The Paper Monster….
Lessons in Records…
Have you seen the recent Lexmarx commercials sporting an “Ink Monster” running around eating up your printer ink money? Like some sort of black-hearted Tasmanian devil?
Well, thanks to a somewhat irrational fear of losing important information, I’ve a paper monster I battle in life. And I have a love-hate relationship with it. I have been guilty of keeping anything from articles I didn’t have time to read and business cards thrust into my hands at shows by people I can’t remember, to three years of the kids’ graded homework and every statement I’ve ever received in my adult life.
On the one hand, I fear something happening and not having records to help me. On the other, I fantasize about paper destruction, much like in college after finals, picturing a marshmallow and weenie roast over my exams, term papers and textbooks. Hey y’all – party at my place, BYOB – Bring Your Own Books.
But fear is a fantastic motivator to fight against my actual innate irritation about being expected to be chained to record keeping and keep anything. I hate papers and probably fight doubly hard to do the opposite of what I internally TRULY desire – not to be tethered with giving one iota of time to that stuff.
I was raised by a super organized parent who was not only adamant about keeping neatly organized files, but insisted I help with it. I remember staying up late at night after homework, helping go through boxes of files, organizing papers or a frenzy of trying to find a record that was needed. (More than an occasional reality unfortunately.) So in spite of my internal feelings of warfare against papers, I have essentially learned how to deal with them.
It doesn’t help that my dear hubby despises dealing with paper as much as I and barely keeps much in the way of records at all. But record keeping was not an issue inserted into his childhood like mine. We may share the same hatred, but he has less of a disposition to deal with papers than I. I often wonder where we would be if I had not had a parent who insisted I learn from an early age how to keep records. As it is, I try to find a balance to make up for both our tendencies to extremes.
There are many who think I’m a super-organized person because I keep all this stuff. This is really just not the case. I seek to be organized because it is not my internal strength to be organized. Seeking organizing is not the same as finding it. I just want to find a place of peace between this monster and me.
You would think that somehow this balancing act I strive for would put me in the perfect place of keeping just the right amount of stuff and nothing more, but truth is, over the years I have kept way more than necessary. Don’t believe it? How many of you still have electric bills from your college days some 20 years ago? A missing checkbook record when we got married was enough to fuel my panic about losing important information even further, as I found myself trying to think of keeping things that might help in the event if we were missing something else. And since a car accident, my short-term memory has me even more fearful of forgetting something and needing a record of information to help me.
Maybe it’s not that crazy though…
In all fairness, there are some advantages to having old information, because I can see just how much our cost of living has gone up in comparison to our income. The increase in the cost of water, electricity, cost of health insurance, property taxes, sales taxes, phone taxes, cable taxes, a loaf of bread – and the lack of increase in our actual income to match. If I didn’t have these records, would I be able to see that? In a way that touched me personally?
To make matters worse, I’ve found that credit card companies in particular are conveniently not keeping records of the special offers they make after a certain amount of time. Remember some of those offers a few years back where you could transfer balances at a fixed rate for the life of the loan until you paid them off? We made use of a couple to help us through tight spots when we were facing major home repairs that could not be ignored. For one of them, I still had the original offer sent to us in the mail, so when they tried to say the rate was not actually for the life of the loan and had expired, I had proof otherwise and they had to put our account back to the original terms. For the other, it was an offer made over the phone, so there were no paper records. Tough luck for us without proof since it was our word against theirs.
Another experience that pushes me further into paper madness comes from a friend of ours who was lucky he kept all his credit card statements even after he closed his accounts. One of the banks had an employee who was using closed accounts for fraud. The only way our friend was able to prove his innocence for the charges that he supposedly owed, and get the company to investigate, was because he still had his statements and proof that he had paid off his account and closed it. Thanks to his record keeping, they investigated and caught the guy – and saved other victims in the same boat.
The truth is, I’m a small fish in a big sea. The only power I really have against being taken advantage of or becoming a victim in a record based world is information.
Still, there is a point of too much…
As we hope to finally sell our house for the first time, I find myself staring at cabinets and boxes upon boxes of papers that I don’t want to have to pay to move and wonder if I really need to keep, even with considerations of the previous. Though I’m convinced enough to minimize my involvement in the credit card world while continuing to keep such records for the rest of my life, perhaps the electricity statements can go. And perhaps other things can too without causing any future risks.
To help me on this quest to both face the irrational part of my fear, while hanging on to a healthy, legitimate balance, I found an article at BankRate.com that I thought was pretty helpful. I’ve read several before, but this one accounted better for considerations than most who seem to hover at the generic “3 years” or “7 years” rule of thumb which always seems not quite enough information to me. If you are like me, struggling to decide on these things, you might want to read it too. It won’t deal with things like graded homework, which is really my thing to sort out, but it will talk about the major stuff.
Clutter is certainly an issue that many of us struggle to overcome. And the paper monster is probably my worst foe. However, I believe that in spite of this recognition, there is legitimate cause to consider carefully possible future consequences without proof of records. Though an attractive bonfire would feel quite cleansing, the pleasurable reward would be fleeting.
So I’m going through boxes, one step at a time, with my shredder by my side. I don’t know if someone can execute identity fraud based on my old electricity statements from a town I haven’t lived at in forever, but I’m not taking any chances.