Paper Problems ~ By Deb J

When I began helping my friend, S, declutter, there were decades of paper archives: phone bills, utility bills, bank statements, medical papers, taxes papers, magazine clippings, newspaper clippings, catalogs, travel memorabilia, recipes, greeting cards, letters, and hundreds of photos (organized by year). Much of this was stacked in boxes in the garage or office with various other locations for smaller boxes or bags. It was a nightmare of unorganized, mostly unneeded paper.

Looking over the mess, it was apparent that this was going to be a huge undertaking. How did this happen? Why would someone let things get this bad? It all comes down to priorities, understanding and dreams. Too many times we feel we don’t have time to deal with something at a specific point in time. Once we put it off, things tend to pile up and become something we really don’t have time for. Other times we may not know what we need to keep and what is no longer important. We often cut out an article or copy down a recipe with thoughts of using it soon only to find that months or years later it is still in a pile of to-do’s. Referencing saved articles, magazines, newspapers, and recipes seldom happens.

The first step in decluttering my friends mountain of paper was to open all the boxes just to see what was in them. It turned out that in this case most of the boxes were all a jumble with no organization whatsoever. Ugh! This represented more hard work. What needed to be done was to deal with one box at a time and sort all of the paper into piles of like topics. All of those piles then needed to be sorted to decide what to keep for tax or other official purposes. Once all this was done the shredding started. Hour after hour of shredding at intervals produced over 14 big trash bags.

When it came to the photos, while sorted into years, nothing else had been done to them. Tossing all the photos that were blurred, too dark, too light, duplicates or with poor composition was the first task followed by sorting according to event. Since S is a scrapbooker, she now has her photos ready to be placed in layouts.

S has no children that would have inherited this mess but here would still be someone who had to deal with it all. Paper is now one thing that will cause fewer issues for the person who is left with the job. Having been through the death of my father and dealing with all that entails, I am glad I was able to guide S to declutter the paper.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter some wall art or empty picture frames you have never use. Another thing my son let go of last week.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Continue reading with these posts:

  • Mini Mission ~ Friday 22Dec2017 Declutter a couple of old shabby shoes that you no long choose to use.
  • How little we really need Every time I go on a long vacation I am reminded of how little one really needs to live a comfortable and functional lifestyle. My husband and I often stay in Airbnb places when on […]
  • Getting the stuff out of your home It has come to my attention, both through comments on my blog and through real life experience, that one of the issues people have with their clutter, once they finally decide to be rid of […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Sounds like quite the undertaking! I’m Guilty of hanging on to paper too long. Beautiful layouts and recipes, photos, etc. Recently I went through a wobbly paper organizing cabinet in hopes that I could get rid of it. After all I hadn’t regularly accessed each drawer for years! But of the eleven drawers, I found very little that I wanted to recycle or toss. It seemed like when I touched the paper, the original reason I kept it came back! Unfortunately, most of it got re-stacked in a different cabinet. Not my brightest moment de-cluttering.
    With the new age of internet searches and everything only a click away, the idea of saving this stuff is – at first glance – crazy! But it’s not usually the “information” so much as the “presentation” that keeps me trapped (beautiful font, layout, illustration that I find compelling and inspiring). I know that I may only every see it when I am sorting through those papers to declutter, but at the same time I still do want to see them again.
    The saving grace is that I have set a physical limit in this sort of thing. I’m Not bringing anything more into this pile of papers, and haven’t for some time now.

    • Creativeme, it sounds like you are a paperholic like I was. At one time I had 3 ring notebooks (3 of them at 3 in each) filled with articles, patterns, etc. that I had removed from magazines, printed off the internet or some such. I finally made myself get rid of it all. haven’t missed it a bit. At some point in time you will probably get to this point also.

      • Just 3?
        Oh boy, I may need to be a little more ruthless!
        I call them “Inspiration Binders”: I have the gardening binder, 2 cooking binders, house decor binder, layout/graphic design BOX, Illustrations/art folder, and kids crafts folder.

        • Creative me. I totally understand your binders. Sometimes it helps to have things to inspire you.

    • Hi, Creativeme. I totally get you on the lovely layouts.

  2. You know what, Creativeme? You actually did make progress. You touched each piece of paper and recalled why it was relevant to you, and you made a decision to keep most of it. Maybe this isn’t the time for you to get rid of the papers. But the next time you look at them, you’ll say to yourself that, “ok, I haven’t actually done/made this and I’ve already look at it. Now am I ready to get rid of it?” Maybe you will be. Maybe not yet. Or maybe you will have found something else that you like better and get rid of the old recipe, craft project, or whathaveyou.

    Whenever these posts come up about papers, and thanks for that Deb J., it jogs my memory that I have extensively gone through some old papers and I deliberately decided to keep them. Here, maybe 2-3 years later, I haven’t touched a single one of those papers. This could be the push to finally dump them in the recycling bin.

