Recently I dreamed that I was with my kids at the library (which I had been, just that afternoon). I spotted a few books out of order on a shelf and thought I would fix it—I worked in a library one summer, and now it’s a habit for me to correct the occasional mis-shelved book. I pulled the six books off the shelf and began alphabetizing them properly; it was easy because they were clearly in a series: same size, same shape, even the same color. But as I was sorting the handful of books, I began to notice more “stuff” on the shelves out of order. More books….more ratty, torn-up books….now, suddenly, paper pamphlets….plastic tubs of junk…..and soon the “stuff” wasn’t even in tubs, it was spilling out all over the shelving. I kept looking at all the things, compared to the neat, short stack of books in my hand, and wondering how on earth I was going to sort through and put that mess in order. Too much! Too many things that didn’t even belong there, and things that while “technically” library appropriate were still better fit for the recycling bin. It was a powerful reminder that some things should not be organized; some things just need to go.
My favorite example of this is a box I saw once labeled “non-working Christmas tree lights.” Umm….. really?
I heard of two separate instances, just weeks apart, of parents who had saved every single paper their children had done at school. They then took those boxes and bins and dumped them on their now-grown children, saying, essentially, “This is all your stuff…..I don’t want it anymore.”
I contrast that with a folder we discovered in my sister’s room as she was moving out of the house. Filed away were some of the notes, poems, and cartoons she and I had drawn and traded with each other over the years we lived together. The fun we had going through that folder—
“Oh, my goodness, I forgot all about this!”
“Look at this one! Do you remember when that happened?”
It was such joy and a fun memory all its own, over a folder of paper. Not bins and bins of it. As my kids are growing up and going through the school system, I try to keep that afternoon first and foremost in my mind as I look at the papers they bring home; or the papers they create at home. I want, someday, to hand them a binder and have them laugh and shout and say things like “remember this?” and “look at this one!” I want those papers to be a gift; to be a blessing, not a curse; to be a moment of joy that they will remember fondly, maybe even as their own touchstone for how they keep their own children’s work.