Buried deep in the folds of a soft blanket on the couch, Thomas whispered, “She’s so nice” and I knew we were in trouble. He was at home sick for a second day, something I can hardly remember happening before, and he had turned on Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix. It was that bad. Also, he was in love.
Thomas is our tidy child. He likes predictable days, down time and organized spaces, so I should have known that Marie Kondo would appeal to him. Once he felt better, he surveyed our home with barely hidden disdain and declared, “Our house is WAY too cluttered. We need to declutter and tidy up.” He was relentless and March Break was coming, so we spent a fair amount of March Break decluttering, as per Marie Kondo. And Thomas.
On day two, I attacked the papers. Twelve years ago I moved from Paris to Ottawa. The year before that I moved from Washington, DC to Paris. In both cases, I had to fill out reams of paperwork – visa applications, work permits, teaching certifications, permanent resident applications, banking information, moving documents… Getting married in the middle of all this meant marriage certificate, followed by birth certificates, passport applications, dual citizenship forms… My whole life seemed to depend on a flurry of papers, originals and photocopies, sorted and organized into binders and folders and sent to various agencies or presented at kiosques to people who made decisions based on paper.
So I didn’t throw much out.
Actually, the evidence suggests that I stopped throwing out any paper at all. I had a lot of paper.
My husband and children gave me some space (hours and hours) and I went through the papers, a history of my life in documents, keepsakes and cards.
A horoscope, ripped from the newspaper and squirreled away for reasons I can no longer fathom
More than one to-do list, partially checked off
A moving announcement – the toddlers in the picture are now in middle school; the family has moved twice since this announcement – and baby photos of children who are now in high school
A Father’s Day card which I’d swear I’ve never seen before from my mother to her father when I was a few months old
Multiple bookmarks and untouched writing notebooks
French poems, papers, and general teaching materials. I haven’t taught French in nearly a decade.
A 22-year old checkbook register
Handouts from a course I’d forgotten I’d taken
A printout of an article I was quoted in from the Chicago Tribune
Patterns for sweaters that I am frankly glad I never made
Annotated texts I taught 20 years ago
Evidence of early decluttering attempts – saved, of course
More than one article proving that I’ve been worried about my weight forever. Sigh
Approximately a million cards from friends, family and former students. I was not able to throw away any of these away.
In fact, Marie Kondo would be horrified by how much of this I kept, and I pretty much can’t let Thomas into the attic for fear of the righteousness of a 10-year-old, but I was pretty proud of how much I recycled and shredded.
And I was rewarded for all my hard work. In the middle of the keepsakes and the papers, I found a small envelope with a pink border and my name printed in pencil. It was thick enough to make me curious, so I opened it and found… 500 euros! Triumph! We just won’t discuss the fact that I haven’t been to Europe in 12 years and I have no idea who this came from or how long it’s been there.
This was obviously the ideal place to take a break. And after a few hours away, I realized the break could possibly extend for months, or even years. Those papers are still up there waiting for me, but that money is in the bank. And hey, someday maybe the memory of that will encourage me to follow more of Marie Kondo’s advice. Next thing you know, I might be letting my socks breathe or spacing my t-shirts out. Not so sure about keeping up with the papers.