To be the caretaker

Life is short! How will you choose to spend it? Photo at left by Aaron Logan, Creative Commons Attribution 2.5; Photo at right by mattbuck, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Life is short! How will you choose to spend it?
Photo at left by Aaron Logan, Creative Commons Attribution 2.5;
Photo at right by mattbuck, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

“Life is too short to be the caretaker of the wrong details.”Alexandra Stoddard

I don’t have too many regrets in life, but one thing I know for sure I’d do less of, if I had it to do over: FILING.  For years, I compulsively kept neatly tabbed file folders with everything from medical records, to school papers, to warranties for all sorts of major and minor purchases, to financial statements and paid bills. Even craft ideas and recipes were tucked away under appropriate subject headings.

Once in awhile I was able to find something I really needed, but most of the files were never touched, so I have to wonder about the value returned for time invested.  I don’t think our lives would have been much worse without those files.  Now, decades later, I have spent time shredding much of what was in them.  It strikes me as a waste of hours that could have been better spent, and I’m so thankful for the advent of electronic records that can be located with a quick word search (assuming my computer doesn’t crash and destroy them all).

The older I get, the more I can see the difference between the details that are worth my time, and the ones that aren’t.  I am not arguing that we should be irresponsible.  I’m only saying that some of the biggest responsibilities are somehow harder to grasp and quantify; they can’t be neatly stacked in a “to-do” bin and filed away one piece at a time.

Over the years, whenever I’ve let the mundane household tasks go undone in favor of things that seemed more important and/or fun, I’ve been known to declare “On my death bed, I don’t want to be saying ‘Well, at least my house was always clean’ ” — to which Jeff always replies, “Don’t worry, no chance of that!”  😀

Do you ever have the feeling that you are taking care of the wrong details?  What urgent-seeming but ultimately unimportant tasks can you choose NOT to do today?  What would be better ways to spend that time?

One year ago today:

You will flow



  1. Karen

    How very true, Julia. Life is too short to worry about the wrong things. Keep life simple.

    • Karen, nobody need that advice today more than I do! Life is so full of distractions, isn’t it? Thanks for being here with us.

  2. This is so true ~ I think it’s that we try so hard to control, be perfect and be at the ready for all the ‘what if’s’ ~ at least that was me before cancer. Now I try to let it all go and just be responsible and allow life to unfold. Oh, and cleaning all the time, nah, not for me either! ♥

    • I saw a cute Maxine cartoon that said “Do you ever feel as if your stuff strutted off without you?” 😀 Nowadays I’d be happy to wave goodbye to a lot of it anyway! I do try to keep things from getting so messy that I can’t function, and once in awhile I love to clear away ALL the surfaces and have everything look clean and bare…but window washing? ironing? dusting weekly? Life is too short for that! Thanks for being here.

  3. raynard

    Julia you reminded me of a blog I wrote titled” Fire Personal never place their ladder up against the wrong building”..I think I still have papers saved from over 14 years ago various shapes and sizes. It was overwhelming last time I tried to shred them( call in the shredder truck) . As I turned 53 today, Im not as ” anal retentive/O.C.D about remote controls and instructions to various electronics like I use to be( I still have my original stereo boxes from 17 years ago dollar store tubs “might” replace them one day… Be blessed

    • Raynard, all these years I had a good excuse to save our original boxes to electronics and such…”for when we move.” When Jeff retires I hope to get rid of the ones I haven’t already pitched. As for all the instruction booklets, I still have some expired warranties and instruction booklets that go to stuff I got rid of long ago, but just haven’t cleaned out those files! Not only am I guilty of having my ladder against the wrong building, sometimes I climb right through the window and still don’t see my mistake! 😀

  4. singleseatfighterpilot

    I know what you mean about filing! I literally have four axes, and sometimes it seems I spend my life filing. In fact some have called me by the male “b” word – the one with seven letters ending with a “d”. That may be because of the type of file they always see in my hand.

    • Hey, until I went to that link you shared, I never knew of that idiom! It makes me wonder if the Austin Powers villain was meant to be a play on that term (instead of “flat B-word” he was called “fat B-word”) I can just imagine Mike Myers making that connection. As for your pun on filing, why did I not see that coming? I shall refrain from a retaliatory anecdote about manicures.

  5. Carlyle

    OUCH !! That really stung. I guess you got it from me.

