A few weeks ago we had a massive clear-out of the accumulated paperwork in our flat. I had been putting off dealing with our rudimentary filing system for a while, I didn't realize until we got started that "a while" really meant almost a year. Important things, like new credit cards that needed to be activated, or the insurance card you're supposed to have with you in your car were carefully crammed into magazine files "to be dealt with later". You know, a year later.
There was a 10" high stack of mail on the kitchen table, all opened, with the real crap shredded or thrown out, but somehow still there was this stack that needed to be dealt with further. Both our file drawers were packed to the gills, and the fire-proof box we bought sometime in early 2006 to contain and protect our passports and mortgage documents...was still empty in the back of our closet.
We spent all day, first going through the magazine files and the stacks out in the livingroom, sorting into "trash" "shred" "keep" with a little pile for each potential file category of the things we needed to keep. We ran out of floor pretty fast. We were both sitting there surrounded by sheets of paper, finding gems like the renters insurance policy from Matt's last solo abode, back in spring 2003, which was somehow out and about in the livingroom of this, the third home we've shared together. The shred pile was the biggest, I don't know quite how high it would have been in total, since we started to shred as we went, but we emptied the shredder can three times, and we still have almost a foot-high pile left to go. I'm going to guess that it was a good two feet of paperwork full of personal information, but no longer necessary to keep hold of. We were convinced that at the end of it all we'd need to buy a little file cabinet, we started with so much, and the file drawers already full. But no, by the end of the day we had vital papers in the fireproof box, which is only one third full, everything thrown out or next to the shredder, or re-organized and back in the file drawers WITH ROOM TO SPARE. All this with no arguments or cats creating havoc by turning all the papers into a playground. We even survived the 20 minute panicked search for both my passports, which were in none of the 3 places I thought they might be in. Turns out they were filed under "Random Documents", not to be confused with "Random Stuff" or "Important Documents", all three of which were categories in the original filing (ahem) system.
Now I'm doing the same at work. Yesterday I felt incredibly naughty as I flung out samples and expired growth factors that have accumulated over the years I've worked here, some of it even predated me. There were sample boxes in the freezer that I have never needed to go into, I always thought nobody would care if I threw them out, but I was afraid to in case the next week my boss decided to start a project using those very reagents. Tossing out the old stuff felt good, it felt a bit weird to also dispose of samples I harvested just last week for a final experiment. Many hours of work go into making those samples, they are very precious (until you use them up generating data), and to throw them out seemed a little sad. They didn't get to fulfill their purpose and become data, I have all the data I'm going to extract from them already.
Today I'm clearing off my desk, and having similar experiences to when I cleared papers at home. Evidently my filing system has largely consisted of leaving things on a shelf for a year, or however long it takes for them to not be important any more, then throw them out. Simple, but not particularly efficient.