tidying up papers

This is the fourth installment in my series of posts about getting my whole house in order with the help of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

I was dreading dealing with the third category Kondo dictates we tidy: papers. How boring! How tedious! And I had already just tidied my file box, and I didn’t want to do it again, even though I knew I didn’t do it “right” the last time. I’ve gotten much better about discarding papers over the years, but I knew I still had work to do. I had a large box of papers and work samples left over from my last job hiding in a dark corner of my garage, an approximately 24″ long file basket with papers filed in file folders, two over-stuffed desk drawers, and some additional documents in a fireproof box. I now have this:


In full disclosure, I also have a few more items in my fireproof box as well as a small stack of recipes in an envelope in my kitchen. That’s it!

In the book, Kondo essentially advises us to discard all of our papers. She is very helpful in pointing out how useless most of this paper is. And, in the age of digital files, e-banking, and Google Drive, I agree with her. She recommends keeping warranties until they expire and having three additional files: “currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, or must be kept indefinitely.” She advises discarding all product manuals, lecture materials, credit card statements, used checkbooks, and paycheck stubs.

I didn’t exactly follow this to the letter. I kept some product manuals that I actually refer to. And parents: always, always, always keep your children’s car seat manuals. And read them. Read the manual cover to cover before you even think about installing the seat. Re-read the relevant section anytime you make an adjustment. Keep the manuals handy in the car in case you need to move car seats in an emergency. OK, soapbox over.

I also kept three years of tax returns (per the IRS recommendation), the most recent copy of insurance policies, work samples I could likely never recover, our will, our car maintenance records, and vital documents such as birth certificates and our marriage license. Most everything else went in the shred pile or the recycle bin.

Anything with sentimental value went into another pile to be dealt with during the last phase of tidying: mementos.

For some documents, I just confirmed I have a backed-up digital copy of each, and then I discarded them.

I made some new rules for papers. I now leave the mail on the floor in front of the mail slot until I am ready to sort it and recycle or shred it. I am not accumulating mail in a basket for “later” anymore. And any paper I keep I must notate in the upper right corner why I am keeping it, when it can be discarded, or what file it needs to go to.

I had about 300 recipes in a disorganized mess in the kitchen. Now I have about 50 that are family recipes, or dishes I make regularly. While I could likely find and “pin” many of these on Pinterest, I actually prefer being able to just refer to a piece of paper (versus a screen) when I am cooking.

Now that I have completed the first three categories of tidying, I am preparing to move on to the final two: miscellaneous and mementos.

My other posts in this series include:


4 thoughts on “tidying up papers

    1. Good luck with tidying papers. I think I resisted throwing paper away for so long because I didn’t want to do all the shredding…. BUT I learned that office supply stores will take your shredding for you for a small price per pound. It helped me pile up the discarded paper without having to dread the shredding. Have fun discarding!

      1. I’ve discovered that my city has municiple shredding that even the City uses.They keep it locked up until the bin is full and then it’s off to a commercial reshredder. And at no charge! So all my unopened credit card offers, or other sensitive paper gets filed in a paper Trader Joe’s bag and when it’s full, I drop it off at the stredding station on my way to work.

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