How to let go of materials from a past career or job.

Kacy Paide, professional organizer, shares her thoughts about how long to keep materials from a past career, job, or degree work.

It can feel anticlimactic that the physical remains of a decades-long career sometimes fit neatly in a stack of boxes. Some of my clients have multiple boxes that they brought home on their last day of work, even if that last day was many, many years ago. This client retired from 30+ years in the same field and a couple of years later was left with just two boxes of contents from that career.

But, the day came when she realized that even two boxes were too much.  Though it was a modest collection from a long career, she needed to clear up some precious floor space in her den closet. About half of the papers were from the job, while the other half were from her graduate degree studies. Her main reason for holding onto these things was the (remote) possibility that she would return to the field as a contractor. That was valid reasoning, so I “let” her keep those items for a few years, but as soon as she hinted that it was an increasingly remote possibility, we dug in and cut those papers in half. Some of the easiest things for her to start with were her conference materials. That broke the ice, then we really started filling the recycling bin!

Are you hanging onto materials from retiring or from a past job? If so, here are some questions to ask yourself so you can keep whatever the “right” amount is for you:

Are the work materials still useful in any way or are they purely memorabilia? 

If so, that’s ok, as long as you keep a *reasonable* amount to represent the work you did. Pull a sampling of your best awards, writing, fondest memories, and other accomplishments that are the most meaningful and will make you smile later when stumbling across them.

Are they taking up a disproportionate amount of space given the room you have and given your current interests or work situation?

If so, define what is reasonable. 5 file boxes? 1 file box? 1 shelf on your bookcase? If you have 10 boxes that you haven’t touched since your last day, then it’s time to rip the bandaid off. If you left your job and never looked back, coming to terms with that can help you to drastically whittle it down. If you absolutely loved your work and still identify with it, can any of these items be unboxed and incorporated into your daily living space?  

Are you keeping any of these materials for the very off chance that you will return to work one day?

If so, how realistic is it that you will return? How realistic is it that, should you return, you’ll use these exact materials? How badly do you even want to return? In the case of this client, she realized that though her vast experience and graduate degree could certainly still be marketable, she had little desire to return to the rat race. She didn’t feel that way on day one of retirement, but eventually, this is the feeling that won her back the space in her closet.