Barbara* and I were sitting at her kitchen table considering how to tackle several stacks, baskets, and folders full of old papers. “Do you know what my therapist said to me?” she asked. “She said, ‘What’s the worst that could happen if you just shredded the whole pile?’”
“But I just can’t do that,” she said with a wide-eyed look of horror. “I just CAN’T!”
Barbara likes to be on top of things in her life, but in the past few years, she had lost a loved one, moved into a smaller place, and weathered the pandemic. Understandably, the paperwork (bills, receipts, tasks, notes, etc.) had just gotten away from her.
“Well, technically, you can, right?” I gently asked Barbara. “I mean, you’re physically capable of throwing them away. It’s really that you don’t want to."
"You’re a very conscientious person and that pile represents things you feel you should do, know about, or save. You want to be a person who takes care of your incoming papers, but life got stressful and the papers piled up. Now you have a backlog to deal with and you’re anxious about handling it the right way.”
Barbara nodded. “That’s right,” she said. “I like to take care of things in a certain way. I like to be aware of what’s coming in and make sure I’m doing things the right way.”
“So,” I asked, “If you don’t want to throw all the papers away without looking through them, what do you want to do instead?”