Leaning Piles of Paper

August 8, 2022
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Did your shopping-frenzy receipts, holiday cards, and to do lists officially destroy any semblance of order you had going on before the holidays? Is 2022 paperwork starting to smush into 2021 paperwork? Did the crush of the year turn your “office” into one giant (and growing) to do list? Once the papers start to take over, the time it will take you to file anything will have tripled, and leave you with a headache and paper cuts on your hands. The W2s, 1099s and tax appointments are coming!!! It’s time to simplify at least one part of your files – start new with 2022, stop those piles from growing into monsters and give yourself a New Year's filing head start.

A great way to set up a filing system for this year is to base it on what you actually needed to file from last year. I see a lot of filing systems in my line of work…without any actual files in them ;) Because when we set up our idea of the perfect filing system, chances are, it’s not going to mesh with what we actually need, and what we can maintain and keep up with!

The very first step (and most important) is to call your tax preparator and find out what paperwork you actually need to keep for your taxes. You will be surprised at how little of it you really need. There are millennials living completely paper-free. And still file their taxes. Let that sink in. And don’t forget if you can access past bank and credit card statements digitally, you DO NOT need to keep the paper copies.

Take a look at 2021. Is it still in piles and perhaps not even separated from 2020 (or even 2019, 2018…)? Are a few papers filed into 30 different categories for a handful of weeks until it all collapsed into chaos? If you managed to keep up with 2021 and it works, hooray! Move out 2021 (maybe even use the same weekend to fill out your tax organizer and get two birds with one stone) and follow the same system for 2022, with one important exception. Take a look at what you saved. Do you really need everything, or can you hop online and sign up for paperless delivery for half of it? Generally there will be instructions for doing this right on the statement. Take an hour or less to switch anything you can over to paperless and your fingertips will thank you next time you file!

The number one cause of paper clutter is OVER RETENTION. I mean, do you need a 4-page packing slip that doesn’t even have prices on it when you already have an email receipt with everything you need? And cards, and shopping lists and mementos, oh my. And that manual for a thermometer that only has an on/off switch? All that stuff adds up, and just makes it harder for you to get to the stuff you might actually need

I generally never like to suggest someone *buy* something to help them declutter. Decluttering is about listening to your stuff (not just looking around it, past it, through it, tuning it out or ignoring it) and hearing when and what you don’t need, why you’re keeping it, then finally freeing yourself from it. But I’m telling you, a good shredder is one of the best decluttering tools I’ve found. Get one. And decluttering hack #1… go through your mail over the shredder. That way you immediately shred what you don’t need.

And this New Year, resolve to sign up for paperless delivery on anything you don't need that arrives in the mail from now on…sometimes the instructions for it are even on the outside of the envelope!


- Tracy McCubbin, author of Making Space, Clutter Free

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