Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Great Paper Shredding Project


You’d think I’d know better. You’d think I could look at two oak filing cabinets that measures 22 x 38 inches and 20 x 25 inches and know what an impossibly time consuming and grueling job it would be to downsize the contents of both cabinets to fit inside the smaller cabinet. I allotted two days for the project. It took four. But one file folder of records didn’t get shredded because it never fails to grab me where it counts. It contains all my school records from kindergarten through college. I’m saving them just in case some day I have to prove I was once smarter than a fifth grader. But for four days I had quite the process going as I sorted the papers suitable for recycling from the ones that had to be shredded from the ones where a quick swipe with an ink roller would do. I got the shredder so over heated a few times that it shut itself off. A pretty cool safety feature, but it's annoying to have a machine tell you to take a time out when you're on a roll. I ended up with three boxes of papers to take to recycling and five bags of shredded papers to go in the trash.

I’m good at keeping up with yearly shredding of household bills, bank records and other stuff we keep until tax time but one of the problems of having a lot of space in filing cabinets is we tend to keep stuff longer than we should. I found folders full of stuff from groups and organizations that no longer have a place in my life---the quilting club, YMCA, Red Hat Society, Wheelchair Hunters Club, etc. and the adoption and medical records for a dog who died twelve years ago. I also had deeds for houses we sold decades ago and their paid off mortgages records. A hefty sized folder held papers from a lawsuit and three others contained records from businesses we owned back in the last century. But the biggest surprise of all is that I had was a stack of income tax records a foot high from every year going back to my husband’s and my very first jobs! Some of those papers were nearly 50 years old and they literally fell apart in my hands as I fed them into the shredder. You can’t help looking at stuff when you’re deciding what to shred or recycle and I found it fascinating that in my first year of working in the ‘60s I made approximately the same as I get in one month now in pension, Social Security and investment income.

But the gut-punching stuff I found in other files was hard to shred---emotionally, I wasn’t on the fence about the need to shred them like I was with my school records---a two inch stack of detailed medical records covering the three months after my husband’s massive stroke. I had to obtain them and scan copies to Medicare because unbeknownst to us the company we got my husband’s wheelchair from was being investigated for Medicare fraud, selling unnecessary equipment. Not true in our case but we were randomly picked to provide full medical records to prove the need for a stupid, manual wheelchair with a deluxe seat cushion. I had an equally tall stack of speech therapy records, kept because I had planned to write a book about the topic. But the hardest records of all to look through were letters from doctors to spring my husband's power of attorney papers and a ten page workbook from when I filed for Don’s Social Security Disability. As I stopped to read some of those pages it broke my heart---all that Don went through, all he lost. All we both lost to the stroke.

I also found a packet from the funeral home with left over death certificates---they over sold me on the number needed. At the time someone dies you need death certificates for all bank and investments accounts, life insurance, place of employment, social security and even the cell phone company wouldn’t let me cancel our contract without a death certificate to prove I wasn’t a vengeful x-wife, I’m guess. I'm keeping the extra copies because who knows if when I go to sell the house I might need a couple to prove I'm the sole owner of this place. I sent a copy to the county after Don died---twice---to get his name off the deed but I still get tax bills in both our names and even though the county clerk assured me that's normal until I sell, I don’t believe it. I’ve often said that downsizing is like living your life in reserve and the Great Paper Shredding Project is a perfect example of how that works. 

At one point during The Project I searched the house for a set of keys to two fire proof boxes I kept inside one of the file cabinets for the really important papers. I had the keys out to unlock the boxes then promptly lost them. I even pawed through my recycle boxes and I would have blamed Levi for taking them just to mess with my head if he had opposable thumbs which is a good reason why older people shouldn’t live with anyone. They’d get blamed for all our brain-farts. I finally gave up on ever finding the keys and when I got around to emptying the shredder into a plastic bag I saw the them! They had gotten knocked off my dining room table and landed on a chair that was tucked up under the table the way neat little housekeepers always stage their chairs.

