It’s all about paper, really

Monday April 11, 2005

Stacked neatly in a corner of the garage are four large black plastic sacks of shredded paper waiting to go off for recycling and in my study there are two completely empty filing drawers. I managed to reduce domestic and personal filing from about four and a half feet of closely stacked manilla folders down to one foot of neat new files, hanging in one end of a pine chest, the other half of which is occupied by one box file of house sale and purchase records which I reduced from five. And there’s space in the same chest for another for another three box files should it ever be needed.

In gardening terms, our paper history has been severely pruned.

That job done, I turned to the contents of four drawers containing a mix of office supplies and great mass of bits and pieces I couldn’t previously bring myself to throw away. Well, I haven’t quite finished that job yet, but I am half-way through filling another of those large black plastic sacks, and one already full is sitting alongside the shredded paper waiting on a trip to the dump.

“That shredder must be red-hot,” Graham remarked during a lull called for coffee.

“Yup. Haven’t smelled any burning yet but it certainly gets very warm. I’m afraid it’ll be of little use when I’ve finished, though.”

“Good. Monstrous great thing. We’ll dump it when you’ve finished, and buy a nice neat new one when we’re settled again.”

“I’d rather have a small incinerator at the top of the garden.”

“Not a bad idea. If we have a garden in a place where burning waste is socially acceptable.”

“I thought that was on our list, at least by implication.”

Used to be that, in a garden, we could burn non-compostable plant stuff. We’ve been too close to neighbours for that to be possible for a long time now so we have a garden shredder to reduce it to manageable proportions before carting it off to the town dump. I can’t see that the pollution from the car journey is any less damaging on a global scale but there you go. It’ll be good to be able to incinerate it if we fetch up in a location far enough away from neighbours for a small bonfire to be nuisance-free.

Similarly, it used to be perfectly in order to incinerate confidential papers. And, for standard stuff, just rip it up a bit and shove it in with the domestic waste. In these days of identify theft, the definition of confidential waste has had perforce to be redefined and extended. So much so that I now routinely shred anything with financial or identity detail. Right down to shredding envelopes sporting our name and address. Such a silliness. A solid fuel cooking range would dispose of all that without blinking. Guess what’s high up on that list of ours? You got it. One solid fuel range, cooking, for the use of.

Hey ho. I’m determined now that the paper will not mount up again. In future, when I add a bank statement or a bill to a file, I shall remove one from the bottom and get rid of it there and then. My motto from now is that paper is bad, and stored paper is actually evil. Or at least, close to sinful.

There was one element of the big paper reduction project which I’ve been putting off for years and years. All my old employment files, including carefully filed payslips going back to 1977. They’d have reached back into the 1950s if it’d not been for the Great Fire of Three Bridges when the bulk of my personal papers went up in smoke. Even now I hesitated but common sense got the better of me and I fed them into the shredder in one glorious bridge burning exercise. I’ve been retired for sixteen years now, and have turned over to old age pensioner status. The only file I need keep is the one that records my pension rights. And I’m good these days, keeping no more than two years of pension payslips along with seven of annual tax summaries.

Just now the study looks worse than it did when I started because the job is not finished yet. I’ve emptied two half-height filing cabinets, almost, and they are to be scrapped in favour of a neat computer table from IKEA which will hold the printer and scanner and has one shallow drawer which, together with the drawers in my desk, will contain all my office supplies and small items. I have the bit between my teeth now, and shall not finish the project until I’ve been through every nook and cranny of cupboards, drawers and shelves, rooting out stuff I really do not need to keep on paper. Might need an additional hard disk when I’m done, but that does not present a storage problem.

It’s been a cleansing process, particularly when it came to ridding myself of all that obsolete employment claptrap. I don’t think I’ve disposed of anything vital but, if I have, I’ve not heard the bearings of the Great Axle of the Universe creaking, so I reckon I can go on into my future without fear. And without a cart-load of paper.

While weeding out the rubbish I came across a photograph of myself I’ve not seen for years. Actually, I found several forgotten photographs lurking in old files. So, before consigning them to the waste, I scanned them and shall keep them safe in my digital photographs file. I’ve also scanned a selection of papers that, while not warranting physical storage, might trigger a story, or a poem, sometime in the future.

Dumping computer files is much, much easier than shredding paper. Quicker, too.


JB in Copthorne house, 198x
It’s all about paper, really



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