Sunday, June 25, 2006

Keep it or toss it?

I discovered a new physical law yesterday: a pile of junk, once disturbed, will always increase in volume, regardless of how many items are removed from that pile.

My friends came over yesterday to help me move heavy items, since I had canceled the plans for painting due to the forecast of rain. The heavy items in question were six footlockers filled with books. These are heavy, heavy things, and as the basement/bedroom/storage area/laundry room where they were being stored wasn't configured to make it easy to get these things out, I chose another approach: out through the sliding cellar window.

These footlockers were themselves buried under storage crates and clothesbaskets and loose piles of things that all needed to be moved first. We got the footlockers out of the window and over to the new house in no time at all, and so we had plenty of time for touring the house and shopping for a bookcase (my friends bought me a bookcase as a housewarming gift!) and going out to lunch (which my friends also paid for!) After returning to the house to drop off the bookcase and tour the parts we had missed the first time, my friends headed back down to their place and I headed up to my friend's cousin's granddaughter's book signing. This was followed by a stop at a nearby cookout for some pink lemonade (25 cents a cup) and then I zipped back into town for 4:00 Mass.

After which I had to confront the mess that I had made in getting out the footlockers.

Cleaning this up consisted of several parts: staging additional items near the window for easy removal, deep-storing items that wouldn't be needed for a while, discarding or salvaging items that had become ruined by long contact with the basement floor, and cleaning up certain other messes of which I shall not speak. In the end I was up until after midnight shuffling the piles and hauling out the junk.

I came across a treasure trove of old receipts and pay stubs and letters from friends. The receipts I shredded, the pay stubs and letters I saved. I'm not sure why I saved the pay stubs. While waiting for my PC to boot up today (after several tries it's still not right; I'm writing this entry in WordPad and hoping I don't run into any problems when I try to post it to Blogger) I leafed through last week's Newsweek and came across the "My Turn" piece called "C'mon, America, Fire Up Those Shredders". In this essay Lisa Johnston bemoans what she calls "infonoia", the fear of discarding any little scrap of paper because it might someday turn out to be useful, or important, or even required. Better to save every scrap of paper than to throw away the one which we might need later.

Infonoia isn't all in your head. I compulsively save all of my emails at work in an easily-searchable form for those two or three times a day when I need to look up something somebody said last week or last month or last year or in March of 2001. My mom is currently collating receipts and records of all of her expenses to allow her to appeal a decision made by Social Security to begin withholding money from her monthly check due to a bookkeeping error on their part made ten years ago.

When my father died last year, my mom was advised that she would be receiving a reduced portion of his Social Security payments based on a specific formula. When these payments began arriving, they were considerably less than promised. After several months of fruitless calls to Social Security, with repeated promises of action within specific time periods, Social Security finally determined the source of the discrepancy: Seems they had been overpaying my father's Social Security payments for ten years. After his death, the payments were recalculated based on a reduced version of the correct figure. But because my mom brought the error to their attention, they have decided to recoup the past overpayment by withholding it from future payments. Not all of it, mind you, just three years, three months, and three days' worth - the maximum permitted by law. Had she not brought it up and forced them to investigate, they might never have discovered the error. She is appealing the decision, but to do this she has to prove that her expenses will make this withholding an undue burden. Given the beauracratic sluggishness she has encountered so far, I have no doubt that the appeals process will be completed sometime around her 99th birthday.

So, keep it or toss it? I don't know. I hauled out two garbage bags full of damp-ruined old clothes and shredded credit card receipts from ten years ago. I wonder if I've tossed anything I should have kept?

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