The third discard stage of the KonMari Method is getting rid of papers. After the long, drawn out process of weeding my books, I figured this stage would be quick and easy. I like books; most papers don’t generate nearly the same interest, much less warmth and affection. And since you can say that for most people, this stage uses different criteria. We keep most papers for legal reasons, financial reasons, and information. So this stage is a matter of coolly evaluating the papers you’ve got and asking yourself if you really need to keep them. (Pointing out the obvious here: if most people, myself included, could coolly evaluate anything we own, decide if we really needed it, and follow through on getting rid of the unneeded, Kondō’s books wouldn’t be international bestsellers.)
I hope most people who read Kondō’s books realize early on that you can’t follow the program unthinkingly. Kondō says “My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away”—trust me, that was tempting—but she’s writing for Japanese readers who have to deal with Japanese rules about hanging onto documentation. Only a few sentences later, she writes, “…I recommend you dispose of anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, or must be kept indefinitely.” The tricky part is figuring out what’s needed.
Generally, my papers fall into four categories: knitting and crochet patterns, owner’s manuals and warranties, tax returns and financial papers, and interesting articles and clippings. The whole lot filled a two-drawer file cabinet. I’d love to get rid of that file cabinet. It’s attractive, but the drawers are a few millimeters too narrow for standard hanging folders (?!), and I don’t want two drawers worth of papers in my life. Where it sits makes it difficult to get to the air conditioner, but there’s no better place to put it. A file box would work just as well and I could push it under the desk or into a closet.
The easiest papers to toss were the patterns. Most of them were working copies and I didn’t need them any longer. I prefer to work from PDF patterns, and I keep pattern notes on the knitting blog and Ravelry nowadays. Owner’s manuals and warranties were a bit more of a struggle. I have a hard time tossing them, even when it’s obvious how to use the device and the warranty runs out in 90 days. (Yes, I have kept IKEA assembly instructions for furniture that will never be disassembled until the time comes to throw it out!) But as Kondō says, if you really need them, you can usually find them online.
Financial documents don’t spark joy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t generate emotional energy. I had no real feelings about my personal tax returns and was content to shove them into the back of a closet. But I was also storing the tax returns for two estates, and I loathed them. They reminded me of a miserable time in my life, and I felt forced to give them space in my home, which is pretty much the opposite of what the KonMari Project is about. But even though the last estate had closed 14 years ago, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to be in big trouble if I threw them out. So in the past, I would come across the estate tax returns when looking for something else, feel powerless to do anything about them, and then try hard to forget about them entirely. This time, buoyed by the success of getting rid of clothing and books, I made myself ask my tax preparer about them. The best way I can explain why I hadn’t asked earlier is that if she’d said I had to keep them, it would’ve felt even worse than it already did. I’d have known I was powerless. Ugh.
Turns out I could toss them. 🎉
Including other confidential papers I had weeded, I ended up lugging about 12 pounds (5.4 kg) of paper away to be shredded. It was absolutely delightful feeding the papers into the collection unit. I felt both literally and figuratively lighter.
That leaves the articles and clippings. I’ve halved the collection, but what remains is stubborn (I know, I know: it’s that I’m stubborn about keeping them). I need a different way to store them. All that filing them accomplished was to hide them from view and allow me to forget about them. Keeping them in notebooks is a possibility, although most of them are on acidic paper and are already turning yellow. I don’t care if they disintegrate after I’m done with them, but they need to be readable for as long as I choose to keep them. I’m stuck with the file cabinet until I figure out what to do with them, which is excellent motivation to keep working away at the problem. The fight goes on!