Sunday, January 5, 2020

Is it hoarding if you're organized?

This is such an anti-resolution post.

First, it’s not what I intended to write about resolutions in our Third Third. I’ll have to get to that later. And second, it flies in the face of all the de-cluttering I’ve resolved to do.

It started with an assignment to create a Volunteer Survey for OLÉ, our mostly all-volunteer nonprofit. There are always tasks to be done and maybe there are willing volunteers out there. How to find them and appeal to them?

I’ve done a lot with volunteers – recruiting, coordinating, and being one – and I have a lot of thoughts on how to value them, recognize them, incorporate them. I was once even the keynote speaker at the Golden Heart Awards.

But what I remembered was creating a Volunteer Survey for Denali Elementary School. It was a really good survey, so my first stop was my computer.

I searched in all my folders: Volunteering, Denali K-8, School District. I used the little Mac searchlight (spotlight?) thing over and over again. (I imagined her saying, “Enough already! It’s not here.” And besides, even if I found it, I bet its Microsoft Word would have that funny black “exec” icon that means my current Microsoft Word can’t read it.
[Aside: is there a cure for that??? Do I just watch my files slip slowly into oblivion? Is that Microsoft’s way of forcing me to de-clutter?]

I can clearly visualize the survey: I’d done it on letter-size paper, but folded it the long way, so it opened vertically. With columns and little check boxes. We printed it on hot pink paper.

That moved me to the file cabinets in the laundry room. I searched high and low. Didn’t I have a file on Volunteerism? Or was it subsumed under Civic Engagement? Or School District? Or even Speeches? I’m sure Volunteerism is somewhere. Where?!?

So then I went to my friend, Margie, who had been on the Denali Committee with me. I described the survey, the hot pink color. I hoped she had better files than I did. And this is what she said:
Oh I am sorry Barbara! I would usually have this sort of thing but I finally got rid of all my Denali paper, even, gasp, the state raffle paperwork and all the losing tickets, some time ago. Don’t you hate redoing something when you are sure you did a better job the first time? Good luck, Margie
She saved losing tickets???

But yes, she hit the nail on the head: I was sure I did a better job the first time. It’s the same feeling when I end up deleting something in error and have to re-create. It’s like a bad copy of a copy.

So this morning, I attacked the file cabinets again. If it wasn’t in my files, maybe it was in my “Sophie Files.” I have all the fascinating things she created: the Kindergarten folder, the 1st Grade folder, the 2nd Grade folder, etc. etc. all the way to Graduation. I keep meaning to have her go through them and de-clutter, but she doesn’t even know they exist. They’re my little secret stash of clutter.

And then, in the 1st Grade folder, in between her How Plants Make Food report, How to Tell Time handmade book, and certificate for TV-Turnoff Week 1999, was the Survey!

Oh, yikes! I feel like I’ve just outed myself as a hoarder! Am I still a hoarder if my files are neatly arranged and have plastic tabs identifying them?

But it doesn’t matter: I have the Survey! And yes, it is good. It asks whether someone “vants to work alone” or is a cheerful worker bee: “Give me a copy machine and I’ll stand in front of it.” Do they want short and sweet projects, to run the show or follow directions, to make fun or make money?

I told Margie I’d found it, and she replied, “This is the kind of thing that keeps one from throwing anything out.”

Moral of this story: A successful Find is a de-cluttering Setback. But a successful Find is a Jump-Up-and-Down-Happy-Dance with a Smile on your Face and a Hooray in Your Heart!


  1. You are not a hoarder; you are a boomer. When we were growing up we learned to save things that we might want some day in the future. Even if the thing we are saving is a computer file, we apply that mindset to it: if I don't save it, it won't be accessible later.

    Millennials, who grew up with the internet, have a different mindset. They "know" that everything is out there on the internet, better versions of everything are out there, and it just gets easier and easier to access everything.

    If you could only have one, which would you rather have: a 100-year old photo of your great-grandfather, or an electronic copy of that photo? I know my gut reaction is that the original photo is better to save, but is it really?

    1. Actually, I've de-cluttered enough to not want a photo of my great-grandfather, period. But I have a filmmaker friend who points out that as platforms keep changing, she keeps losing her portfolio. So I'll stick with the paper. I'm glad I have paper copies of my newspaper columns because they were pulled from the Web.


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