Decluttering Your Office – The Danger of the Paper Trail

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom

Offices seem to be the center of the vortex of flotsam in a house, particularly paperwork. If you work outside the home, your office probably still has files that were set up by the previous holder of your job – files you haven’t looked at the entire time you’ve had the job. My desk and filing cabinet had “current” files that were five years old and notes that said “to file” on documents dating back to when the law firm was started.

Why do we do this? Do the phrases “paper trail” or “for our records” ring any bells with you?

Try to think how far back you really need to keep things. Ask the company auditor or attorney, if you have one and need guidance. In my office, the habit had been to scan everything and keep a hard copy. Why? One or the other, please. In addition, there are scans of documents without the attorney’s signature and a scan of the same document after the attorney has signed it. Just because it’s electronic, doesn’t mean it’s not clutter. If that document is needed again, sorting through two copies of everything (signed and unsigned) is not going to make finding it faster. When the final copy is scanned, the previous copies should be deleted.

I know some people want to keep all the scans to “show their work.” Again – think this through. Is it really necessary? Is it necessary for the first month and then no longer necessary? Necessary until you have your annual review and then no longer necessary? Make a note about when certain items can be eliminated. Cleaning up your work after yourself is a legitimate use of time. After all, if everyone saved everything, eventually your office would need a bigger server or additional file cabinet just to managed all that clutter.

In addition, sometimes keeping records can work against you instead of with you. I was once hired to purge a large business of all of its employment records that were more than 10 years old. Their legal department had decided that 10 years was how much was needed; however, some of the records were 20 years old. An former employee had sued, and because the records were there, in the cabinet, they were admissible in court. If the records had been destroyed in a timely fashion, the lawsuit could not have gone forward. It took me a month to pick through all those records!

There is the same temptation to keep everything in the home office. I shredded 13 pounds of documents that Dan had kept, including many years of pay stubs, utility bills for a house he hasn’t owned in 15 years, and credit card statements. Why did he keep these? “In case he needed them some day.” “For what?” I ask.

What’s needed is a regular system of purging. Maybe you do need to keep some records for a time. But, eventually, that time will pass. By then, it’s “out of sight, out of mind,” also known as clutter. How can you keep your paper trail from trailing back to the 1970s? Start at the front of the files and start purging, one folder at a time. It might be slow work, but one folder at a time, it will get done. I’m sure you’ll find entire files devoted to things unnecessary: a vehicle you no longer own, a project you decided not to start, a pet who has died. Next you’re going to need to revisit the files on an annual or semi-annual basis. Or, every time you put in a new piece of paper, you can take the last one out and discard it.

The second part of the process, of course, is to resist the temptation to file all these extra papers in the first place. Your credit card and utility statements are on-line, as are many of your investments and other business transactions. Maybe you don’t need a hard copy of these at all. Don’t keep records that you simple don’t need. There can be such a temptation to hold on “just in case.”

Think before you file, and you’ll only have to declutter once.

Today’s Mini Mission

Spy and declutter something electric.

Today’s Declutter Item

I didn’t have anything electric to declutter (surprisingly enough) so I instead I thought I would throw something in that is quite different. Years back (in our USA days) we accumulated a collection of naked back art pieces and since our bedroom is now less the half the size it used to be some have to go. These didn’t make the cut so they went off to the thrift store.

Original Art Works

Something to be grateful for today

A day without a long to-do list. Just tidying up a few loose ends and making some yummy onion soup.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow


Continue reading with these posts:

  • Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Count the Mintues Cindy's Weekly Wisdom Last week, I wrote a post praising the wonderful feeling of getting old to-dos done. As I suspected, I was not alone in 1) having pletny of old to-dos that needed […]
  • Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Are You Hanging on to Too Many Papers? According to a survey I saw recently, 67% of people said that paper clutter is their hardest area to deal with. Who knows if this is truly accurate, but I'm going to assume that it means […]
  • Decluttering Anxiety Cindy's Weekly Wisdom Perhaps if you’re like my mother – always organized, always together, the focused Energizer Bunny – you won’t understand this post, this post about why my house fell […]

