My first encounter with a paper shredder was at my first place of work. It did not take too long for me, a person who had just become a full-time working stiff, to figure out that the device could also fit nicely into my, then still nascent, ideas for managing paperwork at home.
Consumer models for paper shredders have been around for many years. Since it is a mechanical device that suffers constant wear and tear, I have run through and destroyed many of them over the years. And then, recently, I encountered an industrial strength paper shredder at my brother’s place, a shredder that was capable of shredding over 20 pages at a time! And I felt a little “shredder envy!” Further contemplation on the topic of paper shredders continued at home later as I was getting rid of a whole lot of papers using my relatively itsy-bitsy paper shredder. I considered how my structured use of this device over the years had ended up being a reflection on my general approach to the organization of things in life in general.
These days I use a paper shredder mostly to get rid of old paper documentation that I feel is not needed anymore. I have a tendency to keep documents for a certain amount of time and then discard them as more recent versions of those documents make it into my paper filing system. The nature of these documents in itself would say a lot about my personality. I know a lot of people would not even think about saving the kinds of information I do on paper, and even if they did save such information, doing so in a process similar to mine.
You may ask, why not just throw away this stuff. Why shred? In fact, I would have discarded things of this nature directly in the recycling bin in the past, but I prefer to use the shredder first these days to make sure that some of the more sensitive documents do not fall into the wrong hands by mistake. It has become a habit to shred almost everything.
What are the kinds of things I tend to save? Some of them are historical in the context of personal and family life. These could perhaps have some kind of sentimental and nostalgic value going forward. I have stuff in the basement from when I went to graduate school. I have kept both notebooks and textbooks. I don’t know how much longer I will keep them. I have many other books, both works for fiction and non-fiction, that I will probably not read again, but which I hesitate to get rid of at this point. One still saves letters and notes of different kinds from the past if they were special. This kind of material, in general, tends not to be discarded. Then I have the financial stuff which stays with me because of my tendency to try to be organized, sometimes excessively so. I try to do as much as I can to minimize uncertainty. Then there are the other important documents related to the official business of managing life here in the US in general – information about all kinds of accounts, benefits, taxes, insurance, etc…
I do tend to balance this tendency of mine to accumulate stuff that may or may not be useful in the future with the realization at some point or the other along the line that I may never look at this some of this stuff. The first thing that got discarded on a mass scale in my life were the hundreds of journals and technical papers from the early years of my career. In retrospect, I think I had the good sense to realize the uselessness of storing this stuff even early in my career. I had moved on.
As I mentioned before, many official documents end up going through my shredder after being saved for a certain period of time in a filing system that may be difficult for others to figure out. Different kinds of documents also survive in this filing system for different periods of time that I decide, many times somewhat arbitrarily, and then they get shredded.
While the purpose of saving most of my documents in paper form is to make sure I have the information contained in them if and when needed, the reality is that I seldom look at these documents. There is some other mental process going on, perhaps a sense of security that may or may not be justified, that causes me to put things away for possible use in the future. Besides, these days, one can also archive most of this information on the computer, perhaps “forever”, with relatively less concern about use of storage space. But I have reached a certain comfort zone at this point in life with what I am doing. One falls back to the processes that have kept you going. I continue with my system of organization and the use of the paper shredder.
The process of shredding can actually give you a good feeling of completion, and of moving on, when you are done with it. If you can physically complete a task to the satisfying sounds of the shredder, then it is truly over! A physical action has been taken from which there is no retreat. The sound of the machine when it is in action is also a satisfying one. In the end, you feel you are rid of the old (even if it is not really true), and you move on to the next item on your list. There is some sense of satisfaction. It has become a comforting habit.
The kicker in all of this is that I am also pretty good at saving most of the above information on my computer. And there are other places to go to grab some of this information even I do not have it on myself all the time. So, perhaps, the utility of most of what I am doing and achieving is questionable. But this kind of a feeling is also true of a lot of other things we do in life. Que sera sera..