low on memory

July 16th, 2008 | Uncategorized


Here’s a little movie about my progress with the office reorg.

46 Responses to “low on memory”

  1. Deena in OR says:

    Hi, Alison!

    All I get when I click is a still Flickr file.

  2. Anonymous says:

    ah, the chinese puzzle of organisation, that enemy of decisive clear-headed action and barrier to the garden of clarity. I know it well.

  3. NLC says:

    Two words: Paper Shredder.

    My beloved actually asked for one for her birthday a couple years ago. It turned monthly Bill-Paying Time into Fun Time overnight. Nice, satisfying crunching/whirring noises.

    (The one we got on sale at Staples for $19.99 was more than sufficient. While taking it out for the just-got-it-home
    test run, she put in some junk mail and it actually ate its way through an advertising refrigerator magnet.)

  4. Wait. You mean you shred the bills as soon as they come IN? Isn’t that…wrong?

  5. NLC says:

    Duh! Of course. How do you do it?

    No wonder you have so much stuff in your office…

  6. Noominal says:

    If it frightens you to shred immediately, compromise to TAX TIME, meaning yearly.

    The only paper bills you need to save are the ones you really write off tax-wise, and seriously, one page with a yearly summary of the whole year’s expense… not each month’s, is sufficient. Ask your tax preparer. There is such a thing as “the paperwork reduction act,” and they weren’t kidding.

    Shred, it’s fun.

    I used to use the shredded bills for my bunny cage, when I had a bunny… but it smelled awful combined with bunny pee, and probably wasn’t good for the bunny.

  7. Mame says:

    oh yeah….ummmm…send your old utility bills to Smith. Someone someday will write a thesis about how many kilowatts you used while writing Split Level Dykes to Watch Out For.

  8. Suz says:

    Loved the video.

    Is Smith willing to send someone to you to help cull? You/they could call it some kind of history internship, an evaluation of primary sources on whoosis.

    (As for the shredder, if you’re buying pay attention to continuous run time. It’s a hassle to wait while your shredder turns itself off for 15 minutes to cool off.)

  9. The Latent Lens says:

    hmmm…..i wonder do you file kitty in her/his carrier when she gets to be a handful?? hee hee

  10. The Latent Lens says:

    AB you know what I love and keeps me laughing is your delivery….****pause*****”electric bills”*****pause….and your looking in your personal finance folder and finding quotes about death…it kinda gives a whole new meaning to the saying “nothing is for certain but death and taxes @@)

  11. The Latent Lens says:

    blooper…you said personal management…same difference…

  12. Ginjoint says:

    Wha…what’s this about saving stuff for seven years? When the hell was this rule written? Is this something (another thing) that everyone knows but me? I save tax returns, and that’s it. Everything else – shredded. My shredder even eats credit cards. And I love the little graphic on it warning not to get your tie caught in it.

  13. Ellen O. says:

    My unsolicited comments:

    If you are self-employed and audited by the IRS, you do need your records, even telephone bills if you’ve deducted calls or your phone line. I’ve never gotten a yearly summary of my phone calls and charges. That’s why I keep the monthly bills.

    I’ve heard seven as the magic number too, but I’d keep the actual tax returns (1040, Schedule C, W2s, etc.) forever.

    Shred only what has personal information on it. Shredded paper can’t be recycled. At least, not around here. Fibers need to be longer.

    Organizing is cathartic and I need to do more myself. Just don’t turn clearing out your files into a substitute for creative work on your next book. Time flies and all that…

  14. Ian says:

    Here in Britain I heard that you’re best keeping financial records for 12 years as that’s how long the Inland Revenue actually keep your records stored themselves. Might be worth ringing your accountant to find out how long the IRS keeps theirs!

    Shredded paper (not the shiny stuff, but newspapers and bills, etc) make a great mulch to put round plants (though it attracts slugs, snails and earwigs) and is great as a layer in a compost bin. I find it fitting that 1992’s phone bill from a supplier that doesn’t even exist anymore will help my veggies grow next year!

  15. Eva says:

    Your video rules! _I_ feel more organized now!

  16. Dr. Empirical says:

    Watching the video I immediately homed in on the instrument case. A banjo, I assume. Looked like a short neck, so I’m guessing it’s a 4-string.

    As I currently own 6 guitars, 2 organs, a bass, mandocello, ukelele and mountain dulcimer, plus assorted electronica, I can only wish that all I had to get rid of was paper.

  17. NLC says:

    By the way, just in case anyone watching the video was wondering:

    “Peace is a snare; war is a snare; change is a snare; permanence is a snare. When our day is come for the victory of death, death closes in; there is nothing we can do, except be crucified–and resurrected; dismembered totally, and then reborn.”
    Joseph Campbell Hero With A Thousand Faces

    (Joseph Campbell was known for his close, personal relationship with his paper shredder.)

  18. Wow, NLC. I’m impressed. I had no idea where I’d gotten that.

  19. j.b.t. says:

    Hi – tracking back to a previous post – how did the “Bechdel test” get started?


