Editor’s note: This column, first published March 4, 2007 in the Walworth County Week, is part of Jim Black’s 2022 collection, “Just Call Me a Gardener — and other wonders along the way”
Most of what I write is on a disc.
All my correspondence is done electronically.
The majority of news I read is from the Internet. Yet, there is too much paper in my life.
It is everywhere. It settles on the tops of tables and desks and counters, even chairs. It gathers on almost any flat surface in the house which is why I keep the toilet seat up — at least that’s my story. It arrives daily and collects in the house like an unwanted display from a convention of arboreal byproducts.
According to a recent study, people fall into one of three organizational styles: Pilers, Filers and Tossers.
I am a Piler. I would prefer to be a Filer or even a Tosser. But I have come to accept who I am. Too many other personal faults and weaknesses over the years have required my energy and earnest attention.
Being a Piler became something I could live with. Still. I would rather be a Filer or a Tosser. I’m too afraid to be a Tosser. I know I might need some particular piece of paper at some point down the road.
How am I to know which one? Someday there might be an investigation and I might have to pull out an old phone bill to prove that I was in fact at home on the 18th of June in 2002 talking to someone in Mequon at the time in question.
I was probably renewing a subscription to some paper-based product. I should at least file it, I know, but frankly that requires more time than I’m willing to spend. If you file something, then you have to go out and buy files. Then you have to get labels.
Then you have to sit down and write the label for the file. Then you have to decide which file to put something in. That’s a lot of pressure. I don’t need files. I know which pile has the unpaid bills. I’ve got other things to do, even if it’s nothing because sometimes after doing nothing I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I would like to point out that Einstein had a cluttered office. I would like to but, unfortunately, until I can come up with something to equal the Theory of Relativity, I can’t really use that defense. Albert set the bar a little too high for the common Piler.
Occasionally I get inspired to thin the herd of wild paper. I feel the need to get to the bottom in order to expose the surface. I pretend that I am an archeologist— sifting through layers of ancient garbage deposited and forgotten over time. Layers that give an insight into the life and customs of the dweller who inhabited that particular area. In the end the conclusion is always the same. Here lived a slob who had no files and threw nothing away. Recently I cleared the top of my dresser. I found unopened bank statements, check stubs, paper clippings, shopping lists and Christmas cards. I found a fishing regulations guide from ‘05 and a calendar from the same year.
There were receipts for groceries and car repairs and lots of bar napkins with names of people I don’t remember and telephone numbers I’ll never call. Some had the names of books or authors I want to read. Others had complete phrases and thoughts that inspired me enough to write them down. Whether or not they are original I no longer recall, which is why I can’t use them. There were pieces of ripped envelopes and corners of old newspapers with single words on them like “alluvium.” Words I want to use one day simply because I love how they sound. Alluvium.
There. I just used one. Twice. I’m throwing it away now. There were also plenty of nonpaper items like stray buttons, dead batteries, drill bits and wine openers. I discovered keys to I don’t know what. I uncovered a magnifying glass which had mysteriously disappeared a long time ago. Sometimes I discover coins. But they are not rare. What is rare is the kind of paper I could use. Paper money. I don’t even have enough of it to buy food.
So I write checks. I used to get impatient with people like me when I was in the check-out line. But now most cash registers automatically write the check for you. I should get a debit card, I know.
But that’s plastic and I already have too much plastic in my life.