Wednesday, February 9, 2011

So what do I do with all this stuff?

I always knew there would be difficult parts of the retirement process:

1. Becoming selfish enough to make the decision in the first place

2. Developing a good-sounding rationalization to tell people

3. Convincing my wife who no longer falls for my rationalizations

4. Trying to know what to say when people congratulate me

But the real problem, it turns out, is going to be leaving my office in some kind of reasonable order for whoever follows me.

When I first came here, 13 years ago, the previous Director had left a gazillion files which I didn’t know what to do with. For months, I pestered everyone around me with questions. “What’s this? Do we need this? Why is there a confidential file that contains lunch menus?”

13 years later, I still have a couple of the previous Director’s files that make no sense to me but I’m afraid to throw them away.

My philosophy has always been to keep no paper in my office at all. Set up a filing system that someone else can manage and keep nothing. I tell everyone to never ever give me an original of anything. This is based on the fact that I know my professional abilities very well and realize I am capable of losing anything and everything in direct relation to how important it is.

So how, I am now asking myself, have I managed to fill a desk, two large bookcases, one small bookcase, and a credenza with a gazillion files and loose papers.

Of course, the vast majority of this is junk. Notes from leadership trainings that are 10 years old. Articles on addiction that I always planned to read sometime. Emails from when we first went paperless – LOL – and I still was addicted to printing everything.

Anything of any importance should have originals filed somewhere else, I tell myself.

I’m not sure I believe myself.

And books! What do I do with a Financial Management textbook from graduate school? I didn’t even like it when I first took the course! But throwing away a book seems sacrilegious. Not to mention it makes the trash can heavy.

And how do I know (without reading a gazillion pieces of paper) that there might not be a client’s name written somewhere, so I can’t just throw it out! I have to meticulously and mechanically take a ten foot pile of paper and slip it ten or twenty sheets at a time into the narrow slot in the HIPAA confidentiality burn bin. At least it is better than clogging a shredder.

And what needs to be saved for the poor soul that inherits my office?

Since I have almost always brought my lunch and eaten at my desk, I don’t even have any menus!

I still have a month and a half to go. It will take every waking moment to sort through this paperwork avalanche.

So I pick up another pile of papers and start to read them. They are the minutes of a meeting from 2002 which carefully document a lengthy discussion about whether we should change the date and time of the next meeting.

Your tax dollars at work.


  1. The recycle bin is your friend. Go ahead, clog the shredder, it won't hurt. Retirement is heaven. You can collect new texts and papers at home.

  2. There's a discipline that advises that anything over a certain date is rubbish. If it looks old, trash it, if it looks confidential shred it. Sounds like a nightmare job. You have my pity.

  3. It's hard to throw stuff out. As soon as I do that I end up needing it immediately, like within 48 hours. But those old emails, I'm pretty sure they could go. You should probably leave SOME stuff in your office though, detritus that proves you were busy doing very important things.

  4. Oh dear. That reminds me that it's a great plan to die and leave cleaning out the basement to someone else. Better things to do with my time.........

  5. Let me make a confession: I absolutely LOVE sorting through piles of paper and other office paraphernalia to clear up and chuck stuff out and happily fill a waste bin (or larger container, by the sounds of it) with it!!!
    When, years ago, I took over the management of a department at a small publisher's, I spent several happy days making tabula rasa of my predecessor's desk and shelves and drawers.
    So, if your successor is a bit like me, leave her or him to delve elbow-deep into this particular pleasure!

  6. Oh dear that made me laugh ...a shredder is what you need RUTHLESS...if nobody has used it in 6 months throw it out ...everything can be new anyway.

    I'm downsizing to a cabin at the beach ...and I'm taking only that ...special stuff that makes me smile...

  7. Good advice from all those above. All you need to keep are your education and certification documents. LOL You might want to go back to work somewhere. I thought I did when I retire, but a few weeks later, no more work for me. Enjoy.

  8. I understand your "pain". I have a file in which I keep all those little folders they pass out at funerals. It's labeled "Dead File". I have no explanation for its existence, but it just seems like the right thing to do. Note to my eventual survivors; sorry.

  9. I like to print things out to to read later and later never comes. I have files filled with quotes, success stories, etc. I closed my business almost two years ago so I had to bring everything home and now, my home office is chaos. You can barely even walk in the room without stepping on something. It's overwhelming. I need help.....the mental kind.

    I hope you don't bring too much stuff home.

  10. If you just set it all on fire, that would be that, and you'd never be forgotten.

  11. I remember very clearly your post last friday about collecting.... you seem to have a problem lad.

    I keep 7 years of tax returns and the paperwork for the current project - oh and papers my granddaught writes.... everything else is trash.

  12. My advice is to keep what is pertinent and current--meaning anything that pertains to projects, decisions, or programs from the past year. The rest can be shredded. And do it with glee!