  20. Teejay says:

    I second the idea (I call it “digital decluttering” – you heard it here first ๐Ÿ˜‰ of taking pictures and scanning to help let go of physical objects. For me, though, it isn’t just the idea of scanning to create a virtual copy of things, but the process itself can be helpful – sitting down to scan old papers, I think geezum, this is going to take forever – and then I realize that if I don’t want to take the time to scan this paper, is it really something I need or that is important to me? If it becomes easier to shred than scan, then ta-dah! Decision made!
    Also, reflect on a time (if there is one) where you’ve gotten rid of something and not regretted it – if you feel burdened by your “stuff” then free yourself, if you feel comforted and sentimental, then organize and find a space for it. All the best of luck from a fellow packrat ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. sk in london says:

    AB, i love the metaphor for making space…. running faster, yes…., but also that ‘total dismemberment’ phase can be terrifying! (yay Joseph Campbell!)…. i ‘lost’ almost all my belongings from the first 30 years of my life when i moved to the US. intending to stay 8 months i stayed 10 years and having left my belongings with a friend I gave her permission around year 5 to get rid of my things in yard sales as she saw fit.

    I did not manage to get back to Australia for 8 years and when went to collect what she had kept – photos/diaries and one small box of precious things – I was relieved to have few things to send back to the US but then shocked by the flashbacks i started to have about what i no longer owned!

    My textile collection – gone! my kitchen goodies – gone! my art equipment – gone! my books, clothes, gardening tools….
    … then again i read stories in the news about what people and the planet are losing daily… my loss is nothing… yesterday a story about how migrant kitchen workers here in the UK take their one bag of belongings to work with them everyday to allow for a quick getaway in case of police raids … ooph….

    .. and i like to imagine that happy person sitting with my beautiful Turkish kilim still thrilled at the incredible bargain they scored at some unexpected yard sale they stumbled upon:-)

  22. Alex K says:

    AB, you’re well ahead of the game. Your papers are in FILE FOLDERS. Inside a FILING CABINET.

    Yes, as opposed to shoved into Tesco bags at the halfway-to-Narnia back of a closet or stacked in tottery towers on the kitchen floor. Why do you ask?

  23. Matron says:

    My partner (who is a teacher, so I suppose she has some excuse)has a way of filing that makes me positively uncomfortable. She collects everything, salary slips, credit card bills, tax bills etc. on a big pile on her desk for an entire year and then, during the summer holidays, goes through one day of hell filing it all.

    Fortunately, I am the one responsible for household bills or I would have constant anxiety attacks. It seems to work for her though. Although that was before the new kittens started to rifle through everything, shred it and distribute it round the house. With the next summer holiday approaching I think I will take that day off this time.

  24. Leda says:

    Joseph Campbell – you see, you see! this is why I love this blog!

    Just looked him up and now my brain is whirling and a light bulb just went off somewhere about my dissertation idea and now I actually want to pick up the reading…

  25. NLC says:


    Concerning the “Bechdel Test”:

    (Or see the “Dykes to Watch Out For” article on Wikipedia.

  26. @Ellen O. Yeah, I save utility bills because of home office deductions on my taxes.

    And thank you very much for reminding me not to substitute organizing for creative work. I will finish TODAY.

    @Alex K. Excellent description of a problem closet, “halfway to Narnia.”

    I also loved Ginjoint’s comment about her similar closet on another post. “Where feng shui goes to die.”

  27. cybercita says:

    here’s something else to distract you:


  28. Chris (in Massachusetts) says:

    All my bill stubs go into the envelope the phone bill arrives in. It’s the biggest envelope.

    The month and year is scrawled on the front and then stuck on a shelf.

    Once a year, all the bill stubs get looked at, matched with their respective canceled checks, and stuck in a folder with the year scrawled on the tab, filed away and forgotten.

    Although recently, I’ve taken to paying bills online. That reduces the paper coming in and out.

    And now for something completely different:

    My copy of the Daily Distress arrived yesterday!

    It has been double mylar bagged, vacuum sealed, and is in a safe deposit box, where its value can only grow and grow and grow!.

    Come to think of it, I probably should have actually read the darned thing first.

    Alison and Co., thanks for taking the time and effort to do this for your fans.

    It is greatly appreciated!

  29. Jessie says:

    that video is my new favorite thing. I think I am going to go and watch it a few more times. then maybe I will make a video of my progress getting my thesis written.

    and, the comment about someone wanting to use ABs old electric bills as sources in a dissertation stung a little. It would have been a whole lot, fucking, easier to write parts of mine if my folks had saved their bills…

  30. ksbel6 says:

    I’m pretty sure that Batman isn’t going to pass the test, but I will go see it and then let you guys know whether or not it does so that you know whether or not you can see it. Someone has to take one for the team ๐Ÿ™‚

  31. Lisa S says:

    Yeah Smith (my beloved alma mater)!

  32. EK says:

    Alison, you have really elegant hands.

  33. Kate L says:

    A.B., please don’t compare your mind to a filing cabinet! : ) “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lighted” – Plutarch. As for old letters, late in their lives, Harry Truman saw that his wife Bess was burning their old letters that she had kept for years. “Bess, don’t do it! Think of history!”, he said. “I AM, I AM!!!”, she replied.