Comments

  1. My new system is now after my income taxes are submitted, I go into the archives and remove the file from 10 years ago (or before if I missed some). The only exception are the items pertaining to the house we still have or policies that are still active.
    With my creative work, I keep the developmental scans, files and emails until the client has paid for the work (to prove all the work that went into the job in case they don’t want to pay), after the invoice has been paid I keep only the approved/finished products (and any receipts of costs for accounting purposes). Keeping the in-progress stuff has caused problems later down the road.

    • I made a complex chart for work the other day and when I saved it, I realized that there were numerous preliminary and half completed charts stored in the (electronic) file. I though the same as you: “That’s just going to cause problems.”

  2. Cindy you are so right about this. this was just what I was trying to help my friend with. One thing I couldn’t sell her on was not getting paper statements and instead looking online. She doesn’t like reading online statements. Frown. But at least she is understanding that she doesn’t need to keep those statements forever.

    I have a system I follow. When I buy something as soon as I get home and can I record a debit purchase in Quicken and shred the receipt unless it goes with something I might need to return, has a warrenty connected to it or is needed for tax purposes. These I keep in a special folder. If I use a credit card, I keep the receipt in a folder for that card. When I receive the online statement for the card I make sure that the purchase has come through and then shred the receipt unless I have to keep it for tax/warrenty purposes. At the end of the month I again shred anything I don’t need Once a year I go through my files and shred anything I no longer need. Since I now have most of my statements coming to me online the paper is much less. When I do my taxes I go keep the actual tax return and income forms from the eighth year back and shred everything else. My files are small. My biggest files are our two medical files. Until all the insurances have paid and the bills settled I try to hang onto them. Once that is done I shred them too. I love my shredder. Since we are both on Medicare (SSD for me) they require that all insurance claims and EOB’s be on paper. I hate that. I don’t need most of it and could keep an eye on things online if they would let us.

    • Hi Deb J – I wondered how you got on with your friend’s paper work.

      Over here unless you are self employed or company you are not required to keep any receipts for tax except if you are applying for a rebate on donations and/or childcare. Tax returns for wage/salary persons are done online.

      I have to admit that I keep my credit card statements for a year, but that is because I write notes underneath – my hubby will go on a campaign every so many months “where does all the money go” and so it is easier to pull them out and present them to him as reading matter and as he tends to forget information and I can’t be bothered repeating myself. Like the time he freaked out seeing a payment to a restaurant “What did YOU order Moni?” till I reminded him that he decided to pay for the other two couples we were with. And as we have three teens, there’s always something.

      I’m interested to hear that you use Quicken, I have been seriously considering buying a programme for our personal finances, I keep a note book to write in daily, its a method I use to not let things get out hand, but it would be cool to tap it in and be able to generate reports etc.

      • I use Mint.com, which is free. Not as personalizable as Quicken, but good enough for my purposes.

      • Moni, I do like Quicken because you can set up things to your taste but like Cindy says, Mint.com would work too. I like Quicken because I can not only set up any catagories and sub-catagories I want but I can also set up accounts for my credit cards, savings account, etc. then I can get very detailed reports when I want them. If you stay on top of entering things in when they happen I don’t think it takes long to keep it up. You can also create a budget and various other things.

        • Hi Deb J – yes I think I would want to set up categories and sub-categories – some things aren’t just a blanket description – I can think of lots of things that need to be identified a little bit differently as they are more than just a transaction.

          Hubby and I are self employed so each week I have to try and work out what we need to pay ourselves the following week, there are regular expenses, but it is the unexpected items that blow my budget – there’s always going to be unexpected expenses, but this would be an easy way to see if there is a theme or some sort of cycle that I can factor in.