    Hey Colleen, I finally figured out Pinterest! I logged in under my facebook account and that was a nightmare! I was seeing all my fb friends’ pins and that was way overload for my brain. It took me a while, but I figured out how to unfollow all my fb friends. This could be addictive. I didn’t understand it when it first came out, but I really like the idea of my own personal bulletin board where there are things that I admire or want to try. So thanks everyone who suggested this to me. 🙂

  3. Great post Deb J!

    I’m a paper lover myself. I pay bills with checks and mail them in. I like to write notes to myself on paper. I have an iPhone with note app but don’t like the app.

    However, I have most all my paper categories filed neatly in file cabinets (yes, I have 3 cabinets). I can usually pretty quickly put my hands on anything I need. One cabinet is for “archived” records that need to be kept. One cabinet is for our daughters school records and also functions as an “end table”. The last cabinet is for bills, medical, cars, & household stuff. This last cabinet is used daily as my desk and stores my shredder. All files in it are still relevant to our daily life, since I go through it periodically and shred outdated items. There aren’t any “boxes of paper” anywhere. But sometimes papers lay about on my “desktop” file cabinet until I decide where they belong LOL. I’m happy with my system for now… If our daughters ever move out, however, they will get a donation of their info to take with them. Then I will possibly be able to move things around and get rid of our “archive” file cabinet. It’s one of those things Moni talks about, waiting until the kids leave to move things along… just can’t remember how she says it 🙂

    I feel that as long as someone has a system going for their papers, it’s okay to love paper… But there has to be a system and it has to be easy to use or it won’t get used… then there will be the dreaded boxes of paper!!! xoxoxo

    • Peggy – I call it putting an expiry date on it.

      • Hi Moni,

        Thanks for the reminder! I loved the posts you wrote and all the comments you write 🙂

    • Peggy, I’m glad you liked the post. Isn’t it amazing how things change when the kids move out? One of the first things to do is declutter (then Mom says “then move somewhere smaller so they can’t move back in.”).

      • Hi Deb J,

        That is funny what your mom says about moving someplace smaller! I would do that if I didn’t love my neighbors so much… Our house is approx. 1250 sq ft, a total of 6 people and their stuff currently live in this space. I say to myself “thank goodness I started decluttering awhile back”… If I hadn’t, not sure what our house would look like!

  4. Hi Deb and Readers,
    One of the things that can help is to contact the local shredding company. Sitting down to spend hours shredding is a time killer and most home shredders can’t take that kind of sustained shredding. Been there, done that, so over it.

    I work from home in accounting and have a ton of shredding. I take it to the local Cintas/Shred-More a couple of times a year. I can get the equivalent of a 33 gallon trash can shredded for $20. I am in Boise, Idaho. Prices may vary. Also, some communities will host shredding days and allow people to bring paper for shredding to a specific location, usually for free. Our community does this, but limits us to 2 paper trash bags. Not enough for my needs, but might work for some people.

    • Carol – I agree 100% I get a wheelie bin delivered once a year for tax records (pre-digitising) and general papers.

    • Carol, we have a group that comes and does shredding in our neighborhood. They have this big truck (a lot like a trash truck) and they shred it right while you are there. They will take stuff until they fill the truck.

  5. Here is a cautionary tale from Sydney, Australia where it’s hot and humid in summer… I had some “important” papers stored in a sturdy cardboard accordion file – the type the looks like a mini-suitcase. It seems I was not the only one in our household who thought “Mmm, that file looks retro-cute”. I opened it one day to find not one, but seven, giant brown cockroaches had taken up residence in it. After I stopped screaming and running around with the insect spray, I discovered they had gotten so big and fat and happy munching on my papers. It’s amazing how quickly I decided that they weren’t that “important” after all! This was a couple of years ago now, and I haven’t missed a thing from that box yet.

    • Oh man, Laura. I would’ve had the same reaction to the cockroaches. I scream like a victim in a B horror flick when I see one. I had no idea they ate paper. Good to know.

    • Oh my, Laura. That’s horrible. You never know what will end up in your pile of boxes that’s for sure.

      • Well, I guess I’ll add to the gross-ness. I lived for a bit in a camper trailer and the temperature flux was astonishing. This wasn’t papers because I had them in a plastic bin in the kitchen area, but I had winter sweaters stored in the upper cabinets . . . yep. . . mold. Ick.

    • Laura, that is hilarious!

  6. Great post, Deb J! Paper is the bane of my existence. I do love to write lists and have a paper calendar though, because I find that I remember things better if I write them down. My husband and I are slowly going paperless with our bills and have automatic deductions for most of the bills. I have a ton of stuff to go through and I need to file/shred/toss. I did get rid of almost every magazine in my house and any articles/recipes I pulled out of them were put in the trash. I donated the magazines to my daughter’s art teacher for her summer camps. She was very appreciative! I am working on the rest of the paper clutter and will hopefully, get things squared away soon.

