The annual uncluttering of the file cabinet

At least once a year I do a clean-up of my file cabinets, and I just finished my latest round. Every time I do this, I’m amazed at the stuff I have kept that I really don’t need.

For your amusement (and inspiration), the following is what I got rid of this time:

Travel information

I tossed a lot of papers in this category, including:

  • Train schedules from 10 years ago
  • Clippings about recommended hotels and restaurants — from the 1990s
  • Brochures I picked up while visiting an area that I’ll probably never return to — and the brochures weren’t even that enticing

Inspirational and sentimental stuff

I worked for Hewlett-Packard Company for many years; the founders, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, are still two of the people I admire most. I had a lot of information about them, and I narrowed it down to the few things that were especially meaningful to me. I scanned many of those, and got rid of the paper.

Advice from Miss Manners

I really enjoy the Miss Manners columns, and I’d clipped a number of them. The ones I still found useful — maybe a quarter of the one I had saved — got scanned, and all the clippings were recycled.

Medical information

I’m talking here about general information, not my personal health information. Even though I’d discarded much of this before because medical information changes so quickly and so much is available online, I still found a few papers I had kept for no good reason. I really don’t need the newsletter from a local hospital, from 2004, talking about mini-incision hip replacement!

Song lyrics

Why in the world did I keep printouts of song lyrics? I’m not even talking about the nice inserts from old LPs, just computer printouts.

Writing tips

I had kept tips on good writing, which included things I’ve long ago absorbed. So, out went the April 1995 article on using quotes in articles.

Old information about the San Francisco Bay Area

There is a lot being written lately about high-tech companies and their employees ruining San Francisco (or not, depending on your perspective) and about these employees driving up housing prices in the area. These were good for a laugh, before they hit the recycling bin:

  • Three articles about dot-com companies and their employees ruining San Francisco — from 1999
  • An article showing examples of Silicon Valley houses available at the then-current median price, also from 1999

Miscellaneous oddities

Here are some of the other papers I found, and discarded:

  • A clipping from 2003 about how house sizes increased from 1900 to 2000
  • Printouts of documents I have on my computer — things that I probably printed some time ago for easier reading, but that I certainly don’t need in paper form any more
  • The manual for Norton AntiVirus 9.0, from 2004
  • A clothing catalog from Spring 2010, with something I was considering purchasing but never did

In summary, I’m getting rid of everything in my filing cabinet that is out of date, no longer interesting or useful, or readily replaced with online information.

What have you cleared out of your file cabinet lately? Please share your discoveries in the comments.

9 Comments for “The annual uncluttering of the file cabinet”

  1. posted by Carolyn (Common Household Mom) on

    I came to unclutterer.com to search (desperately) for hints on how to clean out my file cabinet. And your article came up without me even searching! So thank you.

    Yesterday I threw out catalogs from last year’s Christmas shopping, and now I have to tackle the rest of it. There probably is a lot of outdated medical info.

  2. posted by infmom on

    My husband is a compulsive paper-saver. Last year I got a neat little Doxie scanner that makes transferring paper to PDF ridiculously easy. I went through my desk’s file drawer and weeded everything out that I didn’t need to keep and then I scanned the rest. I haven’t gotten rid of all the memorabilia yet but at least I have scanned copies when I finally take the plunge.

    I’m trying to get my husband to scan all the bills and receipts every month instead of filing them. He won’t do it. Of course, it took me a very long time to talk him into our current system of filing, which is to keep only one year’s receipts and bills on hand in month-labeled file folders. He wanted to save EVERYTHING because “we might need it.” Including a case-of-paper box full of tossed-in check carbons that someday he was going to organize by date. They were still unorganized when I ran them all through the shredder.

    I’m going to try telling him that if he scans everything, then he CAN keep everything. I’ve got a nice 8g SD card just for the stuff he wants to scan… when I can convince him he wants to scan it. :)

  3. posted by Gina on

    Last week at work the network/Internet was completely down. It felt like there was nothing to do without all the interconnected computer work. So I “weeded” my file drawer a great deal (that’s an actual technical term as an archivist–now you know!). In the 12 years or so that I’ve worked in an archives, it amazing how much less paper I handle. Reference materials, project files, messages on various topics are now all on the computer.

    Of course, beyond that file drawer my office is crammed with loads of paper records* created by other people, being an archives and all.

    *I count 31 file boxes, 1 pile-covered tabletop, and 2 tall book cases also loaded with roughly organized piles.

  4. posted by Lisa on

    I used to stuff receipts, etc. in an old shoebox for income tax purposes. I upgraded to a file cabinet, and try to follow my sister’s advice to take out all the records I need for income tax in the first week of January. The tax records for the year are all neatly organized for that year, which makes doing the income tax far less onerous, the filing cabinet is emptied yearly, so it never gets overstuffed, and it is an easy rainy day project for dark, wet January.

  5. posted by Mary Ann on

    We went mostly paper-free starting in January 2013. A few times a month, I scan bills, receipts, applications, etc., and store them all in an organized file on Dropbox. I’ve even started scanning my daughter’s schoolwork and artwork. The only paper we keep any more are “keepers” — important records where we need originals (wills, birth certificates, etc.), the best-of-the-best of my daughter’s schoolwork, etc.

    In addition to not having to deal with a big filing cabinet, long-term storage and cleaning all of that out occasionally, I now am able to access these records from my computer, my iPad or my phone. So while we were traveling and I couldn’t remember how much ibuprofen to give my son, I accessed on Dropbox the report from his last visit to the pediatrician, and got the information. When I needed to provide some paystubs and other records to the bank for a loan application, I had the PDFs on hand. And when I was traveling for work, I made a slideshow of my daughter’s artwork and played it on my laptop in the hotel room.

  6. posted by Jason Todd on

    I am confused by this article. Though it is good, it says “I clean out my files once a year”… yet you have 10+ year old items you just cleaned out? Wouldn’t you have tossed them 10 years ago?

  7. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    Jason, I don’t necessarily pull out every file, every year, and review it. So some items, like the old train schedules, may have been in a file I didn’t bother sorting through in prior years. And sometimes it’s just that our ideas of what we want to keep change over time. Something I felt attached to some years ago may be something I’m perfectly willing to discard today.

  8. posted by Kathy on

    I recently found a bunch of lists from the 1980′s/90′s of top ten music recordings recommended by public radio hosts. If I haven’t started collecting Music I Ought to Listen To in the last 30 years, I’m probably not going to start now….slightly disappointing, but mostly liberating!

    I’m also sorting and purging hundreds of clippings and notes of books to read….after doing a little calculating about how many more books I can actually read in my lifetime (I’m 53). Again, a little startling, but also freeing!

    I toss most reference material that’s more than about two years old; it’s so easy to find updated information online that it’s really not worth printing until I’m about to use it.

  9. posted by Marie on

    I’ve started using sticky notes to keep better track of WHY I saved things in the first place. For example, I was annoyed with myself for saving a bunch of old pages from catalogs because the clothing didn’t work with my lifestyle. Later I had to dig through the trash, because I remembered that I’d actually kept them because I liked the models’ haircuts and wanted to show them to my own stylist.

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