          • Ah Moni – those were the days, thankfully no more, we were self employed and it was kinda painful doing all the paperwork, my hubby was a self employed tiler till his knee and back protested, then as a computer specialist, the paperwork was unreal, yuck yuck yuck. Currently he is a big wig with soft drinks but soon he’ll be playing with big tonka trucks hahaha. Thank God someone else is doing the paperwork. I take my hat off to you. 🙂 🙂 🙂

          • Quicken has a version for Small business owners. You can keep both your personal and business acconts on it. I think you would find it a big help to you.

        • Hi Deb J – we have a great programme at work called MYOB (Mind your own business LOL) but I’d like something that is specialised for personal accounts that I can do at home. The kids laugh at my notebook where I write in as I spend or as a bill is paid, but it works! I always see what I have spent and what bills are due this week. It influences some plans because if I know my monthly insurance payments and monthly orthodontist installment (daughter) are due out on the 20th plus all the other weekly expenses, I generally don’t go away that weekend or plan anything too big. Also if I’m in a shop I stop and have a look in my notebook and that slows me down. 🙂

          But my notebook doesn’t make it easy to cross reference where the money goes either. One year we blew the clothing budget by about 4 times. Not joking. But son was 14 and went thru 3 sizes of clothes and daughter was 12 and went thru 5 (not joking) sizes of clothing in one year. Hubby initially assumed I’d been out on shopping sprees for me (especially as my wardrobe was always bulging in its pre-declutter state) but I had kept the receipts but it took some collating to prove my innocence. Would be lovely to push a button! Or to show the kids how much something in particular can add up to in a year.
          I will be definately looking into Quicken.

          • Your notebook is not a bad thing so don’t let your kids change you. It’s just nice to use Quicken or something as a supplement because of the reports and things you can get. I’m always looking at ours to see the trends in spending. For instance, I had told my mom that we were spending too much on groceries that were just sitting in the pantry or getting tossed because they were old. She didn’t believe me. So I began keeping all the grocery receipts along with the Quicken reports. I was able to show her. Things changed. She doesn’t “Stock up” like she used to.

            I’m glad you have a good program for work. It makes a big difference just having a good program when you have a business.

  3. Paper clutter is an ongoing challenge and just like dishes and laundry, it never stops. I would like to get some of the numbers and addresses to stop it before it comes in. We go through our files once or twice a year to get rid of the unneeded papers from the previous year or get rid of warrenties for things we no longer own. I think this is one of the most challenging kinds of clutter. How did people survive without computers and printers? Do we feel like we need so much more documentation now? Sometimes I am tempted to do everything online and skip the frustration, but my husband likes to write bills and send checks. Maybe it’s just a habit.

    • People probably had A LOT less paper clutter before computers and printers.

      I cannot understand your husband’s desire to pay bill by hand. It sounds like a desire to waste his good time to my ears.

      • Perhaps he feels the way I do. Handling a piece of paper makes it ‘real’. We pay our bills online but still get our bills and statements in the mail. I need to feel it to process it (mentally). I think it would be too easy to miss a payment if a statement came as an email. Not yet in my comfort zone.

  4. Oh dang! I have been putting off going thru our filing cabinet for weeks, and I keep saying its next on my list, but haven’t got there. This is a sign.

    It is only a two drawer filing cabinet, but it is fairly full

    • Perhaps the time is NOW.

      • Hi Cindy, yes its a sign from Cyber-Space!

      • Hi Cindy – well…..I’ve been working on the filing cabinet and I ended up filling a kleensak! I have 6 suspension files left which doesn’t justify the filing cabinet’s existance. One of the suspension files is my daughter’s assignments but I suspect she will to keep them at this stage, but could happily be moved to a ringbinder. Another suspension file is stuff that I suspect could be scanned instead, but will need to ask my insurance company if they would be ok with that.

        The highlight of the process was finding an envelope mum had posted up and it had my school reports. What a hoot! Not a lot has changed since I was five!