    • Oh my, Laura. That’s horrible. You never know what will end up in your pile of boxes that’s for sure.

    • Toni, I’m sorry my reply to Laura ended up under your comment as well as hers. I’m not sure what I did wrong. Anyway, it sounds like you are trying to get a handle on the paper problem. It’s on of those incidious ones that catches up all at one time or another.

  7. AAARRRRGGGHHH! Paper is my downfall! I have tried and tried to keep the stuff from coming into my home in the first place, I’ve switched everything I can to paperless statements, I’m on the national “no junk mail” list, and I religiously unsubscribe from anything and everything I can – but inevitably the mailbox still contains 4-5 items per day.

    I think I just suffer from a fear that I might “need” that piece of paper one day, so I end up keeping it. I have tax records dating back to the 1980’s, I never know what to do with those packing slips & receipts that you get with everything. I’m trying to get better… I really am – I went through the file cabinet and took an enormous box of things to the shredding company to get rid of about a month ago, but the problem is that I just can’t seem to keep up with the daily influx – and once I get behind things just get buried on my desk and soon I’m lost in piles again – like now.

    Sitting on my desk right now is something from my broker (unopened) – I think I’ve signed up for paperless with them about a zillion times. There’s a statement from the credit union (which doesn’t seem to have a paperless option,) a request for money from the zoo, some tax statement from a mutual fund that I don’t think I need – but I’m not sure, a packing slip from a birthday gift that arrived in the mail a few days back (can I just toss that? should I shred it?) a cheat sheet of internet passwords (been looking for that), a pile of folders from working on my taxes (I really should put those away, but I’m afraid I’ll forget to finish my taxes if I do,) an invoice from my health care that needs to be filed (I guess… why do they send me these things when I’m signed up for autopay anyhow… do I need to keep it?) invoices from my cat’s last vet visit waiting for me to get the energy to file a claim with pet insurance, one of those stupid privacy statements from the bank (should I keep that?) an expired auto insurance card that’s sitting there to remind me to print out the current ones, a box from an old prescription to remind me to refill it, a parking receipt from jury duty a few weeks ago (do I need that?) a pile of notes from a project that I’m sorta working on when I’m not distracted with something else, a menu from CatMan’s favorite Chinese restaurant…. and buried at the bottom, a long lost “to do” list that I made about a month ago.


    • Eco Cat Lady – I hope you don’t mind me jumping in but I worked in a District Council’s Records and Archives (Town Hall in USA?) for four years and from there went on to train as a book-keeper, so this is right up my alley. In fact I am going to help a friend this weekend who has five big storage bins full of paper.

      Here’s the biggest secret to paper – pick up one, only one, bit of paper and deal with that. Don’t put it down until its been dealt with or filed or shredded.

      One at a time. That’s the rule.
      You can only do one thing at a time.

      OK. It will seem painfully slow and frustrating but picking up a piece of paper and putting it down again, and grabbing another piece of paper and putting that down will get you nowhere.

      First of all, establish what the tax laws are in your area for keeping records. In New Zealand, we have to keep business records for seven years BUT we are allowed to keep digital records from Day One. I believe in Australia it is five years but they must keep the paper copy for the current financial year after that they can digitise. I can pretty much guarantee it will be less than seven years.

      Here our personal tax returns are much simpler than America’s and most people don’t keep paper records (for personal) beyond a year or so, as our tax return system is digital.

      Once you have established what the requirement for keeping tax records is, get everything past that time destroyed. I recommend a document destruction service.

      Right-o getting back to the one-piece-of-paper method. Strictly one piece of paper at a time.

      Occasionally you may have to put something aside ie if you are waiting for further information. Get a post-it note and write a quick description on it, slap it on the piece of paper and put it AWAY from the desk. Personally I’d lay them out on the floor so that you can’t overlook them, can find them again easily and can’t lose them in the pile of papers. Once the info comes in, return to that bit of paper and deal with it until it is completed.

      Packing slips are not tax documents. They can go.

      If there are items which require going out ie prescription refill, put them in your car or your handbag.

      Menu – see if it has an online menu or a phone app.

      To-do list. I imagine time has taken care of it and most items on the list are no longer required.

      If in doubt scan documents. I have access to a super-dooper scanner and I digitally file everything and then shred the original. Make sure you rename to something that is obvious or easy to locate later.

      If you would like specific help or a personal cheerleader on this project, contact Colleen for my e-mail and I’d be happy to assist. I have recently helped an ADHD friend with her office (paper everywhere) and starting tonight I am helping a friend with hers. We had to dump it all in five 80 litre storage bins and whisk it out of site prior to their Open Home. So I am very familiar with this kind of work and happy to help out.

      • Thanks so much Mari. When I look at what piles up on my desk, it seems like my problems fall into several categories.

