The System Breaks Down

February 24, 2008 at 9:18 am

Yesterday I sat down to start my taxes, and quickly realized I didn’t have everything I needed. In theory, all the documents I need to do my taxes should be in a folder labeled “tax documents” which is always easily accessible. The idea is that throughout the year, I put anything in there that I will need at tax time – property tax bills, donation receipts, dmv renewals and so on. Except, you know, somewhere around the middle of the year, the system breaks down. Largely this is because the system is dependent on me.

In the past I made my system too complicated and therefore too hard to keep up. But I’ve made a concerted effort to simplify and these days I can’t really justify my failures. I’ve done a lot to reduce the amount of paper that comes into my house. I get electronic statements whenever possible, I pay every bill online that gives me the option. I’ve requested that all the companies I interact with contact me by email. This year I finally got around to removing my name from direct mail and prescreened credit offer lists. Most recently, I finally removed myself from the mailing list for all but two catalogs that I receive. This is the only task that caused me some pain, because I like looking at catalogs. However, I really don’t use them for shopping and I just can’t justify the waste. I let myself keep two (Crate & Barrel and West Elm) so that I don’t feel totally deprived. You can always make phone calls to stop these things, but if you’re like me and hate talking on the phone, the opt-out websites are useful. Having to deal with stuff over the phone is one of my primary motivations to procrastinate. Anyway, it feels really good to reduce the mountains of paper that were coming into my home, but what I find now is that the exceptions to the rule no longer work with my system – they interrupt my streamlined, mostly online workflow.

The upshot of this is that I had piles of miscellaneous papers to go through yesterday to find the missing tax items I needed. To make it worse, I neglected to finish my annual file clean-up last year, so I had some of last year’s stuff to deal with, too. Every year when I do my taxes I go through the files and shred everything I no longer need. It’s another good way to keep paper clutter under control, if you actually do it. Somehow I got distracted before finishing last year and must have forgotten to go back to it, so my shredder overheated a couple of times yesterday and my recycling trash can is almost full. Shredded paper takes up A LOT more space than than unshredded paper.

But, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I’ve figured out a new, not-too-complicated plan for dealing with the remaining paper that comes in, so my hope is that next year when I start my taxes I won’t be dealing with this mess.

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