  5. Oh the darn paper clutter. I’m pleased my work adds in the project close out procedure ‘clear unnecessary papers from file’ – just a good reminder! As we work largely on site, a lot more ‘paper’ is generated that perhaps needs to be, and so once it’s being ‘closed’ you can throw out anything that can be found on the computers (IMO). Actually, the office I work in now is similar to one I worked in when I started at this company, except they have a lot more e-filing (in the past there were multiple copies of everything, and a ‘hard’ file for each asset’ – in this office, none of that!)

    Personally – as soon as the binder of paperwork gets overfull, I start culling. Perhaps not ideal ‘procedure’ but it’s a good prompting! Before I moved house, I scanned in all the old paper bank statements, as now that they are available online, surely a copy would be ok should I ever need to reconcile anything. Sadly a new house comes with new paper (bills…) but long as I keep on top of the in AND out, I should be ok

    • I have reduced my own paper clutter and paper generation as much as possible at work, but my bad joke is: We like to kill trees, in triplicate.

      At home, we always use non-critical papers from the office, the kids’ school papers and notes, and fliers left over from my mother’s gardening club in our printer.

  6. Paper clutter probably annoys me the most, it seems I am constantly shredding and/or recycling something. I’ve been using Catalog Choice religiously, and we hardly get any unwanted mail finally, it took a few months of persistence. Yesterday, I finally scanned the majority of my health records (I do need to keep a lot of things most people don’t because of a pre-existing condition) and got rid of them. I am finally down to one of those 7 pocket file portfolio things for ALL my important documents. Hopefully I can keep it that way.

    • We have a 2 drawer file cabinet, and I wonder how much of that I could elminate. On the other hand, my motivation to completely clear it out isn’t too high because it’s handsome wood and holds the printer, which would go where??? if the filing cabinet was gone.

      • Hi Cindy – major LOL! Was just telling hubby I was going to clear out the filing cabinet tonight, and he said “you know what will happen next? You’ll have nothing left in it and decide it has to go” and I said no, because the printer sits on it and there isn’t room on the desk for it just yet.

        I could see he was dying to suggest that I take away the box of cd’s on my desk, but he KNOWs I will remind him that they are waiting for him to help me sort thru them as they all have documents and photos on them.

  7. My sister has moved overseas and had her mail redirected to me. Imagine if your mail was redirected to someone else, what would they receive? Subscriptions from that private school you went to in the 60 & 70’s? Newsletters from the cruise company that you went on a cruise with 15 years ago. Annual general meeting letters and share reports from companies you have invested in. Once the redirection with the post office expires it will all head back to her old address. So we are in the process of changing addresses on all the mail. Sometimes when some questions your need for something it is enough to realize you do not need it. One of the best things I have done is put a “No Junk Mail” sticker on my mail box. It was a great tip from this blog! That really reduced the paper trail. My computers have no printer access , annoying at first, but the urge to print off anything and everything I see on the net is reduced. With online bill receiving and paying , the paper is further reduced. I just “need” to be able to remember the online access codes for all these things! I also stopped having a desk and desktop computer and of course desk chair. We removed the home phone, which lived on the desk, as it only was rung by telemarketers. All the family has mobile phones. Another wonderful tip I gained from this blog, was getting my magazines online, not only is it cheaper but as they are “House” magazines the pictures and articles end up on the net anyway on sites like Pinterest or Better Homes & Gardens or Dwell etc. My ” paperwork ” lives in one folder on the book shelf. After operating our own business for ten years , which involved holding onto every receipt and piles of paperwork I am finally liberated. I have even started to refuse the receipts for purchases I make unless I need them for warranty. How many supermarket and fuel receipts do I need to add clutter to my purse? After ten years of checking every receipt to every bank statement the chances of a receipt not being deducted from your account is higher than it being debited twice. Every day I am so glad I found This site! That is something to be grateful for! Cheers

    • Fantastic Wendy. Maybe in your sister’s absence, you could reduce her mail clutter. After all, it’s now cluttering your life too.

