Around our house, domestic assignments used to follow a logical rubric: whoever performed the task best, performed the task.
My wife wrapped presents; I shoveled the driveway. She remembered people’s names; I retrieved items lost down the toilet. She loaded the dishwasher, I went back and re-loaded it. I found a certain zen-like satisfaction constructing colorful, well-balanced meals in tiny plastic containers, so I packed the kids’ lunches. My wife actually cared about personal hygiene, so she made them bathe.
See? Logical. Our chores fell within our respective skill sets — even the kids, who pretty much did nothing, which they both excelled at from the youngest age (and I’m not just saying that because I’m their dad; they really are precocious slackers).
However, last year the family experienced… let’s call it a “reshuffling.” And now, even though my organizational approach borders on pathological hoarding disorder, I’ve assumed total control of the paperwork.
For these purposes, “paperwork” includes: an accordion folder marked “Stuff N’ Crap;” a standard-sized file cabinet jammed with legal-sized files and, of course, my desk inbox, which is less a box than it is a teetering stack of loose papers, empty envelopes, old report cards, even older tax returns and, for some reason, a Men At Work record. I think my social security card’s in there somewhere, too.
Now, as long as I’m able to produce vital items, say the kids’s passports or a Men at Work record, this chronic archival neglect usually proves benign.
But I’m also responsible for the mail, and therein lies the trouble. I’m talking specifically about what I call the “denial pile:” an ever-expanding mound of bills, forms, statements, summaries, applications and anything having to do with insurance.
As a kid mail was fun — birthday cards, Highlights magazine, personalized BMX license plates you sent away for after eating 25 boxes of Cheerios.
These days, mail is the bane of my existence. It’s like it just keeps coming and coming, every day. And it’s full of reminders about things I’d rather not be reminded about.
Ask my letter carrier. I never look in the mailbox, terrified of what’s inside. This works to my advantage, because by the time I finally do check the mail, most of it’s rain-soaked and disintegrating. This means I can toss it straight into the trash.
Anything actually making it into the house, however, meets a different fate. Usually, I cull the Cabela’s catalogue and the LL Bean catalogue (which are essentially red state-blue state analogs of each other). I’ll also fish out whatever fetish porn guides and mail-order weapons listings the previous owner still receives at our address; I find these both hilariously frightening and frighteningly hilarious.
Once I recycle the junk mail — by which I mean torching it in the woodstove — all the leftovers head straight to the denial pile, which, interestingly enough, consists entirely of items requiring timely action.
Now, I’m both lazy and a procrastinator; if there’s anything I dread more than having something to do, it’s having to do it at that precise moment. So, by the time I get around to attacking the denial pile, it’s mostly overdue. This now requires even more immediate attention, which I’m even less likely to give. It’s a vicious cycle.
Thus the denial pile never shrinks: it simply moves from place to place. Of course, it can also split off to form satellite denial piles. In fact, at this moment, I’ve got a whole constellation of them: one on the counter, one on the bookshelf, one on the workbench (which tells you the amount of “work” I do there). And let’s not forget the one in the car wedged between the dashboard and the windshield. That particular satellite is growing into a primary denial pile itself, with its own sub-satellite piles in the backseat, glove box and center console.
Still, week after week, “denial pile” remains on my to-do list, long after I’ve completed such other odious tasks as cleaning the fridge or removing hair clogs from the shower drain. I’d rather do taxes, even.
Why, then, don’t I revamp my system? Great question. Although an even better one might be why not go entirely paperless in the first place.
I suspect this owes to two factors. First, I can’t keep up with the constant user name and password updates. It’s all I can do to remember the combination of my ski locker.
More fundamentally, however, I’ve come to embrace the chaos—after all, how boring would life be without a little chaos?
I mean, you should see the backlog of unread messages I’ve allowed to stack up in my gmail. That’s right—there’s an “e-nial pile,” too. Only that one I can’t use to swat fruit flies.