The Fine Line Between Saving and Hoarding

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, once again doing some weeding.

This past week, when I was moving last year’s file folders to make room for new ones for 2019 receipts, I realized that every single one of the places I file stuff was overflowing, even the file cabinet in my husband’s office. I need to keep some of those files for tax purposes, but for quite a while, I’ve been meaning to weed out research notes I no longer need. This appeared to be a sign that the time was now.

So, I started pulling files. When I managed to create a gap, I moved other files to the empty space. But then, inevitably, I began to see that some of the files I was shifting into the holes needed weeding, too.

Here’s the thing. I have always had a basic distrust of electronic storage of information. Computers crash. The Cloud isn’t all that reliable, either. I back up on multiple devices. I also print every email I think I may need to refer to later. If I suspect there’s a reason to keep a paper copy, I make one. I have file folders of email correspondence with my agent, with each of my publishers, past and present, and with readers (separated by pseudonym with a separate file for correspondence about my A Who’s Who of Tudor Women). I have files for promotion for each of my books, and files on books and short stories that didn’t sell (there are plenty of those, believe me!) going back to when I got serious about being a writer in the mid-1970s.

Since I’ve started this project, I’m determined to do it right, but it’s going to take much longer than I anticipated. I have to go through each folder to make sure I don’t accidentally throw away something I need. Of course the reason I created the folder in the first place was because I thought I might use the contents someday.

When, exactly, does saving become hoarding? I’ve had an article on jade, cut out of an old National Geographic, for decades. It has gorgeous pictures, but I’ve never used the material in a book or story. Yes, there’s a chance that I’ll have an idea in the future and wish I’d kept that piece, but if I do, I can find it again. That one goes in the trash.

file drawer I haven’t yet dared open

Most of the sixteenth-century material in my research folders has already been used in published books. I’m not likely to use it again. I try never to say never, but right now it seems to me that I’ve done all I want to do with fiction set in that era, especially since I have one book already written that hasn’t yet found a publisher. I’m even more certain I won’t write more books set in 1888, so there’s no point in hanging on to all that nineteenth-century research.

I love maps, but do I really need to keep dozens of them showing New England and New York in the seventeenth-century? I set one romance novel and one juvenile historical (that never sold) in colonial New England. Lots of other historical maps need to go, too. I really can’t think why I’d need one of medieval trade routes, and that’s just one example.

I am finding hidden gems in some files, including lots of postcards, mostly acquired on research trips. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with those. Who sends postcards anymore? Photos I took on those same research trips will go back into my scrapbooks. Ditto some promotional material. I’m also keeping early rejection letters. I’m not sure why. But what about printouts of manuscripts in dot matrix that were never published because an imprint folded? Is it saving to keep those, or hoarding? If I don’t toss them now, there will only be that much more junk for my eventual heirs to get rid of. And what about printouts of all the posts I’ve written, not just for Maine Crime Writers, but for other blogs when a new book was about to come out? They exist online, supposedly forever. Do I really need to take up space with paper copies?

Speaking of paper, there is one bonus to come out of this wholesale weeding. Lots and lots of pages in these discarded files are blank on one side—perfect for printing up various drafts of my work in progress. I’ll recycle them after both sides have been used and I’ve moved on to the final draft.

As the saying goes, pictures are worth a thousand words, so I’m illustrating this post with shots of the weeding project in progress. I hope you’ll share some of your own experiences with downsizing in the comments section, and wish me luck as I continue to search for the fine line between saving and hoarding.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of nearly sixty traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Overkilt) and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are and and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at

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12 Responses to The Fine Line Between Saving and Hoarding

  1. Crystal Lyn Toller says:

    Its funny you mention postcards. I have a ton from a free recycle group I got years ago. I send them to my daughters and love to pick up postcards at historical sites. Good luck with the weeding; I am about to start that project on my file cabinet too.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Thanks, and good luck to you, too. Fair warning: the more you weed, the more you’ll find that needs weeding!

  2. I feel your ‘pain’. Postcards, older or unique ones are valued by collectors. I’m about to start selling some from the drawer full I have on eBay. I can tell you that both Beth and I have more filing space after our cleanse. Now if I could only figure out how the floor in my computer room keeps returning to looking like a whirling dervish plays in it.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Sadly, these aren’t old or unique, just touristy, albeit for tourists who like historical stuff. I expect I’ll end up keeping most of them.

  3. Rosemary says:

    Postcards: I bought a 4X6 small photo album (hand size not binder size) and store all the special postcards I’ve collected (and still pick up new ones) from my years in the US Navy. Easy to look at again without taking much space. Have been decluttering/downsizing for years working to move permanently to Maine from Florida. If my sister and I could find a long term rental that would take our 4 cats, we would already be there.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Thanks for the suggestion. As for the rental, rural areas away from Portland and away from the coast are likely to be more open to pets. Good luck with your search.

  4. Kate Flora says:

    Because writers save what might someday be useful, along with old manuscripts, and research ideas, and (in my case) the old family papers and estate stuff and the first six drafts of books, and correspondence, and the books in the drawer (about 8, I think) and and and. I find when I start to clean, I start to read, and the project is derailed. Cleaning out my mother’s house should have been a lesson, but alas, one I learn, forget, relearn, and forget in the sea of deadlines and paper.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      I’m making progress. It isn’t as hard as I thought it would be to chuck some old ms. from the ‘80s. They were awful!

  5. Vida A-J says:

    I am sending a card or note to my granddaughter in California every week. She loves getting mail. If it’s an old postcard, I write a short note about being there. Being on the opposite coast, it’s a way to keep in touch. She carries them around and “reads” (she’s 3 1/2) them to classmates and friends.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      And what a great way to show kids how much fun communicating the old fashioned way can be! Thanks for sharing.

  6. bethc2015 says:

    I weed and send three bags of shredding to the transfer station and somehow I don’t have any more room in my file. I think the same imp that steals a sock now and then laughs as it fills up my file draws as soon as I empty them.

  7. bethc2015 says:


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