Will you take the garbage out?

by Vicki Pratt, CRM

Do you remember the children’s story called, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout, would not take the garbage out” (Shel Silverstein)?  It was a sad, sad, day for Sarah. By the time she decided to clean up, it was too late. Can you relate?

Let’s say you are living with several other roommates in a large home.  You all get along, but you don’t really hang out together. Some of you are on different shifts so you may go a week or two before seeing some of your roommates.   Others have even left, and their rooms have been taken over by newer people that you haven’t even met yet.

You share a lot of the cost of the house: electricity, water, trash removal, etc.  You also share a very nice refrigerator.

At the beginning of your time at the house, everything is new and wonderful.  But then you start to notice something. There are lots of leftover items in the ‘frig’ that seem to have been there for a few days.  There are also the food staples – ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, pickles, etc. But you also see personal items as well…someone’s steak, a leftover casserole, and even an anti-itch cream that has to be refrigerated.  It’s all okay, really…even though the steak seems to have turned from red to dark brown (and has a slight smell), and the prescription expired two years ago, but hey – who doesn’t have five half-used bottles of ketchup in their refrigerator?

The next thing you know, you begin smelling an odor.   It smells somewhere between really ripe fruit and dirty socks, with a tinge of a metal ‘after-taste’ to the smell.  You know what I’m talking about. You swear that some of the milk cartons that are in the fridge have been there for quite some time.  It’s definitely time to clean it out, but it’s not yours, so you leave it alone. After all, your roommates surely notice the odor, and they should take care of their own stuff, right?

Then one day, while holding your nose, and attempting to find room for your newly-purchased produce, you pick up an old head of lettuce, and it’s dripping – literally disintegrating into a big pile of mushy green goo – right before your eyes.  

Before you know it, you have a “DEFCON 5” issue on your hands.  Green mold and fuzz are everywhere. You can’t move stuff around, you can’t find room for your new food items, and you’re not even sure you want to put it on the same shelf with that black fuzzy orange.  You swear you just saw it move!

You realize that some items may belong to Fred – the roommate that left some time ago.  Fred also left some chewed up toothbrushes in the bathroom, so it’s likely that some items in the frig are also his.  But you’re not really sure who they belong to.

It’s definitely time to clean that frig out.  However, it’s too late to do that. The fans have been covered for quite some time, and the motor is starting to make some really bad sounds whenever anyone comes close to the door handle.  Some of the items are permanently attached to the shelves, and others you are afraid to touch. And that smell!!! It has reached a mountain of stinky, fuzzy, petrified mess of biblical proportions.  


Now, let’s talk about your shared files on Company servers.  You share those folders with other coworkers. Some you know well, others you know by name, while others, you’ve never even met.  All of your stuff is being shared in the same folders.

You see all sorts of items in the folders.  Work-related items, common files, and even some personal ones…like those vacation photos of someone’s child swimming in a pool.  You even may see some music files…do people really still listen to disco?

Some of the files may even belong to someone who left the company years before.  It’s not YOUR job to clean up your coworkers’ files, right? What if you throw something out that shouldn’t be destroyed?

But it’s getting worse.  There’s literally no room left on the company servers for new data to be stored.  While we have room for home videos, jpegs of the company party from 10 years ago, the grocery lists, the computer jokes and chain letters…it’s turned into a smelly, bloated explosion of bits and bytes – and hardly any of it is relevant, timely, or official.

WE, as a Company, MUST clean up our shared files.  We are the custodians and the stewards of Company assets.  We MUST take care of our assets. To ignore the problem will not make the problem go away.  We will end up spending tons of money on new storage, and resources just because we don’t think about taking care of items that we are responsible for.


Let’s be good stewards of the assets we are using.  Here are some simple steps that we can all take to help alleviate the overabundance of non-essential garbage we currently have in our shared files:

  1. Go to your shared files, and in the title bar for every folder, right-click to select authors.
  2. Review to see if any of these files are yours, or someone you know.  If you know of them, please contact them or their former supervisor if they are gone.   
  3. For those files that are yours, check to see if the information is personal or should be company owned.  As your personal information should NOT be stored in a shared file, please delete all personal items. FYI:  NO music files should be in any shared file folder, or kept on any company asset. To do so puts the company at risk.  Anything on these files the IT department backs up. That means we have copies of copyrighted files. Uh oh.
  4. For those files that are yours, check to see if the information is a record.  If it is, it needs to be moved to a protected area – may be your home drive, if it is yours to manage.  The problem with keeping an official record in a shared file folder is that it is not protected. ANYONE can go in and modify, or even delete the record.  We must maintain/protect the record until it’s time to delete, per the Records Retention Schedule.
  5. For those files that are yours, check to see if the information is still relevant.  Why are you holding on to a reference document for a software application that we haven’t used in the company for 5 years?  Is it really that important to hang on to information about the company bowling tournament from 2 years ago?

In short, we all must do our part to clean up our technical environment.  Nobody wants a stinky refrigerator. Let’s keep it cleaned up so that we can use the asset for years to come.

Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout, would not take the garbage out.  Will you?



Vicki Pratt has had over 40 years experience in the field of office management, with the last 18 years specifically in the field of records management and document control.  In addition to her love of reading, she is an avid quilter, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother to three crazy and energetic grandchildren.  She received her ITIL in 2015, and her CRM in 2016.

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