Who woulda thunk the menial task of cleaning up old tax records would turn into a melancholy walk down memory lane?
I have always been meticulous in record keeping. Every receipt and communication is stored in an alphabetized accordion file each year, which becomes the basis for my tax data. After the taxes are filed for that year, a copy of the return is added to the file; the file is wrapped up and stored away. The downside of this is that there were, until recently, over 30 years of such records. In some cases, this has been proven to be an advantage, as I’ve been able to locate receipts for “lifetime guaranteed” items many years after their purchase, saving the expense of replacing some fairly expensive items. That, however, in no way justifies the stack of accordion files and the space they’re taking.
A few years back, I bought one of those “paper brick makers” with the idea that we could shred these documents, soak them in water, and then press out paper bricks to take camping – I mean, storing paper bricks in the motorhome is better than having to bring the pickup with its bed loaded with firewood, right? Well, let me tell you: household shredders are not speed-demons, and, though paper bricks are pretty cool, they take quite literally forever to dry out. I finally resorted to putting our first batch into the convection oven at a low temperature to dry them enough so they wouldn’t mold. And they’re still in the basement, our two planned 2020 camping trips having been canceled – one due to COVID closure of the state campground we had reservations at (thanks, Gretch!); the other due to a premonition that came to be.
So what to do with these documents if they aren’t to become paper bricks? Cities occasionally bring in document shredding services and allow each address to bring a box or two of documents to be shredded, but I’d rather not take the chance of some careless shredder operator letting a piece or two of social security number-bearing documentation drift away on the wind. So, I opted to burn them in the fireplace. It goes a lot faster than shredding them did, and, being January, serves to help heat the home.
So, with today being a holiday from work, I spent the day feeding receipts and tax documents into the fire, while keeping a general eye out for things still better kept.
There were receipts from the hospital when each child was on the way – for prenatal care, ultrasounds, all the way up to the hospital stay for their delivery. There were memories of the various companies we dealt with over the years, how cheap cable service was in the early 90s, various purchases. There were notations in my hand and notations in Kim’s hand. I even found a couple of folders from doing Mom’s taxes after Dad died, among which was a calendar where Mom “blogged” little notes such as “first sunny day since the death”. I guess it runs in the family. (I set them aside and put them in the box with Kim’s records, in case any family is reading.)
It was bittersweet going through all of that. Some of the things in there, I really don’t remember well – such as reservations at State Dock that had to be canceled – State Dock runs houseboats on Lake Cumberland. Apparently, the year after my dad had taken the family there, we made reservations to go again but canceled them. I recall discussing going back – we had planned an “off-season” vacation to save on the expense – but don’t at all recall making them, and I definitely don’t recall canceling them. Maybe that was all Kim’s doing – but seeing it made me wish we had gone. We did so few things like that – sometimes due to the expense, or wrangling the kids’ busy schedules with our own – but most times due to work, and my aversion to leaving home because of all the away-from-home my job demanded.
There were magazine subscription receipts for various crafting and horse magazines. Receipts from clothing stores she liked for herself and the kids. Just so many little paper memories. I kept thinking how, before all this, I might turn to Kim with one and say “Hey! Remember when we did this?” No one to reminisce with anymore. The kids wouldn’t remember much of it; less and less as the timeline moved backward. As I burned through them, I wondered how I would remember things like those afterward? What would catapult them up out of the vault of my memory?
I still have quite a few accordions to go through. I’ve already set aside the seven years I’ll keep, getting rid of the oldest each year, if my discipline holds. The family room will be warm for the next several days, I guess, as I feed more in while working across from the fireplace. The old wooden rack that held them, a vestige of the people who owned the house before us, is now empty – the last thing it coughed up was my collection of Elementary Electronics magazines from the 70s – the magazine that sparked then fed my desire to pursue a degree in electrical engineering (which I accomplished but never truly used). And some leftover material that I had used to reupholster the boat Kim and I bought the summer after we were married, with a 1990 Tandy Leather catalog from the store on Warren near Wayne. That Tandy store is long – 20 years – gone, though the company still exists.
I’ll be breaking the rack down to get rid of it, clearing space in the basement from three decades of “collections”; making room for other pursuits. It always was sort of an odd duck, anyway – after 30 years, I still cannot conceive of its purpose prior to it becoming a “just stick it in that thing” storage unit. All this is good because it keeps me busy; keeps the mind occupied.
And time marches on, inexorably to its final destination…