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I'm finally confronting my fear of the mail
My fear has loosened its grip. Here's why.
Welcome to Parent of Adults by Asha Dornfest, a newsletter & conversation about navigating life beyond the empty nest. 🤷🏽♀️ Subscribe (free or paid) to get the next issue in your inbox.
This is a story about tackling one of those mundane tasks that’s probably no big deal for other people but it’s hard for me. I think I’m on the way to a happy ending. If you can relate, I hope this will open the door a crack for you.
“I’ll get to this when the kids are older.”
This was my go-to line for putting off non-urgent home tasks that needed to be done…someday. Stuff that made me go ugh like organizing our family photos or buying bras that fit.
To be sure, this was a procrastination tactic but the rationale wasn’t bad. Minutes and brain cells were scarce enough back then that I had to prioritize.
For the most part it worked out okay. I got to the important stuff. The other little tasks gathered dust in the corners of my life or fell off the to-do list altogether.
But there’s one job that didn’t work out okay.
I chronically put off handling our mail.
Sorting and filing the mail should only take a few mindless minutes per day, yet I habitually avoided it.
Each sealed envelope spawned a thicket of questions: Important or junk? Bill or info? File or toss? Recycle or shred? Intimidated, I threw the mail onto the dining room table and backed away, vowing to deal with it later. Every week or so I’d move the mail to my office desk and do a cursory scan for bills or urgent notices, but otherwise the pile — and my dread — grew.
I can’t explain my mail fear.
Nothing seriously damaging had ever arrived in the past, yet every time I heard the mail drop into the slot, something whispered maybe today’s the day something scary will show up.
I’ve managed the mail well enough to keep us out of trouble, and Rael helps. But the fear has plagued me for years.
Now that my kids are older, my favorite delaying tactic no longer makes sense.
It never really did, of course. I was just too afraid to do anything about it.
But that knot of fear has recently loosened just enough for me to begin the process of decluttering our household paper. I’ve already cleared most of the piles on my desk and taken a load to the shredder! After that I’ll tackle the old boxes of papers and overstuffed files.
A few things have contributed to this shift.
We’ve started to think about our eventual downsizing
Clearing out my parents’ house ignited a visceral urge to consider our own downsizing.
My Dad was in charge of my parents’ finances. He never threw anything away and they didn’t own a filing cabinet. Papers were stuffed in drawers and closets all over the house. When I went through it all, there were tax returns and bank statements mixed in with old grocery flyers and junk mail. It took five full-time days to sort, and I had to make two trips to the bulk shredder.
I now see every piece of paper in our house as something someone must eventually file or dispose of.
Handling my parents’ papers gave me confidence to handle my own
As difficult and exhausting as that job was, it reduced the “bogeyman” quality of my smaller paper backlog. If I could handle the gargantuan task of my parents’ papers, I could certainly handle ours. My fear didn’t go away, but at least I had evidence I could handle it.
I recognized how much my fear impacted my day-to-day happiness
Time is fleeting, life is uncertain, and each day is precious. We’ve all heard these truths a thousand times.
Grief, the pandemic, my empty nest, and growing older shoved them right in front of my face.
My mail phobia was never serious enough to cause a crisis, but every time the mail arrived, I felt a little lurch. The constant low-level anxiety and shame of it ground away at my day-to-day happiness. There’s no telling how this built-up fear manifested itself over weeks and years, souring my mood, sharpening my tone, blunting my joy.
Life suddenly felt too short and beautiful to let this continue.
I’ve got a big job ahead of me, and it’s still scary. I still get a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach when I sit down at my desk. And I know I must do more than handle the backlog; I also need a system for keeping up with the incoming mail. But I’ve already done the hardest part — I’ve started — and finishing doesn’t feel out of reach.
💬 Have you dealt with a task like this?
💬 If an unfinished task is lurking in your psychological (or literal) closet, what tiny step might you take to begin?
(One idea: leave a comment so we can encourage you.)