Are You Also an Adult Child of Paper Hoarders?

by Barrett

Saving your life’s paper trail may feel useful, but it actually promotes a life-long descent into disorganization. Here’s how to avoid that fate.

As I work to close down my father’s apartment now that he’s gone, I’ve had to go through literally decades of paperwork before disposing most of it. I’ve realized how critical it is to review everything, because every so often, I’ve found priceless paper artifacts hidden away in the mess. (My most recent find was a small portrait photo of my grandmother Rae from 1922 when she was young.)

Paper Trails Everywhere
Both my father and mother seemingly saved most every piece of paper that came into their apartment other than marketing mail and catalogues, though I uncovered some of those too. It was all loosely organized into many folders and stored away in different parts of their apartment. I think that simply reflected multiple decades of organization. Instead of consolidating and throwing away across time, a new file cabinet for storage was eventually curated until it became too large to handle. Rinse and repeat for the next decade.

Why all of this excess? I’m not quite sure, but I think it has something to do with having proof of transaction.

And I am an adult child of this paper-hoarding mentality. (Believe me, I’ve had my own struggles with this.) Not that my parents taught me specifically to save everything, but I know I’ve clearly picked up some of this irrational organization (though I must admit that laziness and other priorities are also part of the equation).

To be fair, though I save paperwork longer than I should, I do have a process to throw away the old, clearing up space for more incoming paper.

The Online Solution
Still, I have an unstoppable cycle of incoming paper. Who needs the mess in a digital world where most everything can be done online, such as online bill pay?

That solution is real progress for humanity right? And it works just fine.

Until it doesn’t.

Incorrect Bill-Reminder Email
I received an email this week from my wireless provider that informed me that I hadn’t paid my bill yet. What?!

This was a bill that I had set up for auto pay. (Yes, how digital of me.)

I looked at the email and wondered what could be wrong. Did my credit card expire? So, I logged in to my account and looked for my balance that was due.

It was zero (phew), and my credit card was just fine. There was also a little note documenting the recent auto pay.

All was normal, except for that email I received. (I reviewed the email address again to confirm it wasn’t spam. It wasn’t.)

Just a little glitch in the Matrix?

So now I’m left with a little less confidence in the system.

Trust your Bank Teller’s Math?
I suppose this little aberration is a good reminder that even though you shouldn’t save a physical copy of every transaction, you can’t give up total control either. There’s a balance to maintain.

Yes, you should to be able to trust our digital ecosystem.

Trust but verify.

I remember years ago when my bank stopped requiring its customers to submit deposit slips with their own math. That change was difficult for me, because I would have to trust that someone else’s math was correct. (Not that I still couldn’t do the math ahead of time and then compare it with the bank teller’s.)

That mistrust is another example of my parents’ view seeping out.

I eventually made my peace with this change. Plus I know there are other checks and balances in the banking process.

The Power of Paper
Sure, today’s digital world eliminates the need for most paper. But clearly, it’s not seamless. No, it’s not.

Still, I feel guilty admitting that I still like to receive certain bills in paper form, simply because I can leave them on my desk as a clear reminder to pay them.

Of course, there are any number of digital reminders that I could set up. But nothing beats the impact of a physical bill staring at me when I sit down at my home-office desk first thing in the morning with my cup of Joe.

Organize your Legacy
Yes, I am an adult child of paper hoarders. And if you were to take a look at a couple of my bins in our basement, you might wonder how much progress I’ve made.

But this experience has really opened my eyes. Having gone through my parents’ belonging, it’s been shocking to bear witness to such a paper trail. Literally.

I know that’s not the kind of legacy I want to leave behind.

I talk a lot about the importance of telling your own story. I haven’t really reflected on that in relationship to the concept of legacy.

I hope I have many years ahead to curate and slim down all of my stuff that may travel forward beyond me. But I clearly see this really needs to be a life-long endeavor.

It’s a lesson… I suppose the last lesson… that my parents have taught me.

It’s time to get organized.