Owning a Paper Shredder

Once, I kept every document I received. Graded schoolwork would be stored in boxes alongside pencil drawings, newspaper clippings, bank statements and theater programs. These collections of forms, print-outs and writings would not be organized; rather, the contents were saved in case they might carry meaning or significance in the future. My closet swallowed the cardboard archives until it could fit no more.

Sealing these pieces of paper away ensured they had no use to me. Once in a box they never came out; pointless for reference, their only purpose appeared to be future value as souvenirs or historical artifacts. Perhaps I actually believed that someday I’d find great happiness looking at expired coupons, magazine subscription cards and telephone book inserts. It made sense to preserve each sheet of memory for posterity.

Boxes would pile upon each other and new ones would top them. I wouldn’t look inside. Whatever they contained stayed, untouched, invisible, safely out of thought and out of sight for a day far away. In this way and for many years I clung to these torn and tattered vestiges of life events to keep as a record.

The paper shredder was intended to provide security. By destroying any documents containing sensitive information I’d reduce the chances of my identity being stolen. I went with a model that could consume up to fourteen pages at once, and its cross-cutting teeth could go through staples and paper clips. Frequent maintenance and careful upkeep would allow me to operate it for years.

Junk mail became confetti in seconds. The grind of the motor and the crinkle of ripping paper became commonplace sounds as I also shredded receipts, invoices and financial records. Through a thin slit I passed the items I desired to possess no more, and through a small plastic window I watched the minuscule fragments drift and settle to the bottom like precious flakes of snow.

Shredding was not cathartic. It was satisfying because it took an idea, a concept or creation, and removed it from existence. The shredder was objective to the substance being fed into it. Unique works of art would be torn apart quickly as fliers pulled from beneath a windshield wiper. The shredder was ambivalent, arbitrary and just; there was no reconciling with its gnashing teeth and no going back once its process had begun.

The finality which came from shredding overpowered me, intoxicating and rewarding, a lottery I never lost. When it came time to empty the contents of its bay I did so happily, observing the volume of paper as symbolic of my effort. I began to hold onto things a person would normally throw away, just so that I could shred them later.

I decided to go through the boxes in my closet before I left for college. I was doing a lot of cleaning and consolidating at this time. From floor to ceiling the annals stretched, precariously piled and stacked, looming over me as I faced my past. Ensuring my paper shredder was lubricated and fully operational I took down and opened the first box.

What was inside it? I can’t remember. The mundane articles I had held onto reflected their meaninglessness as I held each up to the light. Then in seconds the paper was reduced to small strips, insignificant as dust in the air.  I saved several items I deemed worthy. The rest was liquidated.

Going through my collection of life experiences was not painful. I found I had held onto too many things. Keeping so many stray objects, conserved as a safeguard against the dissolution of memory, had provided peace of mind. Now I gained peace of mind by relinquishing the minutiae of years gone by.

In the end I did keep a few things. They’re in a much smaller box where I can easily find them. If the mood strikes me I may yet revisit those memories, for by eliminating the vast majority of them I’ve discovered what I truly hold precious.


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