        1) Don’t know if I need to keep it or not. I need to do some research on various things and then post a list of rules for myself so I don’t have to agonize over every single piece of paper.
        2) It’s there to serve as a visual reminder to deal with something. I’m an “out of sight out of mind” person and my problem is that if I put something “away” it’s like it disappears off the face of the planet, and if I’m not tripping over it, I’ll forget to do it. I have no idea how to solve this problem.
        3) Shredding. I don’t own a decent paper shredder, so things that need to be shredded pile up. Plus, I have NO IDEA which things can just be tossed into the recycling and which things need to be shredded – I’ve heard that anything with your name & address needs to be shredded. Can that possibly be true? Maybe I should do some research on that as well.
        4) My filing “system” sucks, so it takes me forever to find the folder where xyz piece of paper is supposed to go.

        Anyhow, maybe I just need better systems for dealing with this stuff. Slowly, slowly, slowly…

        • EcoCatLady – I think the set of rules is a good idea.

          Shredding – I agree these days if it has personal details on it, shred it. Set up a box with ‘to be shredded’ on it and get started. Don’t let that hold you up. As stated elsewhere, consider a document destruction service. If they have a minimum amount required, find a friend that also needs to sort their paperwork and pool it together.

          Ok, you’re a piler not a filer. That’s ok, you just need a system suited to you. One of my friends is a piler not a filer and we worked out a system that she was comfortable with, not one that I felt was superior and comprehensive because at the end of the day, she has to use and maintain it, not me!

          But definately, one bit of paper at a time. You’ve already mentioned a couple of forms that need to be completed and posted off, why don’t you start with those?

          • When my boss is gone on extended travel, I “pile” on his desk. In front of each pile, I place a stickie note that says “See Me”, “Sign”, “Return Call”, or “Mail”. He can whip through those piles in 2.5 seconds when he gets back from his trips. 😉

        • Hi, Eco Cat Lady. Regarding your 2nd point, would the tickler file system/43 folders system help? You’d still be able to have a visual reminder in the form of the files but with the relevant action papers tucked away inside the files. I’ve used this system before and it worked well for me.

    • EcoCatLady, Moni has done a realy great job giving you ideas. either of us would be glad to have an email conversation with you about various pieces of paper you find.

    • Hi Eco Cat Lady,

      I agree with Moni to pick up one piece of paper at a time and deal with it. I would ask myself:

      1. What is this paper?
      2. Does it require action (like a phone call or letter)?
      3. Am I required by law to keep it?

      I keep “requires action” papers in an action folder, NOT with archive files like taxes and legal papers. I keep the action folder with my laptop and monthly calendar, and then work on the papers when I have time. They are never out of sight, out of mind! I keep “bills to be paid” in their own space (a clear plastic shoe-box style container) in a kitchen cabinet because I don’t have an office. This box also contains my checkbook, a pen, stamps, letter opener, and calculator. I pay bills on the 1st and 15th of each month, which is marked in my monthly calendar. I keep legal papers, insurance papers, and papers for cars, house, etc. in a fireproof filing box. I don’t keep bank statements or utility papers because I don’t need them for taxes. I keep tax records and old investment papers in a red-rope accordion file in a back closet.

      I know your post was about getting rid of paper, and it sounds like Moni will have some great ideas for you. I just wanted to share my three-tier system with you because it works so well for me. To recap, I keep (1) bills and action files near me and my laptop, (2) current files in a filing box, and (3) archive files that I don’t need to access often in a back room.

      I hope I’ve given you some ideas rather than confuse you. Good luck with your papers. You can do it. 🙂

  8. Deb J – just as a side note – shredding that kind of quantity of paper is bad for asthmatics. If you ever find yourself helping another friend, get a document destruction service.

    • Moni, you are right about the document destruction service. They are pretty easy to find now and I think there are ones out there that are reasonable.

  9. Ugh, paper vexes me too. In the past year and half I have shredded around 3,000 sheets of paper. I knew it was going to be a lot so I kept a running estimate, but I didn’t think it was going to be that many. I still have 10 large 3 ring binders, 3 file drawers and a safe with the past 7 years of taxes and important documents. When we first got married 21 years ago we had ONE binder for everything! How does this happen?! Medical papers are something I’m not sure what to do with. Those are two binders worth of papers. I keep thinning and thinning them all down but I’m still not satisfied with the amount we have left.
    My mental hurdle here is the fact that our taxes were audited one year (the gov’t thought the year we adopted 3 children would be a fun year to audit us!) So I know a tax audit can happen and it does help to have all the receipts. Oh yes, I also have 7 shoe boxes of receipts. One for each of the past 7 years. I now shred the oldest year when a new year comes around – the receipts are barely readable by then. I think I need to work on a new system for receipts and papers for us. I loathe the idea of scanning everything, maybe there’s a happy medium somewhere….

    • Claire – your shoebox method is very simple but very doable so I’d recommend sticking with it. It sounds to me that you’ve used this method quite successfully for 7+ years and its easily kept up to date and easily managed.

