A New Theory on Tossing Old Clutter

check registersThere are a lot of reasons for why it is hard to toss our excess stuff, that I have discussed in this blog. For example, there’s clutter from the past that holds sentimental value and there’s clutter for the future that we might need “someday.” Today, however, I want to share a new theory on why we keep clutter, that I don’t believe has ever been addressed before. I call it the check register theory. Here it is.

There is some justification for keeping check registers if you are keeping them as tax supporting material. However, after you are past the potential audit zone, there is no good reason to keep them. Yet there is still a compulsion to keep them and I think I know why.

You may start checking your old check registers for dates, with the intention of tossing the old ones, but then you see all the detailed work you did in filling them out and you hesitate. To throw out this register is like throwing out all that work! This seems to be particular true for people who have filled out their registers very neatly.

It’s important to bear in mind that the value of that work comes from the security you received by clarifying that information, years ago. That time is now gone. Because of your work, you got through it safely, so now you can let it go and free up more space to focus on today’s challenges.

I am naming this theory after the check register, because it is the most common example of this behavior I see, but there are other examples.

School notebooks are often kept for decades after attending high school and college for the same reason. Look at all that work you did! Great, but you’re in a different phase now. Let it go. It’s one thing if you have some notes that are still reference to you now, but those should be kept accessible with your reference, not in a box in the attic.  If a notebook somehow represents a special keepsake then it should be kept with other keepsakes. You’ve got the diploma to prove your achievement. You don’t need a dusty pile of old notebooks.

Work notepads fill many offices we work in.  Sure, there may be some pages that represent information that needs to be collected and projects that need to be acted on, then those pages can be torn out, that data should be entered into your systems, and the rest of that space-hungry notepad pile should be tossed. It doesn’t negate all the work you have done. It frees up your work surface for more!

Financial binders waste a lot of space. I blame the statements that arrive with the three holes already punched. They invite binders, which are a huge waste of vital shelf space. The likelihood of accessing these statements is remote, therefore their location should be remote. A file cabinet is a better choice. After a year, they can be shredded or, at least, archived. When they are stored in binders, they take up residence and, again, because these statements are all neatly stored away, it becomes harder to part with them when their relevance wanes.

You may think that the financial binders and check registers are the best organized parts of your office and it would be a shame to give that up, if you are otherwise disorganized. Ultimately, being organized is about taking the less important things out of the way so that you can get to the most important things. The check register theory explains another barrier to that goal.

Do you find you keep some things too long, simply because they represent all the work you did? Can you think of some other examples of my check register theory?