  34. Alex the Bold says:

    The mistake people make is to try to put all the Old Stuff in a filing cabinet.

    Get the filing cabinet. Only put the New Stuff in. The Old Stuff? Box it up, put it in the basement until it ages out past the requirement for record retention. You almost certainly won’t need 99% of it, anyway. Why sort it? You’ve just saved yourself about 1 and 1/3 assloads of work.

  35. Alicia says:

    There is great solace to be found in the process of cleaning and filing, if you ask me. My family still makes fun of the fact that while my girlfriend was in surgery I brought in a box of filing and proceeded to make folders and labels in the waiting room. It made the waiting bearable for me.
    I recently found the holy grail of organizing/filing. I had a temporary position at a college with a high speed sheet feeder scanner. Just press a button and poof, those 100 pages are now a PDF. For someone who can’t manage to get rid of anything it was a special kind of heaven, however fleeting. Now all I have to do is to label all .pdfs and enter them into a database to make them usable and . . . Organization seems to be a process of infinite regress.
    On a related note, this thread seems to have brought out those of us working on (or procrastinating from working on) dissertations. Anyone else out there have the final frame of DTWOF 250 posted above her desk? The one where Ginger says to Lois, “I’d much rather hear about your problems than work on my dissertation.” To which Lois replies, “Thank you, Ginger. Considering that you’d rather fellate Bill Clinton than work on your dissertation, that’s very generous.” It sums up how I feel these days so well.

  36. JenC says:

    โ€œThe mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lightedโ€ – Plutarch.

    Funny KateL., setting it on fire is EXACTLY what I’d like to do to my filing cabinet… maybe the comparison still stands? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  37. cz says:

    Please, please, please- all of you that are transitioning to digital format- be sure that you have a backup system in place! My computer died on Monday- if yours did the same would you still be able to retrieve what you needed?

  38. Rosa says:

    I keep large paid bills indefinitely because I have had several friends who paid fairly large bills because Universities they attended came after them a decade later for unpaid tuition. It makes me paranoid.

    But you can compost shredded paper, or make homemade cat litter out of it, or use it as package stuffing – cross-shredded paper composts really nicely. We use it in the bottom of our compost bucket to soak up liquids & keep it from getting smelly too fast.

  39. NLC says:

    Uses of shredded paper:

    I can see using it for, say, cat litter. But I’d be cautious about using it compost –especially for a food-producing garden– because of the likely ink content, bleaching and photocopy chemicals, etc.

    (Obviously, not much per individual sheet. But a whole pile of paper, accumulating over multiple-years and leached out through rain, etc, could bear watching.)

  40. Cate says:

    Alicia, I defend two weeks from today… believe me, the fantasies of fellating bill clinton are not far away ;-).

  41. jude says:

    i love you. n i love how the things YOU do that so closely resemble the things *I* do illustrate the neutrality of obsession/collecting/blahblah – it is the person/context gives it some aura of dignity and worth or aroma of nutsness and delusion.

    so my goal is still to get rid of most of my papers intentionally before i die instead of foisting them on people i already know don’t want them.

    i love witnessing a beloved & respected artist make joy and literature out of the same ingredients that need to be trashed over here in my world.

    well, except letters. i’m saving them all.

  42. Joe Code says:

    I laughed a long time because that’s ME, although if I look at it truthfully I’d have to say that I’m worse. I have utility bills going back to the late 70’s.

  43. Kate Evans says:

    I can’t stand clutter, even if it’s in a filing cabinet. This made me hyperventilate!

  44. Richard says:

    Allison, I laughed out loud watching the video, because it is also me ….. I recently found my pay stub from when I was a paperboy at age 14 (and I’m 39 years older than that now).

    7 Years is enough storage time for anything except Payroll and ERISA statements, and does not run out the statute of limitation on some felonies, but in general you’re safe to purge that stuff.

    One needs to gently & kindly ask: is this a delaying tactic for writing the Book? Again, been there, done that, my suite-mates in College always knew when I had a paper due because all of a sudden the bathroom would be immaculate (unusual with 4 college guys, even when 3 of them were gay) and everyone’s laundry would be done & folded …..

  45. Chris (in Massachusetts) says:

    FYI to everyone digitally archiving paperwork, especially archiving it to CD or DVD.

    Optical media is cheap. REALLY cheap. Make extra copies, store the discs in a cool, dark place, and copy them onto new media every 3 years or so. Some optical discs can start to degrade after 4-5 years.

    Take the “50 year life” claims with a LARGE pile of road salt! The commercial CD is barely 25 years old, and the photoreactive dye CD/DVD is not even old enough to see an R rated movie.

    I’m having to write some serious black magic code to read some ancient CD-R discs that nothing commercial will even mount, let alone read.

    And it’s looking like I’ll have to scratch build the actual drive electronics myself, too.

    Take it from me, making copies would have saved me SO much grief.

    Make copies, my friends. Make copies!

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