      I personally scan everything, but I have access to a super-dooper scanner and its a part of my industry so not really an issue for me however why buy a porche if a station wagon will do the job?

      However there are things which could probably be scanned and then shredded, so its a case of making a system that works for you and what you are and aren’t likely to need to access. I’ve offered EcoCatLady and if you’d like some extra support direct, just ask Colleen for my e-mail address. If I can get my ADHD friend a system to manage her office, I can organise anyone!

      • Hi Moni! Thanks so much! I think that in some ways I am aspiring towards minimalism and all these papers just don’t mesh with being minimal. I’d love to hear your advice on what I have left and whether or not you think I can shred any of it!

        • Claire – contact Colleen for my email, sometimes a second opinion from someone who has been-there-done-that speeds things along.

    • Claire, it is really easy for paper to get out of hand just because of all the paper we get just because we are alive. I have one rule of thumb that is number 1. If I don’t need to keep it out it goes. When I first started figuring it all out I looked through all the papers I had to see what kind I accumulate. Then I decided which I needed to keep and which I didn’t. The first question is “do I need to keep it for taxes and how long”? The second thing I look at is if I don’t need to keep it for taxes do I need to keep it in case I return it or something goes wrong with it. I try to staple the receipt to a warrenty if there is one. If it is a credit card bill, doctor’s bill, etc. then I keep it until I receive the statement showing it is paid. I think many times we have no clue how long to keep things. Most things you will find can be shreded and gotten rid of.

      • Deb,

        Great post! Another good question is “Can I replace this paper easily if I need it?” A takeout menu….yes. A tax form…..not as easy. I’m like you, I don’t keep any paper if it’s not absolutely necessary.

      • Hi Deb J! I think that is where I am really stuck, knowing what I “need” for the future. We’ve had such a different life – emigrating to different countries that required proof of residence with things like electric bills, bank statements, and photographs!!?!! Then our tax audit after adoption had me hoarding so many receipts and papers “just in case”. The adoption itself was/is loads of papers. Surgeries, do I need paperwork to prove I had surgery?!!! Old pay stubs that remind me how much I made and dates of employment….. Then there was the sale of two homes….. Sometimes I like to ask myself “what is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t have those papers?” But I don’t probably know all the answers to that question for all situations!
        My paper situation is much better than it was two years ago but still I’m sure there is room to get rid of some of what is left. It is like solving a puzzle or mystery for me at the moment!

        • Claire – that kind of information should be scanned, then shredded.

        • Claire, it all depends on where you live what you need to keep. It also depends on whether you are going to move countries again. Once you know that you will have a better idea of what to keep. Then I would scan it all in if possible. Sure saves room and, if you [ut it in the cloud, you also won’t lose it.

    • Claire,

      I don’t see anything wrong with your shoebox method, because it doesn’t grow. But if you want to shrink its footprint, you could copy the receipts on a copy machine, putting as many receipts on a page as possible. This might end up with 7 folders instead of 7 boxes. Of course, you may loathe the idea of copying as much as scanning.

      • Hi Melanie! I guess 7 shoeboxes just seems like a lot of papers to me. And, to boot, my printer/copier/scanner is on the blink. Can’t get it to function for anything. I would consider scanning (maybe) if it was working but I don’t know if it is worth buying a new machine for that. I’ll probably wait until I have another more pressing need for one and then scope out one that would make scanning easy. This one is (was) a pain to scan with.

  10. Great post Deb J. I was only commenting the other day in regard to the reduction in paper mail we receive. What bliss it is. The gas account arrived today by email.
    I don’t keep bank statements because I can access these online and they send them in a PDF format .
    I have the important papers in plastic sleeves in a folder.
    The issue of requiring paperwork from the past is when it/or related issues are not dealt with at the appropriate time. A relative is always late with completing their tax return. The flow on effect is horrendous . Instead of dealing with it annually , they create more problems for themselves .
    My preferred way of dealing with excess paperwork is a good old fashioned bonfire. With a bag of marshmallows for toasting.:). Cheers

    • WendyF, I like your bonfire and marshmallow roast idea. We have very little mail coming it here. I have taken my name off every list I can. I have a paper recycle bin. As I open mail I put anything I don’t want in it or shred what I need to shred and then put the shredding into the paper recycle bin. Once a month or so I dump it in the recycle bin we have here in the community. We also have a recycle bin for cardboard, metal, glass and plastic. We dump that once a week.

