Plowing Through the Paper Piles

In our house, tax time means sorting through paperwork. There are boxes and boxes of records. This year I realized that some of the stuff goes way back into the last century — time to cull the herd.

Keeping everything isn’t unique to me. When a neighbor of mine passed, they found boxes of canceled checks dating back to 1939, all neatly organized. Unfortunately, they didn’t find the will and insurance papers for 8 months! That’s the problem: having so much can be too much and you can’t find what you need when you need it.

Part of what drives us to keep all our records is the fear of throwing something out now and needing it later. Knowing everything is in the attic may seem more secure, but actually finding anything in the attic can be next to impossible. It is doubly so for those trying to assist us in managing our affairs.

Knowing where things are is a different kind of security. The peace that comes from order is a source of real confidence. This is a learned process and cannot be found beneath a pile of documents going back to the Eisenhower administration.

You could go cold turkey, just start at the back of the stack and pitch the old stuff out. I get the cold sweats just thinking about doing that. No way I’m tossing without sorting.

So I start with a box or a pile and go through it. Like many difficult tasks, this one can be easier when shared. Bring in a friend or loved one. Sit down together and begin. Make time as you do to enjoy the memories attached to some of the items and share the significance with your helper. Take your time and set realistic goals. It took ages to accumulate the stuff; it doesn’t have to get sorted out all at once.

My system uses two boxes and the dreaded shredder. Box one is “I’m keeping this for sure”, box two is “Maybe”, and the shredder is a hard and fast decision. Don’t be discouraged if everything seems to be going into the boxes at first. Shredding is like any other art form: it takes time and practice. Spending several hours sorting papers tends to put some real perspective on their value. After a few hundred sheets, the shredder will be humming.

Stuff can be a weight and sorting is a nuisance, but order and easier access are worth the effort. Aging in Place, it doesn’t happen by accident.

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About the author

Scott Funk has specialized in Home Equity Conversion Mortgage reverse mortgages for over a decade. He is a recognized Aging in Place advocate in his home state of Vermont. His monthly newspaper column Aging in Place has run for 7 years in 24 papers around the state. Scott is brings a lighthearted approach to his talks on Boomers, retirement and aging on purpose.