As I’ve decluttered the house for the last few months, I’ve discovered that the worst culprit of all is paper clutter. I can’t believe how much of it there is. Here are some tips for getting rid of it, and keeping it from returning:
1. Know what you have to keep and what can go. Here’s a handy list of financial documents and how long you should keep them.
2. Start purging. Not everything needs to be shredded, but you’ll probably find that the type of papers you hold onto are the kind that have personal information on them. So at your “purging station,” you’ll need a wastebasket for papers that can go straight into the trash, a box for papers that need a new home, and either a shredder or a box for papers that will be shredded later. I opt for the box for subsequent shredding, since I store my shredder in a closet for safety reasons.
3. If you don’t have a shredder, get one. There’s no easier or faster way to get rid of documents that contain personal information, and you can get a decent one pretty inexpensively these days.
4. Relabel your files if appropriate. I’m a cover-all-bases kind of girl, so I keep copies of payoff statements and such. Rather than keep each sheet of paper in a separate file, I recently created a “closed accounts” file to hold all of these papers.
5. Go paperless. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m starting to really go paperless. I started by eliminating hard copies of documents I really don’t read, like the annual reports and prospectuses for investments I’ve committed to holding. I download and don’t print e-statements for accounts that never sent paper to begin with (such as those with ING and Sharebuilder). I’ve now begun the process of completely switching to paperless with all of our banking statements, investment statements, and bills.
6. Have a digital backup plan in place and use it. I wasn’t ready to make the full switch to paperless until I had a plan for backing up all of my saved documents. I do this regularly, at least once a week. And I’ve stored a backup of my backup in our safety deposit box at the bank. It obviously won’t have the most recent documents, but at least if disaster strikes we’ll have something. You may want to read this article on digitally storing financial documents.
7. Keep it manageable. Flylady has taught me that I can accomplish a lot in 15 minutes – even just 5 minutes. You don’t have to go through all of your files at once. Keep the task in front of you small, and eventually the big task will be done.