Honoring Your Criteria

While cleaning out my filing cabinet this past weekend I came across something curious and useful!

I had thoughtfully labeled all of my tax receipts with a destruction date to make it easy for my future self. Now, as my future self, I stared at years of backlog. I had receipts dating back to 2008! After silently giving my past self lots of praise for this courtesy, my curiosity heightened. Why hadn’t I listened? Why was I only now, in 2024, tossing these envelopes into the shred bin?

The experience reminded me of one I had in my early days as a Records Manager. One summer I was tasked to clean out what we fondly called, “The Room of Doom.” A sub-level storage unit in a nearby office building housed over 1000 boxes of records for the company. The story of how it ended up there was long and sordid. But my job was to get rid of everything in mere months due to a sudden and dramatic change to the rent.

My summer student and I, attired in hazmat suits, masks, and little white booties, trudged to the unit three times a week.

It was unbelievably dusty and dank. Box by box, row by row, we went through everything. What struck me most about this exercise was how many hundreds of boxes had been labeled “destroy yyyy.” It was 2010, but the overwhelming majority of dates were from the early 2000’s. Essentially, similar to my own home scenario, except involving hundreds of boxes rather than a few envelopes. As I went through row after row of boxes, the persistent question of “why didn’t they just destroy the records as indicated?” kept floating around my brain. And now, 14 years later, why didn’t I?

Here are a few possible answers:

  1. Once things are out of sight, i.e., in a filing cabinet drawer or cavernous sub-level storage unit, it’s easy to forget about them.
  2. Ample storage space eliminates the urgency and drive to get rid of things.
  3. Lack of a strong routine.
  4. While I find purging immensely satisfying, not everybody does. Going through documents can be tedious.

However, regardless of the underlying reason, it’s important to honor your criteria. When going through my files, I neither questioned nor hesitated the decision I made years ago to destroy. I confidently tossed all the envelopes right into the shred bin.

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