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Clear the Clutter: What To Do with All That Paper

Clear the Clutter

Paper was everywhere. In piles, on cabinetry and countertops, on the couch, on the bed, and even on the floor. When I spoke with my client, she asked me to write everything down on paper so she could save it and review it later.

My question to the client? How much time do you spend each day looking for things? I then took that number and multiplied it per week, per month, and then per year. Turns out, quite a bit of time was spent not enjoying the day and finding her purpose, but looking for important documentation or, in some cases, not-so-important scraps of paper.

Several reasons exist why we want or need to keep paper. Paper can contain important legal or tax information. Paper can give us a sense of security and a connection to our past. But when that “connection” becomes overwhelming, as in the case of tripping over piles of paper, then it’s not a good thing. Safety is critical. And if things like paper become obstacles to your happiness, that’s also a problem.

Having previously worked in the technology industry, as a marketer in Fortune 250 Companies, and now as an organizer/move manager, I have a special appreciation for paper, and how it can be useful, and how it may not be useful.

Houzz recently published an article on how to determine which paperwork to keep and which to toss. The article cites paperwork worthy of keeping, including official records, such as birth and death certificates, adoption papers, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, estate plans, Social Security cards, passports, records of paid mortgages, and military discharge papers. Other paperwork to keep includes vehicle documentation, such as loans, titles, or service records which are necessary when selling a vehicle.

When it comes to your tax and financial records, the IRS is your go-to source. You may want to refer to the following pages when you are considering what to keep and what to toss. The first page is Tax Preparedness Series: Tax Records — What to Keep and the second one is How Long Should I keep Records? Another great source can be found via Bankrate, which summarizes How Long to Keep Financial Records. A good rule of thumb is to check with your accountant or financial institution for anything that may be critical to keep based on your particular situation.

With regards to medical records, much of the information can be found on your insurance site or your medical communities’ website. Each year, I personally create a simple spreadsheet. I list the doctor, expense, date of service/date paid, type of doctor, service rendered, and any miscellaneous notes. I keep a running total of my expenses which I use not only for tax purposes, but also to help me see where my medical expenses lie. This in turn helps me to make informed insurance decisions. I save that information in an online tax folder along with scanned copies of my receipts that I’ve named by doctor and date. When tax time rolls around, I have easy access and a summary to my organized medical information. What I don’t have is paper clutter.

Because of technology, you are able to store things digitally quite efficiently. However, with technology, you’ll want to be thoughtful on where to store this precious information. Some financial institutions offer secure ways to store your official paperwork, especially in times of critical need. For example, Fidelity offers FidSafe, billed as a “secure, free document storage (up to 5 GB)… to store, access and share digital copies of your family’s most important documents.” One of the features I personally like is that FidSafe allows you to “share” your consolidated and organized data and documents with those you designate and with those who may need access at a moment’s notice. This is just one example of the way technology makes us efficient, but it’s also effective at keeping a home decluttered.

Backing up your electronic information is a necessity nowadays. It is your best insurance policy in case your computer has issues. You can back up online (say with an app like Dropbox or FidSafe – be sure to review the pros and cons on how secure each app is) or you can purchase an external hard drive that stores your data, such as the Seagate brand offers. If you elect to use an external hard drive, be sure to keep your computer and your external hard drive in different locations.

Paper that you can toss more readily includes appliance manuals, since this information can usually be found online. Additionally, utility, bank, investment, and credit card statements are available online for a certain amount of time. For magazines that are older than a month, I recommend tearing out the article or picture of interest and keeping that page in a folder and discarding the magazine. Better yet, take a picture of what interests you via your phone’s camera or use an app like Genius Scan to create a pdf, and organize the page of interest electronically by category.

For miscellaneous paperwork, I recommend organizing each item by category, e.g., recipes, to-dos, contact information, etc. By doing this, you “chunk” the tasks into smaller subsets and can focus on a particular topic in order to “action” the item, which makes you more efficient in the long run, not to mention helps you stay clutter-free.

After you’re done figuring out what paper you need to keep and what to toss, remember to securely shred those documents, especially those items with your personally identifiable information such as Social Security information, date of birth, medical information, etc. A portable shredder can do the trick or, for larger jobs, you may want to do an online search on “secure local shredding” to see if there is a free document shredding service or an organization/business that will do this for you for a fee. Places like Office Depot, UPS, or FedEx commonly provide shredding services.

As with any undertaking, consistency is key. If you do something little every day, it will add up. You can also schedule weekly, monthly, or yearly placeholders on a calendar as a gentle reminder to stay mindful of your goal, so as to not get overwhelmed. In this case, decluttering, organizing, and electronically storing information as necessary means you can be more efficient in the long run.

By incorporating these tips and tricks to increase your state of happiness and lessen the excess stimulus around you, you can now relish in the fact that you can enjoy the extra time gained through efficiency, have a clearer focus on what’s important, as well as enjoy your additional open living space! At Next Chapter Moves, our goal is to not only help you declutter, organize, or move residences “in the moment,” but to help set you up for future success.