Accountants and the IRS recommend keeping your last seven years of tax returns and supporting documentation, and that's what I tell my clients. I was recently able to help a client purge over 224 lbs of well-organized tax documents spanning the last 46 years.
Why do We Keep so Much Paper?
1. We don't know what we need.
So, we keep it all - just in case. Educate yourself on what you should keep and for how long. Ask you accountant, insurance advisor, mortgage specialist, and check online resources like the IRS. Here's a helpful guide to get you started.
2. We don't have a system in place.
Piles of papers throughout your home (or piles of papers in one confined space) make it more difficult to know what you have. If you don't know what you have, you can't rid yourself of what you no longer need.
3. We have a system in place, but it's too complicated.
The most common error people make when coming up with a filing system is creating categories that are too specific. This crowds your drawers with unnecessary folders and makes finding what you need - and weeding out what you don't - much more difficult.
4. We have the space.
If you have the space for the extra paper, you're less likely to feel the pressure and overwhelm of keeping what you don't need. However, the more paper you have to search through, the more difficult it will be for you and your family to find important documents that you may need in a hurry. So, weed out what you don't need, even if you have the room to store it all.
5. We don't review our files.
Make a date to review your files once a year. Discard what you no longer need, making room for new files and hopefully reducing the overall file pile.
6. We keep paper copies of information we can easily access in other ways.
Once you've checked your bank statement for errors, why file it away when you can easily access it online? Same with household bills after you've paid them and credit card invoices. Let them go and get what you need online!
How many instruction manuals are you keeping? I don't know why, but I do love holding onto instruction manuals. It's probably a holdover from before everything was so easy to access. I usually keep the manual for a new appliance until I'm sure I won't be returning it. Then, I let it go and rely on Google to help me remedy any problems down the road. One exception: instructions for a waffle iron from the 1960's. It still works, and I love the ephemera!
7. We don't know how to dispose of papers containing personal information.
Shred it! Don't have a shredder or have too much to shred yourself? Most office supply stores will shred your papers for around $1/lb. A bankers box full of paper is around 25 pounds.
Worried that shredding huge piles of paper will incur a cost that's a bit outside your budget? Taking some time with your papers can greatly reduce the bill. Chances are, not every page you want to shred contains personal information. For example, say you open a new checking account. Oftentimes, you get a stack of paper in a nice branded folder. Recycle that folder and look at what's inside. There's a chance that only the first one or two pages actually contain personal information. The remainder could be generic rules and regulations. Save yourself the weight and the cost by shredding only the first two pages and recycling the rest.
8. We are completely overwhelmed.
Breathe. You don't have to tackle that paper monster all at once. It took time to get here; it will take time to find your way out. Start with one drawer at a time or one box or one binder or one folder. Any forward progress, no matter how small, is still forward progress.
Still can't stomach it or just don't have the time? No worries. There are professional organizers all over the country that will sort through all your papers with a smile. There are even services allowing you to ship your papers to an organizer who will organize them and ship them back!
Shredding Paper at Staples
For this client, we did three separate trips to Staples for shredding, the first being the largest by far (177lbs)!
I was lucky! The staff let me take shopping carts out to my car to fill with shoes boxes of documents, saving me SEVERAL trips.
They weigh your paper, subtracting the weight of the empty box or container. For this trip, I emptied the shoe boxes into IKEA bags to make it easier to put more on the scale each time.
The shredding actually takes place off-site. All the paper is put into bins that are locked the entire time they're in the store. There's a small slit designed to be big enough to slide papers in but not large enough for someone to get their hands in and take papers out. Two staff members and I stuffed stack after stack into the slits in the bins.
BONUS: the staff took the piles of empty shoe boxes and put them in their bailer. So, I didn't have to cart them away to be recycled.
TIP: If you have a large amount to shred or are far from an office supply store, call ahead first. My local Staples has three bins for shredding documents that are emptied once a week. Depending on who gets there before you, they may be full!
I love helping my clients rid their homes of clutter, whether paper or otherwise. This was an especially rewarding experience with a very organized client who had the room for 46+ years of tax documents. He simply decided that he no longer wanted to save papers he didn't need. "What's the point?" he asked.
So, are you ready to get rid of papers you no longer need? If so, WONDERFUL! If not, what's holding you back?
Would you like to live a more organized life? Contact us today to get started!
I'm Jen, a professional organizer ready to help you take charge of your space, free up your time, and lead a more organized life! (Read more about me here)