Privilege Blog

The Day I Put My Inheritance In The Garage, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:52am

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.

30 Responses

  1. Oh Lisa, the clutter that fills my mind must be banished…and if I can box it up and take it to the basement all the better!

    Come over and enter my fashionable Giveaway from The French Basketeer…

    Art by Karena

  2. It seems we look at clutter in a similar way. If physical objects do not seem ordered, or as they should be, then it produces significant mental clutter that I find troubling. But if the the objects are where they belong, it isn’t clutter at all, just artifacts or triggers for the mind.

    This is perfect for a Saturday morning Miss Privilege. :)

  3. I’m very impressed with your mastering the clutter of an adulthood of finacial records. At some point I just shredded or threw away most of my records. There were too many unhappy memories attached to them.
    My small and modest flat holds a few items that make me happy today, not items of clutter that evoke the poor choices that I made decades ago.
    Yeah, if I only knew when I was 30 what I know now…

  4. I feel that I must keep my stuff to the minimum and in order. Order in my case does not mean that everything must be piled perfectly; I do like an artsy small “mess” with the few things I have. By no means am I a perfectionist. Life just is so much more simple when everything has it´s own place, and there is a place for everything;)

  5. I live by William Morris’ quote and have nothing in my home unless it is useful or beautiful. Inheritances, ah, it almost caused murder in our family – the tale could never appear in my blog!

  6. Dear Lisa, I’m impressed with your organisation!

    I tend to get rid of paperwork after a few years. Ditto Tabitha on William Morris’ wise words.

    I hope you’re having a great weekend xx

  7. Grrr…. I had to go through my records from the mid-1990s to find the basis on something. A bond that, like a sucker, I held to maturity.

    I also did my younger son’s return. He’s a senior and we sold almost the last of his funds to pay his tuition. He doesn’t owe but needed to file soas to avoid threatening letters.

    All those years of driving old cars bought us tutitions for both children. I’m afraid the most significant thing I’ve got to leave my kids is degrees with no accompaning debt.

    Is the absence of debt the new wealth?

    1. I’m afraid the most significant thing I’ve got to leave my kids is degrees with no accompaning debt.

      As someone who had to borrow money for college (60% of my first year’s salary before student loan interest was deductible) and who paid for grad school from the savings from 5 years of work, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, small apartments, used furniture and a crummy car, let me say that leaving your kids a degree with no debt is a wonderful gift.

      People with no college debt have freedom. They can take a job just because they like it, even if it doesn’t pay very much. When you have debt, you are a prisoner to it.

      PS Dave Ramsey says the paid off mortgage is the new BMW.

    2. OMG! I love that: The absence of debt is the new wealth. Perfect! I have many friends who are certainly more flush than I am, but who also carry such debt as I cannot conceive of. While I do have a certain amount of my own debt, I am on my way to being debt-free. And, yes, I drive an older Volvo.

  8. These semi-personal posts of yours are my favourites. The others, of course, are essential, as they give you the gravitas that makes us want to know more about you, but I’ve always fallen for the hinted detail.

  9. I have travelled the country and move easily between many different worlds… except the one of which you write.
    All the world’s I know see financial records as insurance against the inevitable personal downfall, or evidence that should be destroyed in the event of the inevitable personal downfall.
    That dragon with whom you cohabited with was the same one that flew around torching the villages I lived in… at least we thought so.
    I do appreciate your pulling back the curtain a bit. It helps me grow.

    1. This fascinates me too! Very different from my own upbringing.

      For some reason I assumed all people of means naturally inherited their family’s knowledge of and confidence with money management… by osmosis?

      I’m sorry you felt anxious about this gift, and wonder if it that feeling is common among inheritance recipients. If so, I wonder why more financial management information isn’t passed down as well (and more generally, why money can be so hard to talk about for many different people).

      In any case, your book and the “forensic accounting” (also love that phrase!) will be fascinating to read whenever you’re ready to write it! Maybe under a pen name?

  10. I have come to bring you a message. This is the spirit of your Grandmother speaking. She says to you: Dearest, now that you have told the world where your financial records are stored, please assure me that your garage is triple locked, day and night. With love, Grandmama

  11. I love, love, love the description/image of your inheritance as, “… a friendly dragon I did not own, providing reliable heat, but never allowing a ride on its back.” I too came into a not huge inheritance at 21… and I haven’t touched it (I’m only 26- so not such a feat). I feel an odd disassociation from it… yet, I do feel the warmth (a dragon’s fire is a fantastic descriptor) that comes from knowing the fire is there.

  12. Only you could create poetry out of a tax filing. Truly. Brava!

    (And I’m with you on the un-clutter; I just organized a box of California myself today and am feeling settled now that it’s tidied & “home”.)

