Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: file cabinet

Discard Papers with KonMari: Part 2

Last week, in Part 1, I outlined Marie Kondo’s “discard papers” method, which she describes in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Unlike discarding clothes and books, which can be done in a few hours, discarding papers took me two weeks. Why? Because papers are EVERYWHERE!

I dealt with the file cabinet and our dresser and the kitchen island and the kitchen table and the storage boxes and the coupons and the random kid creations and our junk drawer…

Junk Drawer Before & After

Junk Drawer Before & After

Literally every room, drawer, and box had random paper and it just keeps coming in everyday (thank you, US Postal Service)!

Keep or Pitch?

I followed Kondo’s advice as closely as possible, but I found that she didn’t touch on many types of documents, so I had to make up a few things as I went.

Document Type What I Did
Health Insurance Claims Since we thankfully aren’t going through any extended illnesses, I started throwing these out right away. Our insurance company keeps a copy on their portal.
Kids’ Art Throw out all but the best pieces of art. If you can’t decide, take a picture, and then toss them. For more ideas, check out this blog post.
Receipts After verifying the charge online, I now throw out receipts for food, gas, and anything else I probably won’t return. The rest I keep for a year, except for items that have extended warranties.
Bills I’ve gone paperless and have automated payments on almost all of my bills, so I don’t have to deal with paper or checks.
Coupons I stopped using coupons. They are so annoying and I realized they’re not worth my time in sorting and storing them.

Kondo’s Suggestions

Document Type

What She Suggests

Warranties Keep them in a single folder, since you don’t have to access them frequently.
Instruction Manuals Throw them out. They’re all online, and we rarely look at them anyway.
Lecture Materials Put the ideas to use and then get rid of your notes.
Credit Card Statements After you’ve ensured they’re correct, they’ve fulfilled their usefulness. Throw them out.
Old Checkbooks No one uses these again. Throw them out.
Greeting Cards Get rid of them, except for the ones that spark joy.
Pay Slips Use them to figure out how much you earned and then throw them out.
Sentimental Papers Set them aside until you deal with mementos. Eventually you’ll break them into two piles: “keep” and “deal with”.

Things I Kept

  1. Pay-off notices for old mortgages and car loans.
  2. Hospital records from when my kids were born and vaccine records.
  3. Tax Forms up to seven years ago, only because we’re required to, legally.
  4. All official IDs, titles, and insurance policies.
  5. Mementos: Anything that had sentimental value, I set aside to deal with later.
  6. One copy of each bill, so I can reference our account number if I need to.
  7. Warranties now live in their own folder, nicely labeled and about 1/6 of the size they used to be before I got rid of the manuals.
Good-bye Instruction Manuals

Good-bye Instruction Manuals

  1. Employee documents related to our nanny.
  2. Car maintenance records in case we ever resell them.
  3. Current reservations & tickets (like our Busch Gardens summer passes)!
  4. Credit reports: We likely only need the latest one, but I want to be sure we’re covered if anyone’s identity is ever stolen.

Still, even with all of these items still in the house, I’ve gone from four, full file drawers down to half of the top drawer (frequently accessed) and half of the second drawer (infrequently accessed). I need a lot less file cabinet now!

Top File Drawer Before & After

Top File Drawer Before & After

Organization

Kondo recommends the following:

  1. A vertical file for papers in use, or that you need to process.  I didn’t have a vertical file yet, but my pile of “in use” papers is now located in ONE location: the corner of our kitchen island. I understand why the vertical file would be better: things at the bottom of my pile are forgotten and lost.
  2. A clear, accordion folder for documents you need to access frequently. I have been using David Allen’s Getting Things Done method for eight years and, without an accordion folder readily available, I decided to continue to organize my files with alphabetized hanging folders. The only difference is that now, my files fill up half of one drawer, instead of four. I’ll likely switch to an accordion folder someday because I like the idea that it would fill up more quickly, prompting me to evaluate what’s in there sooner.
  3. A clear, single folder for documents you don’t need to access frequently. The rest of the files that don’t have sensitive information in them, I put in a pile inside the second file drawer. I didn’t mix them all together because they were already in folders, I just stacked up the folders and put them away.
"Infrequent Access" File Drawer

“Infrequent Access” File Drawer

  1. Everything else (ids, titles, tax papers, etc) goes in a secret, protected location.

The End of Paper

I really, really hated this project. It seemed to take forever and it was really, really boring. However, it is completely worth it. It turns out that random papers were the reason my house always looked so messy. Now, even with our kids’ toys strewn about, the house looks much better and it’s even easier to sort our mail (much more of it goes directly into the recycling). Now, the only problem is getting all this to the shredder.

Shred This

Pretty good, given that I’d already gone through our files once this year!

Discarding Papers with KonMari: Part 1

My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away. My clients are stunned when I say this, but there is nothing more annoying than papers.” – Marie Kondo The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

 In Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, she outlines a simple technique to get organized forever: first discard all items that don’t “spark joy”, then organize completely. A couple weeks ago, I started sorting through my clothes, then books and have been amazed by how effective her methods are.

However, getting rid of clothes and books was EASY compared to my next assignment: discarding papers. In Part 1 of this blog, I’ll talk about Kondo’s recommendations and in Part 2, I’ll discuss some of the gaps in her advice and what I did a bit differently.

