Shredding a lifetime of papers...

As October looms nearer and nearer to our Halloween departure date, I lay awake at night prioritizing my tasks.  With Tom gone to work Monday through Friday for 14 hours a day, the sorting and packing of a lifetime is logically in my hands. 

A portion of the most unbearable tasks have been started or completed including the cleaning of our formerly junk laden attic, the messy top of my closet, many overstuffed drawers and hangers with outdated forgotten clothes, much of which I already hauled to Goodwill.  

We've scanned over 500 photos thus far with hundreds more to go.  A few months back, I removed every photo in a frame in our house, scanning the photo and saving an entire plastic tote filled with frames to be sold at our upcoming estate sale.

Looming in the back of my mind these past months have been the papers; boxes, drawers, file cabinets, banker's boxes filled to the brim with receipts, tax records, legal documents, forms, medical files, certificates, insurance policies and on and on. 

Although not hoarders, we've kept that which we thought we'd need to keep, 90% of which we never referenced in all of these years.  After assessing the paper inventory these past months, I came to the realization that saving these documents would require no less than a 5' x10" storage facility, costing no less than $50 a month.  Goodbye, papers!

I called our accountant asking a few pertinent questions:

How long is one required to keep tax returns?

How long must one keep the supporting receipts for the tax returns? The answers to these questions are vague (Isn't it surprising that the IRS would be vague?)  If you cheat on your taxes, you'll need to keep your records indefinitely!  If you don't, please see the IRS link for the vague answers.

Final question for the accountant:
Will he be able to do our taxes when we are no longer residents of Minnesota? Answer: Yes, as long as we have access to the internet.

The magic of the Internet with the availability of keeping digital personal records is steering us further and further away from the necessity of keeping paper copies of everything.  Our medical records, bank statements, income records, financial records, and other legal documents an now be kept online in a secure "cloud."  

I made a list of the documents we'll need to keep and subsequently store.  (This list may be different for you depending on your personal circumstances).  

Documents to store:
  1. Original titles to cars (until we sell them both before we leave the US).
  2. Tax returns past 5 years (accountant has these also)
  3. Tax receipts past 7 years (per advice of accountant)
Documents to bring with us:
  1. Passports, upcoming visas, travel documents
  2. Originals of birth certificates, baptismal certificates, marriage certificate 
  3. New driver's licenses for new state of residency
  4. Health: Insurance cards, current prescriptions, actual prescription bottles, immunization records, emergency contact information in states
  5. Checkbook (some property owners would like the balance of the rent paid via check) and recently renewed debit and credit cards
  6. Travel insurance documents
Today, after a brisk 45 minute walk on an otherwise lovely morning, I returned home with a certain sense of dread knowing that I must begin the sorting process.  When beginning a dreaded project I've always preferred to begin with the "worst first."  

First, I attacked the old style wood two drawer file cabinet in our bedroom that loomed in my mind in the middle of the night. 

My next concern is the disposal of the papers, shredding and recycling being the only logical choices. After researching online I found a free shredding event which I put on my calendar with a plan to haul my two big bags of papers on June 23rd to the grocery store parking lot where Shredit will be offering the service to the community. 

After sorting for most of the day, I've discovered few simple steps to keep the amount to be shredded to a minimum:
  1. Place two plastic totes on either side of your chair, designating one bin for recycling, the other for shredding
  2. Place a cabinet, drawer, or box of papers in front of you on the floor
  3. Go through papers, removing envelopes, advertising, printed booklets and anything that doesn't reference your name, address, social security number, bank account numbers, dollar amounts, etc., placing papers in appropriate tote; all personal items go into the shredding bin, all peripheral papers in recycle bin.  (Tear off parts of forms with your personal information and save the rest for the recycle bin).
You'll be amazed how much smaller your shredding pile is, as opposed to the recycle pile.  Place papers to be shredded into containers as suggested by your free recycle event into either bags or boxes.  Deliver them to the specified location on the specified date and time.  If one has additional shredding beyond that which the shredding event will accept, one can plan to repeat this process closer to the next arranged date in the area.  

Often, waiting for a free event is difficult when we so much want to get this cleaned up and out the door.  Most office supply stores have a shredding program (prices vary by locations and promotions).

Although I still have several more days of papers to toss, it's less intimidating with this simple plan in place.  Hopefully, by week's end this task will be completed, leaving me with little piles of the documents we will be taking with us on our journey.  I am looking forward to an enormous sense of relief.

Tomorrow is Round #3 of vaccinations which will include the first  of three rabies shots.  I'll keep you posted!

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