Back in January, I decided to organize myself in every way shape and form (here). I started by organizing and purging all my digital files; computer, laptop, external drives, phone…anything that carried digital files. I’m happy to report that backblaze is still backing up all my files and I couldn’t be more at ease knowing every file is safe.

February rolled around and naturally I was ready to organize and purge all my paper files. When we first got married, we had this little plastic box that we kept all of our “important files” in. There was room for probably 10 files folders. Flash forward 9 years and I’ve got a desk with four filing cabinet drawers and another separate filing cabinet full of papers. Papers that we had accumulated for 9 years. Let me tell you – I didn’t need 85% of it and I threw away or shredded pound after pound of paper. Back in the day (before digital files were so accessible) I kept everything, “just in case”. Today, I can hop on the internet and see a lot of the same files and never have to physically store them in my house. Now of course, I didn’t just start tossing files, there was a method to my madness. I painstakingly looked at every single piece of paper to determine, Do I need this? Will I use this? Is this a keepsake?
Do I need it?

There are plenty of things you “need” in your files. I pulled out a list that was given to me years ago at some enrichment activity I attended and I based my “need” for the files from the suggestions offered.

You need:
Vital Documents: Birth/death certificate, social security cards, wills, marriage certificate, passports…etc (no brainer, I know) and they should be kept in a very secure place.

Important records: Car titles, immunizations and other medical records, insurance policies (including an inventory of your home), diplomas, transcripts, warranty information, etc.

Tax documents: Tax returns and all supporting materials for your taxes. I know it is recommended to keep them for at least 7 years, many keep them even longer. After three years, they leave my filing cabinet and make their way into a box that ends up in the attic – probably never to be opened again, except to add additional years down the road. But at least we have them if we need them.

On-going claims: I have a file dedicated solely to open claims – whether it be health, dental or home owners insurance with all supporting documents to fight my claim.

Real Estate Documents: These documents can really add up for those that buy and sell homes often – luckily we’re only at house #3, but even then, we have a significant amount of paperwork for buying and selling each time. I have transferred our two previous homes out of my active filing cabinets and once again, made a home for them in the attic. I can’t foresee ever needing to see those documents again, but it’s for the “just in case” moments.

Business paperwork: Any papers regarding a business you run needs to be filed (but file it separate from your personal files). For me, my business paperwork is solely for tax purposes, but for those that run more complicated businesses, you’ll have plenty of papers to fill a cabinet!

That pretty much covers the “Needs” in our filing system. The rest I had to determine if I would use something or if I wanted to keep it for keepsake purposes. I didn’t keep a whole lot. I didn’t need to. I had old bank statements from 6 years ago – the only thing I found amusing was what our grocery budget used to look like. (which we haven’t received a bank statement in the mail for two years now! I like to believe we saved a small forest!) Shredded them all. I had every explanation of benefits from Steve’s broken foot 8 years ago – once again, the only thing it was worth to me now was gratitude that we are no longer on student insurance, that was a really expensive accident for us! I had receipts and owners manuals from things we no longer even owned. Like I said before, pound after pound of paper was discarded. Most the keepsakes for removed from the filing cabinet all together. I’ve got a small box for each kid, as well Steve and myself, that I transferred the sweet notes and tender cards that have been given to us over the years, as well as funny drawings the kids mastered when they thought humans had three arms.
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A few items I thought were worthwhile; such as the list of what to keep and what not to keep in your filing cabinet, recipes I want to try, or home ideas I ripped out of a magazine. I knew these items would never be looked at shoved between other folders, so I took pictures of them and discarded them. They now sit on a very organized hard drive if I want to reference them. In all reality, I’ll probably never look at them again which means they’ll be discarded files in a year or two!

I took 16 lineal feet of filing and condensed it to less than a foot. Boom.

The next step I took was the most important. I logged into every account I received statements from and I enrolled in paperless billing. No longer will I receive the monthly report of our cell phone bill, our retirement accounts, water/electric bill, mortgage statement, bank/credit card statement, internet bill, explanation of benefits, mileage programs or insurance premiums. I now receive an online statement in my email account showing every detail that used to show up in my mailbox. But now I don’t have to worry about the paper. Less paper coming into my house means less paper cluttering up my house.