This post is about my experience with my own office files/archives. I’ve written at length about how I usually deal with incoming files, both paper and electronic, as I find this method satisfactory for all paperwork that arrives. Everything flows and properly ends up in my archives.
While I am very confident that I only ever file documents that I know will be useful in the future, and remove things from my archives when their time has come to be recycled, I still find myself confronted with paperwork that dates back a long time and that I cannot seem to have brought myself to let go of until now. This being said, I have managed to let go of whole folders of irrelevant documents in the past, one at a time, and very little is left from many years ago, but still I find that there is room for improvement.
For example, I keep struggling with the kind of documents that seem to form a physical link to an earlier phase in my life, I’d go as far as stating “to another lifetime” really:
What did I do differently this time around, then? For one thing I removed all papers from their hiding places at once and put them into orderly piles, rather than making spot judgments on a folder that catches my eye. Imagine my surprise when I found that not only were there fewer piles than I thought, but also that I managed to discard a lot of the papers I found, simply because they proved to be completely irrelevant. Amongst those were:
Besides that I found that most of what I had kept is related to my business, or otherwise necessary for reference, or means something to me (like my genealogy research, and even there I am wondering what I’ll ever do with those things in the future, but that is a consideration for another time that requires looking properly at those binders). I don’t even keep an archive!
I did find a lot of scrap paper that I intended to use for taking notes, but I have now decided to let go of most of it as some of those pages have been with me for 20 or more years – it appears I am using so much less paper than I thought I would.
The whole exercise was useful not only for limiting myself to the absolutely necessary, but also to give me an overview of the things on my office shelves: I found a couple of interesting things in different places and managed to group them together, like:
An interesting side-effect that came up for me was that I now have everything in places where I can access the bits I need more regularly quickly, and have moved the less useful stuff to less accessible spots. Don’t get me wrong: I find that for someone running a business and having a private life I keep an amazingly small amount of paperwork! Partially, this is due to keeping things in electronic format whenever possible, but I also am very strict when it comes to discarding the useless very quickly.
This time around, I only really looked at the hardcopy side of filing and archiving and the electronic side awaits to be done in the next couple of weeks (and it will be done, believe me!), so this article is mainly about physical paperwork. A laptop that I have not been using for the last two years or so is finally going out of commission and I’ll have to spend some time identifying and removing any remaining relevant files from that machine. The tricky bit here is actually to find out what is only available on that machine and leave the rest alone, as it is likely no longer up to date or has been replaced by more recent versions on my working laptop. That may just be enough material for another blog entry. Some other time.
The lesson to be learned here is simple: when it comes to paperwork, discard what you can and only keep what you absolutely need. This golden rule alone will make a once-over like the one I did only necessary every half dozen years or so, but also turns it into a fairly simple and quick affair.
This blog is part of the ‘declutter week’ series, running from 22 to 26 January 2018. The series has three videos and two blog entries; direct links will be added as they are uploaded. Subjects include:
My hope is that this more series offers some more personal insight you can transpose into your own efforts to declutter your life.
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My name is Tilo Flache and it is my mission to help my clients organise and declutter their work spaces.