Long before identity theft was an everyday phrase, I was very leery of just throwing out receipts, bills, credit card offers and the like. This was a timeframe when every credit card receipt printed your full card number prominently. And adding to the risk factor was that every receipt had a carbon copy with your signature right there at the bottom. Companies occasionally used your Social Security Number as an account number. And then there were the credit card mailers that contained way too much personal information conveniently pre-populated on their offer letters. Personally Identifiable Information (PII) overload? You betcha.
Not trusting enough to just throw this stuff out with my normal trash, I’d often hold onto it, intending to shred it before it was allowed to pass back out of my house. Add in my noted absentminded nature, and you end up with a mountain (years worth) of things that I never quite got around to processing. It hadn’t helped that over time I kept getting other paperwork mixed in with the mess, meaning I couldn’t just grab a whole stack and do a mass purge.
This was the most time consuming task of all of my attempts to prepare for my psuedo-minimalist life. Organizing clothing accumulated over the years is relatively simple. It’s easier to identify and sort a pile of clothes four feet high than it is to sort through a stack of thin slips of paper of the same height. Especially since the number of categories for the papers dwarfs that of the clothing example.
Getting started required setting some guidelines for myself:
- All paperwork items were separated from all other categories.
- No paperwork items were to be processed initially. The goal was to get them all in one location in order to focus on them when I was ready. Allowing myself to start sorting them would only lead to delays as I tried to process everything else.
- Once processing of the paperwork items started, everything had to go into folders. Stopping to shred receipts, stopping to scan nostalgic items, etc. would only serve to cause interruptions in the key workflow tasks.
- Label all folders. There’s no value in compartmentalizing things if you can’t determine what something is at a glance.
I created six categories for the paperwork sorting:
- Eliminate: These were items that had no PII, no nostalgic value, no reference value. Basically loose stuff that somehow got mixed in over the years. This group was easy to process. Instead of a folder, I had a garbage bag.
- Shred and Eliminate: These were the cause of the problem. These items contained one or more of my identified red flags that required me to shred them before they moved to the Eliminate category.
- Nostalgia – Scan and Eliminate: These items were those that I determined that the tactile interaction wasn’t required to garner a nostalgic response. They were to be scanned (or photographed if larger than my scanner bed) and added to the Eliminate category.
- Nostalgia – Scan and Keep: These items were those that I intended to keep. But, following my own suggestion to address the risk of loss (or future re-evaluation), I scanned/photographed them before considering them properly processed.
- Reference – Scan and Eliminate: These items were few. Basically, these were items I kept for reference only. User manuals (only in cases when a digital version wasn’t available from the vendor) and the like made up most of this category.
- Reference – Keep: Important documents, usually of the variety that contain information that should be archived for a number of years (tax reference, etc), or items that bore a notary seal due to their importance/relevance. These items will likely fall into a “scan” category as well ultimately, just to make referencing the data easier in the future.