Simple Living

How to Deal with Paper Clutter Once and For All

Paper Clutter Queen

I’m not an organized person with paper. I add it to a pile to file later. Then another paper is added to the pile and this goes on until I need another pile. When I moved from Texas to Washington, I moved several bankers boxes of paper piles and children’s school papers. I am the queen of paper clutter.

I set out this week to take care of my current paper clutter mess in my sewing room since I would like to get back to sewing and quilting. So I went through my current file box and removed old bank statements from banks I no longer have an account with and old credit card statements. Can you believe I have every tax return from 1975? I threw out 35 years of tax returns and only kept the last six years.

Unplanned purging

Now I thought I was ready to tackle a pile of paper clutter! In comes Mr. Woodsman with one of those banker boxes I keep ignoring. He thought I would purge more paper since he knows we are simplifying. So I said I would do just one box and then get back to my current paper clutter that keeps me from using my sewing studio.

This one box took most of the afternoon and was exhausting. I do not have good relationships with my two adult daughters anymore and this one box reaffirmed how much I sacrificed for them so they could have the best life I could give them. Do I need to keep their report cards? I don’t have or want mine so why would I hold onto theirs? Most of the box went into the trash including a nasty letter from my ex-husband which was refreshing to get rid of. I found notes and letters from friends telling me what a good mother I was. Well, thank you.

So one box contained so many emotions, I took a break from the paper piles and just rest with chocolate and some funny shows. When ever you are processing heavy emotions, do self-care. I woke up this morning still feeling cranky so I rode my bike to help clear my head. I worked outside in the yard. I’m feeling like myself ready to hit those paper files.


When you see a headline “Declutter Your Home in a Week”, just laugh. Most of us don’t have the emotional fortitude to get rid of everything in a week. You don’t want to be an emotional wreck. Tackle what you can and the rest will still be there tomorrow. Just make a plan to spend so much time each day. Maybe while the clothes are in the dryer you spend that time purging. Each day you will make more progress that adds on the previous days’ progress.

If you have a chronic illness that involves fatigue and pain, you may not do 20-30 minutes. Try to do 10-15 minutes. For some of us, if we overdo it one day we pay the price for days. You do you. But consistent work pays off. We are the turtles of the world and we will get through it. Let the rabbits dump their whole closet on the floor at once. Take care of yourself. But you will never get your goals completed if you overdo it.

Purged and ready to rumble

Anyway, back to paper clutter. You need not keep much. I threw out paperwork from houses I owned 20 years ago in Texas. No reason to keep documents that showed I bought or sold them. Who cares now? But it was hilarious to see I paid $238 in property tax one year. I pay that in one month now and I’m sure most people pay more.

To keep the paper clutter at bay, you need a system to get the paper filed right away. It has to be easy enough you don’t leave the next piece of paper in a pile. Where ever you deal with your mail is a good place to start. So you need a filing system and a trash can. I use a portable filebox with a handle. It works for me. You may be young and not straddled with many documents yet so a smaller accordian file system may be all you need. Now create the categories for your files.

File Categories

For each person in your household you need a folder for:

– Medical/Dental/Vision
– Vital Records to include adoption papers, birth certificate, baptism/confirmation records, citizenship and naturalization papers, education records, employment records, marriage certificate, divorce papers, military records, passports, and social security cards and numbers.

I bet no one told you to file all those categories by person. When you have to fill out paperwork, it is easier to grab that one person’s folder and have everything there instead of going to a folder for birth certificates and then another folder for social security cards. Never mind if they ever have to apply for a secret security clearance! Most of these records are kept indefinitely.

Here are more file categories you may or may not need.

– Business ownership papers
– Credit card information
– Death certificates
– Family history
– Financial accounts
– Household property inventory (put this in the safe-deposit box too)
– Income and expense records
– Insurance policies – a file for each kind
– Investment records and pension plans
– Net worth statements
– Powers of attorney
– Property appraisals, deeds, easements, and titles
– Safe-deposit box inventory
– Tax records
– Veterinary records
– Warranties, guarantees, and owner manuals
– Wills and trusts

How Long Do I Keep This Stuff?


Records that do not change over time. Examples: Birth, marriage, death, adoption, military discharge, and naturalization papers.

Multiple Years

– Business ownership documents until business is closed or sold
– Tax returns with documentary proof (keep for a recommended three to six years)
– Title to a car until it is sold, transferred, or discarded
– Mortgage contract and receipts for home improvements until mortgage is paid in full or house is sold or all claims of major damage are settled
– Deeds until the property is sold or transferred.

One Year Minimum

Bank and/or credit union statements
Homeowner or auto insurance policies until they expire and new policies are put into effect
Utility bills

Keep Temporarily

Credit card receipts until they are matched with the billing to be certain the charge was both legitimate and for the proper amount
Bills until paid in full.

Now go get rid of those piles! I worked with someone who had piles of paper on their desk taller than me. His office was the most dangerous spot in the building. What if one of those piles fell on someone? Death by a million paper cuts.

deal with paper clutter

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.