We’re one week into Lent and I haven’t even started. Oh sure, I’ve not eaten sweets (except on Sunday 🙂 ), but I haven’t started what I planned to do – clean up my paper clutter. My excuse? I’ve been preparing for work travel, traveling, and catching up from travel. All necessary things but still, Lent doesn’t move itself around to accommodate my schedule. How inconsiderate.

Days 365+69a ADAD-Ash WedBut what is the purpose of Lent anyway? Ultimately, it’s a time to enter into the journey of Jesus, especially as he faces his passion and the purpose of his life. It’s a time to take stock of my life and how well I’m following His lead. Will clearing out paper do it?

Even though I’ve been thinking a lot about Lent, I haven’t done anything yet – at least not what I planned. In hindsight, after I let go of my guilt, I realized that I’ve been spending myself in the service of others. I’ve been trying to focus on what they need – not what would make a nice theme and photo for my blog. Maybe Lent for me this year is about letting go of my self-imposed deadlines and projects and focusing on the needs of others. Maybe it wasn’t a wasted week.

But back to paper. I decided to clean out a lot of the paper clutter in my life because it was getting in the way of being able to find things. I was also feeling messy. I wasn’t at peace with my work space. I knew it would be a good decluttering project, but did it really rise to the level of being a spiritual Lenten effort – or was it just a way to justify a cleaning project. How would my clearing unnecessary paper from my life be of any benefit to others? (other than my heirs when I die)Days 365+117 ear

I decided to pair it with Listening – listening more closely to others. Listening doesn’t take any paper. It just takes being truly present to the person I am with in person, phone, or electronically.

Days 365+117 Lent desk cropped

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I also analyzed why I didn’t think I had time to start my Paper-Less-Lent on Ash Wednesday. I realized that it just felt like too big a job. It would take me hours to go through the folders on my desk, even longer for a file cabinet drawer. So I procrastinated.

Solution: take one folder or small drawer at a time. I counted over 40 desk spaces, file cabinet drawers, and  piles of paper on the Ping-Pong table. I’m going to try to take my own advice:


  1. Take it in small steps. If my day is full of outside responsibilities, pick a small drawer or limit the amount of time (perhaps an hour).
  2. Empty the space first. Ideally I would take everything off my desk surface first. It would look so clean! But I knew that it would take the better part of a day to deal just with this space. That kept me from starting. So I reminded myself to start small (See #1) and just start (See #3.
  3. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Doing one small drawer is better than nothing. One hour is better than no hour. Daily is good, but not the hill I need to die on.
  4. People are more important than things. Even though it would warm my organizer’s heart to have a clear desk surface, it is more important to be present to the messiness of life and the human beings who pass through mine. Our kids always come first. If they need something, I’ll stop my work to look for that old photo our one son is seeking. It’s harder though to be patient with a klutzy motorist or listen to an annoying or longwinded acquaintance who mostly wants some attention,
  5. Let go of the guilt when I don’t meet my goal of cleaning at least one paper space a day or listening with mindfulness to the store clerk I just treated brusquely or the panhandler I passed by with anonymity.
  6. Don’t fret about the old photos yet. Save that for another year.
Days 365+117 Lent desk mini drawer

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Paper: I went through 4 “mini desk drawers” before I found anything to discard.

  • Out of 225 old rolodex cards only 5 were worth keeping (70 were from a place I lived 34 years ago, 74 were from a job I quit 11 years ago. 70 were blank,
  • Out of 18 plastic cards (library, insurance, credit etc.) only 12 were still active.
  • Put 15 deposit slips from a bank we no longer use in recycling.

Listening: Not counting my husband, so far today I made a conscious effort to listen closely to one friend.

Seeking your comments on:
How do you deal with feeling overwhelmed by paper?
What do you do when you have a good intention but find it difficult to carry it out?

PS: In Laudato Si Pope Francis says, “These problems [pollution and climate change] are closely linked to a throwaway culture… To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled.” (#22) So perhaps my focus on paper (all of which I’m recycling) does not lack a spiritual dimension. Everything is connected.