I’m on the Board of the NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) Seattle Area Chapter. Have been, on and off, for years. I’ve stepped into a new role, Secretary, this year. Can ya imagine that Secretary involves a LOT of paperwork? Yup. And our chapter has a goal of going paperless. So I’m working my way through six (uuuurrrrrrgggh) binders, two of them too large for me to hold in one hand (double uuuurrrrrrgggh) and seven thumb drives to see what’s obsolete, what needs to be digitized.
Some of the decisions are soooooooooooo easy – digital file of a logo we retired in 2017 – oh yah, HISTORY. Some of the keeps are equally easy – documents the chapter has to maintain in accordance with our charter with our National headquarters. And then there are the What If gnats nibbling at me. Weeelll, it could be fun to put up a history page on the website and include a photo of the Wine and Chocolate event from 2011…. Wow, I didn’t know she was on the first-ever Board…
How do you make your decisions for your documents?
(1) You’ve got an absolute legal or informational need. If your accountant, lawyer, doctor, professional society, a verified source such as a government website, tells you to keep it – PLEASE, keep it. BUT don’t overwhelm yourself – if there are standards for how long you keep “X,” go ahead and use those standards, or eventually you’ll be overrun.
(2) You use it frequently – phone numbers, instruction manuals, recipes, maps, whatever. It’s a completely subjective list, but it’s a valuable exercise for you to be able to articulate the “whys” of your choices. And go through that stuff once a year. I promise you, I’ve found manuals for kitchen gadgets I broke two years prior.
(3) It’s not easily replaced. That can be photos, wedding invitations, postcards, genealogy records, graduation records, you name it. These are also subjective categories, BUT again, it’s a valuable exercise to be able to articulate “why” you’re keeping something. And it can be necessary to impose limits on your instincts to save stuff – only give yourself one box to hold these kinds of items, or require yourself to go through the accumulations once a year to be sure each choice stills appeals to you.
How do you keep it? That’s your choice: digital, paper or both. For some people, physical paper is far too overwhelming. For others, the computer is the darkest, deepest hole in existence – stuff falls in to never get excavated. Also depends on the stuff – might not be as satisfying to keep photos online as in an album, might not matter to you at all if your divorce papers are “hidden” online.