I finally got around to cleaning out my file cabinet. I have a small two drawer jobbie that was completely jam packed full of very highly super important files. Yeah, right. It was actually full of 98% junk and 2% moderately important stuff. And maybe .001% really important stuff. Wait, that goes over 100%, so subtract that .001 from one of the other numbers.
Here are the before pictures.
My goal is to get rid of the file cabinet completely and replace it with a small fireproof lockbox. In order to do this, I have to sort through everything to toss the junk, and find the stuff that I really need to be keep. Ready? Here we go.
Owner’s Manuals, Receipts, and School Stuff
The first folder to tackle is the fattest most overflowingest folder of the bunch. It’s the owner’s manual folder. Back when I first started this folder, circa 1990, it was a necessity. If I needed to know how to plugin all the various components of my home stereo system, I had to have the owner’s manual. Every couple of years I would weed that folder to remove manuals for items that either broke or were sold or donated. One little thing has changed since I started my owner’s manual file that has rendered it obsolete. Of course that thing is the Internet. Taking about 30 seconds to think it over, I realize that every time I need instruction on any object I own, I turn to the Internet. Almost every manufacturer of anything posts their owner’s manuals on the Internet.
I flip through the folder just to make sure I don’t need anything from it, and then deposit the entire contents in the recycle bin.
I also have a rather large folder of receipts. There are only a few of these that I need. I mostly keep receipts for large ticket items in case disaster strikes and I need to replace them. Of course if it’s a home destroying disaster, those receipts won’t do much good if they also get destroyed. Going through the file, I find a bunch of receipts that are for inexpensive items and items I no longer own. I also find a number of receipts that were being held until the warranty ran out, which in most cases was many years ago. Most of that folder goes to the shredder.
Most of the bottom drawer ends up being junk that I don’t need to keep. I find lots of old school documents from our college days. I find a folder of scholarly memorabilia in the form of elementary school report cards, achievement tests, and the like. I show that folder to my wife, Dream, to show her some of the junk in it, and I’m a little surprised when she says we need to keep it. I guess it tugs at her sentimental side. I set it aside to go through later, as I’m sure that even if we decided to keep some of it, there is much that can be tossed.
From the bottom drawer I am keeping our “important documents” folder, which holds things like birth certificates and marriage licenses. I also pulled our vehicle titles from the car folder and moved them to the important documents folder. This folder will definitely transfer to the fire proof box.
A Short Break
At this point my back starts hurting from sitting on the floor flipping through file folders, so I take a break. That break ends up being a couple of weeks. I just couldn’t get the motivation to flip through all the folders in the top drawer.
Fast forward two weeks, and it’s a Sunday afternoon full of action. Well, mostly action, we did snooze by the pool for a little while since it was sooo nice outside today.
I am ready to tackle the rest of this file cabinet. There is a messy pile of file folders on the floor from when this little project started, and I really want everything nice and neat again.
Car, House, and Medical
The top drawer contains folders for house, insurance, cars, medical, and taxes, as well as some other miscellaneous and unlabeled folders.
I start with the car folder. Up to this point, I have kept all (or most) of the receipts from any car service or accessory purchase. Interesting… I sold this car over 10 years ago. Yep, lots of receipts for vehicles I don’t even own anymore. Most of this folder is getting shredded. I’m only keeping receipts needed for warranty parts, and for now I’m keeping some of the receipts for my truck. Our truck is a third vehicle for us, and while handy to have around, it’s just not worth the cost to maintain. Since I’m going to sell it soon, I think it might be nice to have the service records in case the seller asks for any specifics.
The house folder is jam packed full of stuff. Much the papers in there are packets of floor plans from when we were house hunting 10 years ago. We have four duplicate packets showing the floor plans of all the houses in our neighborhood. We are keeping one packet since it has some details about our house. I also find some mortgage documents which I suppose I need to keep. I mean I guess I do, it’s all the stuff I signed when we bought the house. This folder also contains some mortgage statements and some documents from old mortgage companies. All the old stuff goes to the shredder.
The medical and insurance folders contain mostly old and outdated files and paperwork. Things like old receipts, dental quotes, and old insurance policies. Practically everything in these folders is old, and will be shredded.
At this point I’m getting a little worried that our paper shredder is going to overheat. It keeps chugging along though, and makes it through page after page of old, outdated, and useless papers.
That last folder is our taxes folder. Every year when we file our taxes, I add a new envelope containing the return and all the associated paperwork. I have no idea how long to keep taxes, so I do a quick Google search. Turns out, the normal personal tax return only needs to be kept for three years. It’s longer if you run a business or have anything unusual in your tax return, but for me, it’s just three years.
Great, let’s flip through here. There are several large brown envelopes and a bunch of stuff from before I started organizing them in envelopes. I pull out the last three years and set them aside. Then I start shredding all the older ones. The oldest I find is from 1993. That’s just a wee bit more than three years old. I guess since I didn’t know how long to keep them, I just kept adding to the folder every year. Now that I know, I’ll remove the oldest every year when I add the latest tax return.
That was a lot of work, now I remember why I put off finishing. I think it was actually easier to clean out my closet than it was to clean out our file cabinet.
As you can see, it’s a huge improvement from where I started. I think it is still going to be a tight fit in a small fireproof box. I’m going to pick the most important stuff from here to place in the fireproof box, and the rest will have to find a new home. I don’t want to have any more paper clutter in my life, and the file cabinet is a magnet for that type of clutter. Even though it gets hidden away, it still takes up space in the house.
Comment time. I have two requests from you.
- First, I’d love to hear your own file cabinet declutter stories.
- Second, I wrote this post in present tense instead of in my usual past tense. I’d like to know what you think about this style of writing, if you prefer one to the other, or if it really doesn’t matter to you. Thanks!