Sunday, April 17, 2011

My vertical file

For this entire weekend (well, most of it anyway), I've worked on this corner. This corner has a history. The table you see is our old "dining room" table (we've never actually had a dining room). After my parent's gifted us with their old dining room table, I didn't have the heart to discard this one. It works well as a craft table (most of the time), and you should be able to see my ironing board on the top. The printer (at least one of them) is on the top of the table, too. Along with a bunch of other stuff. But my main focus this weekend was all of that STUFF you see under the table. It's been a lovely little hiding place for a couple years now. I just shoved any old thing under there. It's mostly random power cables (our wire bag), my old laptop, empty folders and binders, and papers. Lots-o-papers. My task this weekend: purge the paper.

The first task was to bring most of it downstairs so I wouldn't be distracted by the other corners of this room (sidebar: I only got distracted once twice. The first time was when I discovered a big almost empty box that was perfect for all of those greeting cards I can't throw away. The second time was when I realized I could put all of our response cards from our wedding (yes, I saved them all... and now I know the people who didn't respond but showed up anyway) into the album we used for our guest book. Great idea, but it did sap quite a bit of time this afternoon). Anywho, here is where we (and when I say we, I mean I) were at sometime early this weekend:
I know that I've been working for a while at this point because I already have two bins almost totally empty. So, the grand tour. Bottom left is my "professional" box filled with all things library. The two black bins contained an assortment of stuff and old files on who knows what. Above that is a box of professional magazines, my personal file box, and a box of empty binders and folders. Back at the bottom in the crate, we have another box of files related to my undergraduate education and random sorting piles for paper (keep, toss, shred).

Everything was going just fine until I reached that box of personal files. Mind you, I haven't opened this thing in years. Years. But what happens when I do? I remember how much care I took when assembling the assortment of materials contained in it's many folders. Just look at it's beauty:
I was sitting there staring at the thing when DH walked up to me and asked if I was ok. It was in this moment that I realized, no, everything was not ok. This box was me. This box (and here was the epiphany) was my vertical file! So, for you non-library folk, that probably doesn't mean much, and you may even need a definition. Basically though, a vertical file is a collection of important (at least to the collector) items that help paint a picture or history of the chosen topic. And in this case, the topic was me. It took me a good 15 or 20 minutes to pull the first file out. I took half a dozen pictures of the thing as it was. And then, I dove in to American Literature. It's a good thing that was the first folder because I didn't particularly care for the topic (nothing against the professor!). By the time I was done, I had purged about half of the materials in the box. To be honest, most of what I threw away was work done by other people (what ever possessed me to keep all of the handouts from all of my classmates... I may never know).

I finished the paper purge this evening. Check out these pictures:

 It's hard to read the numbers on the tape measure, but that's just over 2 feet of paper. Gone. And a box of empty folders and binders to be sent to a good cause (i.e. middle school)

And look at all that's left:
Two completely empty crates and a much more condensed collection of papers. I still have quite a bit of stuff in my vertical file, and I'm not sure that I'll ever get rid of all of it. But I think I've kept enough to make the memories real. I even kept the page of notes from my Modern Philosophy class that contains evidence of the ONE time I fell asleep in class. The stuff still needs to go back upstairs, but that's for another day. And for the DH. These boxes are heavy!

Question of the post: Do you hold on to ephemera (i.e. stuff) to help you remember the past, or do you ditch the stuff and hope the memories last?


  1. The memories don't last... you'd be surprised at all the things that get pushed out by other things. The question is, are the memories important enough to take up space (in your brain OR in your house)?

  2. PS. My brain doesn't hold on to much of anything - so my whole house is pretty much a vertical file. If you want to see what that looks like, come on up some time! (I'll try to fit you through the door...)

  3. Wow! That's a lot of stuff. I try to hold on to a few things, because my memory is terrible. Without those bits of ephemera, my memories are pretty much gone with the wind. But I've moved too many times to keep everything. I try to be selective, I guess. I need to find my "Matt box" with the stuff from when we were dating.

    I spent the weekend clearing stuff out, too, but in my case, it was my clothing that came under scrutiny. I have two and a half garbage bags waiting to go to the Salvation Army now. My closet and dresser are MUCH better for it, but it's hard to get rid of stuff (especially t-shirts that I never wear but that bring back memories).

  4. Aunt Wendy - good point, and most of the memories I had in these trash piles just aren't worth the space. I would love to come visit again :-)

    Kelly - I was encouraged by the fact that I've already gotten rid of those pesky ex-boyfriend boxes and only have Jeff stuff left :-) Although, I did hang on to a couple things from each boy, just as a memory. I did the clothes thing a few months ago. It felt wonderful! I continue to purge clothes on a much more regular basis. You're right, though: t-shirts are the hardest!

  5. I actually had to submit an undergrad paper when I applied for grad school in 2003 (I graduated from Wheaton in 1982). And I found one. But I just throw things in drawers; don't have your beautiful files...

  6. Well, I have the files because I have no drawers. My office was the first ever that I had a real place to put all my files. It's a good thing you held on to a writing sample, though :-)