July 31, 2011

What is important? (re: documents)

I'm staring at a large pile of paper documents, trying to decide what to do.

I few years ago I was proud of myself because I scanned hundreds of filed documents. I saved a ton of physcial space and had all of my records at instant recall. I also switched most of my correspondence from paper to electronic. All great, right?

The paper keeps on coming. No matter how hard I try to stop it, some companies believe I can't rely on electronic versions of their materal. Receipts arrive, etc. So I stare at a new pile of documents, trying to decide whether to re-invest in the somewhat ardous scanning process?

Here is a great example. Car documents. I've scanned every document I've ever received on my eight year old Acura. Everything. Reasons:

  • Because I can
  • You never know when you are going to need those documents, right?
  • The next owner of the car would really like to have this information

I've bought a few used cars, and in one case, I received a similar packet of all the work done on the car over the years. Invaluable information when you are in turn debugging problems.

But I've been thinking of the process by which I buy and sell cars. I have almost never sold a car to an individual. I always go to the dealer with my oldest car, having sucked the majority of the value out of the vehicle, and ask them to deal with it. Guess what? They apparently find my fastidious record keeping to be useless. They don't ask for it. Even if they asked for it, would you give it to them? They'd probably send an adjuster in to review the material with the express purpose of lowering the value of the trade-in.

I'm now going through the process of trying to determine what is really important in terms of document retention. What do I really need to keep, and what can head for the shredder? What processes work for you?

At the macro level, I cringe when thinking about the amount of paper filed in drawers in the millions of American homes. Is it needed? For whom? and how often?

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