Kondo’s Thoughts on Paper

Kondo’s advice on paper is very simple: “My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away.” She makes me laugh by not hiding her extreme disgust for paper lying around the house.

I laughed right up to the part where I started gathering all of my papers together. It was HORRIBLE! There’s paper everywhere! Receipts, mail, stuff I need to do, kids’ art, coupons, random garbage: WHY IS THERE SO MUCH PAPER?!

What’s so great about Kondo’s advice is that I finally feel like I have permission to pitch the vast majority of my records. There is really very, very little that I need keep.

Three Categories of Paper to Keep

According to Kondo there are three types of paper to keep:

  1. Paper you’re currently using. These should all be kept in only ONE place in the house. Kondo recommends a vertical file folder.
  2. Paper needed for a limited time. Records or contracts you don’t have to keep forever.
  3. Must be kept indefinitely: birth certificates and other important papers.

Discarding Paper Instructions

Most paper doesn’t “spark joy”, so when sorting through them, the technique is very different from when I searched through my books and clothes.

  1. Gather all the paper in the house together.
  2. Create three files:
    1. A vertical file for papers in use, or that you need to process.
    2. A clear, accordion folder for documents you need to access frequently.
    3. A clear, single folder for documents you don’t need to access frequently.

While organizing the items in the “access frequently” category above is important, all documents in the “don’t need to access frequently” category should be lumped together. Why waste your time organizing them, when you never look at them?

Special Instructions

There are a few items that Kondo goes into in depth.

Item What To Do
Warranties Keep them in a single folder, since you don’t have to access them frequently.
Instruction Manuals Throw them out. They’re all online, and we rarely look at them anyway.
Lecture Materials Put the ideas to use and then get rid of your notes.
Credit Card Statements After you’ve ensured they’re correct, they’ve fulfilled their usefulness. Throw them out.
Old Checkbooks No one uses these again. Throw them out.
Greeting Cards Get rid of them, except for the ones that spark joy.
Pay Slips Use them to figure out how much you earned and then throw them out.
Sentimental Papers (cards, certificates, etc) Set them aside until you deal with mementos. Eventually you’ll break them into two piles: “keep” and “deal with”.

How Well Does This Work?

Unlike when I went through my files the first time, I am REALLY cleaning house this time.

Discarding Papers

I guess I was originally afraid that I would need all these records for some sort of mythical tax purpose or lawsuit. What Kondo helped me realize is that, hey, I’m 32, if I haven’t had to use these documents yet, after years and years of taxes and no lawsuits, I don’t need to keep them!

There are a few categories that I came across and some things that I changed about how I store my papers. That’s what I’ll talk about in Part 2.

Clean the File Cabinet: What to Throw Away (Weekend Project)

Last weekend, I cleaned out our four-drawer file cabinet. I do this every year according to advice from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It’s no fun to have drawers filled to the brim that won’t fit new files. With no room for more forms, papers pile up elsewhere.

Project: Clean the file cabinet

Time Needed: 2-4 hours (sometimes longer depending on your cabinet)

Prep: Get your shredder ready or find a place to drop off papers that should be shredded. Grab at least two bags: one for papers that must be shredded and one for recyclables. Read below for tips on what to throw out.

This year, I did some research on how long to keep certain household files, so I could maximize the cleaning. Here’s what I discovered.

 File Cabinets: What to Throw Away

There are a few great sites with lists for how long to keep records. Check out usa.gov, Good Housekeeping, or Consumer Reports if you don’t find what you’re looking for below.

One Year or Less

In general, keep the following items one year or less.

Pay Stubs Throw away after reconciling with your W2
Credit Card Records/Statements Until paid, then shred (major source for stolen identities)
Credit Card Receipts One year
Bank statements One year, keep your annual statement with taxes
Home, Rental, & Car Insurance Policies Keep until you renew
Retirement Plan Statements One year, or keep your annual statement with taxes
Bills One year
Social Security Statements Shred the old one once you get a new one and have double-checked the math

Seven Years

Tax Returns Seven years – more information here

 Forever

Birth/Death Certificates Forever
Marriage License Forever
Passports Forever
Household Inventory Forever – Many recommend taking a video of your possessions once a year for insurance purposes
Life Insurance Policies Forever
Roth IRA Statements Forever – To prove you’ve paid the taxes

 Other

Home Improvement Receipts As long as you own the property
Investment Statements Keep annual statements as long as you own the investment / shred monthly statements
Receipts for large purchases/warranties As long as your own the item
W2 Until you start claiming social security since this is the best estimate of your entitlements
Medical Insurance Papers / Explanation of Benefits If you’re healthy or for routine check-ups, you can discard these after they are paid and a year has gone by. If you have a serious medical condition, keep the papers as long as the condition persists.
Supporting Patent Documents Keep these for the life of the patent, which in most cases is 20 years

By the end of the weekend, I completely emptied 52 files.

clean the file cabinet

I sent a huge stack of papers to the shredder and another one to the recycling bin.

paper clutter

My horribly-crammed top drawer went from this:

clean the file cabinet

to this:

clean the file cabinet

and the whole process probably took 3-4 hours spread over three days. What are your tips for cleaning out the file cabinet?

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