Me vs. Paperwork

Long before identity theft was an everyday phrase, I was very leery of just throwing out receipts, bills, credit card offers and the like. This was a timeframe when every credit card receipt printed your full card number prominently. And adding to the risk factor was that every receipt had a carbon copy with your signature right there at the bottom. Companies occasionally used your Social Security Number as an account number. And then there were the credit card mailers that contained way too much personal information conveniently pre-populated on their offer letters. Personally Identifiable Information (PII) overload? You betcha.

Not trusting enough to just throw this stuff out with my normal trash, I’d often hold onto it, intending to shred it before it was allowed to pass back out of my house. Add in my noted absentminded nature, and you end up with a mountain (years worth) of things that I never quite got around to processing. It hadn’t helped that over time I kept getting other paperwork mixed in with the mess, meaning I couldn’t just grab a whole stack and do a mass purge.

Paperwork Solutions:

This was the most time consuming task of all of my attempts to prepare for my psuedo-minimalist life. Organizing clothing accumulated over the years is relatively simple. It’s easier to identify and sort a pile of clothes four feet high than it is to sort through a stack of thin slips of paper of the same height. Especially since the number of categories for the papers dwarfs that of the clothing example.

Getting started required setting some guidelines for myself:

  1. All paperwork items were separated from all other categories.
  2. No paperwork items were to be processed initially. The goal was to get them all in one location in order to focus on them when I was ready. Allowing myself to start sorting them would only lead to delays as I tried to process everything else.
  3. Once processing of the paperwork items started, everything had to go into folders. Stopping to shred receipts, stopping to scan nostalgic items, etc. would only serve to cause interruptions in the key workflow tasks.
  4. Label all folders. There’s no value in compartmentalizing things if you can’t determine what something is at a glance.

I created six categories for the paperwork sorting:

  1. Eliminate: These were items that had no PII, no nostalgic value, no reference value. Basically loose stuff that somehow got mixed in over the years. This group was easy to process. Instead of a folder, I had a garbage bag.
  2. Shred and Eliminate: These were the cause of the problem. These items contained one or more of my identified red flags that required me to shred them before they moved to the Eliminate category.
  3. Nostalgia – Scan and Eliminate: These items were those that I determined that the tactile interaction wasn’t required to garner a nostalgic response. They were to be scanned (or photographed if larger than my scanner bed) and added to the Eliminate category.
  4. Nostalgia – Scan and Keep: These items were those that I intended to keep. But, following my own suggestion to address the risk of loss (or future re-evaluation), I scanned/photographed them before considering them properly processed.
  5. Reference – Scan and Eliminate: These items were few. Basically, these were items I kept for reference only. User manuals (only in cases when a digital version wasn’t available from the vendor) and the like made up most of this category.
  6. Reference – Keep: Important documents, usually of the variety that contain information that should be archived for a number of years (tax reference, etc), or items that bore a notary seal due to their importance/relevance. These items will likely fall into a “scan” category as well ultimately, just to make referencing the data easier in the future.

 

Reboot and a countdown

As can often happen with grand plans, I’ve let my priorities slip a bit. I haven’t violated any of my core rules (Need vs. Want being the most relevant currently), unless you count going out socially. Definitely more of a “want” than a “need” there. A little time off to have fun isn’t a problem, as long as it’s not too excessive. But in my case, I’ve let the little time off extend just a bit too long. Unfortunately, it didn’t hit me until today, after a three-day weekend during which I didn’t go out, that I’ve accomplished so little lately.

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On the Cusp of Change

In my first post, I mentioned that I was getting divorced. At that point, the paperwork had been filed, but not yet fully processed. Since that point, the divorce has been finalized and my ex-wife and I have been working to get everything in order. Thankfully, there are no children, property or any other such details that typically complicate a split. So, for the past few weeks, we’ve been getting everything sorted out so we can begin moving down our separate paths.

