I Hope Nobody Ever Writes a Nasty Tell-All Called “Paper Doll Dearest”!

Posted on: December 18th, 2007 by Julie Bestry | No Comments


When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened.
~ Mark Twain


Over the past weeks, our discussion of the five essential filing categories for reference papers has dealt with the practical elements of life. Organized financial and legal records allow us to protect ourselves and our possessions. Well-maintained medical records keep us and our loved ones healthy. And the household papers we discussed last week allow us to live with ease and convenience. But what of our personal papers?

So often, we live our lives and maintain our personal papers as if we were hoarding our personal history. Are we so sure that someday, in some way, we will be famous and revered, so much so that we need to build up our memoirs? Or, rather than living under the grand illusion that some day our personal histories will be sought by one and all, are we afraid that our identities, or our memory of who we are (or once were) will fade away if we don’t maintain the proof?

As with the medical paperwork we discussed a few weeks ago, we break down the sub-categories of PERSONAL paperwork by individual.

This is where you keep the papers that represent who you are (or have been). There are the building blocks of the archive of YOU; the less likely you will be to have a Presidential Library or have your children write a nasty tell-all, the less you need to save. You may have files related to your:

1. Educational history – These would include files for:

  • School transcripts
  • Letters of recommendations from professors or academic mentors
  • Select papers bearing particularly heartwarming comments or grades (Toss freshman biology labs, assorted blue books and the test graded by that snarky teaching assistant. You have the diploma; you don’t need every paper and test to prove you were there!)
  • Continuing education credits or certificates
  • Your senior or graduate thesis (However, if it is bound as a published thesis, shelve it with your books or in a framed, decorative case).

2. Professional history
The longer you have been in your profession, and particularly the longer you have been out of a former profession, the fewer old papers you’ll need for reference. Of course, if these materials, like your educational records, bolster your self-esteem and you have adequate space, keeping a representative portion is fine. Current and archival files for your professional history may include:

  • Licenses and/or certification – file by issuing organization, or, if applicable, by state.
  • Resumes – keep one manila folder with copies of your current resume; if you keep old resumes, pick one copy of each, reflecting major revisions.
  • Professional letters of recommendation
  • Citations regarding your professional success and/or letters of gratitude from superiors, vendors or clients
  • Newspaper clippings (but not the entire newspaper) noting your professional successes and/or acumen

3. Military History
If your career, or part of it, has been in the military, you will want to keep a copy of the records. Your basic military service records go in the VIP section of your legal paperwork; those are the official records that allow you to collect your benefits and otherwise prove your service record.

However, your military history also includes the more personal records of your time serving your nation, so this is where you would maintain:

  • Awards/Decorations/Citations and/or written references to them
  • Letters of commendation
  • Correspondence regarding replacement of medals
  • Enlistment records
  • Copies of military separation papers (the originals should be in your safe deposit box or fireproof safe)
  • Training and qualification records

4. Public Service History—If you played a role in local or national politics or other kinds of public service (The Peace Corps, Teach For America, Americorps, etc.) create a hanging folder, or even a series of them, with the major records from each experience.

Generally, anything that brings you joy, delights your intellect or warms your heart or soul would likely fall under personal interest. This includes activities and areas of intellectual/emotional interest, which can be further broken down into the appropriate categories, like:

  • Hobbies—depending on how many hobbies you actively pursue and how zealously you pursue them, you might have one manila folder or many hanging folders. Keep only the reference material that provides information you don’t already know or can’t access quickly via the web.
  • Volunteer activities—Are you a Big Brother or Big Sister? Do you hammer for Habitat for Humanity? Here’s where you might keep copies of registration materials and instructions.
  • Memberships—Keep track of ID numbers and renewal information for every professional and personal group to which you belong. Are you a member of the National Parks Service? Were you (or are you) a Girl Scout or Camp Fire kid? Are you in Rotary or a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union? (I won’t ask if you’re in any secret societies; if you’re a Freemason, you’re not likely to tell Paper Doll.)
  • Issues/Interests – If you have pet topics (Social Security reform, Lost, local zoning laws, wrinkle removal, George Clooney), you may clip articles for later review. While it’s better to read, purge and move on, corralling clippings in one place is better than letting clutter flutter.
  • Travel—Do you find stories of distance lands (or even distant restaurants) enticing? Here’s where to keep those clippings–in a travel subcategory. If, however, you start planning for a particular trip, say to Ireland or the Grand Canyon, create a folder especially for that dream journey to help you iron out the details. If you plan many years in advance, be sure to prune out the outdated articles annually, like the ones that refer to “the 48 states”.
  • Books/videos/music/gifts you want to experience or acquire – if you like to clip reviews of potential purchases, create a folder to hold them all. If you’re a serious shopper, a hanging folder with categorized, labeled manila folders may help you keep it all straight. However, creating a wish list at Amazon.com or your favorite e-store would allow you to note that you wanted to acquire things while keeping all this information digitally.

Keep track of personal successes. These can be letters of gratitude for a job well done, benchmark chips (30 days, 1 year, etc.) from 12-step programs, or anything that reminds you of achievements or challenges surmounted. We all have rough periods, and a success file can help us through them.

If you’re lucky enough to have a pen pal in the age of cyberspace, here’s the perfect place to maintain meaningful letters. But don’t be lulled into thinking having filing space means you can save all your postcards, birthday cards, dental appointment notices, etc. Save correspondence that contains original sentiment; part with emotions penned by Hallmark containing only a signature.

Do you clip O Magazine‘s monthly spread called Breathing Space. What about adorable babies (or pets), black & white glamour shots, quirky headlines, or motivational anecdotes from newspapers and magazines. Instead of keeping such items stuck on your refrigerator (only to find, within months, they are dusty or jam-covered), create a folder for the items that stir you to think, write, create, or dream.

Each member of your family can have his or her own section of personal files. However, if you have specific FAMILY activities that you do together (like attending your house of worship or planning an annual family reunion), create a family section, as if the collective family were an individual person.

Over the last six weeks, we’ve discussed the essentials for building a personal reference file system, reviewed how all the reference papers in our lives can fit neatly into one of five categories, and discussed how to turn fluttering paper clutter into a streamlined and usable system.

Reference papers are only one element of the papers that come into our lives.  Next year, we’ll be talking about all the other papers that make up our lives, including action items like permission slips, bills, and coupons, helpful papers like Mapquest directions and shopping lists, and memoirs and memories, like photographs and personal journals. And we’ll talk about what to do with the sneaky papers masquerading as “important” that fill up our purses and briefcases, message pads and Post-It notes.  We’ll have a new slate in ’08!


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