I had been thinking about seven giant folders full of my past. I realised that, if I sat down and worked my way through it, a lot of it could go. About partway through the first folder, my paper-sorting had changed from "How can I get rid of this" to "How can this be useful?"
Most of my paper is still going into the recycling bin, but three types of material are most definitely staying.
One is handy if I end up somewhere that's dealing with university cutbacks. It's a collection of public documents and training documents from my early public service days, when I was the quite junior person working on changing the public service office structure entirely. I am a handy person for such things, and I had completely forgotten it. Reducing the papers to the most useful reminded me of what I did and what I learned from some rather amazing people. That was a time of big reform in the Australian Public Service, and the structure we put into place mostly stuck. It was an extraordinary learning process, being the most junior person on the implementation team. That was my second year in the public service.
My first year was even better, from a writer's point of view. By selectively choosing the papers from the coursework I did in my orientation year, I've now developed a nice little set of papers that can be used to develop seminars for writers on how to think about administration, policy, legislation, admin law. This sounds mundane, but it's one of the matters missing from so many novels - an hour of training will get rid of so many idiot errors and make paper-based cultures look real. Just one hour. Two days would be even better, of course, so I kept papers I can use to jig my memory for either. I now want to teach it, so that I can make it fascinating for those who think it's boring. That would be fun.
No-one in Canberra wants this, of course, because Canberra has a high level of understanding of this material. Every city has its own idiosyncrasies, and understanding of government structures and economics is one of Canberra's. This is why I never thought of these aspects of world-building apart from historically - I and most local writers automatically factor them into our worlds. Anyhow, now I'm geared to teach it, should there ever be a demand. I had a year's intensive training (four different government departments, plus lots of coursework) and then nine years of work as a (mostly) policy wonk. It's a relief to know those years are useful.
The third group of papers are to do with courtesy in French. Most of my papers from my French Grad Dip are gone (onto my floor, right now) but those topics haven't dated and will be useful, again, to writers. Just the other day I talked about salutations and signing off in English with a writer, so it's cool to have that kind of information at my fingertips for French. There's some other material, but that's the cool aspect of the French papers.
In terms of culture, the way people send letters and what they say before, during and after are so crucial as ways of pointing to subtleties. That's another training session I'd like to teach writers, someday. How to develop these systems and why they're important. What the formal trappings of a letter says about the culture and the personality of the letter-writer and the recipient and the relationship between the two. This is part of the showing vs telling thing, but not one that gets discussed very often. This is why I kept those papers.
I was supposed to be writing this afternoon, but I've come down with some low-level virus, and turning my past mess into future usefulness was a good strategy. I don't know how I'm going to get all this paper into the recycling bin. Five very full arch-lever folders are now empty...