Piles and Files

By Janet Sunderland, Guest Author

In a 21st century family saga too long to tell, amid economic ruin and children back home, my husband and I moved out of the large office we shared and into my small corner writing room. It’s been a process, as they say.

We cleaned out bookcases lining the walls of the big office (hereafter called BO) and got rid of books we no longer needed. We even ended up with empty shelf space, an early-in-this-move miracle.

What do you do with an empty shelf? I collected all my various completed projects, films I’d worked with and publications I’d published in, and put them together. They filled the shelf. I was amazed, since feeling failure is far more common than feeling success. The dates on said projects go back more than thirty years.

Janet’s Big Office (BO) before the move

Son and his wife moved into BO. It suits them. He constructed a wardrobe where there was none and utilized the room’s tiny closet for shelves. His very large desk is against the bookcases; so if I have to find a particular book on a non-visible shelf, I squeeze between desk layers.

However, what I also discovered in this gigantic move were files and files and stacks of papers.

We culled five file cabinets down to two, tossing and condensing partly empty drawers. My husband isn’t ready to part with notes from his graduate school days, but those are boxed in the basement for some other year.

I also have too many journals, which I’m unwilling to part with, but I organized them, year by year, and numbered them. And thankfully, at least spacewise although not so lucky memorywise, in years past, I didn’t write every day. Now they grow exponentially because along with writing every day, I also save newspaper clippings. I’m becoming my mother. But I had an empty bookcase.

There are still stacks of paper. I can’t get to my writing desk, it’s covered; so I’m sitting here with the laptop on my lap, looking around our newly refurbished and painted little office (LO) and it’s “cozy” as my husband says.

In fact, it’s lovely. Jacaranda blue walls and lots of white trim. It’s a happy room. One thing about sons coming home to live is they know how to build and paint. I still have stacks of papers. And boxes of old family photographs in a closet. However, and this is the point, we’ve shed pounds and pounds of paper, and been forced to look though files.

And in the midst, a “duh!” moment arrived. I could scan and save. That’s my latest project.

I begin with the top page on a pile, scan it into the computer, and toss the paper. Now my files are digital and clearly labeled. I can add new ones without worrying about taking up space. It’ll take time, but it works.

I’m doing the same with photos. I can’t toss the old photos, but I can donate them to the historical society. Not all of them, but many. And I can, eventually, make online photo books for my children, using Shutterfly or Blurb, and then they are keepers of stuff rather than me.

A great anti-virus program and online backup are key to this endeavor. And flash drives. I’ve also saved the contents of flash drives to the computer desktop, which saves them to online backup. There may be an easier way, but I can only absorb so many learning curves, and saving them to the desktop is easy. The backup program does the rest.

And you know all those scraps of paper and Post-It notes? I gathered them, sat with a small flip notebook, looked at each one, and either transcribed or tossed. I’ve discovered Post-It tabs, so organizing the notebook into sections of ideas, books to read, stellar quotes, etc. was relatively simple, and I’ll find them when I need them.

I used to move every three years or so, and moving forced a clean-out, but then we settled into this old, big house, and stayed put. But this summer, chaotic as it is and not really allowing head space for writing in the usual way, I learned new skills as a writer.

One is to appreciate what I have accomplished in my mad dash through the years, but the other is to train a jaundiced eye on my research and re-evaluate what I need as hard-copy and what can be digital, including my own writing. I don’t need two, or three, copies of everything, and while hard-copy habits are hard to break, they are breakable.

You just need a nudge.


Janet Sunderland is an actor, a writer, and with her husband, co-pastor of a progressive liturgical community. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and venues, including, proudly, When Last on the Mountain. Her blog can be found at janetsunderland.wordpress.com.


12 thoughts on “Piles and Files

  1. Bravo! Sorting, saving and tossing stuff is an ongoing challenge. Stacks of new books and reams of “important” paper will be waiting outside your office door, ready to fill any vacant space. I’m a retired English professor, and when I moved cross country from Closter, NJ, to Santa Rosa, CA, I donated boxes of books, some unsolicited from publishers and never read. But, in a moment I still regret, I also disposed of two years worth of Good Housekeeping magazine, 1978-80. I was a staff writer and editor for Hearst Publications then and had bylined articles in each issue. So you may need a box marked “To Save or Not to Save.”

    • Okay. Lesson learned. I’m not tossing anything I’m published in! Promise. I wonder if those old magazines are stored in some file in the Herst bowels….but you know what, staff writer and editor is pretty cool, with or without the pieces of saved paper. Well done.

  2. Knew Janet when we lived in Kansas. Beautiful person and wonderful writer. Enjoyed this. Such a good telling of what so many of us go through.

  3. Love your writing style, Janet. Part of moving, or cleaning, as I did a bookcase last week, is to find good stuff I’d forgotten I have. “Oh, was I really smart enough to save that book the last time I moved.?”

    • Thank you Carol. I agree there’s treasurers to be found. I wrote Vicky that I’d found a freewrite tucked into a yellow legal pad and developed a great post out of it. Agree agree…there’s gold in them thar’ hills!

  4. I enjoyed reading the comments. It has been quite a challenge cleaning out my mother’s house this week. I’m impressed with how her house and all it’s contents were such an expression of her personality and creativity. There’s so much stuff, but she had it organized and everything is labeled. So she could find what she needed. A lesson there for writers.

  5. A bare bookshelf? ;p We just gave away 7 boxes of books and alas, still no bare bookshelves. We need more shelves! Or to cull more. One of the two.

    Doesn’t culling stuff feel good? And kudos on going digital. That’s a big project.

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