Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Transformative paper work

Thursday of last week, I began a days-long effort to finalise a long-delayed project: The destruction of documents from years ago—even decades ago. It’s a project that I began several years ago, really, then the job became much bigger after Nigel died, and now it’s done. A weight that’s been holding me down and back for years is now gone. This is a good feeling.

I began with the ordeal of sorting papers that had to be stored back in 2018. I packed away dicuments by year, making it easier for me to toss out stuff every January 1. However, I knew that the project wasn’t really finished because I also knew that many of the documents got shoved into boxes when we were packing to move to our last house. That meant that back in 2018, I knew there’d be mountains of the stuff to sort.

When Nigel died, I was also faced with all the papers he left behind, mostly drafts of things for work, some statements/receipts, and even things from before we met. All of those had to be dealt with, but I also knew that doing it would free up space in my head as well as house.

As I said in a post at the end of last month:
The “destroy” papers aren’t necessarily super-secret, but are ones I’d still rather not have flying around a paper recycling centre or above a landfill when a rubbish bag splits open after it’s dumped. There have been a few things that are a bit more sensitive, for whatever reason, and I started shredding those things, but there’s just so much and the process is so slow that I decided to order a secure destruction bin to put it all into, everything from the highly sensitive to the merely rather-not-have-flying-around things. And that, in turn, has made me hurry up and sort though the remaining boxes of papers so I can order the bin and get rid of all that kind of “stuff”.
After I published that post, I actually did go through boxes of papers, up until I ordered a bin online last Wednesday. It was delivered the next day, and I told them to pick it up on the following Monday, which they were a bit surprised by since most people want it for maybe a month. I told them I’d already mostly sorted through what I wanted to send away, and I could just use the weekend to do a sort of final check around the house.

Reality was a bit different.

It was was easy to put the papers I'd ready put in an overflowing box into the bin, but then it got a bit more complicated. The box I’d sorted way back in the first lockdown and stored in the garage wasn’t quite as ready to go as I’d thought. After that box, it was about looking for papers that might still be packed away and going through them. There turned out to be quite a lot of them.

I kept very little of what I went through, and most of what I kept was actually just so I could record some dates that things happened (because I can’t even remotely rely on my memory…), which means that stuff, too, will go eventually.

Funny thing, though: The one thing I forgot to put in the bin should have been the easiest: The stuff I have stored that was due to be destroyed on January 1 (it seems unlikely it would’ve been needed in the last couple weeks of 2021). Oh well, at least it’s not much to shred. Related, though, that stuff that I packed in a hurry when we moved to our last house? It was nearly all old enough to be destroyed.

In the end, I only filled a little more than half of the 240 litre wheelie bin, which didn’t surprise me, really. Most of the stuff was nothing important, though personalised, and I just threw it in the bin because I knew I could. There was, however, some of Nigel’s work files, some of which really were confidential. The truth is, though, that the majority of truly confidential papers were mine, from my days in NZ politics.

I chose a wholly New Zealand owned company, TIMG (The Information Management Group), which specialises in secure storage and/or destruction of confidential information (including even things like hard drives). I also chose them because of their methods: Some companies merely shred documents, while, according to TIMG, 95% of the paper destroyed by them is recycled to pulp. This is brilliant for the environment, but is also makes it impossible for the documents to be retrieved and reassembled (something that’s more important to businesses, but I liked that they’re so thorough). One final note: Everyone I dealt with at the Hamilton branch was friendly and helpful, so much so that it was probably the most outstanding customer service I’ve received in a very long time. Really good customer service is so rare these days that I think it should be celebrated whenever we experience it. Nigel would've appreciated all that, too.

I know that in his final days Nigel was upset that he hadn’t been able to deal with all his “toys”, and so, I’d have to. He’d also have been upset about me having to go through mountains of his papers to dispose of them, including ones from before we even met. In fact, some of it was really hard on me because of all the emotional triggers, even including bank statements where I could see when we went to a restaurant, or a receipt for an appliance we bought that I still have and use. Basically, any document I checked could have a small thing in it that could make me feel sad for a bit (or, sometimes, a bit longer). The only truly bad part was going through some of the oldest papers, not because of their content but because he kept them in one of those briefcase-like things used for storing files: That thing was from way before Nigel and I met, and it smelled musty and even a bit mildewy. Other than that? Difficult mostly just because of the sheer volume of papers.

The main thing I felt while I was sorting the papers was relief: I was finally getting rid of a huge weight (literally and figuratively) that had been difficult to deal with. Now, I no longer have that. Sure, I have LOTS of “stuff” (including Nigel’s toys) to deal with, and my garage is, in some ways, now worse than when I started working on it back in July (and it’s way too hot to work in there now). But those papers could easily have taken me a couple years to shred (even just limiting it to the things that were truly confidential). I’d guestimate that the papers I sent away for secure destruction would fill up to six ordinary moving boxes (partly because I'd already shredded some documents and put that in the bin, too). The volume of stuff that’s gone from my housem then, is not insignificant, either.

Mainly, though, it’s a project that I’ve been working on for at least three years, off and on, and that’s weighed very heavily on me over the past two years in particular. And now it’s completed.

Never in my life have I been so happy to see a rubbish bin leave. It’s not just that getting rid of that weight was liberating, it’s also transformative. I have more space in my house and my life because it’s done, and that makes this very particular project also among the most satisfying yet.

On to the next ones!

The photos up top are the before and after shots, the latter of which was really hard to do because it was in the bright sun, so I couldn't see the screen of my phone. The important thing, though, is that it was there to be photographed at all.


Roger Owen Green said...

For my mother's 80th birthday in November 2007, my sisters and I cleared out the shed behind her house. We got rid of over 900 pounds of paper, such as canceled checks from 1964.

Arthur Schenck said...

That's a lot of paper!! The thing is, it's so very easy for it to just pile up. I don't ever want to be in that position in my own home again!