Art of Accounting: Cleaning out old files

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My office moved and I am left with a dozen boxes I am going through to throw away things or shred. Since I am a compulsive saver, I feel it necessary to go through every box looking for things that need to be retained. This is creating a trip through memory lane for me. Here is some of what I found:

• Memos of phone calls from prospects, clients and colleagues. The memos from the prospects and clients were shredded. Those from colleagues that dealt with technical or practice management issues that I wrote about were discarded; those with practice management issues that I might write about were reviewed and some were placed in a queue. The others were retained for “another look” at a later time.

• Some notes and scraps of paper contained ideas for future articles or blogs and the good ones were put in an “I.F.” folder—I.F. meaning Idea Factory.

• I found a lot of internal memos or printouts of memos about technical or office procedural things. Almost all were discarded.

• All of the saved newspapers or clipped articles and investment, business and general interest periodicals were discarded. It’s amazing how much old stuff is still current. Stories about the past year and what to anticipate in the following year seem to recur every year with slightly different language but are substantially the same, sometimes 10 or 15 years later.

• The tables of contents of old professional journals were scanned before being discarded. It is interesting how many of yesterday’s hot and most written about issues are no longer of any consequence. However, the practice management articles can all be republished today with scarcely a change. An example is a 1981 article about my firm that was published in The Wall Street Journal. Nothing has changed. This indicates that as a profession we really haven’t grown as much as we profess. I wrote about this in my column of Sept. 19, 2016 (see Art of Accounting: “CPA Firm Grows Prosperous by Heeding Its Own Advice’). I try to encourage change with these columns, speeches and my interactions with colleagues, but overall as a profession we need to do better.

• I was surprised how much “junk” I saved. Stuff that never meant anything and never would and to think that I used part of my life to throw them away now when I should have never saved them in the first place. Things like business cards, playbills, menus, maps, greeting cards, instruction booklets, clothing, museum exhibit flyers, mail order catalogs, tons of “to do” lists, some of which had items still near the top of my current to do lists, photos of me with people I can’t remember the names of, folded up posters and even some neatly folded popcorn bags. Crazy!!!

While I threw away a lot and shredded many client memos and notes, I still ended up with a box and a half that I will likely go through during my next move.

I know I am not a museum or public library that needs to retain everything or at least maintain a full inventory or library, but there are some things I just can’t let go of. My friends that have downsized to move tell me I am crazy, and maybe I am, but then again, it is part of who I am. At least the move had me get rid of almost a dozen boxes of “stuff.”

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Practice management Ed Mendlowitz