I know there is someone out there in cyberspace smugly reading this and patting themselves on the back for scanning all their papers and storing everything in a cloud but call me old fashioned, I will never be one of them. Just one trip to media recycling is a good lesson on how technology changes. Floppy disks were once thought to be the end-all solution to having filing cabinets full of documents but try finding a computer where you can use a floppy today. And who knows if stored stuff in a cloud will always be free, safe from hackers and retrievable not to mention what happens when you need something but your computer is acting up? But I do know one thing---it feels good to have accomplished the Great Paper Shredding Project. ©

Now Empty and ready to sell with the roll top desk below.
  
The back of this desk and the cabinet below are just as pretty on the backside as the front.


All my life's papers, documents and records are now in this file cabinet and will move with me.

40 comments:

  1. That is a big physical and emotional accomplishment so I hope you are letting yourself feel the satisfaction. Good luck selling the items.

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    1. I'm hoping to put off selling the desk and filing cabinet until mid to late summer. I will miss them too much. Of all the downsizing I've been doing this project was the one that made me feel the most satisfaction to complete.

      Now I'm working on another 4 day project that I was also dreading but I've got the worse of it done and hopefully will have it finished by the end of the weekend.

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  2. I am always amazed at the amount and size of things you are having to deal with. Sure glad they have given you a long time to accomplish the downsizing.

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    1. The idea that I could move into something brand new with a long time frame to prepare was the most important selling points to moving where I'll be moving. I needed a deadline to get my act in gear.

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  3. You are smart to keep a few of the death certificates. My mother did need one to sell their house---years after she was the sole person on title.
    Good work at going through all of the emotional paper. It is tough stuff. Your moving has given you some super powers!

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    1. Thanks for the validation on the keeping the death certificates!!!

      Everything I'm doing should have been done a long time ago but I was too busy dealing with LIFE or fun stuff to get around to it. The super power would have been keeping up with those documents in a more timely manner. LOL

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  4. What a big job, and what a feeling of satisfaction its completion gave you! I'm always leery when tossing any tax and medical records--it's so worrisome.

    I searched far and wide one year for a nice wood file cabinet for Rick's birthday. I wanted to store some of his late grandfather's carpentry patterns in it. Could not find exactly what I wanted. Yours would have been perfect--the one you kept.

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    1. I kept 10 years worth of tax returns with a promise to myself to shred a copy every year so I never have more than 10. Don died almost 8 years ago so I can't imagine needing medical records of his but probably should have kept some of mine. I kept very little.

      People don't value oak furniture like they used to. I've been shopping for a smaller computer desk than the one I've got which is also oak, but all I can find are cheap composition board computer hutches or REALLY high Amish built desks designed for laptop use. I want to keep my big screen monitor and curved keyboard.

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    2. Try the used market for the desk you want

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  5. Im.one of those who mainly scans to the cloud and then stores ot in two places one of which is amazon. But I still have way too msnybpapers to go through. I still keep death certificates and all my husbands militaty enlistment and government service papers.

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    1. For someone who moves around a lot like military families, the cloud does make sense. I didn't even know amazon had a cloud! I still have death and birth certificates of my mom and dad, from genealogy research. And I just mailed my brother-in-law his mother's birth certificate....the original. Somethings just need to be kept out of respect.

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  6. You are so inspiring. I need to purge my two file drawers of stuff. And two leaning towers of Pisa of paperwork. Maybe I need to plan a move to a CCC just to get the process started! I need the motivation.

    We still have some old oak furniture in the boys room, from our old master suite, but golden oak just doesn't do it for me now.

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    1. Our blogger friend Judy did what she calls the 'Swedish Death Purge' a year or so ago. I just hate the title but I guess it's a 'thing' they do at a certain age to get rid of everything in the house you don't use or need. What next? They put you out on an ice berg to float away? No, that's a different culture.

