Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spring Cleaning

As I mentioned all sneaky-like in my last post, Drew and I recently closed on our first house and we will be moving in just a few weeks! Thank goodness, because we are busting the seams of this apartment, which has had me in “purge-the-junk” mode for many months now, but I want to feel very small in the new house, so my de-cluttering instincts have jumped into hyper-drive. Oh, my poor husband - just remember that I do love you, Drew!

This intense onset of pre-moving-spring-cleaning led me to do something really difficult the other day. Here’s the thing: I have always loved school, learning, going to class, taking notes, studying, and even taking tests just to see how I would perform on them. I am a super nerd, and proud of it.

One of my weaknesses as a lover of learning is that I have tended to hang on to every piece of paper from the courses I took that I felt would be relevant in the future – namely social studies and education courses. Especially in college, my thought process was, “Someday when I am a teacher, I might need this!” I did refer to many of my old notes during graduate school, and for the record, I used notes from my college American history course (thank goodness for those!), a book from my college course about imperialism, and an excerpt from an article from my high school AP European history course, but little else during the three years I taught US history. Still, I hung on to the notes and syllabi and blue books.

Indeed, it WAS helpful to be able to show my students what a college syllabus looks like or how a typical history test is structured, and I took great pride in making sure they would go into their collegiate careers already knowing what a blue book is, even though the one I showed them was green. "Don't be the freshman who has to ask what a blue book is," I said, "Be the cool kid who already knows. You're welcome." I took advantage of every opportunity to use the materials I had collected during high school and college, even if it was only to shame my students into realizing how spoiled they were, “See! I took notes WITHOUT an outline! I have spoiled you rotten, so don’t even complain to me!”

Although I did utilize these materials as much as possible, there was still far more that sat in boxes shoved under my bed (please note that over the years I had already gotten rid of many things and was not a terrible hoarder– I took great pleasure in discarding my math notes each year). Somewhere in the back of my mind I believe my intention was to someday type up my notes to digitally archive them and then get rid of the notebooks. Looking through the notes, though, I realized that my brain no longer contains the context to help them make sense and I no longer have the desire to spend hours transcribing the notes. If I wanted to remind myself about Brazilian history, I would be better off looking in one of the books my professor assigned or running a Google search; my own notes were pretty pointless without an index or the detail that I would need to make sense of them years later.

I sat down the other day determined to turn my two boxes of schoolwork into one box. There are awards and certificates in those boxes from before I was even in kindergarten that I can’t get rid of, even if they are only for completing a two week swimming class. Someday that stack of achievements will come in handy when I lord it over my children’s heads (Just kidding. Maybe.). I also have many of the essays and stories that I wrote throughout all of grade school. Those from when I was little are adorable and those from high school and college are usually pretty good and I am proud of them. So, I knew I could never get rid of everything; paring it down would be my challenge.

Early on in the process, I had two realizations that made the endeavor a lot easier. 1) the notebooks I used to take notes in college were colorful and pretty and on some days my handwriting was really good. REALITY CHECK: those are not good enough reasons to keep a notebook. 2) the notebooks contained a lot of information, but I treasured them because they reminded me of the experience of going to class, studying for hours with friends, and soaking in the college environment. REALITY CHECK: although the tangible cue for a memory is nice, I don’t need a notebook to trigger those happy recollections of my college years. 

So beautiful!

It was still tough to part with the notebooks, though. Other than my transcripts, they are proof that I did actual work in college! They also reveal a lot about my life at the time; I doodled on the days that I was tired and I wrote myself notes and reminders in the margins. I also loved writing down the silly things my professor would say, so I made sure to type them up and take pictures of a few, so I would still have a small piece of the notebooks. After that, it was rather easy to shrink my pile of course work. I kept essays, papers, and tests, and that was pretty much it. I got rid of study guides that I know are saved electronically somewhere and accepted the fact that I don’t actually need those articles or homework assignments from all those education classes. Granted, it was fun to look back and read some of my work, but it was freeing to say, “I don’t need it no mo’.”


This is probably only funny to me, but I took four classes with my Latin American history professor, and little gems like these were my favorite parts of his classes. His dry and serious delivery of sarcastic humor was right up my alley.

I am now satisfied and content that I have one box of awards, notes, tests, and proof that I worked for my education. It did take many days for me to actually get around to carrying it all to the dumpster (I was just a wee bit distracted by the Mother Trucking Mudpocalypse), but I didn’t hesitate to throw it in there. It is too late to retrieve it now anyway, even if I had changed my mind. My next goal is to organize what remains, maybe into a binder or two. I made a small dent in the clutter, but I checked off an item that has been on my to-do list for years, and that makes me feel good!

That is five and a half inches of work I parted with. Yes, I measure work in inches.

The pile of keepers.
The trash pile on the left is taller than the keeper pile on the right. I'd call that success!

Happy spring-cleaning to you all!

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