Shredding: What to shred, and how to shred it

If you’ve been clearing out your file cabinet as part of your New Year’s resolutions, you’ve probably come across some papers that need shredding.

When it comes to shredding, people have two major questions:

Question 1: Which papers need to be shredded?

The Washington State Office of the Attorney General has a sensible list of shredding guidelines, noting the types of information you definitely want to shred if you decide to purge them from your filing cabinet. It also lists of other types of information you may want to shred — as well as a list of specific types of papers to consider shredding. The general guidelines are:

Destroy all sensitive information, including junk mail and paperwork, that includes:

  • Account numbers
  • Birth dates
  • Passwords and PINs
  • Signatures
  • Social Security numbers

To protect your privacy, you should also consider shredding items that include:

  • Names
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • E-mail addresses

Question 2: What kind of shredder should I get and what if I don’t want to buy a shredder?

When it comes to products and services for shredding, you’ve got a number of choices, so pick whichever approach works best for you.

Shredding scissors. Shredding scissors aren’t great, since they produce a strip cut rather than a cross cut, which means it would be easier for someone to reassemble your papers. If you do use these, you may want to put some of the shredded paper in one trash bag, and some in another. I’ve also been known to put shredded stuff in with the used kitty litter I’m taking to the trash, to reduce the chance anyone would go through the garbage to get it.

Shredders. You’ll find a lot of choices here, and numerous recommendations. I’ve had my Fellowes 79Ci for years now, and it has never once jammed or given me any other problem, I’m a fan. And Erin recommended this shredder, too. More recently, Erin also recommended the Staples 10-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder with a lockout key. And the Swingline Stack-and-Shred products are interesting, since you don’t need to feed papers into them as you would with most shredders.

Shredding services. When it comes to services that will shred papers for you, you’ve also got a number of options. Some office supply stores are now providing shredding services in some or all of their locations: Office Depot, Staples, The UPS Store, etc. There are also dedicated shredding companies; you either drop off your papers or a shredding truck comes to you. A Google search should help you find one in your area.

Several years ago, organizer Margaret Lukens sent an email cautioning about some of these shredding services, and she has given me permission to share that caution with you:

Some companies tout their trucks that come around and do it on-site and let you watch. Sounds good, and I’ve used them myself on jobs in the past, but I’ve heard of whole checks making it through those shredders, and San Francisco hospital medical records showing up WHOLE in bales of paper purchased by California farmers as animal bedding. This typically happens because the teeth in the shredder get broken (someone accidentally puts their marble paper weight in the shred bin or whatever) and it costs the company too much to take that truck out of service. You see the paper go into the shredder, but you don’t see it come out — and that’s what counts!

Margaret goes on to recommend using an NAID-certified shredding company — NAID being the National Association for Information Destruction. Office Depot, Staples and the UPS Store all partner with Iron Mountain for pick-up, and Iron Mountain is indeed “NAID certified for document destruction at each Iron Mountain location in the United States.” However, Office Depot also offers in-store shredding for smaller jobs, which would not be under the control of Iron Mountain.

The non-shredding alternative: stampers. Stampers are designed to obliterate your confidential information so the papers don’t need to be shredded. If you’re considering this approach, I recommend organizer Julie Bestry’s comprehensive look at the pros and cons of using these products.

Related question: Which papers should I keep and which papers should I purge?

Erin’s infographic on What to shred, scan, or store? can help you answer this question. Also, check with a local accountant and lawyer to be sure you’re keeping the appropriate papers for where you live — some states have different requirements than the IRS when it comes to retaining original documents.

12 Comments for “Shredding: What to shred, and how to shred it”

  1. posted by Steve on

    I highly recommend shredding ALL papers, not just sensitive papers. Otherwise it is very simple to identify what is important — it’s shredded.

  2. posted by jazz2600 on

    I use fire. Works surprisingly well.

