Last Updated on June 29, 2022 by Rebecca Huff
Paper cluttering, doesn't that phrase just get you all excited? No? Me either, but… I finally made it to finishing the paper category! I put off this task for a while, because frankly, I’ve really been a slacker at keeping my papers and documents organized.
[Tweet “Kondo's Rule of Thumb: Discard everything…”]
Yes, you read that right; Kondo says papers are annoying and never inspire joy. I'm just going to be honest, when I read that line (twice actually) I started wondering if the author of this little book has some form of OCD. I'm not making fun of people who truly have obsessive compulsive disorder, I have a mild form of it according to my therapist. Hey, we recognize our own…
Kondo certainly didn't have children at the time she wrote this book. Just her matter of fact way of discarding everything, it's quite unusual. Yes, I understand the concept. Most parents cannot just toss everything with reckless abandon. That's just my opinion and what I think of the author is really irrelevant except that it's hard to take advice from someone you don't relate to; I certainly cannot relate to this author. (I already mentioned that I put my own twist on “thanking” my items for being useful; #6 in this post)
While I'm not a packrat, I'm not a minimalist either. I think I've been filing all documents, receipts, paid bills, unnecessary duplicated medical records, lists and I can't even name what else into my filing cabinet for the last 8 years without really knowing if I needed these papers or not. I wanted to be on the “safe side” when it comes to papers. I didn't need to decide if any of this mess sparked joy because it did not. When it comes to papers all I wanted to know what experts say you should keep.
I could lay my hands on all of my kids important documents, our car titles, insurance policies etc. as they were all stored in my house! I found out that is not a great idea, and I had never really thought about it before.
I also struggled with what to keep and what to throw away. Kondo explains that papers with sentimental value such as love letters (or letters from my daughters) as well as old diaries do not fall into the “papers” category. So rest your heart, no one is going to tell you to throw those away… at least not yet!
To help myself, and share what I have learned with my readers, I compiled a list of what other experts recommend as far as what papers to keep, for how long and what to throw away.
Here’s what my floor looked like after I pulled out everything from my filing cabinet, all the stuff older than 7 years I threw on the floor, I don't know why because later I had to pick it all up. So if you declutter your papers, don't do that…also, if you suffer from anxiety you may want to avert your eyes.
The sad truth is, I had not even used any document or anything else from this file besides documents that should not have even been stored in there in the first place. I had booklets and warranties on appliances I didn't even own anymore.
Basically, Kondo says “throw them all away” (p. 96 if you don’t believe me) she reiterates, “I recommend you dispose of anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, or must be kept indefinitely.” This last category is where I felt I had the most confusion. I didn't feel confident after reading her chapter on paper so I confided in some official American websites, but we'll get to that later.
Let's talk about it
First category: Currently In Use
Kondo basically breaks this down into two more categories, papers that need to be saved and papers you need to do something with. Forms that need to be submitted, articles you intend to read, applications you need to fill out, etc. Kondo suggests keeping these in one place and not to let them get spread around the house. For me, I open the mail and sort accordingly right when it comes out of the mailbox. We pay almost all of our bills online and receive paperless statements etc.
This category should be pretty small as long as you deal with paper quickly and methodically. I try to only handle it once. Kondo says you shouldn't require a “needs attention” box. She says if you have a box that accumulates things that need attention it means you have things in your life that you are leaving undone.
Second category: Limited period of time paper category
This category pretty much includes contracts (maybe car lease, apartment rental, etc.) and records that you won't need to keep forever. These papers I did keep in my cabinet along with a file folder for each of my children with copies of their important documents, school records, etc.
Papers you can replace when you recieve a new one:
- Investment Statements, whether monthly, quarterly or annual
- Social Security Statements
- Insurance Policies as they are renewed
*always destroy old documents; consider investing in a shredder
Concerning Income Tax Returns … From the IRS.gov website
Period of Limitations that apply to income tax returns
- Keep records for 3 years if situations (4), (5), and (6) below do not apply to you.
- Keep records for 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later, if you file a claim for credit or refund after you file your return.
- Keep records for 7 years if you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction.
- Keep records for 6 years if you do not report income that you should report, and it is more than 25% of the gross income shown on your return.
- Keep records indefinitely if you do not file a return.
- Keep records indefinitely if you file a fraudulent return.
- Keep employment tax records for at least 4 years after the date that the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later.
Third Category: Papers to Keep Indefinitely
Kondo really didn't address so many things I had questions about so I just searched for information from other writers that I trust. There are some papers I had stored in my filing cabinet that I ended up moving to our safe deposit box. If you don’t have a safe deposit box, you could use a fireproof locked box that you keep in your home. Consider getting one or the other.
It’s a good idea to store the following documents in a safe place (not a wooden filing cabinet unlocked in your home!!):
- Original Birth Certificates (yours and your children’s)
- Social Security Cards
- Marriage Certificate
- Death Certificates
- Vehicle Titles
- Pension plan documents
- Wills, living wills, and powers of attorney
- Insurance Policies
- Military Discharge Form DD214 if you were prior military
A More Detailed List of Documents to keep in one spot in case of emergency:
The bottom line, I ended up throwing away all the receipts, most of the instruction manuals (most are online anyways and it's easier to find online doing a word search within the document), old bills and things that I was keeping in case I ever needed to prove that I paid my electric bill in 2009… I reorganized and stored more safely the documents that are important but that we rarely ever need.
Not really addressed in the book in the “paper” section but was part of my clutter of paper. This will be covered in the category for Sentimental items, and I'll go over it better when I share that post.
- I kept a box I labeled “Letters from my Daughters” because those letters handwritten to me from my four daughters are more precious to me than any other paper I own.
- I kept a box for each child's “treasures” where I kept drawings and other handwritten things that I love.
My drawer was almost empty afterwards, it would be even slimmer, but I'm holding on to the colored folders for a friend who asked for them:
This really isn't all the paper in my house. Due to the fact that I homeschool some of my children I still have a considerable amount of paper but at least it is now better organized. For school work the children have completed and other things I'd like to keep but not store, I'm considering getting a document scanner. I put this FastSnail Wireless scanner on my Amazon Wish List.
What are your best tips for dealing with paper clutter? Please do share in the comments below!
Life Hacker : How Long Should I Keep Old Documents