January 13, 2023

Helping Family Members Downsize-The Paper

The home office can either be the most organized room in the house or a place where all paper goes to die. Everyone has their own systems which can range from everything having a place to piles stacked to the ceiling. Because of that, it’s hard to adapt to another person’s methods and take over the reigns. This was the issue we faced as my mother’s health was declining almost two years ago. This blog is to help others who may end up in a similar situation. 

Everything clerical was Mom’s domain. She had been my dad’s office manager for years and was uber organized. She actually had two home offices. Combined there were eight massive horizontal file drawers, six normal ones, and sorting trays to rival Office Depot. By the end as energy had faded, there were also bins and bins of mail and items to be sent to friends and family.

Mom’s heart was everywhere; in the typewriter that was my lullaby as she worked into the night, the stash of greeting cards for just the right occasion, articles clipped that may be interesting to loved-ones, treasured photos, and a huge collection of CD’s. She loved her music. (By the way, none of these photos are from Mom’s office.)

Once we realized that Mom no longer had the strength to even sign a check, we had to do something to help Dad take over. But as we scratched the surface, we realized that it had been a while since she had been at the top of her game and the job seemed completely overwhelming. Thus, the big sort began. 

To be honest, I thought I was the last person for this job. But it turned out that the needed skill set was pretty basic:

  • To be available
  • To be comfortable with chucking things
  • To have an eye for the important
  • To have the stamina  to plow through

If you find yourself up to your ears in documents, files, and papers, consider the following five principles.

1. Tame The Paper

Don’t keep unnecessary papers. There are many things we just don’t need to hold onto. Instead of adding filing cabinets, figure out what you need to file and toss the rest, shredding where necessary. Click HERE for an article from Consumer Reports about what to keep, how, and for how long. 




Scan important documents and keep a digital backup.

Really important things like birth certificates, passports, and wills need to be in a safe.

Though this was not an issue in Mom’s space, I feel the need  to add something to this category: magazines. THROW THEM AWAY! If there are recipes, important articles,  or designs you love, either tear out the wanted pages and put them in a binder, photograph them, or find the same thing online and add it to your Pinterest page. If you can’t bring yourself to throw them away, find someone who can use them. Sometimes art teachers want magazines for projects or more current ones can be used at clinics, women’s shelters, or other charitable organizations.



2. Ditch The Extras

As I mentioned in the first article in this series, when you find yourselves with empty shelves, bins, or sorters, get them out of the space. Otherwise you will fill them up again and you will be in an endless cycle. Whoever is taking over the clerical tasks can set up their own organizers if necessary. 


Paper sorter


3. Make A Map

Have you heard of a locater? It’s not an app, at least not in my world. It is a book or file that tells you where to find important things like codes, passwords, accounts, etc. Everyone should have one and Mom did. It has come in handy more than once.


Locater icon

4. Set Up A System

During the great purge, I started Dad on a filing system and he has now made it his own without anything extraneous and he is managing it beautifully.  He put as many things on auto-pay as possible to make life simple. As for the rest, he has whittled down what he accesses often to basically one file drawer. Perfect!




4. Keep On Going 

The process of cleaning out the office is still going on, though the finish line is in sight.The rooms will all get sorted but there is something else at play here. When you are dealing with a space that was occupied by someone you dearly loved, emptying it out is heart-wrenching. Baby steps are okay. Any forward motion is progress.