  11. Two comments.
    First: When my dad died in 2007, he left several boxes full of financial papers dating back to the ’80s. I just put them in my attic, I guess hoping they would disappear. Well, they didn’t. When we were cleaning out to move last year, I found them. I figured I’d burn through a couple of shredders and several days of my time shredding them myself. So, I took them to a local UPS that provides a shredding service. After delivering all of the documents to them AND paying $60, I was done with that. I vowed not to have to do that again. I’m being diligent shredding all of our paperwork when it is no longer needed and not waiting a minute more than I have to.
    Second comment: My wife and I married in 1984, and the next year we, of course, filed jointly for the first time. I found out that when she paid bills, she very diligently pulled the bill out of the envelope, carefully wrote down the date and check number she paid it with, and then PUT THE BILL BACK IN THE ENVELOPE- and kept it for future generations! She had done this for several years. I strongly suggested that the envelope was not necessary, and that after a maximum of a year, she/we could throw away the electric/gas/water/phone bills! We do not have to look back 30 years and reminisce about how cheap everything was!
    (Of course, I’d done something similar, too, but I didn’t tell her!)

    • Jeff, it sounds do like you had a similar experience to mine when your dad died. My father had every tax return back to 1950. What your wife did is similar to what my friend did. I have finally convinced my friend to get rid of a bill once it is paid and clears the bank. Now, if I could only convince center her to get electronic bills.

    • Jeff, I loved your comments. My grandmother kept old bills and ads. Well, she kept everything as she was an extreme hoarder but she did keep some things with a purpose. She passed away in 2013 and last year my aunt gave us papers she had meant for my mom. There were bills in there my mom paid in 1989. I have no idea how my grandmother got them. Inflation always make things seem cheaper but with livelihood counted in it was all the same anyway. I remember when I was 19 my grandmother told me she remarried when bread was $.10. I said, “well isn’t that the same as the $2.00 it costs now (back then) if you consider inflation?” She was so mad at me, I think she wanted me to be amazed.

      • Remembered, not remarried. I have to stop using my phone to comment.

      • Jean, it’s funny you would say that about your grandmother. I made a comment sort of like that to my mother one time and she wasn’t too happy to hear it. Then I reminded her that at my last job I made more in one year than my father ever had in a year in his whole working life. She realized that we need to keep perspective.

  12. Paper clutter is my nemesis. It is great to hear that I’m not the only one who is waging war on it – encourages me to keep up the good fight!

  13. Great post today, Deb J. I am slowly winning my paper clutter war too. I am still finding things to declutter and what a great feeling it is each and every time stuff leaves my house.

  14. Great article, DebJ. I think everyone struggles with paper to some extent. I have read that you should keep your actual tax return forever, if possible. However, any supporting documents should not have to be kept past 7 years. I am not sure if these are still the current rules, but I have kept all my tax forms in a permanent file. They take up little space. However, I keep the last 7 years in a current file with supporting documents (mostly because of my husband’s business). When I get a new year of taxes done, I get rid of everything except the actual form from the one 7 years back, and move the form to the permanent file.

    Rules and regulations cause a lot of paper to come in. I just changed to a different pharmacy and was upset today when I found 32 pages of info tucked into my husband’s prescriptions!!!! Thankfully, his name is not on the papers so I put them straight into the recycle bin. But, what a waste!!!!! I plan to call them to see if they HAVE to give me this amt every month!!

    Even though my papers are fairly organized, I still find it hard to keep the clutter off my desk, which is in the living area, until I take care of it. It makes the whole room look messy. I’ve tried all kinds of systems but haven’t found the answer. I think I just need a place to hide my desk but I don’t have a place to do that. Ha!

    • Brenda, I checked with the IRS here in the US one time about tax returns. I was told that they will only audit you back to 7 years. What I have learned is that if you have a house then you need to keep your tax returns because when you sell you need to be able to use info from your tax returns to figure the taxes for the year you sell it. It all has to do with the cost basis of the house when you first bought it and any remodeling you used on taxes since. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that from now on.

      I know what you mean about all the paper that comes with prescriptions. If I have been taking a prescroption for years, I don’t need all those papers about it now. It’s really frustrating.

      I have a possible solution for the papers you haven’t take care of yet. Put them all in a folder. It will still be there but won’t be quite as messy to look at. Of course, I take care of things as they come in as much as possible.

  15. Nice post, Deb J! Wow, that must have been an avalanche of paper!

    “Too many times we feel we don’t have time to deal with something at a specific point in time. Once we put it off, things tend to pile up and become something we really don’t have time for. Other times we may not know what we need to keep and what is no longer important. We often cut out an article or copy down a recipe with thoughts of using it soon only to find that months or years later it is still in a pile of to-do’s.” I totally agree with this. Postponed decisions do often lead to clutter. It’s so easy to be buried by paper if we are unable to keep on top of it. It boggles the mind, to think about all that paper just sitting about in no-man’s-land, waiting for someone to take action.

    • Nicole V, yes it was an avalanche of paper. I’m talking boxes and boxes. She still has more than I think she needs but that is because she puts off taking care of things as they come in. Here in Arizona we can deduct all medical expenses and rather than keep the receipts neatly in a bundle she stuffs ALL receipts in a bag and then has to go through them at the end of the year. I finally gave up trying to change her habit of doing that.

