It was time for me to weed out our household files. It was getting harder and harder to wedge additional incoming paperwork into our overflowing file cabinet. I couldn't figure out how four people managed to fill four deep file drawers with routine household paperwork! What happened to clutter clearing?
I worked at weeding out our paperwork for several days. I finally had a combined paperwork pile that stood about 18" tall that was ready for the shredder and the recycle bag. I was embarrassed that someone who promotes the "simple life" could come up with that much excess paper, but there was a sense of accomplishment in measuring the stack at the end. And, truth be told, I suspected I was still hanging on to more paper than we really needed.
Weeding out paperwork was hard. I was plagued by uncertainty as I held each piece of paper from each file folder in my hands. Would I “need” it again? Was it "safe" to toss it? The decision making process wore me out. Read on to see what I learned.
Keep a pad and pencil handy. Jot down the different types of paperwork that you are afraid to toss as you go through your files. Credit card statements? Receipts? Old utility bills? Paycheck stubs? Write your uncertainty down. Take this list to ask your tax person or accountant or call your government tax help phone line when the next tax session rolls around. Take notes on what the expert tells you. You will suffer from less uncertainty next time you weed out your paperwork. It would probably be wise to do this regularly since tax laws change over time.
Have a stapler handy. I found way too many wads of related papers that were paper clipped together. Shame on me. Paper clips are dangerous. They can fall off. Worse yet, they can snag other unrelated papers that then become lost. Weed out the paper clips and staple related papers together instead. Also, have a staple remover handy too! Go and buy one if you don’t have this as part of your household office supplies.
Create a pile for misfiled papers and sort the paper clutter. I found misfiled items. Be ready to resolve a few misfiled papers at the onset, just in case. I also sorted the discarded papers I was ready to toss into two piles–those that needed to be shredded and those that could just get recycled.
Work in small increments of time. I personally suggest working for no more than 15 minutes to 1 hour at a crack. Tackle only a few file folders at a time. Also, do this work in your personal prime time if you can. Why? Because it is hard to sit and make decision after decision. As you get tired of it, there is a strong temptation to go too quickly or skip files or wads of paper that you think probably are "good enough." In this case, doing less at a time will add up to getting rid of more paper clutter.
Consider going through the whole process twice in a row. What?! Yep, you heard me. After you have gone through each file once, consolidated files, deleted files, and created new ones, you can be more confident about your decision-making. You will find more to weed out if you go through a second round while you are up on this process. I made a 12" stack of papers to recycle the first time and a 6" stack of papers the second time. It was worth the effort, and it went much faster the second time anyway.
Shred in the dark. It sounds weird, but shred statements and other paperwork that has personal data on it in the dark or while watching television. Why? If you don't, you may find yourself second-guessing yourself as you slow down to look at what you are trying to get rid of. Trust yourself. You already made the decisions. (If you really do feel the need to double-check everything, be my guest. You are the best judge of your own situation.)
Finally, when you are done, reward yourself! Paper clutter really is unmade decisions and you just made a whole bunch of them! When it was all said and done, I found it to be an empowering experience. I now know a lot more about what I have, and I love the "extra" space that now exists between the files. Oh, dear…Have I made future filing easier or have I created the potential for new interests or hobbies to enter my life because I now have file space for them? Either way, you can do this too!
Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs.
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