Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

How much paper do you keep?

The Cremains of the Day

Just finished shoveling bushels of paper out of my file drawers, reorganizing the file system, and incinerating bank statements, credit card statements, health insurance claim statements, investment records, correspondence, and related junk that dates back to the early 1990s.

Before I started, a four-drawer file cabinet in the garage was chuckablock full of old records, and the five file drawers in my office stuffed to capacity.

Now, after a good six hours of feeding paper into the fireplace, after the liberation of 73 manila file folders and 33 hanging files (not counting the ones I reused on the fly), the garage file cabinet is again chuckablock full, mostly with different records. The firebox is filled with ashes. But at least there’s now a little open filing space in the office.

They say you should keep tax-related documents for seven years and tax returns forever. Highly problematic:

a) If you have a side income from self-employment, where the heck are you supposed to find room in your house to store years’ worth of related paper?

b) Once you’ve stuffed seven years worth of trash in a file cabinet, you tend to forget it. Hence, paper dating back to the Pleistocene, fossilizing in the garage.

Some of this stuff should’ve been donated to a local historic archive, not reduced to ashes in the fireplace.

But some of it… ???

You know, some things could come back to bite, even after the magical seven years have passed.

For example, late in the 20th century, a man whose last name (allegedly) was the same as mine somehow convinced my bank and a bunch of his creditors that I was responsible for his debts. I’d never heard of the guy.

It was difficult to get out from under that. You can easily prove that you did something, but you’ll play hob trying to show that you did not do something. The ensuing battle dragged on for week after week after week.

Should I throw out all the correspondence, all the paper trail, all the records of how I went about arguing that I was not a deadbeat? Or at least not that deadbeat?

Then there was the time I made a job offer, with the dean’s written permission, to the Southwest’s pre-eminent graphic designer of publications. She, desiring to do the kind of work our office did, turned down a far better-paying job that would have had her doing advertisements and brochures. Then, after she had passed up the other, far superior opportunity, the College reneged! On a written job offer that she had accepted! In writing!

Well, she hasn’t sued yet, though she certainly should have. But I still have all the documentation. What’s the statute of limitations on civil suits, anyway?

Then there was the endless, incrementally bitter slow-motion war with My Bartleby. My ass is covered there by a 200-page daily journal, written at the behest of the College’s HR representative. This monster fills two hanging file folders and a CD-ROM. Should I keep all that drivel?

She hasn’t tried to make any trouble yet and probably won’t. On the other hand, Bartleby is even crazier than I am. And I’m capable of anything.

In the crazy old lady department, I undoubtedly go way overboard with this business of saving documents. It’s a habit acquired from ex-DH, who, as a lawyer, advised me that we should save every scrap of paper that had anything to do with anything. He wasn’t kidding. At the time I left, he had a collection of canceled checks that dated back to before the start of our 25-year-long marriage. I figured he must know something, he being a fancy lawyer, and so I went forth and did likewise.

And I do have to allow, it was mighty gratifying to be able to produce my original pay stub that time ASU tried to claim I had been working there only fifteen years when actually I’d been there sixteen.

Still…how many times does something like that happen?

I suppose it only has to happen once.

Ah, well. It’s back to work. A stack of incoming paper sits on my desk, waiting to be handled, acted upon, and filed.

Am I alone with this conundrum? How much paper do you keep, and for how long?

Author: funny

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  1. This is one of my problem areas–and the stuff’s not even organized. AS for the potential lawsuit, why not send the documentation to the person who was un-offered the job? That way, if she wants to sue, she has the material.

    If Mrs. Bartleby hasn’t been roused to a lawsuit, she probably won’t be. But…wouldn’t your dean be responsible?

    The IRS has copies of all your old tax returns, doesn’t it?

    Good luck.

  2. @ frugal scholar: I did give her all the documentation. I also gave her (now it can be told!) the name of a barracuda who would have cheerfully cleaned ASU’s clock. She never did anything about it, though.

    Americans are nowhere near as litigious as the mythology says. Most people will take stuff like that laying down. And those who operate large corporations and pretend-corporations like ASU know it.

    The IRS specifically states that you should keep tax returns three to seven years and advises that insurance companies and creditors may demand that you keep records even longer. The Motley Fool advises that you keep tax returns forever and ancillary documents a minimum of three years.

    As for what Ms. Bartleby could dream up…who knows? And who knows who might be her target? I was her immediate supervisor, and I’m the one who was in conflict with her. So I imagine if she could cook up some cause to lodge a formal complaint or even to sue, I’d be in the middle of it.

  3. My compost pile and I weep at the loss of all the good shreds. I take the shreds of all my docs and my daughters’ docs after tax time and feed them all to my compost, gardens and worms and let them take all our identity info with them…

    • Yes, it is too bad not to have been able use the paper that way. But there was just too much to shred. It would have burned out my shredder. As it was, it took a good five hours to feed all that paper into the fireplace.

  4. Oh my goodness, I always feel like I’m drowning in paper. In spite of having divested myself of most of my possessions I still feel like I have too much. One day I was analyzing that and realized it wasn’t “stuff” it was PAPER! So many files, receipts, notes, etc., I hate it. What happened to that paperless society we were supposed to be becoming? Even if I got rid of every “thing” I owned I’d still need to have a little UHaul because of those darn files! Must have felt somewhat liberating to burn so much of yours.

  5. @ SimplyForties: Exactly so!

    When SDXB lived with me, that was one of the first things he started bellyaching about: the dunes of paper that mounded up like snowdrifts on the kitchen counter, after only a day or so. So DAMN much paper gets mailed into your house, and then if you have a job you usually end up dragging more paper home, and godhelpyou if you teach: the masses of paper are enough to throw the earth out of its orbit!

    If you wanted to seriously downsize — as for example, into one of those cool little minihouses you’ve been writing about — you’d probably have to rent a storage locker to keep your flicking tax records.