      We have a 2 drawer file cabinet that I probably get into once a week or less, but I also have a small stack of items that need to be filed. The ironic thing about that little stiack is that the oldest paper is TWO years old – part of a tax return. Clearly, lots of the things we save are not needed.

      • Oh Cindy I am reducing her mail/clutter and she is happy for me to do it! That is what I meant about having some one else question what you need to keep, it makes you focus on what is important and what is junk. Would you ask someone to store your jumk mail in a box for them to look at in two years when they return?
        I also think the rule ” if you lost it or it was stolen would you replace it” applies even more to mail clutter, most manuals are online so can be replaced.
        Opening mail near the recycling bin also makes you think twice if you want to keep it or chuck it out. As far as shredding your paper goes I prefer a backyard bonfire with a bag of marshmallows toasting on a stick and the ashes spread on the veggie garden. Cheers

  8. I have been saying for over a year that I was going to buy a shredder and I just haven’t been willing to cough up the money for it. I shred all of our credit card and utility bills by hand after I pay them, but I have boxes of old bank statements and income taxes back to 1988 that need to be shredded and I’m not doing all of those by hand.

    Any idea what a decent shredder costs? I don’t need anything fancy. Just something I can sit in front of and shred boxes of financial documents and kids’ artwork from kindergarten.

    I will keep the paper my son wrote where he said he went to “West Vagina” (meaning West Virginia) and the teacher just corrected it. It’s awesome. I think he was in second grade.

    • Hi Chelle – there are companies that will do your shredding for you ie bulk amonts. Usually they’re listed under ‘archiving’ or ‘document destruction’ – that’s just an option if you don’t want an extra item in the house. Not sure what they would charge or whether it would be economic in comparison to purchasing a shredder.

    • And yes you have to keep the “West Vagina” – that is a must have at his 21st!

      • Oh the famous West Vagina…I can’t even think of anything to say to that!

        A shredder is about $100. Cheap, small home shredders are cheap and small and annoying.

        The credit union I’m a member of has a shred day 2 or 3 times a year, and the professional organizers sponsor an elaborate “clean it out” day once a year where there are representatives of many different organizations so that you can unload, clothes, your electronics, paper to be shredded, etc., and it’s all handled in that one location.

    • Chelle – how come you’ll shred artwork? Surely you could just recycle it?

      • Check AAA and Staples/Office Depot. I think they also have mobile shred days. I bought a tiny shredder at Wal-Mart for under $30 (they always come on sale around tax time). No good for sustained work but quite adequate for the 2 or 3 pieces I do at a time.

    • Hi Chelle, do you have access to the local school shredder, I know here we can pop into school and shred a bag at a time and it gets used up by the lower school for artsy stuff and the gardener uses it in the compost heap. Might be worth a try, all you have to do is ask 🙂

  9. Ugh. Paper clutter just befuddles me. I’ve gone completely digital where I could, but yet I still end up with a home office full of papers not to mention a mailbox full of stuff (even after cancelling catalogs, periodicals, etc via Catalog Choice).

    We also have a 2-drawer letter-size filing cabinet, which is down from a 4-drawer legal-size filing cabinet….but I find this still to be just too much. It’s well-organized, but yet it’s still slam full of papers. Drives me bonkers.

    I hear so many different opinions on what papers you must keep & for how long….but ultimately I think that this varies for each person/ family.

    We keep the super important stuff in a safe deposit box with our credit union but my dream goal would be to do away with the whole 2-dawer filing cabinet at home & just be down to a little portable file folder/box to keep current tax stuff, receipts, etc.
    A dream goal that I just can’t ever conceive of happening though. Wah!

    • Hi Jane – I’ve got the feeling I’m going to end up with one of those portable file boxes too.

