How an 18-year-old pay stub almost threw me into depression

I thought I was doing well, and then I went into the garage to look for something.

box full of crap

Oh look, it’s another box full of crap.

Feeling ambitious in my quest to de-clutter, I grabbed a random box. It was on top of another box of course, but it wasn’t that big and I thought I could tackle it real quick before dinner.

Real quick? Nope.

As I dug into the box I felt a sinking feeling in my gut. There were several framed pictures of my girls, three ice scrapers, four pens and 10 paper notebooks. There was a little bit of easily discernable trash, but there were plenty of things that needed a decision made about their future right now since I had the box in front of me.

It was overwhelming. With half the items in the box, and the rest strewn about on my living room floor, I sunk into my sofa (a futon, if you must know) and paused. I was paralyzed. I began to wonder, “Am I really going to be able to get through all of the stuff in this house?”

Sorting through it all, I picked up a little momentum: The pictures of the girls will go on the entertainment center. The appliance manuals will go with the other ones I have stored in the basement. The DVD and some CDs can be taken to the store for some cash. The notebooks and some other items can be donated.

I was feeling good, and then I hit the stack of papers.

You know the bloodwork they make you get when you start a new job? The results from that test — from 2006 — it was in there. Some random document from the job before that was in there. A cover letter that had nothing more than the address of my former tax preparer was in there. And then, the one that stopped me cold: a pay stub from my dirty, grimy (but fun), blue collar, mid-college, summer of ’96 job was in there, too.

pay stub image

It’s a pay stub from a blue collar job I worked at almost 18 years ago. Seriously?

One pay stub, and it almost sent me into a complete depression. Why? It had my parents’ home address on it. That means this one, worthless piece of paper that had my social security number on it and my hourly wage of $6 per hour had traveled with me through almost 18 years of moves. From Baxter Springs, KS, then to Carthage, MO, then to Joplin, MO, then to Lawrence, KS. While in Lawrence it went from my first apartment, then the Ohio Street house, then it went with me after I got married. After that, it went from our place on Cynthia, then to our place on Arizona, then to the Randall Road place, and finally to our current home.

You have got to be kidding me. What have I done? Why did I keep this? How much more crap like this is there?

I sulked a bit and walked around the room, then I regained my composure. I am firm in my resolve. The things that have no value to me have no place in my home. I redistributed the rest of the things to their appropriate waiting areas until I can take care of them this weekend, digitized some things I wanted to keep with my iPhone, then headed upstairs to the shredder and said goodbye to those papers for good.

I couldn’t tell if I was actually making progress, or if it was just a pyrrhic victory. I really have no idea how many more papers and knick-knacks that have no value to me are in the house, and especially in the garage. I just know the amount is large.

And therein lies the potential danger of home organization. When the items are in a box, you can put a lid on it and store it, move it, stack it, and take it with you everywhere, forever.

But it’s easy to avoid all the things inside the box until you choose to do so. It has never been more clear to me than it is now: I have a lot of work to do and it’s way, way, way overdue.

3 thoughts on “How an 18-year-old pay stub almost threw me into depression

  1. Rikki

    I also sorted through a box last night, which was a major trip down memory lane – first wedding photos, baby pictures, etc.

    Then I came across a letter from a friend who died in his early 30s. He was a gentle spirit and beautiful artist. He wrote the letter right before his 25th birthday and talked about his depression and agoraphobia. He hadn’t left his house in weeks. Instead of becoming too melancholy about the letter and losing him too soon, I focused on the part where he thanked me for all the letters I sent him without getting a reply, which eventually inspired him to write back. I couldn’t fix his depression, but he always knew I was thinking about him, so I guess that’s something. My other big takeaway is that I need to get back to pen and paper now that I’m in Texas. The letters I thumbed through last night have traveled with me for 20+ years. No email or blog comment will do that.

    1. ericjgruber Post author

      I have a “box full of letters” (cue Wilco) post coming down the line. That’s a tough one. Do I keep it or let it go? That’s certainly not an easy call to make, at least, not for me.

  2. Lisa

    Oh Eric, I feel your pain. We had a huge file cabinet in our bedroom that had years and years and years worth of stuff in there. I found a pay stub from college when I did work study…15 years ago. David found his very first pay stub from the army that is 19 years old. And we too have a lot more work ahead of us. One box, one pay stub, one old letter at a time…it’s crazy how much stuff we hold on to.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *