Tenured Radical has a post up about a book, Clutter-Busting, that encourages getting rid of things, examining your emotional attachments to things, or something like that.
My clutter-busting moment came the other day when I was in the office, finished for the day but too lazy to head out for the library for an hour or so. Then my eyes fell on the filing cabinet in my office, which for some time has stood there as a Memorial Cabinet of Classes Past rather than as an actual, functioning space in which to, you know, file things.
Some background: I've recently reorganized the bookcases in my study at home so that I could actually find the books I needed and have arranged them according to a system more precise than the big books on the big shelves and the little books on the little shelves. This had an immediate effect: apparently I was catching sight of the disorder on that side of the room out of the corner of my eye, because once it was decluttered and organized, that side of the room felt peaceful and, strangely enough, the whole side of my body that normally faces that side of the room felt oddly relaxed.
Back to the Memorial Cabinet. In the past, when I've tried to clean this out, I've gone through every folder carefully, trying to see what might still be useful. But the advantage of having everything in a computer file is that you don't have to look at the paper. In the past, I've kept the paper versions because of the notes written on them, but really, if I haven't looked at them in the past two iterations of the class, what are the chances that they're really useful?
Instead of heaps of documents that might be useful, divided by class, author or subject matter, I had three heaps: Keep, Shred, and Toss.
So--class notes from 2005? Folder contents gone (into the recycler). The whole folder. All at once.
Never-picked-up student papers and exams? Gone (into the shredder).
Materials from a curriculum reform now implemented? Gone.
Stuff I apparently thought would be useful at some point but haven't looked at since 2007? Gone.
Old book catalogs (which were in the Memorial Cabinet for some reason now lost in the mists of time)? Gone.
The difference between this decluttering and others is that it wasn't a ritual memory tour through classes past, with meaningful pauses to consider the students and the work done, or a piece-by-piece consideration of whether something would work for classes in the future. Maybe there's still a place for that kind of reflection--I don't know--but the place, for now, is not in my no-longer Memorial Cabinet.
Oh, and 20 minutes later, having hauled these stacks of paper to their various bins, I was at the library, energized with all the decluttering.