Paper Morass

[Well, it happened.  I missed a Tuesday posting.  My excuse?  I forgot today wasn’t Tuesday, having gone into the office on Monday rather than later in the week, as I usually do.  So let’s just pretend today is Tuesday and say no more about it.]

I live my life amidst a mess of papers:  papers at work, papers at home; papers from my past and papers to deal with my future.  Some days I feel like putting a lighter to all of it and saying, “Oh, well, it’s all burnt up now.  I’m finally free.”

Of course, there’s really less need for paper these days, with electronic storage on the computer (which is by no means secure, says the woman who’s had no fewer than three total computer crashes), CDs and flash drives and now the iCloud, which holds out the promise of storage foreverness (but at what potential risk to my cyber-security?).

But the old-school side of me still prints out and saves an inordinate amount of paper, both here and at work – hence, the full desk trays and file cabinets, the manila folders and 3-hole binders filling every inch of my home office (the “Long Beach office”, as I refer to it with colleagues and clients).  My office at work is much the same but a little neater, given that when a deal is over, I just send the papers “away”:  I don’t care where they go, I just want them GONE.  I welcomed the advent of transaction closing document sets on disk rather than in massive paper files (velo – or Acco-bound), but that’s just left me with dozens of identical disks that I have to flip through any time I want to find a particular document from a precedent deal.  Now the “kids” at work (i.e., the associates and paralegals) save closing documents as Adobe pdf files right in the firm’s document management system, enabling any document to be easily found with a simple mouse click.  I’m quickly become a fan of this, but not to the point of doing it with any regularity myself (yet).  Unsurprisingly, I still tend to favor paper when I assemble my closing documents at the conclusion of a deal.

My boss has a colossal paper problem.  Sometimes you’ll go into his office and worry that you (or he) will be buried forever by the toppling of a precarious paper pile.  He’s twice had to move offices since I’ve known him, and both times involved a painful purge (after weeks of procrastination), but more often than not the documents just went into hiding rather than into the “circular file” where they belonged.  He’s even more old school and attached to his paper than I am.

One reason I save so much paper is in anticipation of some future circumstance where I’ll have to PROVE something to someone.  Ideally, I’ll be able to pull out the applicable piece of paper and, lo and behold, the problems will be solved.  But that comes with a caveat:  I have to be able to FIND that piece of paper.  The other day, my ex-husband asked me for a stamped copy of our divorce decree, which he needed so that he could change his name back to his former pre-married name on his Social Security card.  [My ex is/was so gender-enlightened that he hyphenated HIS last name, as I had done, when we got married so that our whole family – including our future children – could have the same last name.  I went back to my maiden name (what’s the male equivalent of a “maiden” name – a “bachelor” name?) not long after our divorce but he had evidently held on to the hyphen all these years.]   Evidently his current marriage certificate and driver’s license were insufficient proof to the authorities that he was who he said he was.

Now, I consider myself a reasonably well organized paper-keeper, in that I have file cabinets and an alphabetically-classified collection of file folders containing my personal documents.  But every once in a while, my filing methods will come up against a logic problem, and this was one of those occasions.  I knew I had a file for my divorce papers – I could see it in my mind’s eye, in a certain file drawer – but it just wasn’t where I expected it to be.  Nor was it in the lockbox with my other important “life” papers, and it wasn’t in any other location that would have made sense.  I still haven’t found the file, although by now my ex had gotten what he needed from the county clerk, the ultimate repository of EVERYBODY’s important legal papers.

My ex’s dilemma was a prime example of the excess of legal and bureaucratic paperwork that drives our world.  Sure, as a lawyer, paperwork certainly pays MY bills, so I shouldn’t complain, but it can get very exasperating.  Administering the grant from New York State to raise my house requires VOLUMES of paper.  Clearing up my daughter’s legal problems has been complicated by cross-state-border lack of communication and documentary coordination.  She’s also dealing with an apartment lease situation that is giving her a cruel lesson about signing contracts and “buyer beware”.  I even had to file papers with the Nassau County Surrogates Court to prove I was my daughter’s legal guardian (“I’m her MOTHER,” I kept telling them, but evidently that wasn’t proof enough).  Then there’s all the insurance to keep track of:  homeowners, flood, renters’ (for my “contents”), car, life, health – and all of it requires reams and reams of paperwork.  I pay most of my bills online, but I still have to save copies of the invoices marked with “paid online”.  I just can’t stop.

As if public bureaucracy wasn’t enough reason to drown us all in paper, I’m also an article accumulator.  I find interesting stories online and I print them out for some unknown future use, so of course I have to save them somewhere.  And then there’s the journals – literally 30+ years of daily journals and assorted writings that I’ve been amassing over the years that I have no idea what to do with, or when I will ever get a chance to organize and go through them.  I swear that someday I will, perhaps in my doddering retirement.  But after that, THEN what will I do with them?  Transcribe them all into an electronic format so I can store them in some other medium for posterity and actually THROW THEM AWAY??  (*gulp*)  Ultimately, no one but me cares about my papers.  But it’s true that I’m very attached to them – some might even say pathologically.  And I’m sure it’s a fire hazard to be surrounded by this much flammable material.

I’m going to be moving to a new apartment in a couple of weeks, and I will inevitably drag most of my papers with me even though it’s only for less than a year.  And there they’ll sit, in boxes, waiting for the return move into my elevated house, when they can go back into the file cabinets and shelves and desk trays.  Am I a hoarder?  Nah, I’m just a paper collector.


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