I finally made the time to work on my Lenten commitment to clean out the paper clutter in my life, especially around my desk. It took me 2 ½ weeks to start because I knew cleaning off my desk would be a big project and I had other priorities. This weekend, however, provided some free time. For perspective, the first picture at right is the before photo of my desk.

First, I took everything off the desk. This is what scared me because I knew those files and stacks and scraps of paper had information that needed organizing not just a sweep into the paper recycling bin. This would take time. In fact it took about 2 hours to take everything off the desk (Disclaimer, I didn’t tackle the bottom drawers yet.) and about 4 hours to go through the remaining stuff on the surface and 9 mini drawers.



This turned out to be an exercise in sorting trivia from what’s important. I suppose that’s similar to life in general. My findings and prunings may seem inconsequential at first glance but upon reflection I’m struck by how many things seemed important to store and keep when I got this desk about 10 years ago and now are useless. For example, I found and discarded:

  • Directories from past jobs, some over 20 years old
  • 2 ink cartridges from a printer that I haven’t had for 10 years.
  • Computer camera that I replaced several years ago
  • The “New User Edition” for Quicken 2003.
  • Paper manuals for Windows XP and Windows 98 SE
  • Paper instructions for installing drivers/utilities/operating instructions for a Dell computer that I no longer own.
  • 14 discs for obsolete computers or programs. (I discarded these after consulting my son and some other young adults who confirmed that I’d never need them. It’s all online now.)
  • 64 business cards for people I can’t remember. (This was about half my cards)

What took a little longer was dealing with 9 scraps of paper that looked like they were cluttering my desk. Actually, I had very intentionally left these in the middle of my work space because each one required some attention. Now I was forced to do something with them, like:

  • I typed some of the information into related computer files
  • One was a reminder to make an eye appointment, so I stopped procrastinating and just did it.
  • File the Christmas gift warranty in our warranty file.
  • Put several items on my master “To Do” list.


The 9 mini drawers were relative easy because they were, well, “mini.” Mostly I reorganized them a little and updated their labels.

Then I hunkered down for the big job – those folders. This took the most time but I disciplined myself to only keep the folders I actively use on my desk. The rest can go into file cabinets – once I get to pruning them out, but that’s for another weekend, maybe another Lent. We’ll see.

8 Things I learned through this process:

  1. I was right. It did take a long time. It’s good I waited till I had a hunk of time. It would have been hard to continue my work with files in disarray.
  2. I cut myself a break. I quickly saw that if I wanted to deal with the paper on top of my desk, in the bottom drawers, on the Ping-Pong table, on top of the file cabinets etc. it would keep me from starting. I decided that the stack of monthly medical reports and other misc. paper would just have to wait – another example of the perfect being the enemy of the good.
  3. It feels satisfying to have my main work space orderly. It’s a good feeling; sort of like the feeling after going to confession. I often resist doing it, but when it’s over, I feel like a fresh human being.
  4. Most paper over 10 years old can be tossed. (exceptions: documents and stuff that I will use again, although most of this is probably on my computer now.)
  5. Computer related stuff (manuals, paraphernalia, etc.) have an even shorter life span.
  6. Only by emptying everything out would I have found some of the obsolete items tucked away in corners.
  7. Perspective. Although it took time to go through old business cards, directories, and files, it was an exercise in reviewing my life. I thought about the people I once worked with and the projects that seemed so important at the time. I found myself pondering whether what I’m working on now is worthy of my time? What is necessary but will fade in importance over time?
  8. I will never be 100% done. New papers will spontaneously generate to take the place of my bare center desk surface. But that’s OK. I have a bit better system to deal with it now. I still have those other papers (outside of the photo range) to challenge me during the rest of Lent.

So is this a worthy Lenten effort. I think so. I’m reminding myself to notice what’s trivial and what’s of lasting importance. I’m continuing to focus on being fully present to people who cross my path each day and to listen closely to them. Some times it’s working.