  3. posted by Ryan on

    Some counties offer special recycling programs usually once or twice per year that will shred your paper for free. It’s worth looking into if you have boxes of paper to shred and are on a budget.

  4. posted by liz on

    I recently bought the swingline stacking shredder and it is working out well. It takes a bit of a test to make sure you know what to put in flat vs using the regular sheet loader. But, it is much better than previous shredders that I’ve had.

    Since I have been executor and trustee of several estates and trusts, I have even more papers to maintain. So, I have a schedule of what stays in a permanent file and what can be shredded at a specific date in the future. The schedule was reviewed by the family attorney. Therefore, when I pass, what needs to still be maintained can be kept by a relative until all time frames have been box, taped shut met.

    Some papers will be maintained in a safety deposit box since I live in an area that has a few tornados every year. Other papers are being stored in clear plastic boxes, taped shut and stored in the attic until the destruct date, which is clearly identified on the side. So, each year, I put one box in the attic and take one down and shred everything in the box.

  5. posted by Bill on

    My bank offers free shredding to customers. I think they have some type of limit (5 pounds), but I’ve never hit it. I have a shredder which I use when processing paperwork. However, sometimes during a large decluttering effor, which generates several bags of material needing shredding, I’ll take it to the bank to save time. Of course, I trust my bank, or I wouldn’t be banking there.

  6. posted by Marie on

    I’ve always put the shredding in with the cat fudge. Not only does it make stealing my identity unpleasant, but it lines the bag nicely and prevents blow outs and leaks from jagged pieces of litter.

  7. posted by Mark Harrison on

    I use a strip shredder, and then put the results into the compost, and dump the latest load of kitchen vegetable waste on top.

    Most compost can cope with a small amount of paper.

    Secure disposal, environmentally sound, and a beautiful garden.

  8. posted by Marie on

    I would love some alternative shredder recommendations, because $170 or $190 for a machine that hacks up paper is frigging crazy. Is there something in the $40-75 range?

  9. posted by Karl Johnson on

    If you’re planning on using a shredding company I would highly recommend making sure that they are NAID certified as well as checking their BBB record. Some shredding service providers are fly-by-night operations that don’t follow many of the rules and regulations that reputable shredders do. You may also want to ask how their paper is handled after shredding, not all of them recycle, and many of the ones that do export the shredded baled paper to other countries. Many of the newer on-site shred trucks come equipped with cameras and screens that will actually show you the paper being shredded as it’s happening, ensuring your paper is actually being shred correctly. If you’re looking for alternative options for at home shredding you can probably get something relatively cheap on amazon, however keep on mind you usually get what you pay with many of these at-home machines. If you have lots of time on your hands and want to save on shredding they do sell scissors with multiple blades that are relatively cheap, but it may take you a while! Otherwise do your research and pick a reputable local shredder to handle your sensitive documents with care.

  10. posted by Victory on

    As part of my unclutterer jouney I become accustomed to using the shredder at work to destroy my personal documents. Once shredded I bring the paper to my parents’ home to be used as bird bedding or thrown into the compost heap.

    This strategy has been effective in that the document traces aren’t kept near my own home at all.

  11. posted by Piers on

    As a seller of paper shredders it’s great to see this conversation and I would like to provide a couple of tips. Firstly, I would halve the manufacturer’s claim for number of sheets that can be fed at one time. If they say 10 sheets, feed it a maximum of 5. Also, do oil the shredder every time you empty the basket otherwise the shredder will fail.

    Secondly, I personally tear out the sensitive information and just shred that. The rest of the letter (without any confidential information) can go in the recycling bin. That way you increase the life of the shredder and need to empty it less often.

    I use the Fellowes 60Cs and it’s been a great little deskside shredder.

  12. posted by Kaylen on

    I used to use a paper shredder, but now that I have a pet rabbit I just roughly tear up sensitive materials and put them in the green bin layered with the rabbit poop. I have a friend whose gerbils love to shred her paper and contribute poop to it.

Comments are closed.