Happy Herbivore Blog

Minimalist Monday: What Paper Docs to Keep & Shred (How to Purge Financial Clutter & Manage Household Records)

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Minimalist

Now that tax season is upon us, I thought I'd share a snippet from my first minimalist book, Minimalist Monday: Declutter Your Way to a Zen Home. (You can order it in all electronic forms (PDF, Kindle, Nook, etc) here.)

Admittedly, weeding through stacks of papers isn't what I would call a good time, but it's so worth it! (It shouldn't take more than an hour or so, either).

Tip from the book: Make it a weeknight event with your favorite bottle of wine, or movie. AND DO IT NOW WHILE IT IS STILL COLD OUTSIDE.

In Zen Home, I detail my own struggle and journey with keeping paper records.

Spoiler alert: I have been on both sides of the spectrum: retaining nothing to the point where doing so hurt me, as well as being a total record keeping hypochondriac in law school. I came back to reality just in time to get married, and then Scott's papers merged with mine. (Double the trouble, but not double the fun!).

Even as a "minimalist" I knew we had too much and that I could recycle/purge most of it, yet I skipped this project for any other project I could think of. I mean, who wants to spend their free time organizing a file cabinet? Especially since there is such a small environmental reward. It wasn't like cleaning my closet, or de-cluttering the living room, or even removing stuff from my kitchen counters. All those things had shimmering, beautiful results... but my file cabinet would look the same. At least on the outside. Who would even notice my efforts!? Ugh, why bother!?

So I did nothing. For years. I just kept adding to the mound all the while justifying it under the saying, "Better safe than sorry, right?"

Our breaking point finally came about a year ago during a move. There wasn't enough room in the car for all our files. Our new home was also more than 8 hours away, so a second trip was out of the question.

Scott tried dumping the contents from the boxes into a trash bag, but it still didn't fit.

We started scanning through for items we could “purge.” Pay stubs from a decade ago seemed like a good start!

We pulled out just enough to get the (still oversized) bag in the car and called it a win -- until the trash bag started making me crazy. Every time I opened my closet there it was, staring at me. At least tucked away in the old boxes I could pretend it was organized. Now it was just a big lump of chaos.

My resolve? I tried to organize it a little by putting it into smaller boxes and bags (see below). That didn't help ease my anxiety, though, and before long I was looking for a bigger box. The truth was I needed to purge NOT "organize."

Finally, a day came where I needed a saved paper. Two hours and a nasty paper cut later, I realized I was wasting far more time going on a paper safari every few months than I'd “lose” if I just organized it once and for all (and maybe purged some more while I was at it).

We purged *and* we went ultra minimalist — paperless.

Of the documents that “remained” after the big purge, they were all scanned then shredded, with a few hard copy exceptions.

(If you're worried about losing your digital files, you can pay for cloud backup services. (We previously used Carbonite for personal and business, now we use CrashPlan)).

If you don't want to do all the scanning yourself (and I don't blame you), there are several document scanning services like NeatScan that will do it for you (and the fees are reasonable).

I've also seen deals on Groupon for scanning services. In fact, I had all of our family photos scanned (some 3,000 of them) through a Groupon deal.

Of course, you don't have to scan! Not all minimalists are virtual :)

If you don't scan, however, you probably want to photocopy your receipts. Most of the receipts these days fade in a few weeks and become utterly useless.

For details on what receipts to keep (and how long to keep them) as well as my super easy system for receipt keeping and maintence, she the paper records chapter in Zen Home. Note: I have paper and virtual management systems.

Generally: Keep receipts for products that come with a warranty (as long as the warranty is valid), and any receipt that is needed for tax purposes (retain it for three years, even if the warranty has expired) and big ticket items (for insurance purposes).

I recommend writing the warranty expiration date and tax expiration date at the top of the receipt for easy navigation.