  16. It is so interesting to read the types of papers people keep. I have a very dear friend who insists on keeping her individual US tax returns and the paper documentation that supports each return, forever. She and her husband have been married 51 years. I can’t even imagine doing that, let alone leaving that hot mess for your children to deal with.

    • Kimbeley, I so know what you mean. My friend’s husband has a copy of every computer project he every programmed for any company he worked for. He’s 67 and still working. He has boxes and boxes stacked in his office with these in them. many of those programming languages are obsolete. Crazy.

  17. It has taken me years to slay the paper beast. I started in 2007, and made so much progress. After finding 365 I made so much more progress. Now it’s down to the paper box with scrapbook paper that’s left, clippings ( I got my four envelopes down yo two last week), and all official documents are in my two file boxes at the bottom of my linen closet. I also have my sentimental box (little, cake-sized box)of cards my husband and I exchanged and the family photos of my childhood.
    When you have that attraction to paper for whatever reason, it is constant maintenance. The more I maintain the more I downsize. I made a comment a couple of months ago when I had my big paper box stuffed full of papers. It was really a dresser drawer in the dresser we repurposed as our entertainment center as the need for it’s function has changed. I tended to make it into my junk box as well by letting coupons, loose socks, business cards and other random things slip in there. I was complaining about the overwhelm, digging for bills and recipes etc. I hope someday to be paperless but my attempts to do that in 2011 just left me with a bunch of confusing jumbles of scanned documents so for now it’s concrete paper.
    I wasn’t in the habit of signing up for the follow-up cookents but that time I did and Colleen commented and told me this seemed like a very stressful situation for me to always be dealing with everyday and that perhaps that should be my next focused priority to completely go through it. She was so right and I did go through it. The two file boxes are so easy to manage, the one is less visited and other is the one that gets all of the traffic. It’s so nice to open the closet door and sit in the hallway to take a little break from homeschooling mommy hood to put away papers that need filing, and toss the last insurance statement I received or what have you. I am so glad I addressed that. No more loose socks or random hardware shoved in there. The files are a beautiful blue-green shade that is just a delight to see everyday after the mail comes in.
    Another motivator is my little paper destroying monster who lives here.
    Deb J I don’t know if you are professional with organizing or if you are just helping friends like S because of your passion for simplicity but either way what a blessing to be able to share that with others! It is such a commitment of the heart and the mind.

    • I really should mention the chain reaction to this project. In order to have s space for the file boxes in my closet I needed to first deal with what was being stored on the closet floor. Moving things around, letting a few things go where I could, reassessing everything. Now the closet floor, which I keep clean, has the two file boxes stacked mext to my sewing box. The dresser, which is very nice and low and long like a buffet cabinet, stood empty but very poorly from when my toddlers broke the top drawer years ago. My husband did a little woodwork on his department’s table saw, and bought all the right hardware and fixed it up. We pulled our living room TV off of the sad little coffee table it was housed on and put the TV there, said goodbye to the coffee table. Now I had a place to store the kids DVD’s that I kept in a brown shoe organizer on the inside of the closet door. Goodbye shoe organizer for donation.

    • Jean, it sounds to me like you have gotten a much better handle on your paper. Yes, it is still a hard thing to do because paper comes at you from everywhere. I have a shredder at my desk because I end up with so much to get rid of. Yet, I have take my name off as many lists as I can find. Yet, as Brenda mentioned, there are many places we get paper from whether we want it or not. Eventually we find a good solution to handle things best for us. It just takes lots of time sometimes.

      I used to help people declutter and organize as a side job. Now I just help friends when they want it.

  18. Gosh I hate paper clutter. I’m not perfect, but I’ve gotten a lot better about not letting it accumulate. I stopped my magazines from coming and I’m not keeping lots of recipes and such anymore. I also get rid of all the unnecessary statements, etc at the end of each year (from the year before). Of course, I keep tax stuff for the required amount of time, but otherwise I try not to keep so much paper.

    • Kayla, it sounds like you are doing a good job of keeping on top of the paper. It does take a lot of time to even do that.

  19. Paper is a constant war in our house. My husband is a very hardworking man but a bit ADHD when it comes to follow-though. He’ll open the mail, look at it and then……kitchen counter, dining table or just about anyplace horizontal will be its resting place. When I moved in with him nigh on 20 years ago, every horizontal surface was covered with stuff, except for a place at the kitchen table large enough for him to eat. I instituted the Kitchen Table Police so that we would at least be able to eat, but it took a very long time to deal with the stacks avalanching off the dining room table, the dressers, the drafting table and all the shelves in the basement. Strangely, the vast bulk of this paper was total junk – sales flyers and such – into which was mixed a very small amount of paper of any worth (correspondence, taxes, etc.) He simply doesn’t deal with it. Compounding the problem is his habit of jotting notes and messages on the nearest piece of paper, whether it be an important document or junk mail (this despite my box of notepaper right beside the phone), making it a double job to decide what can be disposed of and what must be kept.

