Cold winter days are ideal for sorting through paperwork and organizing my documents for tax time. I’m starting early this year because, in addition to my own papers, I also need to go through the files of my late mother and brother.

It seems like my mom and brother had the same approach to filing. In the same drawer where they carefully filed important documents like birth certificates and Social Security cards, I’m finding expired drivers licenses, obsolete manuals, registrations for long-gone vehicles, old supermarket receipts, and other outdated papers.

How do sort out such a random collection? I’ve found that by working in short 15- to 30-minute sessions I can accomplish a lot without getting overwhelmed. First, I sort for paperwork I can clearly discard. I’ll put the rest in used manila folders I’ve been saving.

Next, I’ll consult the experts — like my tax preparer or an advisor at the bank — to determine which documents I need to keep and for how long. I will carefully file away the documents that I need to retain.

What about the papers I need to discard? I can recycle old envelopes and papers without sensitive information. But what about documents with personal information? How do I dispose of them responsibly and safely?

I can shred sensitive paperwork to destroy the information that could invite identity theft. Thankfully, my city recycling program accepts shredded paper curbside. This year, though, I’ll have a lot to recycle. So, I could use a secure paper-shredding service (making sure that they recycle the shredded paper). I’m also considering an ID protection stamp. This item stamps an ink pattern that obscures information in a document. The benefit is I wouldn’t have to shred the paper — and shredded paper has shorter fibers, making it harder to recycle.

Not all of the items that I am keeping are “vital” records. I may keep some old drivers’ licenses for the old photos of my mom and brother. And Mom’s last lottery ticket from when she used to “play the numbers” is a little treasured keepsake.

Feature image by Ag Ku from Pixabay

By Joanna Lacey

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.