6 Apr 2023. You know that moment. You've finally cleaned off your desk. You turn with your neatly organized folders to your file cabinet. And... no room. Not a single new sheet of paper can be stuffed in. What is all this crap??
This happened to me last week. That filing cabinet became the bottleneck on the path to my seasonal decluttering.
Assessment. There was a good cubic foot of material behind tabs called "Projects--Done" or "Projects--In Process."
Long story short. I gathered up the folders and brought them upstairs to review. I also brought up one of my favorite tools—an Epson ES-400 sheet scanner, which will turn a stack of double-sided papers into a pdf file in seconds. Go.
It's hard not to overthink when you're scanning a mountain of notes, clippings, and drafts, especially as you fiddle with staples and odd sizes. Just do it.
Results. With so many papers being fed into my Writing Creative folder, my mind buzzed with the opportunities for new work.
📌 Fiction false starts—great characters, weak plots. They got me thinking again about writing a novel. Maybe a series!
📌 Finding the transcript of Jim's parents' 1926 love letters reminded me about turning them into a book. They deserve curating and sharing.
Next! The process went fast. So... what about that big cardboard file box under my work table? It's filled with miles of old report cards, resumes, memorabilia, and (what??) envelopes of photos. I was in my scan-or-toss groove but the photos tripped me up. The Epson will do photos, but they are too contrasty and over-sharpened. I was in no mood to scan a mountain of nibling school photos one-by-one on a flat-bed scanner.
✅ I once had a Fijitsu ScanSnap, another fast sheet feeder that was the bomb with photos. I thought they discontinued the line, but it's back! I ordered an ix1600.
Next! How about all those travel journals taking up shelf space? Spain, Pakistan, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand... Yes! It was a pain slicing the pages away from their spiral binding to stack them on the sheet feeder. But worth it!
📌 Lots of memoir material ready to be harvested!
📌 When I'm in an OCD mood, I'll make an index of our travels in my OneNote writing notebook, linking the handwritten journals with the photos and possibly already published Mad in Pursuit posts. At a certain point, I lose track of myself. I like the breadcrumbs.
Next! My success so far gave me the confidence to tackle the biggest of black boxes. Stuffed in the back on our closet was a file box full of Jim's published papers from forty years of academic life. He had saved copies for his three adult children—their intellectual heritage. But... binders full of article reprints? I couldn't see it. They must be scanned and stored digitally in the family archives.
I did it.
📌 Scanning Jim's intellectual history gave me a portrait of a methodologist. Give him a problem and he'd figure out how to study it. He moved from filming microscopic skin cells as they healed from burns to directing randomized control trials of physician-led home-care teams aimed at keeping the elderly out of institutions. I need to put those insights down on paper so that his family will appreciate his specific talents and their evolution.
Next! The Fujitsu ScanSnap arrived. After dealing with an annoying but short learning curve, I made quick work of the newly uncovered photos.
Time to clean up and enjoy (if only temporarily) some open space!
How about you? Did you embrace a minimalist, paperless life long ago? Or will your heirs have to rent a Dumpster to clean out your paper?
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Books from Mad in Pursuit and Susan Barrett Price: KITTY'S PEOPLE: the Irish Family Saga about the Rise of a Generous Woman (2022)| HEADLONG: Over the Edge in Pakistan and China (2018) | THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) | TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) | PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008). Available at Amazon.