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  • Writer's pictureMJ

Cut your paper clutter

At least once a month I’m asked the question, “How long should I keep this document?” My response always starts with, “Each individual’s situation is unique so I recommend checking with your accountant, financial advisor, or attorney first.”

Then I give the client my Paper Retention Schedule for Personal Records. This document is for those who receive and hold on to ALL paperwork. Many of us have switched to paperless statements, receipts, and more these days – so this document is not for you.

But if you’re always looking for ways to cut your paper clutter, keep the following in mind when reviewing your existing documents:

  • Is this information located somewhere else?

  • Could you easily replace this information?

  • What is the worst that would happen if discarded?

  • Where would you look for this information – a filing cabinet, drawer, or on the computer? Where would your brain say ‘look for this?’

  • Will you even remember you have this information?

  • Do you still own this item (if manuals, warranties etc.)?

As you go through old boxes or review items in your permanent file you may come across emotionally charged paperwork. Here are some questions that will help you make good ‘keep or toss’ decisions:

  • Is this the best memory trigger?

  • Would a photo substitute for keeping it?

  • Does this evoke pleasant memories? Anything negative should go.

  • If you didn't see this would you remember that you have it?

  • What quantity is reasonable to keep? Do you need every paper from high school or college?

  • Can/Should the document be stored elsewhere? For example, could letters go with medals and a military uniform in a nice box?

Finally, when trying to change the way you deal with documents it’s important to keep at it. It’s not a ‘one and done’ thing. One suggestion is to establish a review/culling schedule that fits with your life. For example, if you typically pull together documents for taxes in March then February is a good time to review and purge old documents from your file cabinet.

My recommendation is to make a regular appointment on your calendar for paper maintenance. It could be once a month, once a year, it’s up to you. The key though is to keep the appointment and do the work.

If you would you like some assistance with a paper organization project, contact me at or call/text (608) 345-1836.


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