    We are making progress. He does sometimes put stuff in the recycle bin but paperhandling is mostly my department — for the sake of my sanity if nothing else. My own papers – craft papers, recipes and all those – are at least things I have consciously decided to keep and which are kept tidy, reviewed and disposed of over time.

    I have taken to shredding EVERYTHING. I have a cheap home shredder but I figure any bad guy who got my shredding wouldn’t sift through shredded recipes and flyers to find the odd bit of personal information. Besides, shredding does take away the opportunity to second-guess the decision to toss. Anything in the recycle bin has two weeks to be pulled out – shredding is final.

    • Wendy B, my friend, S, has a husband just like you but she doesn’t want to clean up after him. I have tried to show her how easy it is to take care of things. I don’t know if she is following through. I’m glad you are trying to kepp on top of things because I can just imagine how the mess would drive you nuts. It would me. Keep shredding.

    • That sounds like such as awesome system WendyB. My husband has come so far with his tools/tech junk/metal recycling. He is such a hardworker too he just has other things he tends to focus on, what is most important that day. I am the paper fiend in the marriage. We have both come a long way. The mail is insidious, isn’t it? It really has to dealt with every day.
      I had a home shredder too, which I loved but I ran the poor thing into the ground eventually.I so agree with you about the bad guy scenario. People warned me to get a cross-cut shredder that turns your papers into confetti but I figured no one would want to trouble with it.

      • I can see the value in a cross-cut shredder if you own a business or have lots of sensitive papers, or if you only use the shredder for these things. If our recycling program required us to sort our paper (office paper is higher value than glossy or newsprint, shredded is lowest value) I would sort and then shred only what’s necessary. Our recycling system mushes all papers together and there’s no value in sorting so I can happily shred whatever I like without enviro-guilt. There’s also something satisfying about hearing that little whirr as the shredder says goodbye to my paper burden.

        Deb, your friend may not like to clean up after her husband but by not doing so she is simply adding stress to resentment. She’ll resent him either way (whether she leaves the mess lying around or she cleans it up). I’d rather just deal with it than be buried in it.

        • Wendy B, I like the sound of the shredder too. I like knowing that the shredded paper is one more thing I can dump. My friend will tell you that she is just lazy & would rather read.

        • We have the guilt free recycling here too. What a conundrum with S. I wonder if she is nursing the resentment because it serves some kind of purpose for her, Deb J. I don’t know anything about her or her situation so I can’t even guess. We all clutter different types of clutter for different reasons.

          • Jean, yea I am really not sure why S does what she does but it can be quite frustrating. I just have to let her do what she wants to do or doesn’t want to do. I sure can’t take it on myself because then I would be enabling her and stressing myself out.

  20. Deb J, you are doing all you can do. You are absolutely right to support her without causing yourself additional stress.

  21. The file cabinet I use as a desk when I pay bills also has shelving behind a door. I keep a small box (maybe the same volume as a shoebox) for items to get shredded, along with our shredder. When the box is full, I shred. The shredded paper goes into my compost. The worms love paper and make the best “soil” out of it! So the paper goes away and I later have a nutrient-rich garden amendment. Win win! I had to laugh though because one day I looked into my neighbors tree and some bird had taken a bunch of my shredded paper to “feather” its nest 🙂

    • Aww, the ultimate in recycling!

    • What a great way to recycle Peggy. Good for you.

    • We did this at one point Peggy, but the shredding took up so much space in the bin, which is from the city and pretty much the upcycled top half of a large black garbage bin. I also gave up paper towels because of all of the room they start to take up and switched to cloth. We just stick to veggie/fruit scraps now. Do you have an additive you put in to speed it up?

      • Hi Jean,

        We don’t use an additive so it can take a lot of time for the compost to compost! But I don’t care because we have the pile in the backyard (not a “precious” neighborhood). It sucks up the water when it rains, which is one purpose of our compost. We have clay soil, so poor drainage & we get “lakes” in our yard when it rains. The compost pile does make a difference. Also, the squirrels like to check it out for snacks 🙂

        • Thanks for the rely Peggy. We took a composting class and we were told by the instructor the pile method is much better than the bin method, which of course I am sure you already know. Our neighborhood is not precious either (some neighbors with weeds up to my knee here) but I worry about one of our dogs rolling in it. Our boxer dog is a clown. So for now it’s the bin, maybe someday we’ll have space for a pile.

          • I agree about the doggie aspect. Although I never worried about my dog rolling in it (he died a few years ago), I worried about what he might find to eat in there or whether he might “do his business” in my pile, so I kept it on the side yard then, usually covered with black plastic. My dog was fenced in the backyard, so did not have access to the side yard… (except for mommy leaning over the gate to force love on him LOL)