Most of the work has been preparing for her move. She’d found a room to rent, but that in itself triggered a certain amount of prep work on its own. We’ve now cleaned, spackled and painted. We replaced the blinds and put up curtains. And this past weekend we picked up a small rental truck and moved over the “big” items to the new place. With this upcoming Sunday scheduled as her departure date, we’ve now narrowed everything down to packing up the small items and finding her a small storage unit for the overflow (the overflow isn’t much, but still enough that it won’t comfortably fit in her new place).

So, back to me. After Sunday, I’m going to be living in an apartment that provides way more space than I’ll require. With several months left on the lease, I’ll also still be losing 3-4 hours each weekday to my work commute. And then there’s the clutter. Lots and lots of clutter.

Living alone means there will no longer be a need to rush home each evening. I’d debated various alternatives that would allow me to save money by not filling up my gas tank so frequently, but I ruled them out. The comparatively minor financial savings would be outweighed by the lack of productivity towards my goals at home. As for the time factor, even a few hours spent getting things in order each weeknight are better than none at all.

The Plan, according to… well, me:

Clutter:

If I can stick to my plan (maintaining this blog is part of the solution there), then what I’ll do initially is clean out one of the bedrooms completely. My [untested] anticipated plan of action is to dedicate the “clean room” as a processing area. Starting with what’s already in the apartment, I’m going to do the following:

  • Take each bulk item (stack of papers, storage bin, etc) into the clean room
  • Sort individual items into specific categories
  • Process categorically sorted items as needed (file, trash, put away properly, etc)
  • For all items not being thrown away or given away, update an inventory list based upon the category
  • Repeat

Once everything that’s already in the apartment has been processed, I’ll begin making trips to and from the storage facility for more bulk items. I’m hoping that the reduction in “stuff” overall will allow me to continue emptying the storage unit without having to store any of the processed items.

I know that in the end I’ll still require some form of storage solution. But if I can actually make it through all of my acquired clutter, the amount of space needed should be dramatically less. My ongoing daydream is that I’ll be able to reduce everything down to the point that I could live comfortably in a studio apartment, though I have no actual desire to live in that small of a space. But it’s a good target for me to keep in mind as I work my way through everything.

Finances:

I’ve been using Mint to get a visualization of just where my money goes each month. What I’ve already put in place is pretty basic, but I’m already seeing the potential benefit. For each recurring bill (cell phone, rent, even down to my Netflix subscription) I created a “Budget” entry. This allows me two distinct pieces of information:

  1. Mint’s budget calculator shows me a distinct dollar total for the amount of money I can potentially put into savings each month.
  2. I can see, at a glance, which bills still need to be paid.

The only thing I’ve excluded from my budget planning, for now, is groceries. I’ve spent the past several years going to the grocery store for two people, so I’ll need a month or two of “single” shopping history to establish a suitable cost range.

I don’t anticipate a lot of extraneous spending. By adhering to my Need vs Want personal rules, I shouldn’t be spending much at all beyond my budgeted items.

Fun stuff:

I won’t be hurting for entertainment options. I’ll be spending a lot of time during my evenings working on the organizational stuff, but I still need to have at least a little fun. At a glance, I know I’ve got:

  • Books
  • A huge movie archive (currently being converted to digital format in order to save space)
  • Streaming content (Netflix, Hulu, multiple music sources)
  • Computer games
  • Local library (which provides books, audiobooks, movies and music)

The only things that will impact my efforts to save money are my Netflix account and Internet access, both of which are already accounted for in my budget.

I’ll be contacting my Internet Service Provider (ISP) next week to try to get my monthly bill lowered. I’ve had the same rate with them for years, but prices have recently risen quite a bit. When I discovered that the price I’m paying is now higher than the next [higher] tier of service (read: faster speeds) rate for new customers, I dropped my cable TV service. I wasn’t watching television anyway, so it was no loss to me. With the access speed/pricing issue, I’ve decided that if I can’t negotiate the lower rate, I’ll just cancel my Internet access services long enough to be able to rejoin at the “new customer” rate.

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So, that’s about where things stand and where things are going. I made sure to take some “before” pictures of the storage unit and some of the apartment. I’ll likely take pictures throughout my efforts to be able to actually see and track my progress. I can’t wait to see the end result!