Cheryl Hughes: Burn Before Reading
For years, I kept a single sheet of paper framed and hanging on my wall. The paper was the final release of a reclamation bond that had been held for years by the government. Garey and I had satisfied the requirements necessary for reclaimed ground we had coal mined. The piece of paper represented the conclusion of our coal mining days. It also served as a reminder to Garey that he might smoke, drink and run around on me, and we could possibly work through the fallout, but if he ever got back into coal mining, I would go immediately to the courthouse and file for divorce.
Pieces of paper are like that. They are powerful because of what they represent. I have said before that I have a love/hate relationship with paper. I am the Post-it queen, and I even write out this column on notebook paper before I type it for Beechtree. It is the required paper that I deplore. I deplore it because I am forced to keep it, store it, dig it out from the bowels of basement storage boxes to prove I have it. Rummage through glove compartments in vehicles, through stacks of unopened mail or through trash cans on the off chance I accidently threw something important away.
I especially deplore paper I have to keep for the IRS. According to the website IRS.gov (small-business-self-employed): “Keep records for 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax or 7 years if you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction.” I keep our records for five years, just in case, and nothing gives me more pleasure than putting files that have reached that magic number through a shredder.
It isn’t just paper I keep for the IRS that causes me unpleasantness. Nothing can strike fear in my heart like my husband, Garey, approaching me and asking, “Do you know what we did with the receipt for: the grinder I got at Harbor Freight? The tractor part I got from Hobby Dye & Reed? The knife sharpener I got at Walmart?”
“I have no idea!” That’s what I want to say, but I don’t. I start the grueling excavation process, moving pieces of paper around on the counter, the kitchen table, the dining room table, the coffee table, any flat surface where a piece of paper might have landed. Sometimes, I get lucky and find it. Sometimes, I don’t. Garey is a kind and understanding person, and he always says something like, “That’s okay, it really doesn’t matter.” But I know it does. The absence of that piece of paper robs him of the satisfaction he would get from returning that AS SEEN ON TV HD Vision Special Ops Deluxe Bavarian Edge Tungsten Carbide Knife Sharpener with Micro Diamond Particles, and getting his money back.
These days, I am a lot better at going through the mail when I take it from the mail box. I used to let it pile up for a couple of weeks at a time then go through it piece by piece, separating it into keep or discard. Now, I just toss stuff I don’t recognize into the recycle basket, although, a story my son-in-law told me recently has given me reason to pause.
Thomas and Nikki throw all of their mail into a cabinet then Thomas goes through it when he gets home from his two weeks on the lift boat in the Gulf. A few weeks after Nikki got her new Subaru, Thomas was going through the stack of letters and bills and miscellaneous when he came across the title to her car that had arrived in the mail. He made sure he set it to one side. A whole heap of stuff had arrived during the two weeks while he was away, so he decided to burn the junk mail in the fire pit out back. He made sure once again that Nikki’s title was put to one side. He did a few more things around the house before he gathered the junk mail and took it to the fire pit. He set it on fire and watched it burn. As the fire died down, he started stirring the ashes with a stick when a small piece of paper that hadn’t burned completely surfaced. It was one corner of the title to Nikki’s Subaru. He has no idea how it got mixed in with the junk mail when he had been so careful to separate it out. He had to order another one. Government agencies place great value on their little pieces of paper, especially if they have to replace one. The new title was 125 dollars.