With stay-at-home orders in place throughout the country for the rest of the month, it seems as if we may have a fair bit of spare time on our hands in April. We hope you are all staying safe and healthy, and we wanted to share a few tips for sorting and filing your paperwork just in case you were getting bored enough to tackle your file cabinet…
To get started, grab three containers to sort your papers into the following three piles:
- Recycling Bin Or Trash Can
Many papers can just be tossed out right away—they should not have any personal information on them—only your name and address.
- Papers With Personally Identifiable Information
Personally identifiable information is any information that can be used to verify your identity—this would be account numbers, birthdays, email addresses, etc. So, some examples of paper that contain this information, but that could be shredded after the appropriate retention time frame was passed would be:
- Bank statements, ATM receipts, cancelled checks
- Credit card statements, receipts, new card offers
- Utility bills
- Investment account confirmations, statements, communications
- Medical and dental records, explanations of benefits
These papers should all be shredded after the appropriate time window to hang onto them has passed—see the image below
- Paper You’ll Save For Filing
This should be your smallest stack!
This handy chart should help you decide what needs to be kept and what can be safely tossed:
With your containers and list of things to keep nearby, you are ready to get started. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the stacks of papers, it is best to break the task up into short sessions. So, set a timer for 10 minutes—or break the giant stack of papers down into several smaller stacks.
Start working through your piles of papers, one piece at time, using the rules listed above (throw away trash, shred anything that is not needed with personal information on it, keep important papers). Once you’ve reached the end of the timer set (or the bottom of the chosen stack), just stop. Go ahead and toss out the trash/recycling pile, and bag up the items that need to be shredded. By cleaning up quickly, the next sorting session will feel less cluttered and less overwhelming! Plus, it feels like you’ve accomplished something!
If you are feeling good at the end of one ten minute session (or one small stack), then you can keep going and do another ten minute session. But, at any point, if you are getting tired or having a hard time making decisions, just stop and take a break. Coming back in a few hours or a few days will help you move through the next pile faster when your brain is not tired of making decisions…
Here are a few other tips:
- Pull all the thick things like magazines, proxy statements, catalogs that are in the stack to sort through first. These bulky things require a quick decision, and will help shrink your stack fast.
- Start from the bottom–the oldest papers are often the easiest to get rid of, so just flip your pile over and work from oldest to most recent.
- If you are having a hard time deciding whether to keep something, think about how hard will it be to obtain it again—for example, an owner’s manual for an appliance is most likely online. So, if you need to refer to it at some point in the future, you will most likely be able to look for an electronic version. However, a tax receipt for a large donation of clothing from a charity may be very difficult to obtain again, so it most likely should be kept.
- If you are still undecided on a piece of paper, take a picture of it—in a month or so, you can decide if you still need it—if so, email the picture to yourself to file electronically in your electronic filing system. If you don’t need it, you can just delete the picture later.
If you gather your shred pile, feel free to come and drop it off at our Socially Distanced Shred Event in a few weeks:
Good luck with your spring cleaning!!