering and medicine lecture notes, all carefully organised but which i never looked at. It killed me to cull them but I’ve never regretted it. Now i also have a storage unit full of stuff that doesn’t fit in the house and should probably meet a similar fate. There’s a few Tedx talks on this subject. They make me feel uncomfortable.;)

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