How do I handle paper clutter?

Posted on Posted in Organize

Papers! Papers! Papers!

They are everywhere, slowly killing our plant one tree at a time…

Or maybe just our counter space.

I am here to say, STOP SAVING PAPERS!

Shred them and recycle those bad boys.

Okay, you can keep a few papers

“But I need these papers for (fill in the blank).”  You are right, you do need some papers, but most (besides your birth certificate, marriage license, social security card) do not need to be kept forever.

Let’s look at how long you should keep paperwork:

  • Tax records: The IRS says, you need to keep your tax records, in most situations, for only 3 years. I guarantee most of you have tax returns filed away from more than 3 years ago. For exclusions to the 3 years click here.
  • Credit Card Statements: 1 month or better yet, check for accuracy and toss.
  • Utility Bills: Pay and toss.
  • Bank Statements: A few sources say one year, I say not at all as long as you have access to them online.
  • Receipts: 3 years for tax related items, 1 month to check your credit card/bank statement or not at all!

This is by no means an exhaustive list, Suze Orman has a great list if I didn’t touch on your paper of choice.

As you can see most of our filing cabinets could be emptied out if we followed these rules. I personally felt great relief when I ditched my filing cabinet for a small accordion folder and a fireproof box for the irreplaceable papers. In our modern world, most paperwork is digitally filed now and can be pulled up at the push of a button. Much easier than digging through never-ending files.

So dig in and start shredding away. There is nothing like a giant bag of paper leaving your house forever.


You’ve got mail

Now that we have dealt with the old papers lying around your house, we need to address the incoming paper sources. Only touch your mail once, bring it in and immediately sort it. Junk mail goes in the trash, in fact I usually stand over the trash as I sort my mail. Put your bills in the designated bill spot, if you don’t have one then make one! I use a binder that my sister made me when I was 13 because it brings me joy. File anything else immediately. Do not wait or it will end up in a giant pile.

End it all

Did you know you can opt out of receiving junk mail and credit card offers by filling out forms? Here is a link to the Federal Trade Commission with a list of all the ways to opt out. Another way to reduce your mail is by signing up for e-statements. Many companies will even take a few dollars off your bill just for opting in. You also get your papers digitally filed for free. Win win.

Start today

As soon as you open your mail box today the challenge is on. Make a plan before you touch your mail and stick to it!