Since I have a few weeks before I get my new computer, I am sorting through files on my old computer to get rid of the ones I don’t really need. Naturally, I have run into the same problems decluttering my computer as I have decluttering my house: I’m afraid I’ll toss something out only to find myself wanting or needing it someday. Those pdf’s from 2007 showing I did in fact pay my Visa bills? How do I know for sure that Visa can’t come after me claiming I never paid for those shoes? I bet they have giant servers tracking my every purchase back to 1970, or whenever it was I got my first card.
And that folder full of quotations that I forgot I had and never read? Some of them are really, really good. Like this one: “We shouldn't fear reality. We should fear the illusions we try to maintain in the face of reality.” Or this one: “I am the product of millions of generations of individuals who each fought against a hostile universe and won, and I aim to maintain the tradition.” No, I don’t know who said them, but they sound wise. How can I consign wisdom to the trash can?
Then there’s the news article from 2006 about my niece’s debut on the swim team her freshman year. What kind of aunt would throw that one out? Or the pictures from an online friend’s daughter’s wedding. What kind of friend would throw those out?
I decided to create a folder for files to move to a USB drive: the ones I can’t quite make myself part with but know I have no immediate use for, seeing as how I have forgotten I even had them for years at a time, and would probably have had a hard time finding them if I did need them. I have tried to sort out my chaotic Documents folder by creating subfolders, but then I forget that I have the subfolders and create new ones. That, too, is exactly how my organization problems work out in the 3D world: I designate what I think is the perfect place to store small green widgets, but by time I need to find a small green widget I have forgotten what that place is, or I don’t start by looking there because I figure the small green widgets are not likely to be there, so I search for an hour everywhere else until finally in desperation I look in the small green widget drawer and find - small green widgets! (Well, actually, usually my car keys or jewelry, but you get the point.)
So I have been trying, first of all, to make myself throw away old files before resorting to the “Move to storage” folder, and second, to round up all the stray files that belong in subfolders and put them there. It has not been easy.
I’m not being helped along by the fact that I keep running into situations in which I wish I had kept something I have tossed out. Years ago, my father, in one of his letters to me, remarked that it was his mother’s birthday, and she would have been 93 years old if she had been alive. My son is now trying to track down some information about my dad’s parents, and if I were the kind of daughter who had sentimentally kept every one of her dad’s letters, I could have used that one to figure out Grandma F’s birth date. Of course, Dad being the prolific writer that he was, if I had sentimentally kept every one of his letters, I wouldn’t be able to find the one I wanted, but that doesn’t keep me from feeling guilty about not having kept it. Although I found in the course of looking for the letter that I do have most of the Valentine’s Day cards my son ever sent me, a receipt for a purchase made in 2003, a payroll check stub from the same year, and a pair of spare shoelaces for a pair of shoes I no longer wear and meant to throw out.
And I think that is the root of my trouble with just throwing things out. It is fear that I might fail somebody, including myself, someday by not having just the right piece of documentation (or small green widget) when I need it. Hanging on to all the odds and ends is a way to guard against failure: failure to be a loving wife/mother/friend who cherishes every gift, card and letter, failure to protect the earth by not adding to its landfills, failure to have the imagination to know just what small green widget I really will need, and when. Failure to keep a neat house, or laptop, just isn’t as scary.
You would think at 65 years of age I would have come to grips with the fact that yes, I will screw up. All the outdated, useless, and otherwise unsatisfactory stuff I hang onto out of fear isn’t going to protect me from that, and may even make it more likely.
I might even have a saying to that effect on my computer, in the documents folder, somewhere.