Too Much Paper – OR – Reasons why Retention Schedules Kick Ass

This past weekend, the stars seemed to converge in which I took stock of the state of my apartment.  Everywhere I looked, there was paper everywhere.  Opened mail. Unopened mail. Important documents.  My dad always taught me to keep track of my personal records (i.e. bank statements, student loan paperwork).  He strongly encouraged me to keep files and organize everything when I was a teenager.  This was something I only half-heartedly attempted because I was a teenager.  I thought it was lame and the last person I wanted to take advice from was my dad.  Gotta love those teenage years!

In many ways, you could say that my dad started me on the path to becoming an archivist and pseudo-records manager.  But you could say that my dad was an archivist in the since that he wanted to keep everything and get rid of nothing.  Seeing the stacks of paper that seem to grow each year, in which my father insisted was organized, I adopted the records manager approach over the years. I wanted efficiency in dealing with my current records rather than continue in the archivist mentality to save everything and then weed through it.  I saved documents but every few years, I’d weed it down and dispose of the things that were deemed unnecessary to keep.

It had been several years since I had done a review of my personal records.  And, I was long overdue as my portable filing case was bulging with excess paper.  So there, on Sunday morning, I went through my papers.  Here are some of the things I learned along the way as I took my trip down memory lane:

1.) The oldest document I had dated back to 2005.  And, it was a copy of my undergraduate housing assignment.  Really? At some point, I thought I had to have a copy of it and schlep it with me all these years.

2.) Mistakes I made in my late teenage years and early 20s.  So many credit card bills.  Unfortunately, I was that stupid freshman kid you hear about that signs up for a credit card in order to get the promotional gift.  For example, I signed up for a credit card to get a free Simpsons T-shirt.  I know you’re shaking your head, but I really wanted that shirt.  And, when I got it, I wore it pretty much once a week for 2 1/2 years.  That’s dedication.

3.) School related mementos. I came across my GRE scores from the first and second time I took that test.  And, I still wince every time I see my original scores.  Let’s just say they weren’t super high.  I found copies of letter of recommendations that I submitted to graduate school.  Reading what professors thought of 22-year old me really warmed my heart and made me a bit nostalgic.  Lastly, I had in my possession 10 copies of my undergrad transcripts! One or two would be fine but 10! I have no idea what 22 year old me was thinking.

This trip down memory lane showed me that retention schedules are the way to go when reviewing and disposing of my personal records.   The process of going through my records wasn’t easy.  I wasn’t entirely sure of what I sure of what I should keep and for how long.  When the bulk of your documents are between 2006-2008, it’s still far enough back that you can get rid of  it (think: receipt for standard car maintenance) but important enough to keep it (think: student loan related paperwork).  How do you make those decisions?  And, how could I continue to make those decisions every couple of years without some guidance?

I got introduced to retention schedules during my Information and Records Management class during graduate school.  And, in knowing their purpose and how they work, I’ve decided that, when dealing with my personal records, retention schedules kick ass.  This idea is still in the beginning stages but the more I think about it the better it sounds.  I don’t want to spend another future Sunday or Saturday poring for hours over records that are 6+ years old.  I’d rather take a look at the ole retention schedule and keep and dispose records accordingly.  After all, isn’t an hour of my time to create a retention schedule better than spending 5 hours reviewing every shred of paper I collect from this point until the next time I decide to do this…..say, in 7 years?   Just saying.

The shredder and the records to be “disposed of”

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About Ashley S

I'm an archivist!
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