Are you running out of space to keep your papers? Have you resorted to stacking them on top of the file cabinet or on the floor? Maybe it’s time to purge your papers. Check out my article “Five Reasons to Purge Your Paper Files” and then return here for six tips on how to do it.
- As you’re going through your papers, ask yourself:
- Do I really need to keep this paper?
- Is this information I can easily get online?
- If I keep it, will I remember I have it?
- If I remember I have it, will I be able to find it?
- Sure it’s an interesting article, but will I ever go back and read it again?
- There are certain papers you need to keep for legal and tax purposes, some of them forever. Ask your tax preparer and/or check the IRS website for guidelines on what to keep and for how long. You can also find information online, but you’ll see that not everyone agrees. So keep your papers for the longest length of time advised.
- Set aside at least a couple of hours at a time. Papers do take longer than “stuff.”
- Gather your supplies: economy storage boxes, a marker pen, note paper and tape to attach temporary category names to your boxes, and a large trash container. Label one box “Shred,” another “Recycle,” and a third “To Do” or “Action Items.” Remember to remove paper clips, binder clips, and rubber bands. It’s okay to leave staples in.
I like using the economy storage boxes because they have lids and can be easily stacked out of the way between your work sessions.
- If you have many, many boxes of unrelated papers, the first thing to do is a pre-sort.
- Determine your main categories of papers and label an empty box with each category. For home papers, your categories might be: To Do/Action Items, Vital Documents (birth certificates, Social Security cards, etc.), Medical/Health, Income/Expenses, Investments, Tax Returns and Tax Backup, Travel, Education, House Records (insurance policies, home improvement, settlement sheets, etc.), Decorating, Recipes, Memorabilia. For business categories, you might have: To Do/Action Items, Income/Expenses, Financial Reports, Tax Returns and Tax Backup, Corporate/LLC Important Documents (business registrations, insurance, contracts, etc.), Vendors, Clients, Marketing/Advertising, Website/Social media, Projects (or maybe a box for each big project). Important: Always keep To Do/Action Items papers separate from those to be filed.
- Place your boxes on the floor or desk/table top, and just start tossing the papers into the appropriate box.
- As you’re doing the pre-sort, refer to Tip #1.
- Once you have all those boxes of unrelated papers sorted into your major categories, work on one box at a time, moving the papers into file folders. It’s easier to know what to name your file folders once you see the papers to file. I personally prefer hanging file folders without a manila folder inside, but some of my clients prefer using only manila folders, and others like a matching manila folder inside each hanging folder. And some like multiple manila folders inside each hanging folder.
Take this opportunity to do some additional purging. Not all your papers have to go into file folders though. Past tax returns, and the tax backup papers you are required to keep? I store those in economy storage boxes, labeled by tax year. Settlement sheets for home purchase/sale/refinancing? I keep those in a plastic box large enough for legal size paper.
- Ready to tackle the papers in your file cabinets? I work on one file drawer at a time, sitting in my comfortable office chair with my “Shred” and “Recycle” boxes close at hand, along with a large trash container. I have a space to stack empty hanging file folders, after removing the vinyl tabs, and a small bin for the vinyl tabs, all to be saved for future use.
This is a project you can do yourself in short spurts of a couple of hours at a time. Schedule time, maybe a few hours each week, to work on it. Of course, you can always hire a professional organizer to help you. The project will go faster. I guarantee you will be pleased with the results–whether you hire someone or do it on your own. It’s a great feeling to be rid of all that paper you no longer need.
Check your local government web site for shredding events. Fairfax County, where I live, has shredding events annually—one in each of its nine districts—open to county residents for shredding personal papers.
Fairfax accepts up to four economy storage size boxes per car. I just took three boxes to the shredding event in Reston—much easier than running all those papers through my personal shredder!
Check with your jurisdiction, its conditions may be different
Copyright 2021 Susan Kousek
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Susan Kousek is a productivity consultant and speaker.
To find out more about her programs and services, visit www.BalancedSpaces.com or call 703-742-9179.