We recently received this question and I thought it would be good to address it on the blog because knowing how to properly store papers is essential to keeping desk and office space organized. We have always referred to our Record Retention Document as the standard for what to keep and then advise that your accountant would have the last word on your own personal matters. A paper copy of the most important documents is always a good option for long term record keeping, but the computer continues to progress as a terrific storage solution. Not only does it save an incredible amount of documents on small hardware such as a DVD or external drive, searching for something doesn’t have to involve crawling in a dark place with a flashlight, you can simply type in the key search words on your computer and viola–it appears!
If you’re going to store documents on your computer, the Fujitsu Scansnap would be a great companion. It makes getting papers out of piles and into computer files very quick and easy. But wait…once the document is scanned, what do you do? Throw it out? When I worked on the show, “Hoarding: Buried Alive”, I suggested that the client (a paper hoarder) scan all of his interesting articles so that he could walk in his house rather that crawling over the paper piles. He thought it was a great idea and we were all thrilled at his agreement to scanning. The problem was that once scanned, he still wasn’t willing to toss the papers! Don’t use scanning as just another place to hoard papers, once scanned you need to toss or shred the document.
As for what to store in file folders, I suggest that mail and papers that are transient be held in files. If you need access to them and have to work with them, they are better off staying on paper. If they are just a resource, you might want to consider the scan and toss option. If you’ve got papers piled, take some time to determine what the best storage system would be for your needs and then carve out some time to get the ball rolling. Of course, our professional organizers are always here to help!