All other receipts, including ATM receipts, can be purged after 30 days with some exceptions:

Paycheck Stubs — Keep for one year (shred after you have filed your taxes and compared your W2s).

Utility Bills — Keep for one year unless you're using them as a deduction (3 yrs).

Cancelled Checks/Bank Statements — Keep for one year unless needed for tax purposes (3 yrs).

Credit Card Statements — Keep until satisfied/paid off (or min. 1 year), unless needed for tax purposes (3 yrs).

Quarterly Statements — Hold all quarterly statements for investments and mortgages (or other) until you receive your annual statement. If you sell your investment, hold on to the statement for three years after the sale.

IRS/Tax Returns — The IRS can audit you for no reason for up to three years after you file a tax return. Thus, you want to keep all your tax papers for three years. If you omit 25% of your gross income, the IRS has 6 years. If you fail to file a tax return, there is no limit. The IRS can come knocking 25 years from now. (Keep W2 forums until you start drawing Social Security).

For all other documents and their mandatory "shelf life" check out the paper records chapter in Zen Home.

One last minimalist step: Go paperless with billing and statements. If you need a bill for tax purposes, you can download it. Typically, you can access financial statements online for several years. Or you can make a note to download them each month, or once a year for all 12 months (what I do).

Automatic payments are also a great way to avoid paper piles! Some institutions will offer a lower rate for automated payments, too! I love getting minimalist with my bills and interest. Get yourself off junk mail lists, too. Resources in Zen Home.

My 24 Hours Unplugged (My Digital Sabbatical)

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

The moment after I posted yesterday's blog about taking 24hours "off" (and then cross-posting it to HH's Facebook and Twitter) I found myself unable to close my laptop.

I felt the anxiety rising in my chest. I was sweating to the point where I needed to change my shirt. In true OCD fashion I checked all my email, all the support email, my twitter stream, and Facebook one last time -- making sure everything was "okay" there was no crisis or drama, no unanswered customer support ticket or email.

When I cleared the decks I ran out of my excuses to still be on my laptop so I closed it and said, outloud, "well, that was it."

Scott was in the middle of typing something.

He looked at me and I gave him the stink eye, and then glared trying to mentally communicate "you know what you're supposed to do now."

Message was received because he said "I'm in the middle of something. Let me finish. How do I get roped into these things?"

Less than a minute later my iPhone rang. It was my sister. I was confused whether or not I could answer it -- would that be breaking the rule? Was I failing a minute in? Was my OCD *this* bad?

Then I justified answering saying, "well maybe it's an emergency."

"Hey sis!"

"Oh, good! I caught you before you unplugged. Just saw your post on my phone. I'm going to do it too."

"Sis, I'm failing. I... I couldn't even not answer my phone."

"Is talking on the phone cheating?"

"I don't know... is it?"

We then got into a semi-long discussion over whether it was "cheating" and we agreed that the point of the event (at least, in our interpretation) was to get offline and have meaningful interactions with people. To stop being glued to a computer screen or the Internet. Plus, as my sister said, "If you were home, I would have called your landline, but you're in Wyoming. I think as long as you use your phone as a phone, and not a mini computer, you're fine."

We then started talking about whether or not it was 'kosher' to use our kindles. Both noting how we had so many books we wanted to read, and this was our excuse to sit down and read, but, we didn't have real books.

We concluded this was also acceptable.

It was great to talk to my sister. We talk with some regularity -- there's always family gossip to share -- but we had no where else to be. We had nothing else to do. We just had unlimited time to talk.

Eventually, Scott wrapped whatever project he was working on and said "let's go to dinner."

I left my phone at home, having no need for it.

Instead of checking email, or scrolling through Facebook or Twitter on our phones, my husband and I had to talk at dinner. Which we do usually, but if dinner takes a really long time, as it did last night, we usually cave to our phones.

I also went to take a picture of my dish for Instagram, and Facebook, as I've been sharing all my culinary delights this trip... and couldn't. I had no phone.