      I still truly love my golden oak but young people prefer to paint it over. But for awhile in the '60s and '70s I was in love with dark fruitwood. Nothing stays the same.

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    2. Actually, I think the 'Swedish Death Purge' is a broader tradition. My Swedish grandmother insisted that, before January 1, the house should be cleaned within an inch of its life, and anything that had accumulated without being used should be donated, tossed, or whatever. Her friends were the same -- the feeling about the new year being an important time for a fresh start was strong.

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    3. I don't have anything stored in the cloud, except for my blog entries, and my big #1 project for the new year is to get them all on my hard drive, backed up, and also in hard copy. There's just too much unpredictable going on with the internet these days, and while I'm not particularly worried about someone hacking WordPress, I've seen everything from WP to Gmail go down too often in the past year.

      In fact, just before Christmas, all of Kroger's system went down, and they only could accept cash. Don't you know that led to chaos?!

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    4. There is a book out about the Swedish Death Cleaning. I think someone is trying to trying to cash in one Kondo's success.

      I was in a store once when their registers went down and they couldn't even take cash. I think it's wise to back up your blog backed up with hard copies. They's make a wonderful book or two or three.

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  7. What a job! I can understand how satisfying that must be. I've started collecting piles of things to shred, but it got put on hold over the holiday. We have binders of old investment statements (!?), tons of old mortgage docs, etc. Like you, I get caught up in going over them and it takes a lot of time, but I do enjoy reminiscing. The last time I cut them back I came to my tax returns the year I got divorced. I was a single parent of three making $26K/yr. I still don't know how I did that, but somehow it all worked out.

    My goal is going to be cutting back so I don't fill my "flex room" with all the crap that is sitting in my office right now, most of which I don't need...it is just still here from my working days. Stuff seems to accumulate to fill the space I have available. :-)

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    1. Your last line is especially true in my case. When I look back at all the hardships we went through it's no wonder I didn't have time to shred papers that should have been done a long time ago. Crap just kept coming at us for several years with barely enough time to breathe. Maybe we need to keep the paperwork from our hardships long enough to have those moments to be proud, like you with being a single mom and having it all work out in hindsight.

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  8. Good for you Jean! I’m starting with the papers in my office once I retire (2 more days!!!!) and I have 2 little plastic filing bins to fill with what I am keeping. I do keep a lot of stuff
    “In the cloud” as well - much handier to upload to my accountant than bringing in a wad of papers once a year.

    Deb

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    1. You were in the workforce much farther into the digital age so I'm not surprised your a 'cloud' person and with your long distance move coming it makes sense.

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  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. I accidental removed your comment! I shouldn't try to do stuff in the middle of the night on my kindle. Thank you for the kind words.

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  10. Popped over to your blog from Satisfying Retirement and have enjoyed reading your posts, including this one. My husband and I have been working on getting rid of stuff for a few years. We don’t have plans to move, but living in less clutter makes me happy. I look forward to reading more of your posts... you have a new follower.

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    1. Thank you! What you are doing is a wise decision. Life changes quickly and living with less as we age just takes the burden of our families in the worst-case scenarios. I wouldn't have had my husband's support to downsize while it was alive, you are lucky that your husband and you are on the same page.

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  11. Every word. I still have items of my mom's that I can't shred (she died in 2008) and old papers of my own that I am never sure if I will need. And some that are just sentimental. I really don't want my kids to have to deal with all the silly stuff I've decided to save, but one day that may be the case unless I overcome my wallows in nostalgia. We'll see. But I have done a lot of shredding in my time too -- and completely relate to the frustration of an overheated shredder! You inspire me to keep on clutter busting!

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    1. I wouldn't worry overly about not shredding things that are sentimental to you. Would you want to have some things like what you're saving if your mom had saved them? Some stuff becomes more nostalgic as it passes down a few generations and even if they don't keep them it helps kids to heal and say goodbye as they dispose of sentimental stuff from their parents. I still have a greeting card from my dad, for example.

