Wednesday, December 06, 2006

And Now for a Non-Musical Interlude!

After I received tenure, my office was a mess.

It had been a massive effort to assemble my tenure file -- which ended up filling 5 thick 3-ring looseleaf binders. As a testimony to my feeling frozen in fear while awaiting the verdict, my office just froze at that point. I couldn't bring myself to throw away the papers-not-included, out of a combination of an irrational worry that I may have left something important out that remained in those piles (irrational because I was not allowed to change the submitted files anyway), and a superstitious fear that any further disruption of all that had gone into this massive effort would somehow jinx the results. It was a holding of breath.

Then the verdict came in stages, over a series of months. There are several stages of decision-making. As each "yes" came, there was still the lingering anxiety that the next stage might bring a "no." So the piles remained untouched.

After the final decision, I was happy, but too exhausted now to tackle the massive spring-cleaning my office so desperately needed. Life remained busy, and I was just trying to hang on until sabbatical.

When sabbatical came, I thought, "If I try to reorganize my office now, I'll end up spending all of my sabbatical just doing that! And I won't get anything else done!" So I simply abandoned my office altogether. Every now and then I would go to campus to check my mail, and mostly I just piled it on my desk after weeding out the important things I needed to hand over to the interim chair of the department.

This semester I came back from sabbatical. As I got ready for the new semester, I looked at the towering piles of paper and said to myself: "This is ridiculous." But in a sudden flash of inspiration one day, I ordered filing cabinets! I knew that once I started going through the piles, I would end up throwing a lot of those papers away, but even so, having more filing cabinets would be a helpful way to jump-start the organization process.

Still early in the semester, one exciting day, the filing cabinets arrived. A man came wheeling them on a trolley. One was four drawers high; the other two. Both were encased in huge cardboard boxes. The delivery man was very keen to know exactly where they should go. I pointed out the corner I had cleared out for them. We moved a table out of the way, and then he carefully positioned them exactly where I had indicated -- still in their boxes -- while I marveled, waiting to see what technique he would have for removing the cardboard boxes after they were squeezed back in the corner like that.

Then he left.

I stood there looking at the filing cabinets in their boxes in the corner of my office in disbelief.

I went back out to the hallway to see if he was perhaps coming back with some fancy box cutter? But no, he was gone.

So, a bit embarrassed that I had just trustingly let this happen, I found myself dragging the heavy boxes back out into the middle of my office, carefully tipping them over, and struggling to pull the large and heavy filing cabinets out of their huge, tight boxes.

Eventually I succeeded and got the cabinets back into their corner in my office. Then I surveyed them happily as a sign of new hope for Organization in my life!

There they stood, empty, for weeks.

And weeks.

Yes, my friends, it wasn't until yesterday that finally, in a fit of feeling overwhelmed by all that I had to do, I suddenly decided that this was the time to, well, not exactly organize the piles, but, at long last, yes, hide them!

From bottom up, I just filled those drawers with the dusty piles of papers, until all of the most scary piles were hidden away. (This took three drawers.)

Now my working surfaces at last were clear of all but this semester's paperwork, which I then did sort. About half of this pile got thrown away (by which I mean recycled). The rest I did file, in an organized way.

There's still lots of organizing of the older stuff to do, but the pressure is off. I can do that in smaller doses, as I have time.

So, although I have a lot of far more important things to do, it did my soul good to clear the obvious (and oppressive) clutter from my office. And, surprisingly, it has made the end of the semester seem less daunting. I am no longer as overwhelmed by all that I still have to do. I feel like I have elbow room now, and fresh air, and light.


  1. Ah yes. I do my best organizing of paper and reducing of clutter right at the moments when I feel I have no time to do them but I can't move until I do. It's kind of a form of constructive procrastination.

    And the sense of elbow room and light is good.

    I think I go through cycles of clearing out my interior clutter during which my exterior clutter piles higher and then clearing out the exterior stuff, or maybe it's the other way around. But I know I don't do both at the same time.

  2. Yes, very interesting, that relationship between the inner clutter and the outer clutter! I too don't clear up both at the same time, and yet they do feel related somehow...

    Anyway, it's been a happy week at work since I did that. As I turn my attention to each task or project, I cannot describe how wonderful it is to reach over to the well-marked folder and find all the necessary materials right there! I open the folder on my otherwise almost completely clear desk, and just have that one project to focus on! And then when it is done, I round up all the relevant papers, put them back into the folder, return the folder to its spot, and grab the next one!

    Whoever invented "filing" was a brilliant genius!