After dinner we came home and Scott suggested turning on the TV, or watching a movie -- until we realized both of those were through the Internet.

We only ever watched things on Hulu or Netflix. Was that cheating?

After two blood orange margaritas I didn't care and went to bed with my kindle.

It was there in the quiet of my bed that my OCD returned and I started obsessing. I started thinking about one tweet in particular, wondering what happened with that. Was I going to wake up to drama in the morning--- but worse! I WOULDN'T EVEN KNOW. BECAUSE I HAD TO BE OFFLINE ALL DAY.

I'm amazed I went to sleep.

Admittedly, I thought about cheating a few times.

But I told myself "you can do this. YOU CAN DO THIS."

The next morning I got up and unable to OCD over my email, I OCD'd over my nails. I gave myself 5 manicures.

I wish I was kidding.

Eventually Scott was up and I was dragging him out the door for bagels, anything to get my mind off it. We also needed toilet paper. He'd used the last.

After breakfast and a run for toilet paper I was back in the cabin. Giving the pugs more attention than they really wanted. Wondering if I should paint my nails again.

Scott saw me with the nail polish and threatened to open all the windows, saying he was still high from my... artwork earlier in the day.

That's when I realized Scott had been huddled in the corner for about 4 minutes.

"What are you doing?"

no reply.

"Scott, what are you doing in a corner?"

He was checking Twitter.

I started to feel better about myself :)

A little while later we left to make an hour drive to an air field in Idaho.

I flew a plane :)

Well I flew with a pilot who let me do most of the flying when we were in air.

It was marvelous.

I took pictures with my phone (when the pilot was flying), which felt like cheating but I had no other camera...

When we drove home, I was delighted to see I had only an hour left of my sabbatical.


In the closing moments of my hour, I realized I was way more conntected to technology -- especially my phone and the internet, than I ever imagined. I don't even like my iPhone all that much. I have no apps, for example -- except the standard ones plug the kindle app, and maybe fandango.

It kinda creeped me out.

I also decided, before even logging on, that I was going to start setting a timer each day. How many hours I could work. When the timer ran out, it ran out -- so be it.

I hope to eventually reduce that allowance.

When I finally went back online I was sweating with butterflies. I was full of terror. In some ways, it was worse than when I closed my laptop.

My inbox only had 18 emails. I wasn't sure if that was good or bad.

Then I logged on to HH's Facebook to post a picture of my flight -- and to say "Hey, I'm back!"

I then got busy reading comments and started crying. The support and understanding hit my heart in places -- corners -- I didn't know previously existed.

This one particular comment brought tears down my face:

I (we) love you -- and thank you!

I'm Unplugging for 24 Hours (And It's The Scariest Thing I've Done)

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

At the last hour, I'm making a monumental decision: I'm unplugging.

(for 24 hours)

I was scrolling through my personal Facebook feed during my lunch break when I noticed a friend posting about National Day of Unplugging.

[Editorial note: How embarassing, I didn't even know today was March 7. I was like... oh this is interesting... when is it... *opens calendar on laptop* *mouth drops* gulp, it's today.]

I started panicking. No joke. In that very moment I started sweating. I felt my armpits get hot. My throat went dry and my body tightened into a dead stiffness. I had the urge to vomit...

And that was it, I decided to take part.

Since starting Happy Herbivore in 2006, I have never taken a day off. I mean yes, I have had periods where I was on an airplane, or my internet on the island went out with a storm, but someone was still usually keeping an eye on HH for me.

It wasn't until last month that I finally, in SEVEN years, let a day go by without a new blog post.

I try to be as honest about this as I can: I have OCD.

Really, really bad OCD.

I've been in therapy for almost two years now, working on how I can, of all things, work less. How I can stop obsessing and being paranoid.

