Since my last update on my decluttering quest, I’ve managed to rediscover my motivation and build a few days’ worth of momentum; I’m now sorting through at least one bin or drawer of stuff a day. I’ve completely cleaned out all the bins, boxes, and miscellaneous piles of stuff under my bed. One of the most fun parts has been rediscovering stuff I’d completely forgotten about, including: a Tamagotchi-branded shoebox full of Tamagotchi happy meal toys, another box of bead lizards, weird political ephemera from the 2004 presidential election, carefully rinsed out empty beer bottles (?), and a couple of rusty railroad spikes (???).

However, I was still daunted by one thing: sorting through my school papers. While cleaning out the drawers and bins, I’d come across a mass of papers dating from middle school to the end of college. The college papers made me especially nervous, both because of my abnormally long stay in college and because I’d made absolutely no attempt to thin them out before. At the end of every year, I just brought the entire folder of class papers home and threw it in a drawer. So when I cleared out the drawer, I found myself staring down seven years of papers. Every handout, every essay, every photocopied reading, every miscellaneous flyer – I’d saved them all. Faced with the results of years of procrastination, I took a deep breath, rolled up my sleeves… and threw them all in a box marked “SORT LATER.”

Why be responsible when I can look at all these bead lizards and Tamagotchi toys instead?

Okay, so maybe I’m not always on top of this. But at the time I simply didn’t have the energy to sort through all that stuff while giving it the attention it deserved. Luckily, by the time I came across my middle school and high school papers, I felt up to the task of sorting through them all in one go. When I did, I realized a few surprising things:

1. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be

For an activity I’d been dreading, sorting through those papers was actually kind of fun. It also went fairly quickly. All I had to do was put on some energizing music, grab a section, and go. I was usually able to tell at a quick glance whether a paper was worth keeping or tossing, and if I was really undecided, I could just throw it in the “maybe” pile and take a look at it again later.

2. Surprise treasures

Another surprising thing that made sorting more fun was all the forgotten “treasures” I rediscovered: margin drawings from middle school, my guide for how to navigate my very first punk show, and the only essay from high school that I can honestly say I still care about. Coming across things like that managed to make up for all the unpleasant stuff I found, like low-grade essays and various academic status letters. Also, setting aside the good stuff and throwing out the bad stuff was pretty cathartic.

3. Tangible results = more satisfaction

One of the few things I haven’t liked about all this decluttering so far is that for most of the things I sort through, I can’t see the results – the drawers are closed and the bins are put back under the bed. So something I liked about sorting through all those papers is that the further along I was, the bigger the discard pile got. In the end, all the papers I’m recycling made up a stack about eight inches high; I’ve gotten rid of hundreds of unnecessary papers. Much like the spaces left behind in my bookshelves, looking at this stack of papers felt like lifting a massive amount of weight off my chest.

So, does this mean I’m looking forward to finally tackling all those boxes of stuff in the basement? Heck no. But at least this experience lets me know that it can be done.

I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m gonna get there.

More in the Decluttering Quest series:

Part 1: The Quest Begins
Part 2: Staying Motivated
Part 4: Tackling Collections
Part 5: The First Roadblock
Part 6: Letting Go of Old Writing
Part 7: Sacred Spaces
Part 8: Breaking the Rules
Part 9: A Matter of Life, Not Death
Part 10: Cataloging a Personal Library