What Now? Lifehacking at 50+

The Dread Shred Project

For years I dreaded April 15 – tax time. Not because I have to do the taxes; the husband does that, with his uber-geek powers and the arcane secrets of TurboTax. No, I dreaded the Ides of April because it was a clear, yearly reminder to purge the household of all the old records.

(Laws vary from state to state about keeping some records, but the basic rule is that you can (and should) get rid of records more than seven years old. Of course, there are exceptions; some stuff needs to be kept in perpetuity, and some can be tossed right away. You should check with your accountant for clear instructions on what to keep and what to divest.)

So each April 15, until last year, I would scour the house for stuff eight years old or older. Then I would sit on the office floor with my little shredder and feed the files, page by page, into the shredder’s toothy maw and watch as the papers were cut into little ribbons.

Sometimes it took an entire evening. Sometimes it took two evenings, or three. I’d stand up with an aching back, a mess of shredding to bag and take to the curb, and an overheated shredder. That’s when I started to resent the whole effort, and titled it the Dread Shred Project.

Last year, because we had just moved into this house, I didn’t do it. Partly because I couldn’t find the old records I needed to shred, and partly because I was just too exhausted from moving and unpacking to gather everything, separate out the pages that needed obliterating, and shove them one by one into the machine.

You guessed it. This year, I very responsibly went through the whole place and gleaned everything that wanted destroying. In addition to the (now two years’ worth) old records, there was extra stuff we had identified for disposal during the move.

I looked at the stack.

It was huge. Two cartons, full.

The thought of shredding that mass – and the hours it would take – sent me to the (yes, hard-copy, low-tech) phone book to let my fingers do the walking. The yellow pages aren’t really intuitive; the listing I needed wasn’t under Shredding, it was under Office Document Destruction. The company I chose is NAID AAA Certified, and has stringent security measures.

Took the cartons to the facility. Once I found it (these places aren’t in the nice, commercial retail neighborhoods) I was let into a fenced parking lot and instructed where to park. Went inside, told the person at the desk what I needed and she called for a Team. It turns out, they have to have more than one person pick up your material so that no one person is alone with your stuff at any given time.

The team took the stuff from my car, hauled it inside, and with me watching dumped it into their industrial shredder, which atomized the records in just a few seconds. They gave me a Certificate of Destruction, and I paid the person at the desk.

This cost less than twenty-five bucks.

Worth it? You bet. No aching back, no overheated shredder, and two more cartons of unneeded old records out of my house. Plus, the peace of mind of knowing that all those pages with valuable identity stuff are powder now.

Do you get rid of your old paper? How often? And how do you do it?

Would you consider using a commercial operation to shred your stuff?

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