q + a: what papers to keep

Angie asks: “My biggest problem is paper! Articles, notebooks from university years, bank paperwork, deposit slips, statements, old magazines… Sitting yesterday reading the stuff and thinking ‘I may need this’, realizing that I am not decluttering anything. I tried to detach myself from all this paper, it’s stuff after all. Your advice is very much appreciated, thank you Laura!”
Think if there’s anything you’re ok to get rid of right away. Since you have a hard time letting go, start with the least emotional decision; bank paperwork, deposit slips etc. (see below). The feeling of having to get rid of things sometimes make people hold on more, so tell yourself it’s ok to keep some things.
Create labels using post-it notes, index cards or even painters tape on the floor or along a wall for categories you know you have: recycle, shred, tax papers, legal documents, college, memorabilia, article to read, etc, Grab a pile and start sorting things into their respective categories. The idea is to get papers sorted quickly and get the papers you know you’re not keeping out of the way. This is not the time to read and think; just sort into manageable piles.
If you have a room or area in your home where you can leave everything half-sorted end of the day that would be great (most people cannot get this done in one sitting). If not, use labeled shopping bags, folders or boxes to keep piles together until you’re ready to get back to it.
Once the papers are sorted, do a more thorough edit one category at a time, starting with the smallest pile and/or the easiest to go thru. Deep reading at this point will get nothing done. Skim the page to see if the article, notebook, etc has any relevance at this point in your life:
There’s an infinite amount of information out there. Chances are the articles you’ve been saving for years are outdated or maybe the reason you haven’t read them is that you actually don’t need to. Magazines run the basic same articles over and over again so chances are there’s nothing amazing you’ve been keeping that hasn’t been or will be repeated again.
Statements/Bills/Tax Papers
If you write it off on your taxes, keep them. Ask your CPA (or who over does your taxes) for a list of what you need to keep. See above image for more details. If you’re not writing them off, there’s really no reason to keep them.
If you need them, the question is have you done your taxes? If you don’t actually need them to file, sort them by year. Don’t bother sorting them any further since odds are you’ll probably not have to reference them again.
Keep insurance policies, legal documents (as mentioned above). As far as your notebooks from college, be realistic. How long has it been since you’ve graduated and have you ever looked back at them? For some professions, it’s fine to keep some things from college, but certainly not all.
DISCLAIMER: I am a residential organizer, not commercial, the following info is for individuals only, also I am not a qualified financial advisor, attorney or CPA. If you have any further questions about what you should keep consult your qualified financial advisor, attorney and/or CPA.

5 responses

  1. In the old days I kept every scrap of paper and had a closet I was afraid to open because of this. Then I also had a trunk that became as stuffed as the closet. I hated that these spaces were no longer available to me. I made two good scrapbooks of my travels, but it took me years to get good at sortijg and tossing. I still sometimes end up with a box labeled "must sort" sitting next to me until I can't stand it anymore.I learned not to hide the box, but to leave it out and in the way until I deal with it.I use shredder for anything i throw away. One day I sorted through cards and letters and emphemera, & took some photos of them, (so if I ever did want to read letters again, they're instantly available, not in the bottom of a box.) I can make art out of these pieces, even collages — on my laptop. I took pics of everything in my wallet too– just in case, and my cat's vet records are all in my laptop, as well as on a backup disk. my "to sort" box gets smaller and smaller. for must have papers I still use the old fashioned "umbrella file" which is easy for me and isn't cumbersome.

  2. thanks for sharing, especially the line "i hated that these spaces were no longer available to me". that's exactly the feeling that i want people to understand; not let their things control them and their space but to take control of their things.

  3. This is really, really helpful.I'm pretty ruthless about tossing clutter– but when it comes to dealing with paper, it seems like my brain just can't handle it!I have this fear of tossing out something "official" or important. Of course no one has ever actually asked me to produce any piece of paper more than a few months old. I am going to print out that list and start tossing and filing. It has gotten to the point where I am having trouble finding important things (like insurance policies) because they're buried under so many unnecessary papers.

  4. Very good points all around, especially with regards to magazine articles. There's nothing that has been in print once that won't be repeated in some form or fashion, likely within the next subscription year. I hate filing and struggle with organization. My best friend is my shredder, which I deploy weekly, and the 4 desktop Semikolon boxes in which all my files live: http://www.studioist.com/studio-vignette-office-storage/Taming paper is so far my proudest organizing accomplishment. Next, the closet!

  5. Do you know if there are consumer-oriented high throughput scanning services out there for papers? It can be hard for a writer to throw certain papers away, but at the same time, the physical presence of the papers is not necessary if the content is captured. Photos you can put in a box and pay various companies to scan for you, but how about papers? Thank you in advance for sharing any insights you might have! Kitty