A tribute to my long-term relationship with a shoebox

A box that drove with me across the city for years, a box I handed proudly to my accountant. 'Here, my bookkeeping,' I'd say with a smile, as the corners of his mouth made a subtle yet severe downward turn.

I knew that in a universe beyond my creative freelancing life there were people sorting their paperwork by name, date and type. To me this strange place was populated by unsympathetic souls who saw more value in rigid order than in maximising their time spent creating.

In my microcosm there was only me, my shoebox and my ostrich-like strategy of burying my head in the sand. It was an efficient bookkeeping system, I thought, naively.

Oh yes, the shoebox belongs to a freelancer's bookkeeping system like late payments to an invoice. My shoebox – light grey on the sides, an elegant black lid, golden lettering – was my faithful, loving partner and silly companion for four long, mostly-happy years. With insatiable appetite, it devoured restaurant receipts, taxi receipts, crumpled train tickets from long-gone journeys.

Outside the walls of my home office, my dirty little secret was known innocently as 'my bookkeeping'.

'I still have to do my bookkeeping,' I'd smirk, casually turning down date requests from unsavoury men.

My shoebox had become more than a clumsy way of storing receipts. It was a verbal exit strategy.



The boxes my freelancer friends kept varied in size, colour and degree of wear. 'Here, for your box,' someone would say after every dinner. At the end of each business lunch somebody’s box would get its share.

But after years of assumed time savings, the realisation grew...

My cardboard box looked like an increasingly foreign object in our digital world

The cracks in its corners dug deep into its pulp, yet still I stuffed and stuffed, closing the lid and waiting for a Cinderella-like miracle. A fairy godmother, a pumpkin, well-organised books. As my career as a freelance copywriter scaled up, so did the mountain of paper that had to be checked, sorted and stored.

Neither I nor my box could keep up. We hung on, barely making it from tax return to tax return.

There's a time for everything, even mistakes

Freelancers are especially well-trained in this area. Risk takers at heart, we make mistakes born out of freedom and carry on until it hurts. I do, at least. 

In the end, a person has two options: change course, throw the shoebox into the recycling and neatly organise its content, or shovel coal into the oven of your own Titanic and steam steadily into a big tax-shaped iceberg.

Luckily for me, I chose the former.

'Linda,' my accountant said one day, 'Don’t you think it's time to make things easier for you – and for me?'

Nodding meekly, I took my shoebox, put the paper receipts back in storage and promised to improve my bookkeeping strategy. I always hated breakups.

Today the shoebox sits in my closet. I smile at it as I scan my receipts and save them to my bookkeeping with a few taps in the Holvi mobile app. It was a good relationship – full of pulp and the warm scent of thermal paper – but at some point, it just wasn't enough.

Creativity, I realised, needs room to breathe. And when you spend all your time managing tiny bits of paper, you run out of space for the important work. The stuff that matters.

'It's not you,' I tell my shoebox. 'It's me. I have Holvi now.'