How many boxes of old papers do you have in your house? Are they shoeboxes, small plastic tubs, bulging manilla folders? How far back do they go?
I ask because I was attempting to do my taxes and, well, as a freelancer, it’s always a chore. And as I amassed my various slips and receipts, both on paper and in my disastrous email inbox, I was considering what I would have done without a permanent place to put all of this.
My tax documents have trickled in over several months. They come to me through online services and in the USPS. My bank sent me three of the same one, for some reason. It’s a chore to sift through them and categorize them.
And if I’m being honest, if I had to make hard decisions about what to take with me — if, say, my rent was going up and I couldn’t afford to stay in my house — I probably wouldn’t prioritize all of these documents. Which, as a result, would mean I couldn’t file my taxes. Which would mean that I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the tax credits or potential refunds that lawmakers tout as a financial salvation for the lower class.
For a society that’s going increasingly paperless, there’s still an awful lot of paperwork that people are expected to fill out, file and keep for their records. Many applications for jobs are still on paper — and so are the resumes that are supposed to be attached. Banking is still largely conducted on paper for many people. And, of course, there are all the papers — proof of identity, wages and residency — that are necessary for accessing the social safety net.
Which is to say, we ask a lot of people, even people who don’t have a lot. And for those of us who live inside, we rarely think about the burden of maintaining documents.
If you’re carrying your life on your back, or living out of backpacks and suitcases on couches, documents are difficult to manage.
I’ve never seen any proposals for storage solutions for folks on the move.
What if we were to provide safe deposit boxes, or keep files onsite at social services offices?
What if we went out of our way to help folks, especially lower-income and homeless folks, organize their many documents?
On a related note, many libraries and city buildings have tax prep assistance available. If you’re looking for help getting your taxes in, check out the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance website or call 1-800-906-9887.
You may need some paperwork handy, though.
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer living in Portland.
Read more of the Mar. 2-8, 2022 issue.