  10. Oh, paper clutter!!! Have you been reading my mind Cindy? I cleaned my office a year ago and was so proud of it! But paper has been building up again. It is awful! I was just thinking about doing a file at a time, but new things keep poping up and I don’t feel like taking care of this clutter paper just now. Sometimes it is just too much. 😉

  11. It’s taken me a couple of years to get the paper clutter to a minimum: my goal was to be able to find the relevant documetation at a moment’s notice. My husband can now ask me for the most recent utility bill and I can give it to him without a hassle. It’s a great feeling:-)

    Colleen, your decluttering mini mission was a couple of days late, but it is a good one. I just deleted 5 Gigs of photos off my PC. No wonder it seemed like it was on it’s last legs!! The photos are all backed up on an external drive, and on Snapfish, so hopefully that’s enough. (I miss having them on the PC though, it seemed safer).

    • thats also my minimum requirement for paper clutter: to know where it is and to find it in a minute. I often had to redirect flatmates into my room, into the shelf, second folder from the right and under the tag “whatever” they could find immediatly what I needed on the other side of germany, so they could send it to me…

      I learned this from my dad. he was keeping basically everything, because well – you need everything (he was suspicious) to prove whatever. well when he died we found out that while he kept everything he also established a complicated system of storing and organizing it. and as he was a smart intelligent man, we know there MUST have been a order and logic in it, but we never found it.
      so my goal for this is: keep it simple and keep it clearly labeled so that others can find the required papers too.

      • Lena, my dad was the same!! He kept ALL his paperwork, APART from the Title of the house (which we had to sell), so my sister and I had to pay a small fortune to get a new title!

  12. Oh Cindy, I can laugh at this one because I got loads under control a while back. 2 drawers of paperwork that Hubby ‘Filed????’ turned into 8 bags of shredded paper Yay!!! I actually took a photo of it and pinned the copy to the file drawer, just to remind him what happens when you don’t deal with paperwork in a timely manner! Thankfully we don’t have to keep a lot of paperwork anymore.

    Still working on ‘MY’ paperwork??? in the Scrap cupboard. Heehee 🙂 🙂 🙂

  13. Thanks for the great post.

    I love my office because it’s an endless source of decluttering! I really enjoy purging and simplifying and can always find something in my office (work or home) that can go. I agree with you about electronic clutter, and it can pile up even more easily than paper clutter because it’s not so visible. Instead, it slowly clogs and slows down the computer. One thing I like to do is flick through my electronic photos and delete any that are unclear or multiple photos of the same thing; this is so much easier to do than sorting through hard copy photos.

  14. thanks for bringing it up. I just used this as a reminder and 5 more minutes for doing the to-file-stack, and I found while doing that I need to send in some papers in order to not pay radio and TV fees as I am still student. tada. I would have forgotten about it. thanks a million times.

  15. I think I should raise my hand and say “GUILTY”, becuase my (student) room is FILLED with paper. I have more maps than I probably should.

    Because I’m currently very busy with school (almost no free time to spare), I don’t have time to process those paperpiles. I did look what could go into the trash. In a few weeks, summer starts and I’m planning in catching up with the piles.

    I have piles on a lot of subjects, and they are quite large so I made the deal that for every subject I finish (probably going to take me a few days); I’m allowed to buy my favourite chocolate bar (honestly, with 33 (Euro) cents each, it isn’t a very expensive reward – but it would be oh so good!).

    • I am looking forward to the day when I get to sort out uni things. I will order mysself the very fancy and expensive pizza from the italian place next door and some cold beer and reward myself for finishing uni. oh lord. 7 months to go. and then everything is over and real life starts.

      • Hi Lena – I admire you for being almost nearly there. Good on you! I took a “gap year” and it turned into a “gap life”.