    • That’s funny Daddy, I never thought of you as keeping files, but now that you mention it, I do remember that you did. I think my compulsion to keep file systems is linked to my library background. Long ago libraries kept “vertical files” of all sorts of ephemeral materials, and I was very reluctant to let go of that habit as computers came into libraries and everything went digital. I suppose readers tend to be attached to anything with words on it. I’m an archivist at heart and have only recently resolved to swap digital hoarding for print hoarding. I still have a long way to go!

  6. I believe our energies are best spent in helping our loved one’s, especially when looking for direction. If the stock we take of ourselves is not just straightening out our closets, then the good experience we’ve found can benefit them and hopefully they’ll pass it on.
    p.s. I lost all my essays written for Contagious Optimism some time ago when my computer crashed. Fortunately they have them on file. Try the back-up feature on your computer or save your important files on discs.

    • Alan, thanks so much for these timely thoughts – including the reminder to save what we write! Alys explained to me how to back up the entire blog (comments and all) on WordPress, and save it as a file. If you don’t yet know how to do this, I can send you the directions. Of course, if I save the file to my computer and then don’t back that up, I’ve lost it anyway! And I am WAY overdue for a back up! Thanks again for the reminder.

  7. MaryAnn

    These photos speak volumes! Years ago, in my office at our family business, I had a small photo of a lady holding hands with a very young child “walking ” on the beach, each had a huge smile. The caption says it all: “Some things are more important than paperwork”. It came as an advertisement that was totally me, so it hung there until we downsized & moved the shop. Now as far as the practical stuff, I fall into the category: “someday, I will get caught up” (probably not)…heehee…for instance today, I will be gathering items to get ready for my trip to Lake Tahoe with my grandson, Aaric. We leave Aug. 3 for a week in the water!

    • Mary Ann, I love that advertisement and I agree it’s so you. When I feel guilty for letting the paperwork pile up, I remind myself that (aside from the truly urgent bills to pay etc.) it will all be there later – not so of our time with our loved ones! I hope you and Aaric have a fabulous time! Tahoe is a perfect place to enjoy nature together.

  8. Sheila

    Julia, I dusted and cleaned WAY too much when Ashley and Stephanie were children but it seems they were always proud to have friends over. I loved the poem years ago about the dust going to sleep. Mine must be in a coma by now! 🙂 I have good intentions but I’m easily distracted. Happy Monday, my friend!

    • Sheila, dusting has never been a big concern of mine (cleaning the kitchen, especially dishes, is my OCD area) so it’s a good think none of us ever had asthma or allergies. I have so many good intentions that I could pave more than one road to you-know-where with them! But once in awhile I come through, so I don’t give up on myself. Hope you had a happy Monday too!

  9. There’s a quote and right now I can’t remember who said it but it goes something like this: “Nobody will remember what you said but everybody will remember how you made them feel” I think that pertains to the twitchy things we do as well – the cleaning and the tidying and the filing and all the other things we do to try and exert control over our world.

    I am still learning to let go of control and enjoy the moment. 🙂 I’m glad to hear you have shredded those files!

    • Pauline, I still have a long ways to go on the shredding but I am making some progress now that I have almost everything on electronic delivery. The quote you mention is one that really hits me hard, as so often people have told me that I’m intimidating or seem critical. I agree with you that the perfectionism is just a way of trying to control what cannot be controlled. Letting go is a lifelong lesson, isn’t it? Thanks for being here!

  10. You’re such a great writer, Julia. I forget to tell you that.
    I got a good giggle when you said ‘filing.’ Closets and file drawers have similar percentages: 80% of what we file is never looked at again. We wear 20% of our wardrobe, 80% of the time.

    On the subject of shredding, I hope you’re not doing all that yourself? Here is something to check out:|1026826|shredding%20services%20virginia||S|b|16879558718&gclid=Cj0KEQjw6deeBRCswoauquC8haUBEiQAdq5zh0juy2QKvVvjSpGikPLRFlLmfzYlpn29PGzp6iEWGUsaAmbU8P8HAQ#.

    Interestingly, I used the word caretaker in my title today too. We’re on the same wave length.

    • Aw, thanks for the compliment, Alys! And for the link. I think that company may be the one that our homeowner’s association has a contract with. Every few months they sponsor a “free shredding day” for people in our community to bring their stuff. I never have taken advantage of it so far, partly because I actually find the shredding therapeutic (even if it does seem like a waste of time) and partly because I am so slow to sift out the few things that I actually do need to save. I probably do have boxes I would do well to just hand over sight unseen, though. If I have forgotten what’s in those boxes, could it really be that important? 😀

  11. LOL, laughing like mad because I’m am that crazy cleaning person. I must think of something better for my deathbed recital…LOL.

