Paperwork! Your Mission: One-of-a-Kind Documents

According to the Small Business Administration, 80% of the paper we file we will never use again! By now you’ve developed a basic filing system for action items, reading material, and memorabilia. I hope you’ve started to see how little paper you must keep. As we start talking about populating a new, more detailed filing system, we are going to start purging file storage and dealing with stacks, piles, and stashes of paper.


Decision fatigue is a HUGE factor moving forward. If you try to divide your abundance of paper into multiple categories at once you take up lots of flat space (dining table, guest bed, living room floor) and if you’re at risk if you have kids or pets – they have an “auto shuffle” feature.


Pick a stack of paper about six inches deep and let’s look for any one-of-a-kind documents. For example:



1. Passports

2. Birth Certificates

3. Death Certificates

4. Marriage Licenses

5. Divorce Decrees

6. Wills and Trusts

7. Military Service Documents


These documents establish your identity and your relationships to key people in your household. It is time-consuming and sometimes difficult to replace them. Once you’ve got a stack of these important documents photocopy and/or scan each one. Create a file (paper and/or digital) for the copies. Put the originals in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box. While you’re at it, photocopy the front and back of every debit, credit, identification, or insurance card in your wallet and file that with the other one-of-a-kind documents.


DO NOT CARRY YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY CARD IN YOUR WALLET! And don’t carry a copy of it either. If an employer or bank needs to see it, retrieve the original or copy for that purpose then refile it.


You may find other documents for this category – property deeds, title papers for your home or auto, etc. If it’s time-consuming struggle to replace the document, go ahead and file it here. You can always change your mind later, but you need a go-to place sooner rather than later.


If your stack of paper didn’t have any of these types of documents, you can just keep moving through the sorting process. Have a seat next to a trash can and a shredder, grab a letter opener – let’s go!


  • Toss obvious trash as you work through the stack.

  • Pull out reading material, later you'll sort it and file it with other high and low priority reading material.

  • Pull out the memorabilia and put it in the box for memorabilia.

  • Open and empty all the envelopes.

  • Pull out documents to shred and shred them.


If you’ve made it this far you deserve a break and maybe a reward. You’re doing great! What you have left to file should be a relatively small amount of paper. You can repeat this part of the process as you work through the stacks of paper. Next time, we’ll go into more detailed filing categories for what you’ve got left.

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