When I first started getting treatment I blogged about it. I openly talked about how I used to check my rank on Amazon hourly (sometimes waking in the middle of the night freaking out). How I cried and obsessed over mean spirited emails for weeks. How I would check sales reports twice an hour, and freak out when I lost followers or likes, or sales were down by $5, among other obsessive compulsive behaviors.

(I also micromanaged like crazy, double and triple checking my assistant's work. As you might have guessed, I burned through a lot of assistants. I was an absolute, TOTAL, control freak.)

I remember telling my therapist in our first session, "I don't know! I have to check! I have to! How else will I know if something is going wrong! I have to know! I have to know so I can fix it! OMG! What if someone leaves a nasty comment on my FB page!"

I was babbling mostly, but there was some kernel of truth to my words.

It wasn't easy to... improve

but I have.

I am comfortable delegating and almost never check my assistants' work, unless they ask me to. I don't go on Amazon anymore (authors: do not go on your Amazon, ever), and I can't remember the last time I checked a sales report, which I think is both good and bad.

I've tried to live with "do your best, and if it's meat to be, it will be." attitude that my yoga teacher drills into my head every time he sees me. (Yoga has done wonders for my OCD-- I can get out of my head when I'm in a pose and the world gets quiet).

Since starting therapy, I obsess a lot less. I am very proud of the progress I have made and my team has noticed. My publisher has noticed. My parents and friends have noticed.

In therapy, I finally admitted a very honest truth: Because I worked so hard, and for so long, while being so pitifully broke, I developed a fear that if I took a nap, or I didn't post something ("keep Instragram/Facebook/Twitter, etc well fed" were my words), that it will all go to s#!t.

I felt like I was that little Dutch boy with his finger in the hole, and if I removed my finger, a flood would engulf us all.

This is ridiculous. At least, I hope it is ridiculous.

For all the progress I've made, I'm still always connected out of fear -- even when doing so hurts me. Even when I sit and cry and scream that I want to work less. That I need to work less. (I really do).

My therapist pointed out to me how someone else -- an actress specifically -- basically "disapppeared" for months and it was fine.

I retorted quickly that she was a multi-millionaire, so she had the luxury of "disappearing". I do not. I have to keep my business going because it supports me... and not just me, but my family. My husband. My dogs. My team of employees. Business can't die! I have responsibilites! How nice would it be to be a millionaire and not have to worry about turning a profit and selling your stuff!

My rant continued on for several more minutes...

After crying about money, I cried about how she was mega famous. Everyone knew her name. I'm no A-list celebrity.

I then called my therapist a buffoon and questioned why I ever listened to anything he said.

(NOT my proudest moment).

(and I did this name calling in my mind, never said it to his face, though I suppose he's reading this now...)

I calmed down eventually, and my therapist said, "Maybe you should let things go off for a whole week. You will feel better when you see your business did not die."

But I had no faith. And thought that was the most crazy thing anyone could ever say. "Clearly you don't own a business!" and with that, I walked right out the door.

Yet, despite all my monumental improvements (and I did go back to my therapist...eventually), I still feel the urge to hyperventilate when I have to get on a plane and they don't have wifi.

Even on vacation I'm dialing my assistants, asking "is FB okay?"

I even write some 20 to 50 possible status updates for them to upload in the case I disappear, or my phone dies, or I have no internet.

(Yes, everything you see is crafted by me, though sometimes when I'm on a plane, other people post it for me).

I once didn't check email for 48 hours (because I had food poisoning and was physically unable) and hyperventilated that I had 168 emails unread (and also worried everyone thought I was a capital B for not answering).

I recognize this is crazy.

But then I justify my crazy a la "but my fans love me because I'm available!"

I can't keep being so crazy. I need to just do it. No time like the present... and a social, public challengs...

SO I made the monumentous decision to partake in this unplug event.

I then told Scott, and the pugs, they had to unplug as well because, if I see technology around, I won't be able to help myself. I will have to look... check in... make sure everything is okay.

If you'd like to join me, visit the National Day of Unplugging website.