I try to control the masses of paper that come into my house. I read my mail over the trash can and immediately junk the stuff I don’t need. I open bills, throw away everything but the bill itself and the return envelope, mark the envelope with the due date and put both into a tarnished silverplated toast rack that I keep on my desk for that purpose. In spite of this, there is a stack on the right side of my desk that grows and grows until it teeters dangerously and must be dealt with. This morning, after the triumph of balancing the checkbook, I decided it was time to attack the Paperwork Pile.

A large portion of the paperwork pile is receipts. I save all my receipts. John doesn’t see the point in this, but there have been times when he’s had a question about some household expenditure and after a moment’s digging, I’ve been able to produce the receipt with the answer. It’s also helpful when we’re itemizing at the end of the tax year. The downside is that these receipts must be filed, and I’m lax about doing it. I tend to put them in the pile to be dealt with later, and “later” gets later and later until little rectangular scraps of paper are fluttering here and there and the paperweight can’t keep them under control. It’s usually the receipts that force me to deal with The Pile.

But there are other things that live in The Pile as well. As I separated “receipts” from “other”, I found:

1) Two printouts from the internet; one each on planting, growing and harvesting potatoes and horseradish. Both were smudged with dirt, testimony to my attempts at following the procedures (Note: one potato plant has sprouted; zilch from the horseradish so far). Because growing potatoes and horseradish is more complicated than just sticking them in the ground, these were put into a manila file folder that I like to call “ongoing projects” but more often is just a place to put stuff that I don’t want to lose but don’t want to make a separate file folder for.

2) A bunch of stuff from the recent Helen Hayes Awards. Some of it was from the goodie bags we got on departing the reception; most of that got trashed, along with drafts of the lyrics I wrote for the Best Musicals spoof, several additional programs (how did I end up with so many?) and the formal invitation. The only thing I saved was a single program, which will be filed along with ones from previous years. Don’t ask me why I keep them – I don’t know.

3) Some papers regarding “all in one” phone/PDA combinations. All junked. We’d have to change our phone plan to accommodate one, and we don’t want to change our phone plan.

4) A recipe for salmon pulled out of a Real Simple magazine. Normally this would be stuffed into a book of recipes I’ve collected over the years; I must have brought this one into the study to copy down and pass on to other cooks. Back to the kitchen with it.

5) A bill due yesterday (oops). Took care of that with speed.

6) A birthday card for one of my nephews. I was dawdling in case there was something special he wanted for his birthday, forgetting that the thing most 18 year-olds like best is folding and green. Signed the card from John and me, stuck in folding green in an appropriate denomination, and put it in the mailbox along with the belated bill.

7) Out of date coupons for Bed, Bath and Beyond (how did I end up with so many?). Junked. Coupons from both Safeway and CVS that are still good. Those went into my purse.

8) Catalogs I intended to peruse and never did (how did I end up with so many?). Junked.

9) Card from a strange old beau in Hawaii. Copied pertinent details into my PDA program, junked the card. Also a long letter from a niece in Nebraska; I thought about answering it, but we got the letter just before we went out to Nebraska last month, so all the topics of conversation have been covered in person. Tossed the letter.

10) A reminder from the DMV that my driver’s license expires soon and I must visit one of their “customer service centers.” Saved, with a wince.

11) A printout of XM Radio’s most recent channel list. Saved.

12) Copy of the gift certificate from Netflix that I sent my mom for Mother’s Day, just in case confusion ensues. Saved, and will be until I’m certain she’s gotten the whole Netflix thing well under her belt.

All told, the sorting-and-filing/trashing operation probably took less time than it did to write about it. I now have a clean desk, which will make John happy (he’s one of the neatest people I know). Actually, it makes me happy. The last several weeks have been somewhat fraught and frantic, and being able to take control of an out-of-control corner of my life, no matter how small, is heartening. Here’s hoping all the other stuff is as easy to file – or junk – as the Paperwork Pile was.

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