At one point in time, I had three file cabinets and a total of ten file drawers. All were jammed with folders. As we prepared to down-size…and move across the country, I made it my mission to “get rid” of all that “clutter.”

The file cabinets were dispersed. The antique walnut one that Mr. Penfire purchased for $25 at the insurance office where he had worked early in his career, we sold to a collector who was thrilled to have it. Two metal file cabinets (that served as the base of an improvised work table went out on the street with a “free sign.” My beautiful top-of-the line multi-drawer office furniture left behind for the guy who bought our house.

But the contents of those file cabinets? Ah, well, does stuffing all the folders into plastic bins or cardboard boxes or storage baskets count as weeding and/or decluttering?


That’s what I was afraid of!

So here I sit. Surrounded by a flood of folders.

What’s in all these folders?

And why am I saving them?

Well, first there all the papers required for just managing the nuts and bolts of daily living. Though Mr. Penfire takes charge of most of those (in his single plastic file folder bin, there are some that fall under my purview. There papers I need once a year (the Christmas card list) or once in a while (planning tips …or recipes…for feeding various numbers of people). There are mementos… all those things I can’t bear to throw away. Then, all those lightbulb-over-the-head items—clippings and instructions for projects I might want—or need—to do some day.

And so I have a somewhat sensible file drawer for folders labeled: Books (I want to read), Business cards (people I might want to call someday), Correspondence (letters that must, for some reaon or another, be saved), Christmas (the aforementioned mailing list), Crafts (including the chart for the needlepoint pillow cover that’s been halfway done…for decades now), De-Accession (places that might take… or did take… especially odd items…like vintage clothing or various collectibles), Estate Planning (everyone needs one of these), Family (half-completed family tree), Garden (what’s planted where), Medical (all those important printouts from visits to doctors), a folder for each child and grandchild…artwork that’s simply impossible not to keep), and on and on.

But I am a writer. So beyond that somewhat sensible file drawer of mostly practical and necessary (at least to me) items are bins crammed and boxes crammed with (and this is where the wheels fall off the bus): Writing Ideas. These contain booklets, brochures, business cards, maps from places we’ve been and topics that interest me…all of which I plan to write about. Some day.

The bins constitute, I’ll admit, a situation that very well may be hopeless.
So, let’s go back to the file drawer.

Mr. Penfire and I were on the phone one recent evening with my brother, via FaceTime, comparing notes about our new life under house arrest. (a.k.a. sheltering in place).

Mr. Penfire and my brother, who chat quite frequently, usually discuss—in great detail—sports: outcomes of recent games, predictions for upcoming contests, reconfiguring of teams because of trades or drafts or what-have-you. Then suddenly, the pandemic. And: Uh oh! No sports to discuss.

This, perhaps, is why I was roped into the conversation, which drifted off into the day’s news. Somehow, one obscure news item got us to wondering: “Where exactly is…” I forget, now the unpronounceable name of the place.

That led me to ponder our collective shortcomings in geographical knowledge. And that, in turn led me to my trusty file drawer, and a fat folder entitled “Nat Geo Quizzes.” Oh, the thrill of being a pack rat who is able…once in a rare while… to unearth from the pack something useful—and even interesting.

Here’s the back story: Years ago, as I realized that once my days as a mother (in the sense of daily mothering) ended, I would be heading for a new adventure: grandparenthood. How am I going to be a “fun” grandmother? I then was a subscriber to the National Geographic Traveler magazine. (Ever the dreamer, I’ve been on many more far-flung adventures in my imagination than in real life.) As it happened, there was a page of quizzes in each monthly issue of the magazine. These sparked a brilliant idea: I would save all these quizzes in a folder, and one day, when my grandchildren were old enough, I would post a world map on some large wall of my house and challenge the grandchildren to search for and find (or figure out) the answers to the quiz questions. Reality check: My oldest grandchild is now ten years old and I have never once succeeded, by any means whatsoever, to lure her into participate in this fascinating-only-to-me activity.

But I had finally found my moment! With two willing victims chatting on the phone in the next room, I clutched my precious “Nat Geo Quiz folder” to my bosom, strolled in the direction of their voices, and positioned myself behind Mr. Penfire’s chair, where I could speak face to face with my brother…and to the back of Mr. Penfire’s head.

“Hey,” I asked, “Do you guys think you could answer a few basic geography questions?”

They took the bait!

Thus ensued more than a month of Quiz Nights. We completed more than 70 quizzes. And learned a lot about what’s where on this planet. Some questions came up over and over again.

Answers got shouted out automatically based on the frequency with which qcertain questions repeated themselves. And so Mr. Penfire and my bother began to make some assumptions: If it’s in Scandinavia, it’s probably be Denmark. If it’s in North Africa, it’s probably Egypt. And if it’s a large island in the North Atlantic, the only possible answer can be Greenland.

We were, all three of us, surprised, a little bit shocked, and slightly disappointed, when we realized we had come to the last quiz. (We have since found other brainiac challenges for ourselves.)

But I was, in a way relieved. I had saved that folder for years. I had actually put every single piece of paper in that folder to good use. Now I could toss the entire thing into the recycle bin.

But then, a nagging thought crept into my head. Summer is coming. Who knows how far afield the grandchildren might be allowed to roam. Maybe. Just maybe, they will come down the street to visit—still from the other side of the fence at the rate we’re going.

What if? Perhaps… Maybe… Possibly one of the three little girls will be interested in answering a geography question?!

I put the folder back in the drawer.