    OK, don’t laugh but get this, I stack all my silverware neatly by style in the tray. I have a couple of sets to accommodate a dishwasher (let it get really full). I don’t like two styles mixed together because when I set the table for dinner, I prefer they all be of the same set. No mix-mush of things for me. Unfortunately, Mr B doesn’t share this obsession, so if he’s helping out and puts away the silverware, I go back and re-organize it. So today, at your advise, I won’t be so finicky 😀 Maybe my knife won’t match my fork…living on the edge now, LOL

    • Whew, I was worried about whether you could survive in my cleaning-challenged home, until I read about the silverware. It would never even occur to me to mix patterns! Seriously! I do have different grapefruit spoons, because those are hard to find, and Matt has his own flatware, the large-handled kind which makes it easier for him to manipulate the utensils while eating. But you will be happy with my nested little set of all the same pattern knives, forks and spoons. I too let my dishwasher get really full before I run it (seems wasteful not to, and my phobia of being wasteful trumps my OCD kitchen rituals) so I bought two sets of flatware too – the same pattern of course!!! When I use the sterling — mostly on holidays — I do sometimes have to get out my “good” stainless to supplement if there are a lot of people around, because I only have service for 10 in the sterling. But mostly I never mix it.

  12. bobmielke

    I’ve always been an organizational fanatic. A dymo labeler is my friend. I find being organized saved my sanity back in the days when I was a professional wedding and portrait photographer. It meant file cabinets full of negative sleeves with contact sheets attached. Now, in the digital age, it’s common sense file folder naming with logical tagging that anyone could understand. I must back them all up 3 times in different locations to assure that the files that took me years to collect remain safe and available from anywhere. Somebody has to do it. 🙂

    • When it comes to photo files, that’s the one area I wish I had been more conscientious about. In fact, I still need to improve on that now, and I’m not even a professional. I can see where a professional photographer would have no choice but to be extremely efficient at it (or risk making a lot of people furious). As with accounting, you can’t afford NOT to file. Organization is a great and powerful thing, when it is applied to areas that matter. I think I just spent too much time holding onto stuff “just in case.”

  13. Little has been as gratifying as burning all of my divorce correspondence and such when my youngest kid turned eighteen!

    • That’s exactly how I feel about shredding some of Matt’s old special education papers. Although I find it so unpleasant to look about or think about most of it, that I sort of dread doing it. I can’t just cart it all off to a shredder, though, because happy memories and school work I’d like to save are interspersed in all those paper piles. So, it’s a little bit at a time. I always think of Francie’s words in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: “I am burning ugliness.”

      • I collected all of my children’s art for so long – I finally got the great idea to tape it all to a wall, photograph them beside it all, and then keep only my favorites. Matt might not presently be amenable to proudly displaying decades of old work, but you could still keep some electronically via photo or scanner.

        • One of my ambitions is to scan the artwork, cards etc. that I can’t bear to just throw away. I got my first scanner over 20 years ago, but haven’t made much progress on that goal! File under “someday” I guess. Right now I have some of my favorites taped inside the cabinet and/or closet doors, where I see the whenever I open a door. I also have the boys’ handmade Christmas artwork that I store away and hang up on the outside of the cabinet doors each year. All together they have a sort of interesting folk art look, or so I tell myself. 😀 Matt and Drew have always been quite indulgent of my proclivity to display their work. They understand that goes with being a Mom, I guess.

  14. You are so right Julia. I am 71 and recently just spent days and days shredding boxes of unnecessary files. Time wasted yes, but that old saying, “Do you have it in writing.” instilled in me from childhood kicked in every time. It is funny, but I feel so free now and just recently moved, and did not have to cart all those files with me. Ah, technology can be great. :o)

    • Patricia you look so much younger in the photos from Italy – was that trip a long time ago? Of course, 71 sounds younger and younger to me! Yes, I too fall prey to the “get it in writing” caveats, and it’s true that there have been times when I was VERY glad to have it in writing (like the time they tried to tell us our assumable mortgage wasn’t assumable, back in the days when they still had those). But as you say, it’s very freeing to get rid of stuff that is no longer needed, and maybe was never needed in the first place!

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