The Perils of Outdated Papers

When clients contact me for help with managing papers, I always ask them, “Do you have a file cabinet?” The answer almost always is, “Yes, but it’s full.”

Usually their file cabinet is full with outdated papers that haven’t been reviewed in a long time. One of the first things I’ll do when I work with these clients is go through the old files and get rid of anything that is no longer relevant. Going through old papers is time-consuming, but it’s worth doing for several reasons.

The obvious reason is that if you don’t ever remove old, outdated papers from your file cabinet, there will be no room for new, current papers. But another important reason is that the outdated papers can cause a lot of confusion.

When I first became a Professional Organizer, I arranged with my elderly parents to spend a day with them organizing their papers so that I would be aware of anything I needed to know if they should become incapacitated. My mother had only a few papers in her desk relating to her financial accounts and her retirement from her government job. Those were well organized and clearly labeled.

My father, who did all the bill paying and management of their joint accounts, was another story. His desk was piled with interlocking desk trays stacked several levels high. We started going through each layer. The further down we got, the older the papers were. It was like an archaeological dig. I would pick up a bank statement and ask, “What about this account?” His reply would often be, “Oh, I closed that account years ago.”

My organized file cabinet

It was so helpful to be reviewing these papers with him while he was still alive and mentally sharp. Imagine if I were trying to piece together his financial picture after he passed away. I wouldn’t know what papers were relevant and which could just be shredded.

I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when working with a long-time client. He has several files that pre-date his work with me. He decided to review some of them and found financial account statements from a long time ago. He no longer remembered if these accounts still were active. This required him to make phone calls to each of the financial companies. Not surprisingly, none of the accounts were active, and there was no money there. The statements could be shredded.

I manage the finances and other details for my family. I try to be meticulous in documenting what my family would need to know if I should become incapacitated. Having a process for reviewing, replacing, and recycling or shredding old papers is key to making sure that there are no questions if I’m not here to explain.

If your papers represent an archaeological site rather than a well-organized and up-to-date collection of carefully curated papers, then I suggest you take advantage of all the stay-at-home time we are experiencing now and start reviewing! Should you need some help, contact me or visit the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals to find a Professional Organizer near you.

My New Favorite Shredder

The last time I wrote about a shredder was in 2013. (See My Favorite Shredder). I had become infatuated with my client’s shredder because it was so easy to empty. When mine bit the dust a couple of years later, I got the chance to buy that shredder for myself.

Fellowes PowerShred 62MC

Recently, my shredder started sending clear indications that it was on its last legs. (Do shredders have legs?) Unfortunately, Fellowes no longer made that model, but I selected another model that has a slide-out bin. And I have been positively thrilled with it!

The Fellowes PowerShred 62MC doesn’t have legs, but it does have wheels. This is a very handy feature, because shredders are heavy! The wheels allow me to easily move it to a more convenient place when I’m emptying it.

It’s important to have a trusted shredder in your home so that you can shred papers as you go along, rather than waiting until you have a huge quantity of paper to be shredded and then having to take it to Staples or the UPS Store.


Fun Facts about Recycling in NYC

I spend a lot of time with people who are getting rid of stuff. A frequent question that my clients ask me is, “Can I recycle this?” Usually I know the answer. But sometimes I wonder if I’m giving the right advice.

I figured that I couldn’t be the only Professional Organizer who faces this issue, so I inquired about doing a recycling program at our monthly NAPO-NY meeting. (That’s the NY chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers). Once I got the green light, I reached out to the NYC Department of Sanitation and set it up for our July meeting.

The meeting was last night, and my hunch that I was not the only organizer with doubts was borne out by the barrage of questions that the speaker fielded. She told me afterwards that we were the most engaged and enthusiastic audience she had addressed thus far!

The Department of Sanitation’s website has plenty of information about what and how to recycle. You can find the information here. There’s a very enlightening video that’s worth watching.

Here are some of the interesting facts I learned last night:

  • Soft paper (like tissues, paper towels, and tissue paper) get thrown in the trash. They are not recycled.
  • Paper that is waxy or plastic-coated does not get recycled.
  • Paper cups and plastic cups can be recycled in their respective bins. That means your cardboard Starbucks cup can go in the paper recycling bin — but put the plastic cover in the plastic recycling bin.
  • Clear bags signify to the Sanitation Department that the contents are to be recycled. Opaque bags signify trash.
  • Don’t place plastic bags of recyclables in your building’s bin. Empty the bags into the bin. However, if you have enough to recycle, you can fill your own clear bag and put it in your building’s recycle area.
  • If you have a shredder, you can empty the shredded paper into the paper recycling bin.
  • Sticky notes can be recycled with paper. So can window envelopes — but not padded envelopes that have bubble plastic in them. Those go in the trash.
  • You don’t need to remove staples from documents before recycling them!
  • The only glass items that are recyclable are bottles and jars. End of story.
  • If your pizza box is really soiled, put it in the trash.

I hope this list will save you a lot of head-scratching when you’re trying to figure out how to dispose of something!

Ditching Some Tax Paperwork

Let’s assume that you dutifully filed your 2013 taxes in recent months.  You’ve got to hold on to your supporting paperwork for three years, since that is how long the federal government has if they decide to audit you.   (If that number surprises you, see my earlier post entitled “How Long Should I Keep My Personal Tax Records?”)  Most states — including my state, New York — also only have three years to audit you.   (You can check your state here.)

It’s annoying to have to hold on to all that paperwork — but I may be able to reduce how much you need to save.

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My Favorite Shredder

I use my shredder frequently, and it works very well.  However, when I see the red light indicating that the receptacle is full and needs to be emptied, my heart sinks because I haven’t figured out a way to empty my shredder without making a mess.

Emptying my shredder requires me to remove the heavy top which contains the shredding mechanism.  That means there are tiny little pieces of cross-cut paper just waiting to fall on the floor when I remove the top.  And fall they do.

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