Are You a “Paper Stasher”?


Not long ago I completed an organizing job in which I worked with the family of one of my tax clients who recently passed away. He had left stashes of paper throughout the house in odd locations. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to where things were kept, and upon closer inspection, many of the papers were no longer needed.

Are you a “paper stasher”?  Maybe you don’t have adequate filing cabinets or other storage space. Maybe you have the space, but don’t know how to organize or file your papers. Maybe your filing cabinets are overstuffed, so you just stash the papers elsewhere until “later.”  If any of these scenarios sound familiar, read on to hear how I’ve tackled my clients’ paper stashes and how you can do it too.

- First, set aside some time to address the problem. Those papers didn’t accumulate overnight…and they’re not going to magically disappear either! But, you know, it doesn’t all have to be done in one day. Devote a couple of hours a day to it, and you’ll be done in no time!

- Gather up all those stray papers, figure out what types of papers you have, and do what I call a “rough sort.” For example, divide the paperwork into piles based on broad categories such as Personal/Household, Investments, Taxes, etc.

- Have a recycle bin and a good shredder nearby. Realize that you don’t need to keep every paper… in fact there is probably a lot of it you can just get rid of right now. For a start, take mail out of the envelopes it came in—toss both the envelopes and those inserts that nobody reads anyway.

- Keep all tax backup for the past 7 years as a rule. For older years, shred all of the backup, keeping just your final tax return copy for reference.

- For investment paperwork, are you sent Year-End statements that essentially duplicate the quarterly or monthly statements? They’re just taking up valuable space. And those letters from your broker that tell you how the market is doing—10 years ago—toss those too!

- DO KEEP any confirmation of a stock purchase—this will come in very handy when you sell the stock. Trust me, I’ve had lots of experience with this!

- Put your kid’s schoolwork for the year in one big pile. Now figure out how much of it will fit in a large clasp envelope (or similar contained space) and cull everything down until it fits.

- For other household papers, determine if you can find the same information on the internet or some other place. 80% of the papers we file are never looked at again—does it fall in that category?

- Once you’ve eliminated most unnecessary papers, create file folders for the rest. I like to use reinforced tab manilla folders and print the labels using Avery’s File Folder Labels (#8366). When choosing names for your folders, go with whatever pops into your head first—they’re your files, and you want to stick with names that make sense to YOU.

- Also put the folders in the order that makes sense to you. That could be alphabetical or it could be based on the subject. It helps to type up a quick index of the files you created so that you can remember later where you put everything!

- If you don’t have enough space in your filing cabinets, go out and purchase some plastic bins at the office supply store. Make sure to get the ones made for filing, so that Pendaflex folders will hang in them. Group your manilla file folders inside the Pendaflex hanging folders.

Aaahh…doesn’t it feel good to have all your paperwork in order? Of course there will be some ongoing maintenance of your system, but just set aside a few minutes a day for filing and you’ll stay on top of things!


Trudy Schenk is a Professional Organizer in San Jose, California. Her business, Your Organized World specializes in helping individuals, busy families and businesses solve their organizing challenges and reduce stress by finding innovative solutions to manage their paper, space and time. Trudy is married, has two teenagers, and is also an Enrolled Agent (tax preparer) and accountant.  She has recently become a Certified Quickbooks ProAdvisor and is now available for Quickbooks setup and consultation.


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