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The Purgatory File

David Nunez
David Nunez
2 min read

Here’s a fun little organizational tip that I’ve implemented last year that’s been really useful.

This is particularly good if, like me, you are a packrat and can’t stand to throw things away.

<!–break–>You’re going to need 2 bins or boxes.

Label one "Previous Quarter" and another "Current Quarter"

Whenever you are going through stacks of paper, you should be using the "one touch" rule (i.e. if you touch it, deal with it (either dump it, do whatever action it represents, file it, or transfer it into your task list).

If you KNOW 100% it’s worth keeping as reference, then you should immediately file it away.

However if you find yourself saying, "well, this might be useful someday… I can’t stand just throwing it out" then put it into the "Current Quarter" bin. Anytime you hesitate making a decision on whether to throw something out, put it into that bin.

If it turns out you need that item, you can always go through that purgatory bin.

At the end of each quarter (i.e. March 31, June 30, September 30, and December 31), dump out anything in the previous quarter bin WITHOUT LOOKING AT IT OR GOING THROUGH IT… just toss it; if anything in there was really important, it’d have come up.

Dump the current quarter bin into the now-emptied previous quarter bin and seal it up.

With this system, you’ll always have stuff that’s at least 3 months old (up to 6 months old). If you don’t need something after 3 months, it’s not going to likely ever come up. In fact, for me, 3 months is about the length of time for something to become obsolete and no longer relevant. Anything that I KNOW I wanted to keep beyond 3 months would have been filed away somewhere (i.e. dealt with).

You can adjust your churn through frequency as needed (ex. have current/previous month or current/previous year). You can also add more sealed bins to fine tune the retention length.

The ultimate goal of all this is to ween yourself off of keeping so much stuff. For me, it’s much easier to quickly sort through a pile of junk since I trick myself into thinking "I’m not really throwing this stuff away." So I can process stuff without a lot of headache.

I’ve been discovering that I rarely, if ever, look for something in the purgatory bin. At some point, I think I’ll feel comfortable enough to just toss stuff out immediately.

I’ve found that if something is that important, there will be other sources for it, most likely more current (ex. online).


David Nunez Twitter

Dir of Technology at the MIT Museum • Writing about emerging tech's impact on your life • Speculative insights on the intersection of humanity and technology 🤖


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