Saturday, May 25, 2013

Painstakingly organizing all of the paper in my apartment

Graduate school has a lot of effects on a person's life and well-being. One of these effects is accumulating enough paper and documents to drown a small pony. I'm not sure how one would go about drowning a small pony in print-outs of JSTOR articles and photocopied pages of books on spatial theory, but I guess filling a swimming pool with these documents and then dropping the pony in would be a good place to start.

The other day, I needed a particular sheet of loose-leaf that had some particular notes on them. A friend needed the information that was on this particular sheet of paper.

Throughout the entire school year, I am pretty disorganized. Well, sort of. I'm the kind of disorganized person that can almost always find what I need to find - this being a bonus of very rarely throwing anything away. I am disorganized in that it will take me a long time to find things I need, because there's no rhyme or reason to my storage habits.

 I try to use separate folders and separate spiral notebooks for each seminar. This practice is, as I understand, completely normal and widespread among basically all students. I also understand that most students do not consider it a difficult task. The height of organization is not to have a "Spatial Theories" folder separate from a "Spinoza" folder.

It's too much for me, though. By the end of the semester it's just too hard for me to have multiple folders and spirals. I end up using one battered notebook where I dutifully record everything from seminar notes to lovesick diary entries. The one-spiral approach makes my backpack lighter, but it leads to disorganization. (It also leads the fear that someone will accidentally learn my deepest darkest secrets, like who I want to go to the senior prom with, but I like to live life on the edge.)

Faced with the task of finding this particular piece of paper, I devoted a whole day to finally getting around to organize all of the paper in my apartment. And I do mean all of it. I had just been dumping stacks of paper unceremoniously in the drawers of my desk, on top of my desk, in the chest I keep all my knitting and cross-stitch projects. . . . Like I said, not a lot of rhyme or reason to the system.

Piling things into categories (by seminar class) and stapling articles together that I had left stupidly unstapled took hours. Hours.

 This is me about halfway there. I sat on the floor and also watched "Call the midwife" while doing this, making the experience bearable.

As you can see, non-paper stuff was often mixed in the stacks of paper. In the above picture, you can see pencils, a book full of games to play with small Jews to teach them Hebrew, an iPod case I've never used, and a birthday and hanukkah card. This is part of the reason it took so damn long.

Things I wrote throughout the year (including lesson plans I designed to teach tiny Jews Hebrew), documents that I'll likely use as reference materials (documents relating specifically to Jewish thought, mostly), and documents still left to read were hole-punched and placed in these binders. (Actually that's not true. A large stack of papers are currently placed in the white binder, but not hole-punched. I was too tired to hole punch them. I'm looking forward to the day when I energetically pull out the white binder to look for something and then have all of the documents inside spill to the floor! Knowing me, I'll probably be so disgusted with myself, that I'll just leave them there and sulkily go back to watching Call the Midwife.)

To solve the problem of storing the vast majority of the documents -- printed out articles or book chapters -- I took a little stroll to my kitchen, AKA Box Central!

I rarely throw away boxes. I instead gently place them in a small cranny between my refrigerator and a wall.

As you can see, currently opening up my fridge requires a great degree of dexterity, tenacity, and stealth. You can also see I enjoyed some Tam Tams this past Passover.

I carefully selected some perfectly aged boxes to store all the documents I deemed "worthy" enough to save. 

Eagle-eyed readers will be able to make out that the top box is full of documents from a class I was a Teaching Assistant for, Faith and Reason in Islam. The box underneath has documents from Feminist Theory, a class I audited on Religion in Contemporary China, and a Spatial Theory class. The classes are separated by dilapidated folders.

When I inevitably found assumed-lost syllabi in the piles of paper-detritus, I triumphantly put the syllabus at the top of the pile of course documents. I thought that was very clever of me. It's like the title page for the mountains of documents.

I then put these boxes in my closet.

I suspect they will age there gracefully for a few years, at which point I will end up recycling the boxes in one magnificent swoop. The odds of me ever saying to myself "Hmmm.... this reminds me of an article I read for a class I audited about China! I should dig through my closet to find it instead of searching online for a new copy!" are pretty slim.

But I can't bear to recycle ALL of the documents I acquire throughout the semester... it seems cruel and unusual. I've toiled over these documents, carrying them from the department printer to my home! Many of these documents I even read thoroughly!

So this is what I will do. Store them in boxes in the back of my closet.

And then I will walk over my filthy floor, at least feeling somewhat organized.

Oh, and for those of you who wondered if I found the one piece of paper that spurred on this organizing frenzy? Nope. I must have thrown it out, which is pretty surprising. But oh well. Life's like that, sometimes.

(If anyone has any suggestions on how to determine which documents to save and which to dispose of, clearly I could use it.)

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