Sunday, February 22, 2009

Paper Hoarder

There is one part of this whole cleaning/de-cluttering that I'd been putting off for as long as possible, until every other major task had been completed... the PAPER. Piles of paper. Mounds of paper. Drawers, boxes, files full of paper. Important papers mixed with junk mail mixed with sentimental stuff. Like most pack rats, Don and I hold onto stuff like paperwork "in case we need it someday", while still managing to lose or misplace the bits we really do need. We had years' worth of bank statements, electric bills, and pay stubs, since I had no clear idea what needed to be kept for how long, and what could be tossed.

Last weekend, I jumped in head first and just tackled it. This was my system: grab a mountain of papers from somewhere (I ended up working in roughly reverse-chronological order, since the most recent paper-junk was the easiest to reach, rather like an archaeological dig) and sort into three categories: keep (actual, important documents), toss (non-personal items without identifying information), and shred (stuff with our names, addresses, socials, whatever). Needless to say, the "keep" pile ended up being the smallest. Once I was done with that arm-load of paper, I sorted the "keep" into actual, labeled files: tax returns, W2 forms, 10-99s, mortgage documents, everything. I had a separate "keep" stack for things that were sentimental: snapshots, letters, cards. Once the first armload was done, I'd grab another pile, do the same. Repeat. Stop periodically to shred. Here's what my work-table looked like at one, random point in the process:

I ended up filling more than 5 paper grocery bags with shredded paper. Unfortunately, I didn't think to document this amazing feat until the first batch or two had already gone on the compost heap, so this is only the last of it:

I don't know if every bit of paper is sorted, I can't find any more, but with our housekeeping skills that is no guarantee. I read in a book about organization, that the only kind of filing system that works for paper is vertical storage. Anything horizontal is just a stack. I really didn't get that before, strange as it probably sounds. Several years ago, I built myself a desk with a cabinet. The bottom drawer was supposed to be a file-drawer, but I didn't size it quite right, and it was too shallow to hold files vertically. I still ended up throwing all the paperwork in there, but horizontally. Stacked. That drawer was one of the last areas to be attacked, and it was a bitch to clean out. Now, I have this:
And that's all that's left of the paper. It took me an entire weekend and several evenings. My room is still a mess from the aftermath. The compost heap will be out-of-whack for awhile, trying to absorb all that paper. But it is finished. It's such a relief, for several reasons. For one, I have a system now. As of now, our entire life-on-paper fits neatly into 25 hanging folders. If something new comes up, I can make a new folder, but currently there is a place for everything. I know now what we can just get rid of immediately; going through this process has really helped with my sense of what to keep and what not to. This really synchronizes with my new policy of dealing with the mail right away, every day. No new piles! Second, I know where everything important is now. All those things I knew "were in a pile around here someplace" like our homeowners insurance policy, or the title to Don's truck, are piled no more. We are planning to get a safety deposit box at the bank soon for the really important, hard to replace documents, but for now, at least they're all in one place and I know where that is. Third, I know that there will be back-sliding. Twenty-eight years of messy doesn't go all organized in three months flat and stay that way. I will most likely fall off the wagon at some point. But it will never be as bad as it was before, because all that stuff is gone. We're starting with a clean slate right now. If I let all the paper go again for a month, or even for a year, at least I will never be shredding bank statements from 2004 again.


Bex said...

you have it easy. You have a paper shredder. I'm ripping crap by hand! I'm going to be so glad when this is all over.

Mara said...

Yes, I love our shredder!

ayla said...

I've been saving my shreddables for my wood stove. Then, of course, my chimney broke and i can't use the stove this season. I already gave away my shredder, so now what?

As for filing, I have a really good file system, the key is getting the paper into the filing. I tend to make a pile, and then do all the filing when I get around to cleaning. sometimes.

Mara said...

I wish I had a woodstove, or at least a fireplace. I have nothing that burns!

Hence the shredder/ compost combination.

Bex said...

I like the composting idea. A great way to get rid of a lot of "waste", it kinda makes it not waste but a resource.