  13. Lisa…
    you are fortunate to have both an inheritance and a garage!

    In the past when I have overdrawn my account I have experienced moments of panic, which has taught me to live within my means.

    Clutter control is ongoing here…

  14. Ha, our annual records fit into a shoebox and when I have two or three shoebox, I moved them into one of these larger boxes…where they are then filed into a deep closet. As for unbidden money, my children fell into some when their father was deceased. I was to oversee it for them, but felt so conflicted about it, that I simply saved it…and they frittered it away.

  15. Clutter happens to have a very tight grip on me right now and I have to do something about it. Before we landed in Atlanta, we moved a great deal, never staying in one place longer than two years or so. Moving helped me keep the clutter under control.

    We have been in this house for almost seven years and we are bursting at the seams it feels. We even thought about buying a bigger house, but why? We don’t need more space, we need less clutter!

    Congrats on getting yours under control and wish me luck!

  16. When I cam into a (very) small inheritance, I took the opportunity to make a life change. Quit my job, moved to another state – a completely new environment. It lasted for three years, the inheritance is gone, and I moved back to where I am now. Some might say I should done something more fiscally responsible, but I have brilliant memories and absolutely no regrets.

    I learned to shake away clutter (that can happen when you move all your worldly goods cross-country and back again). I’m not as good as I would like to be, but I’m getting better. It’s like a well written story….you keep only what moves the story forward and let go of everything else.

  17. TPP – And do you also find paperwork to be by far the worst offender?

    Belle – We should start a lecture series. What I Wish I Had Known When I Was 30. I couldn’t shred this. I would have felt it had won.

    Mette – Interesting, I hadn’t thought of that. You keep less, but what you keep you allow to mess up, artistically.

    Tabitha – Useful, beautiful, or, I find, full of important memories. Murder. Thane of Cawdor!

    Christina – If I’d ever gotten rid of anything the organization wouldn’t have felt so necessary:).

  18. RoseAG – Absence of debt is the new wealth. Indeed. Well said. And I hope you don’t feel bad about holding the bond. I mean, we’re all suckers in one way or another. I suspect that you, capable of doing your younger son’s tax return, are less of one than many.

    Mise – Thank you. How cute, if you think about it, that my gravitas comes from seersucker shoes, and my musings on taxes and inheritance are the less grounded.

    Brohammas – As does your comment help me grow. I can assure you, that to me, growing up like this, it seemed normal. This post, to me, was one of the most personal of all. And yet I can see that for many it’s foreign enough as to be alien. It is only now that I am finally beginning to understand the impact of privilege. I may never finish the attempt. It appears that many of us misunderstood the dragon, from many sides. Thank you very much for writing.

    Flo – Oh. Hmm. Yes. Please tell Grandmama she’s right. Good thing I got a new automatic garage door with a key code, isn’t it:). By the way, she called us all “Dear.” How did you know?

    Amy – Thank you. Clearly it’s one of those weird phenomenon instantly recognizable to those who have gone through it, and completely odd if you have not. Good for you, not touching it. Learn to manage your money and your career first. Then have at it, however you like. It’s about looking and choosing and deciding.

  19. Legallyblondemel – :). Poetry is about what moves you, and what you can’t understand. Right?

    Danielle – I only wish I had made up the term forensic accounting, but that’s what they actually call it. The long hunt through financial documents. Usually to tell a story of criminal intent. In my case, just willful ignorance. Money ought to be talked about more openly. My culture is absolutely terrible at that particular discussion.

    Buckeroomama – Well, you have two little children. They generate clutter in their wake. Create it out of the universe, almost.

    The gold digger – Ha! I like that. The new BMW. Vrrooom.

    Hostess – From now on I am going to think of the inheritance as having been essentially that. A garage. Thank you.

  20. Terri – Ah the frittering. I hope they enjoyed it at least, and have good memories.

    Lori – I wish you luck. It would make a great home design project, no?

    QBS – What perfect timing! Congratulations again on your move.

    Lara – I think your approach was perfect. Responsible or irresponsible, the question is one of choice and intent. “It’s like a well written story….you keep only what moves the story forward and let go of everything else.” That. Thank you for your generous intelligence.

  21. Good for you Lisa…you have my complete admiration! I struggle so with paper clutter but I’ve been doing much better, and your post had just given me added inspiration to continue the process…as daunting as it is, so thank you very much and congratulations!
    xo J~

  22. OOPS…

    The inheritance is a great thing!
    the garage which I long for and will probably never own sounds wonderful…
    I didn’t mean it was your inheritance!

    Oh dear I think I have mixed up my words…….

    I do beg your pardon.


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