Individuals with Lived Experience

Dealing With Paper

Paper is everywhere – coming into your home, through mail, delivered newspapers and magazines, flyers you pick up, purse/backpack/suitcase contents, computer printouts… you name it. It tends to pile up very fast, causing wasted time and distress. Everyone needs a plan to manage paper.

1. If possible, receive bills and statements online and avoid taking ATM receipts

2. Get a shredder and learn what to shred.

Anything that contains your signature, account number, social insurance number, or medical/legal information should be shredded before tossing.

Examples: purchase receipts with account numbers, ATM receipts, bank statements, cancelled/voided checks, pre-approved credit card applications, reports, histories, pay stubs, utility bills, copies of birth certificates, employment records, medical/dental records, expired passports, ID cards, driver’s licenses, legal documents, investments and tax forms.

3. Stop it at the source

Deal with any new paper that appears in your home daily. Either:
a) Discard it immediately (into recycling, trash, or a shredder), or
b) Put into an ACTION tabletop file for daily, short-term filing

Examples of table-top filing systems:

  • Folder for bills to be paid: To be paid
  • Folder for papers that require a response: To respond
  • Folder for information that must be filed: To file [Ewer, 2003.]

4. Sit down at your kitchen table or desk at some regular interval, to deal with your ACTION folders. (You can put this task in your Calendar or Weekly Activity Schedule.)

This might be once a week, bi-weekly, or once a month, depending on your paper situation. For items that need filing, put them into a BASIC filing system. This is a household’s working file system. It is a larger storage area for more files, such as a file cabinet.

Examples of files in a basic filing system:

  • Paid utility bills
  • Rent receipts
  • Pay stubs or other income stubs Bank or credit card statements Medical insurance records
  • This year’s tax records

For items that need to be paid, pay them.

For items that need to be responded to or dealt with, deal with them.

5. Every year, such as after you have submitted your taxes, deal with your BASIC folders. Learn what you can throw out and what you need to store and how.

For items that need storage, put them into a CLASSIC archival storage system. These might be located in part of a filing cabinet, in a banker’s box, or in some cases*, in a fire and theft-proof location (e.g. personal safe or safe deposit box).

Examples of documents to store longer term:

  • Original documents, such as insurance policies*
  • Legal documents, such as birth/marriage/divorce/death certificates, homeowner records, or powers of attorney*
  • Passports*
  • Savings bonds*
  • Tax returns and tax records (i.e. receipts) that back up your tax claims, for the last seven years
  • Medical records (e.g. certificates of vaccination)
  • Receipts and/or valid warranties for significant purchases (until these expire)