Drowning in the “Stuff” of Life


I clearly remember when I had all of my “important” documents in one slim manila file folder. It probably consisted of a bill for Columbia House and maybe some ticket information about an upcoming Star Trek convention. Granted, I was probably thirteen at the time, but I wistfully picture that folder in my mind as I drudge through the endless paper trail that claims to document my existence.

Maybe it’s so overwhelming because I try to catch up with this paper trail in the summer, not having had time during the school year. And maybe I’ve let a lot of that go the past few summers, having drained my energy and patience for such tasks helping my mom clean out my dad’s office and personal effects. Whatever the reason, it seems impossible to manage–the insurance records, the credit card statements, the bank documents, the cell phone/internet info, the myriad of homeowner-related paperwork. And that’s a pretty understated list, even considering I’m only 30 and until recently lived by myself!

I think it’s safe to say that each generation is inundated with more and more paperwork and documentation, but it’s true exponentially so when you add the Internet and mobile devices into that mix. Technology is supposed to make things easier, make things faster… and it does. But because we can do everything easier and faster, we have to do way more things than we ever did before in less time than before… because, well, we can.

I feel like I experience all of the above in duplicate, being a teacher. I have a classroom full of stuff I’m constantly trying to keep organized. At the very least, I want to be able to access what I need when my students or I need it. But I’m always aiming higher than that, for some unattainable, undefinable goal of choosing for each moment and for each class the best instructional resources out of years of cabinets, files, and the endless trail of web searches.

You know all of this. You know all of this because you experience it, too. You may handle it better than I do. And I imagine these probably obvious observations are coming off in slightly complain-y, mostly frustrated tone. That’s probably because I am complaining, and I am frustrated.

But there is something deeper than that. All of this stuff can be soul-crushing. The information-paperwork-life trail overload can be depressing even if you don’t have depressive tendencies (like I do). Even if you don’t struggle with perfectionism (like I do), the impossibility of ever controlling it all, of ever catching up, can still overwhelm you. Add in whatever you do struggle with, the stuff can make you feel like you’re drowning.

I realize this “problem” is a problem of privilege. As I’ve reflected on the pain and tragedy felt around the country and the world recently, I honestly hesitated to even put this post out there. However small my current struggle may seem in comparison, it’s still my reality, one I unfortunately cannot ignore.

I don’t have a solution for dealing with the overwhelmed feeling, apart from drastic fantasies that involve abandoning civilization. I’m not asking for suggestions, either–I’m sure I don’t know all of the strategies for combatting this particular beast, but I know a lot of them. Sometimes, I just need–we all need–to say something is hard. And usually, there’s a person out there who really needs to hear someone say it.

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4 Responses to Drowning in the “Stuff” of Life

  1. Geezer94 says:

    Ms Emily … I haven’t posted anything about this … mainly because it is a constant reminder of the loss of a loved one. The mail … all the time … the address labels that tear at your heart … the phone calls … medical information … getting so much paperwork in order …. changing a car registration … a stone delivery at the cemetery. Your post touched so many nerves but said what I haven’t been able to say. Thank you … bless you.

    • Emily A. Dause says:

      Thank you, John! You make an important point. All of the paperwork and documentation is enough to overwhelm a person on its own, but when it’s also attached to memories–especially the loss of a loved one–the task of dealing with the stuff becomes exponentially more difficult. My dad passed away just a few weeks after I moved into my house. The way stuff has piled up since then is definitely related to that timing. My heart hurts for you and all you continue to deal with. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Lori :) says:

    Emily, as usual beautifully written in your style that is both warm and real. I especially appreciate that you acknowledge that in the midst of such heart breaking times in our country and in our world, we still live with our own oftentimes overwhelming reality. I have experienced first hand that when we open the doors and say, “This is hard,” we then find a place of community. Thank you!

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