Purging Paper Clutter – What you need to keep and what can go!

Most of us are overwhelmed with the constant onslaught of written information in our lives.  Emails, junk mail, bills, magazines, newspapers, flyer’s, memos and good old fashion paperwork.  It is everywhere and our homes are bombarded with it on a daily basis.  It does not take long for our desks, kitchen counter tops and eventually, every surface to become buried in mounting heaps of paper. 

So you want to organize your paperwork, but where to begin? Unfortunately, you need to start at the very beginning, and that my friend is sorting and purging.  Whether you have a few piles of paper or an entire room full, the process is just the same.  Here are a few quick rules when purging paper!

1. You only need to keep information related to your taxes for seven years, the rest can go!  If you run a business from your home and you claim your household expenses, you need to keep your electrical, gas and other household bills. If you did not claim these as a home business expense, it is unnecessary and foolish to keep your hydro bill from 1994.  Shred it, and all the other old bills. If you wish to keep last years for reference, that is fine, but anymore than one years worth of monthly bills is just useless paper clutter. This includes all bills, insurance statements, bank statements and just about everything else they mail to you on a monthly basis. The best advice I can give you is to call ALL of these companies and request an electronic bill or use direct deposit to stop the paper all together.

2. Just because it is mailed to you, doesn’t mean it is important.  None of us have time to read all the junk mail we receive.  Brochures, pamphlets and restaurant flyer’s are nothing more than wasted trees 99% of the time.  Recycle it the moment you pull it from the mailbox…well, after a quick glance of course.  I keep some restaurant coupons in my “take out” section in my household binder, but almost everything else gets recycled minutes after it enters my home. Just because it was mailed to you does not mean it is worth your time or the space in your home.

3. Have a long and short term paper filing system.  Setup a long term filing system somewhere seperate from your day to day paper filing system.  Papers that should go in your long term system are things like mortgage paperwork, health insurance, contracts, RRSP, RESP and other investments YEAR END reports (not monthly statements), manuals for current appliances and electronics you own and your tax information for the past 7 years.  Your short term paper filing system should house all your monthly bills, statements and even current papers you need for this fiscal years taxes.  At the end of the year, transfer only the important papers to your long term storage and shred everything else (bills and statements).  They are not necessary to keep.  You should also invest in a fire proof safe for the super duper important papers..or your freezer works too (put the papers in freezer bags first)!

4. Forgo the sentiment, it’s cluttering up your house.  Alright, even I, the purging lover, keep too many sentimental things.  Kids artwork, photos I’ll never put into albums and all the movie tickets from when my husband and I were dating fill boxes and binders in my home.  There is a point when you have to get real though and say, enough is enough.  Is that wedding invitation to your cousins wedding two years ago really that important to you? Important enough to make your home feel cluttered and to make you feel overwhelmed and stressed? I know what you are thinking; One wedding invitation isn’t doing any harm, but one invitation plus one newspaper clipping plus one baby shower thank you card plus ten million birthday cards plus hundreds of strange kids photo’s you receive from all your friends and family every year in Christmas cards equals A LOT of harm.  It all has to go if you want a fresh start because none of it is making you happy and all of it is making your home cluttered.  If you really must hold onto pieces of paper that have sentimental value, make a “memory box”. Use a banker box, cedar chest, filing cabinet or anything else you can find to hold all of your paper “memories” and when it’s full, it’s full…You don’t get to make another one!  Simply purge some of what you have to make room for new memories.

So here are some before and after pictures of a Abbey’s paper clutter. Abbey was a blast to work with, funny and intelligent, she is naturally organized and a true perfectionist… Her only issue? Paper!  Abbey holds onto paper “just in case” or because of “sentimental” reasons.  Truth be told, though we did purge a lot, all she needed was to setup a system and now there is no going back for her! 

BEFORE   The kitchen counter in this one spot was a catch all for the family’s paper and other misc stuff.

AFTER  We relocated the food and made this cupboard above the problem spot her family’s “CONTROL CENTRE”. She now has a binder system in place! One family planner binder, a financial binder (for bill paying and filing), a medical information binder and one binder for each of her kids artwork, daycare and school information.  All other misc family necessities are also now stored in this cupboard including medicine, phone books and calendars.

BEFORE  Upstairs in Abbey’s bedroom were a few totes and piles of paperwork and photo’s that needed to be sorted. 

AFTER  Fortunatley, she did have an empty filing cabinet we used to create a long term storage system, one drawer for personal and one for financial. 

We also used used an existing tote to create a “Memory Box” for all her sentimental papers she wanted to keep    

With everything off the floor and even the pictures roughly sorter into before/after children baskets (below), Abbey’s paperwork is in order! 

We spent a total of six hours to create a binder system, relocate and rearrange the kitchen cupboards and find a home for all the papers and photo’s. 

Truthfully, half that time was spent talking and laughing! With a plan and a few hours you can gain control of the paperwork in your home!

You just need to make the time…and there is no time like the present! Happy Organizing! 


4 Comments

  1. hollie s

    looks great! love the kitchen cabinet idea! i need to do this in my house!

  2. Stacey

    Yet another great idea I so need a desk area to control all the paperer clutter. I going RIGHT NOW to ther perfect cabinet in my kitchen. It needs to be reporsed to a desk/office center.
    Thanks So much for alll your posts!!

    I think you should have your own show!! Or at least appear on the Nate Show.

  3. Wow, Abbey’s kitchen cabinet came out great! I like the cabinet idea because this is the room where I spend most of the time and do my bills and paperwork. You did a lot for her in 6 hours!

  4. Jennifer G

    With online billing and statements, is there a need to keep bills, even for a year? (I am truly asking, because I don’t know) We get very few bills by mail and I don’t take the time to save our monthly online statements to a backup file on my computer, and just about everything is paid online as well. I read somewhere recently, I wish I could remember where, that you only need to keep this month’s statement, that last month’s statement can be shredded once this month’s is received. That would make my filing (or more accurately, my filing backlog) much easier.

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