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  12. You have certainly tackled a huge project. My mother had a desk like yours she had restored. I so wish I still had it. Someone out there will be thrilled to have the opportunity to own it.
    I recently tackled a paperwork reduction. There is still a large filing cabinet that needs to be cleared. Just amazing how much one person can accumulate.
    We have been bone chilling cold here. There are a lot of folks comparing this last storm to the epic one of 1949!

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    1. I hope so. I'm thinking the desk will be a hard sale because of its size. My brother expressed an interest in it last summer but now he's moving in with his girlfriend so that back up plan is history.

      I've been hearing about that storm that is coming our way. Stay warm!

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  13. Well, I just look at this and go OMG, what lies in store for me. I broke one shredder about 10 years ago and I don't think I have shred since. Do you know how much I admire you?

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    1. We could both be co-presidents of the Mutual Admiration Society. I really admire you and your enthusiasm for entertaining, decorating and travel.

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  14. I am amazed at your tenacity to reduce and declutter. You’re my hero. Two years after my husband died, I moved to a smaller house. I gave away tons of stuff, but still managed to move too much. I’ve been in my smaller home for 4 years and every year I make a promise to myself that “this year” I will declutter and clear my basement of unused stuff. I hope this year I follow through.

    I started cleaning out my filing cabinet last fall and the first fat folder I pulled was my husband’s medical record. Memories flooded my brain and I immmediately returned it to the file cabinet. My purging ended in less than 10 minutes with nothing accomplished.

    So,I am going to start in the basement with less sentimental and emotionally laden items. Hopefully early success will keep me on the straight and narrow! Good luck as you continue your efforts to reduce and declutter.

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    1. That sounds like a good place to start---with the less sentimental stuff. Or maybe alternate a sentimental downsizing with a non-sentimental purging.

      I had forgotten about all my husband's medical records---it's been almost 8 years---and it was quite a shock to find those fat envelopes. Even after all this time it was hard so waiting doesn't really help. But I'm SO glad I stuck with the project. You will be too.

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  15. We are definitely sharing parallels since I spent time shredding today too... not nearly as effectively as you, so I bow down to the Queen of Paper Shredding Projects! *winks* I really do have to tackle the File Cabinets, but like you, some of it could be highly Emotional and right now I'm trying to stay stoic. *LOL*

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    1. Ya, we have to pick our emotional battles, don't we, and right now you've got enough on you plate without adding to it.

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  16. I have the same roll top desk! It is beautiful, but heavy.

    I gave up shredding after destroying the machine with too much continuous use. Now, I sit by the outside portable fire pit, and enjoy the warmth as a year's worth of clutter goes up in smoke. It is satisfying.

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    1. I love that roll top!

      I wish I could have burned my papers in a fire pit. I'm sure that's a much better way to do a large quantity of papers, and quicker too.

      One of my friends reminded me afterward that there is a large commercial shredder that goes all over town shredding papers for businesses and they will do home owners papers for free in December and January. You can watch them dump them in and they're all gone in a two minutes. You just have to show up in the parking lot at their scheduled places.

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  17. Storing stuff on media that goes obsolete (unlike print on paper) does simplify downsizing decisions. I had no trouble letting go of all the drafts of my doctoral dissertation, since they were on 5 1/4" floppy disks (the ones that really were floppy) that no one had a reader for anymore.

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    1. I had the same experience when I found a bunchy of floppy disks of stuff I'd written. I was freeing not to have to decide what to do with it.

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  18. OMG. What a chore. I laughed at the 12-year-dead dog papers. And some of the other collections. While I did scan and download everything I could last year, I do think you are right about how often the digital sources we use can go out of date and unretrievable. I'm impressed with the amount of papers you went through. That is a difficult task.

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    1. It was a chore but I had no real choice other than to put it off or tackle the biggest sort job on my list to accomplish.

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