Last month we talked about cleaning up some of the paper piles that you have been collecting and reducing the amount of paper you hold onto “just in case.” I hope that you are feeling lighter by now and can focus on reducing the number of places you keep the remaining papers so you can find what you need when you need it. If you didn’t finish, that’s okay but try to deal with all the paper that is coming into your home each day. Don’t wait until you have cleared out the backlog as that is an ongoing process, not one that can be done quickly.
Three Kinds of Paper
- The first group of papers are the irreplaceable ones. The social security cards, the deed to the house, the title for your car, your marriage license, passports, etc. Sure, you could probably figure out how to get a replacement but it wouldn’t be easy. This can include sentimental memorabilia and specialty items. Not photos though, they have their own storage needs.
- Then there are the bills – if anyone except me still gets paper bills - that need to be “touched” at least monthly or quarterly in the case of property tax or water bills. These are short term papers. The receipt for those gloves you bought but haven’t worn them enough to know if you really want to keep them. The utility bills, receipts for things you have purchased or papers from school. This category also includes the things you are thinking about purchasing and the fliers you want to review before recycling. Keeping magazines and catalogs in this category avoids the year long pile up that can occur.
- Lastly, there are long term storage These papers don’t need to be accessed for a year or more. This is where tax records, and warranty information and manuals live (if you tend to keep that kind of stuff).
Where to Store?
For Irreplaceable Items: These items should be stored in a fireproof, waterproof, portable container in case you need to leave your house in a hurry. You might want to put copies of your credit card information, your license and health care cards, doctors’ names and contact information in there too. Think of the things you would need if you had to leave your home and make sure those things (or copies of them) are in there.
Short term papers: I am sure you have one spot for all the bills – you do, don’t you? It can be wherever you want it to be, but all bills and short-term papers need to go there and no where else. No one wants to scour the whole house looking for that property tax bill that came two months before it was due. Some clients have set up “command centers” using a hanging file box and different folders for action, bills, school schedules, receipts, etc. I have a set of cubbies over the desk in the kitchen – best idea ever! Wherever you decide to keep them, keep all of the papers there so you only need to look in one place. If you are crafty though and keep a lot of ideas for future projects, you might want to set up a space to keep all that stuff together as well. Take the time to label things in broad categories so you don’t need to go through the whole drawer to find one pattern. Magazines and catalogs you want to go through can also be contained in a basket or bin. When the next one comes in – the first one goes out.
Long term Storage: This storage should be out of the way but still easy to get to. You don’t want it taking up valuable space in a closet when it can stay safely in a plastic box in the attic or a dry basement. As your kids grow, this may also be the space you put there most treasured items. Be sure to use an archival box to protect them. I hesitate to even mention warranty booklets – most are available online so there is no need to hold onto them. Think about how many times you have actually had to use one of them. Was it worth holding onto? The biggest problem with long term storage is it mostly likely will not get looked at again. Every year though when you go to put your tax documents away you can take out the documents from 4 years ago and shred them. If you are getting electronic copies, you can delete them too. The records your computer is holding also need to be gone through and/or put into folders that have broad categories with very specific file names. Computer documents are a whole newsletter on their own. I mention them because the push now is to scan copies and shred the paper copies in order to reduce the paper in your home. If you do that, be sure to tag them and use specific file names so you can find what you are looking for.
How Much is Enough?
You will need to decide how much paper you feel you “must” hold onto. Ask yourself can it be replaced, what is the worst that could happen if I don’t have this and seriously will I ever get to this project? Then decide where to keep it. If you have storage already set up, be sure to go through and purge what you can before adding in the new. (Photos and memorabilia should have their own home). It is an investment in time for sure, but when you need something and can go directly to the cabinet to get it – you will feel so proud of the effort you put in.
Get started now – don’t leave it all for your kids to go through????
PS Don’t forget to shred anything with your name or identifying information on it. Identity theft happens. Good luck!