        • oh, dont you wish you would have finished your studies? I would go crazy if I wouldnt get my qualification after all those years of really hard learning. 😉

          I am a bit emotional about this the last couple of days… I got a pretty decent holiday job yesterday and it even might be something for next year, after I am done. its getting quite real now: I will face the ugly outside world soon and I actually liked uni and learning and pretending to do research, even if it is a annoying at times. but I bet normal jobs are too. so now I sit here and write and work and hope to be done and over with it soon, while I actually dont want to leave uni at all. haha. classic. how stupid I am. getting sentimental about something I havent even finished. lol. but at least I wont keep clutter as a reminder of this. I might slip back into feelings, but I wont slip back into bad habits this time. so – back to work! wish me luck!

          • Hi Lena – yes I do sometimes regret but it was a guy who influenced my gap year/life and we’re still together 20 years later and have three kids who we are very proud of, so I can’t complain too much about my decision. My youngest is encouraging me to do some papers but to be honest, I’d probably do completely different subjects and not entirely sure what I would do with it. But if I don’t take up any papers, I’d be ok with it as I do enjoy my life. I was really hoping my son would want to go to Uni, but he doesn’t know what he wants to do and so has no plans to enroll anywhere for next year.

          • I love that you are happy with your decision. I think its so important to be happy about what you have. as there is no man who can influence anything in my life right now – I will stick to the plan and finish everything I started.
            its ok to not know what to do, as long as he enjoys life before he makes a decision. after school, it took me two years to figure out what I want, and then another two years to figure out that I didnt want this after all but something else… Now I am finishing and I am really happy with what I chose and what I learned…

  16. Cindy, thanks for the reminder. I dread the paper clutter. Just shredded two bins of paper, and the file folders will get reused at my place of work. Now that we do online banking, the paper clutter should eventually become more manageable.

  17. Paper was one of the clutter items that my husband got under control when we first began 365 Less Things. Then this year he moved into a new office and in the first few quieter days before everyone else returned from Christmas break he decluttered that as well. He was amazed at the papers that were lingering in the file cabinet, ones form people who long , long ago left the department.

    • conquering the world of other peoples files must have been extremely satisfying for him. I for sure would be.
      and good for you that you are out of the game of dealing with paper.

  18. Hi Cindy………Just a thought on this idea. Many of us live in areas that are prone to “natural disasters.” I live in “earthquake country,” not far from Seattle, WA, USA. for us it’s not a question of “if,” but how big, where and “when” a quake will hit and yet most of us aren’t all that realistic about the consequences. I used to live in hurricane and flood country so I think about it a bit more. Here’s what I do. If it isn’t absolutely necessary, it’s out of here, but first, if important, I copy it into a “cloud,” I use Amazon. The first 5g’s are free. Should there be an emergency, I may not be able to get home and even though I do keep hard copies in my safety deposit box at the bank, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be accessible if we have a quake. Sometimes we forget that these “safe” places are subject to the same conditions we are. Storing copies of things like passports, birth certificates, home insurance policies and driver’s licenses gives you “proof of identity,” no matter where you are. We often aren’t where our documents are and this gives me peace of mind………it’s much less clutter and a much smaller file cabinet……..Just a thought…..Judith

    • I really like the idea of keeping a copy in the cloud, Judith.

      That’s one of my only hesitations when I hear people say they scan everything, then shred. What if something happens to the scanned copy? Then you’re left with NOTHING to show if you needed it.

      • same thought here. I lost more data on a stupid click/damaged harddrive than I ever lost on paper by accident. So scanning would never be an option for really important documents…

  19. Our office will move soon (end of June) and we are starting the purging process to be prepared for the moving. I am in charge of my department storage space. I found out we have 126 (YES 126) big binders (like these: http://www.blumberg.com/invoice.cgi?rm=view_cluster&cluster_id=155035 ) of old papers, some of them even from 1998 and mostly from pre-2006: after that year we stopped printing what we have in digital form too.
    I have been told to look through each binder and throw away as much as possible. That’s a chore I like!! 😛 But it will take me a few days to do so, while I have also my usual job to do. Why did we keep all that paper for such a long time? Anyway it’s such a relief to know that we will move in the new office so much lighter than we were!