It all started so innocently.
About ten years ago a couple of students were in my office. They were good kids, the kind who would come to my office and shoot the breeze for a bit. They liked me and I liked them.
One of them was perched against a pair of two-drawer file cabinets, sort of leaning/sitting on them. As he sat, he was sort of idly fidgeting with his left hand. In a moment, there was this click! He'd depressed the button that functioned as the cabinet's lock.
He paused, an embarrassed look on his face. "You have a key for that, right?" Followed by several profuse apologies. He really thought he was in serious trouble.
As it turned out, there was no key on hand for it. At a small college like ours, furniture gets passed around from department to department and office to office. It's been more places than a steamer trunk. Heaven only knows where the key for that file cabinet went.
For close to a decade that file cabinet sat there, a time capsule. Our tech guy offered to drill out the lock for me, but I couldn't bring myself to waste a perfectly innocent lock. I tried picking the lock, but to no avail. I was mildly concerned - there was material in there I'd been hoarding for my tenure and promotion portfolio - but there was nothing of raging importance. (As it turned out, not having that material handy didn't impede tenure or two promotions.)
I found online stores that sold replacement keys; sure enough, they had them available for my lock, and cheap. But it became one of those "I'll get around to it" things. I never did...until three or four weeks back, when my curiosity finally got the better of me, and I ordered the damn key. It arrived a few days later. There was the heart-stopping moment of "will this key work?" Especially when the key needed a good twist, because the lock hadn't been turned in forever and I didn't have any lubricant handy. Finally, it turned, the button popped out, and the key had paid for itself.
Indeed, it was a time capsule. Everything I'd stashed in there a decade before, papers I'd long forgotten, junk I'd saved for no reason. I still fear I'm a pack rat, but I'd forgotten how bad it was back then. Part of it, of course, was because I had no idea what I'd need for my portfolio, so I saved everything. Now, of course, it was just a curiosity. I spent the next couple hours going through it all, remembering people long gone and things I'd done back when, remembering just how much of a kid I was when I started in this trade. But almost immediately, I began sorting it into "keep" and "toss" piles. I just didn't need it any longer.
Soon, it spread. I began going through my other file cabinets and cleaning them out. Some of the paperwork hadn't seen the light of day in forever. There were folders full of forms we hadn't used in ages, ancient paperwork about administrative practices that no longer applied...all manner of stuff that's not even of use to historians (and that's a hell of a thing coming from me). Then I went through the storage cabinets in the adjoining room and cleaned them out, too. The files that were left, I reorganized them too. I made several trips to the nearest "secure destruction" box in our support office; by now, I'd say the papers I've thrown out would fill most of a four-drawer file cabinet.
It's also freed up a lot of space in my office. I no longer needed so many file cabinets, so I moved two of them into storage (including the one that started the whole story); this means the next faculty member we get (which, I hope, my dream of a third faculty line soon will happen) will pretty much have a completely furnished office. Since I took most of my books home a couple years ago, I no longer needed two of the bookcases, so I moved them out too. I'm still getting used to how different the office feels now - it really hadn't changed since I moved into it in 2004 - but I am enjoying the lack of clutter. Better still, I like knowing my files are organized, that I know where stuff is, and that I won't have to hunt forever to find it.
There's one more aspect to this story. Our building will be getting much-needed repairs and a long-overdue remodel in coming years. As part of that project, I'm getting a new office on our upstairs floor. It'll be somewhat smaller than my current office (which will become a classroom/lab), so now is a good time to reduce the holdings anyway.
I imagine the poor guys who'll have to schlep the furniture up there for me will appreciate it, too.