Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dealing with Paperwork

In a recent post, I mentioned how we have tried to reduce our possessions. I want to continue that line of thought.

When I became my father's caretaker, I also inherited all of his and my mother's paperwork. I wouldn't necessarily call them hoarders, but I would say that they did not throw much away as regards paperwork. There were business documents in their files that went back to my birth. It fell to me to go through each file -- paper by paper -- and determine what needed to be kept and what needed to be destroyed. Almost all of it needed to be destroyed.

This process took literally months for me to accomplish. Of course, I was still working at the time; in addition, I was looking after Dad, and that required almost daily attention. But there was a lot of paperwork there, from old bank books from the 1950s to long ago forgotten insurance policies to even utility bills. And I had to look at each and every item.

It was about this time that I realized that I was more or less guilty of the same behavior, and I resolved to do something about it so that my daughter would not inherit a similar paperwork nightmare. My two recent moves have helped tremendously, for I have gone through all files and eliminated everything that was not relevant.

It is the other thing that I've done that I want to share with you. Actually, I have to give Donna credit, for it was her idea.

As mail arrives, I sort through, destroying most because most is junk mail. But bills and other legitimate items I place in a stack. Then once a week, I sit down at my desk and act on the mail (pay a bill, provide necessary information, or whatever is called for by legitimate mail). I then scan that mail.

I keep the original for 1 year (I'm not sure why I don't just destroy it at the moment), then destroy anything at least 1 year old. The scanned copy is renamed and moved to an appropriate folder on my computer. Each night, all data on my computer is automatically backed up, and the backup goes to an external hard drive. Now, if there was a fire, then all data would be lost since both the computer and the external drive are in the same location, but that would also be the case if I relied solely on paper files as I had in the past. So, we break even on that point. But, if the computer fails, then all my data is safe on my external hard drive.

Now all my paperwork is neatly stored in one space saving location. About once a year, I review my files and delete anything no longer necessary.

I used to have 2 two-drawer filing cabinets, plus 3 smaller ones, all crammed full of paper. We no longer have filing cabinets. The hard copies I retain for a year are filed in notebooks, all of which fit easily in a single box when moving; otherwise, they reside on a shelf in what we call our "computer room".

Of course, another thing that helps is that so much business can be conducted online these days. Bank statements, investment portfolio statements, utility bills, and other paperwork can be sent electronically, thereby eliminating the scanning step. All these advancements are certainly making life easier and more efficient.

Something else I do to reduce the amount of paper we have is to download manuals for anything we purchase. Rather than try to keep up with the bulky user's manual for a refrigerator or lawn mower or drill -- or whatever you buy -- just download the manual. I've found very few manuals that weren't available online. Once I do download the manual and ensure it is identical to the one that came packaged with the product, I then discard the original manual (recycling, if possible, of course). Boy, has that not only saved space, but also the aggravation of finding the manual when I need it.

No comments:

Post a Comment