Sunday, January 01, 2006

Simplify, simplify

Simplify, simplify, Amherst, NH, December 2005, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 42/2521 sec @ f2.8, ISO 51, with flash © Steven Crisp

This is the ping pong table in my basement. It looked like this for about a month. Then finally, after much procrastination and consternation, I got around to filing. What can possibly be the insight (and beauty) from this mass of paper? I need more horizontal filing space? Maybe not. Perhaps the real insight was said by a favorite author of mine:
Our life is frittered away by detail ... Simplify, simplify.
-- Henry David Thoreau

Don’t think you can get that far out of kilter? Neither did I. I truly believed I had a great system for bill paying and record keeping. So the good that came out of this mess is that I realized I was fooling myself. Like it or not, I was wasting time — no, wasting my life — keeping track of minutiae. What was the final lesson? When I finished organizing all of this paper, I concluded that I could easily throw out 80% of it and would never miss it. Either I already had an electronic copy of the information, or I at least had a record of the transaction, or it really just wasn’t necessary to keep in the first place.

And from that insight, I have now come up with a different “filing system”. Basically two piles: one to keep for one year, and then throw away, and the other to be filed because it must be saved for an extended period. I expect the same 80/20 rule to apply as to the size of each pile. And as one of my resolutions this year, I resolve to come up with other ways of looking at situations that cause me to “waste time” on unnecessary detail, and instead, to simplify, simplify.

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