What do I do with all these papers?!
Close your eyes and picture this scene: Julie is running late and the keys can’t be found as she is racing to get out the door. On the way to school, her son says the project due today was left at home so she turns around and realizes that she’ll be late for work again, putting her job in jeopardy. Julie has an argument about why it was forgotten. She frowns as she realizes that her son is just as disorganized as she is and will have negative consequences throughout life. When she gets home that evening, she suddenly remembers an invitation to a wedding but can’t find it anywhere. There are a couple of past-due notices as she goes through the ever-growing pile of unopened mail. The bills will be paid late...again. There is nothing to eat for dinner and she’s too exhausted to buy groceries and prepare a meal. What problems in this story had to do with paper clutter?
Every day, American businesses generate enough paper to circle the earth 20 times.
school papers, receipts, office memos – sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with all of the paper.
Learning to organize papers, control the clutter, and keep important records can reduce stress and help
you become more productive.
Quick Tips for Paper Clutter - Attack the Stack
Ask yourself: Is this useful? Is the information current? How hard would it be to get this information
again later? Is this piece of paper helping me achieve my goals?
Active: Active papers are items that need your attention or that you use frequently. You’ll want to
keep them where you can get to them easily. They may include current bills and current receipts. You
can usually dispose of these after 30-60 days unless they are needed for tax purposes or some other
Keepers: These are papers you want to keep but they typically don’t need to be accessed as frequently
as “active” papers. Organize some type of file storage for tax documents, medical records,
VIP’s – Very Important Papers: These papers usually need secure storage such as a safe deposit
box or fire proof safe. They include social security cards, birth certificates, passports, power of attorney,
property titles, etc.
Discards: One of your most important strategies in the battle against paper clutter is to regularly
• Junk mail
• School papers
• Old receipts – You typically only need to keep receipts for about 30 to 90 days. Keep receipts
long enough to verify that the expense is correct on your bank statement or credit card statement.
After that, you only need to keep receipts for very expensive purchases or for items that
you plan to deduct on your taxes.
• Old cancelled checks and bank statements (unless needed for tax purposes or proof of purchase).
• Statements from credit cards and utilities can usually be discarded after you’ve checked to
make sure that all charges are correct and paid the current bill.
Shred or otherwise destroy any statements, documents or records which contain personal
information after they are no longer needed.
Important papers sometimes need to be replaced. Here’s where to go for certain documents:
Documents such as birth certificates, insurance policies, and health records may be
lost or destroyed.
Prompt replacement prevents delays when the documents are needed.
• Birth, death, marriage, and divorce records are available from the Arkansas Department of Health Division of Vital Records is located in Little Rock, AR. Call 501-661-2174 or visit the website
• Insurance policies - Contact your insurance agency for a copy of your policy. If you have any
trouble locating the company, contact the Arkansas Department of Insurance at 501-371-2681 or
• Social Security Card - Order a replacement social security card online at https://www.ssa.gov/
myaccount or visit your nearest Social Security office.
• Driver’s License - To replace a driver’s license, visit your local revenue office.
• Property Deeds - Contact your local Circuit Clerk’s office for property deeds.
• Passport - Visit your local Postal Service office for a new passport.
Now you know what to do with all the those papers! For more information about personal finance and consumer economics, visit UAEX Personal Finance .
• eXtension (www.extension.org)
• Donna Smallin – The One-Minute Organizer and www.unclutter.com
• Messies Anonymous (www.messies.com)
• Fly Lady (http://www.flylady.net)