Today is April 16th. Many people filed their income taxes yesterday. Some people know that this year the official date has been extended to the 18th, so they are waiting until Monday. And others, I do not know how many, will file for their own extensions, and complete the process in August, or even October.
2011 is the first time my taxes have been finished promptly, in, well, ages. I said this to my accountant when I signed the e-filing release on Thursday. “Oh no,” she replied, “We did it one other time in the last 15 years.” It feels like forever.
In a parallel process, I have finally sorted through all my financial records, put them into boxes, and stored them in the garage. The 1980s and 90s got a box each. The 2000s required two. These papers have not seen order in their lifetime. I put those boxes in the garage and I looked at them.
To some people, 30 years of financial records might seem like clutter. Not here. Those boxes look to me like flags pinned on a battle map, representing territories under control. Bah to all of you, portfolio statements, checking registers, tax files. Surrender your place in the back of my thoughts, reminding me always of ways in which I failed to take charge. Now I win.
I came into my inheritance when I was 21. It wasn’t huge, by any means, but made me even so into a woman of some substance. Substance I didn’t understand. When a locus of power that you do not understand enters your life, you’re thrown to its wolves. One way or another.
I used to try to balance my checking account, and fail. When I ran out of money, I’d just overdraw my account. Someone at the bank in New York would call me.
“We will need to cover your check. We plan to sell X or Y or Z.” They’d request my approval.
“OK,” I’d say.
Eventually they stopped asking and just sent letters telling me what they’d done. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I have to say again, the lack of comprehension created an underlying anxiety that undermined a good deal of what could have been fun, a source of charitable giving, or a foundation for my own creative enterprise.
I lived next to my inheritance as though it was a friendly dragon I did not own, providing reliable heat, but never allowing a ride on its back.
All things considered, I was pretty responsible. I didn’t fritter it away on drugs, debauchery, or even clothing. The inheritance has trailed me all this time, and remains, failing but good-natured, to help me in this time of enforced retirement. Some day, when I am brave, when nothing matters enough to fear, which is how I envision old age, I might write a true history. Get a forensic accountant to trace the path of what came in and what went out.
But for now, I’m just going to pass by those boxes and breathe in the smell of cardboard.
I am, as I’ve said before, no minimalist. In my closet hang denim work overalls I wore in the early 70s, when we all thought the Revolution was nigh. I store boxes upon boxes of photos documenting my children’s bathtime. They took a lot of baths. It was something to do in those evenings.
Clutter to me is that stuff that bites you and bothers you and gets in the way. Those things I allow to keep me company are not clutter. Not the books under my coffee table, nor Asian betelnut holders on sideboards, nor silver cigarette boxes here and there.
I filed my taxes. I boxed up my records. I am waiting now to see what fills that previously troubled space.