Mar 15, 2011

Tips for getting rid of and cutting down on paper clutter

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.


Toni Stevenson said...

I'm glad to hear that you store your shredder in the closet. I have heard too many horror stories of pets and children being injured on shredders.

Chief Family Officer said...

@Toni - Yeah, I tucked the shredder away once our oldest was mobile. I do miss the convenience of shredding as I go, I wouldn't have so much piled up if I could! But definitely not worth the risk.

Kelly said...

I have a system to keep certain routine papers for 13 months, so I write a shred date on those. If I haven't unexpectedly needed the paper during that time, then I'm confident I can toss it anytime I see it after that date. It has helped a lot in one category of recordkeeping, and I need to expand it to the rest of my file cabinet.

Kelly said...

P.S. I came up with my shred date idea because I was considering scanning a bunch of documents that I had received as hard copies. When I considered how much effort it would take, I realized that I didn't need to keep them forever. I would rather have a rotating stack of papers in my file cabinet for 13 months than spend all that time scanning.

Chief Family Officer said...

@Kelly - That's a great idea. I keep some investment statements for the year, then shred them when I get the annual statement so I have less paper to store. :)