Paper, Paper Everywhere – What Do I Need to Shred?


Recently, I had a conversation with some colleagues about paper. . .

What do our clients want to keep and what do they want to shred? What, as professional organizers, we suggest our clients keep and shred. Do you know what kinds of paperwork can just be recycled?

It is a personal decision that you have to be comfortable with, but here are some guidelines to help you make that decision.

From the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.

What should I shred? In short, destroy all sensitive information including junk mail and
paper that includes:

  • Account numbers
  • Birth dates
  • Passwords and PINs
  • Signatures
  • Social Security numbers

Where you may get caught up is with the question of LESS personal information. Information that can easily be found on the internet – Your name, address, etc. Google yourself. See what you can find.

Consider if you need to shred papers with personal information that can be found on the internet. Click To Tweet

If you are concerned with protecting your privacy

You should also shred paper items that include:

  • Names
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • E-mail addresses

Here’s a blog post from organizer extraordinaire, Jerry Dansky.

Issues beyond paper that came up in our security related discussion were:

  • The safety of social security numbers.
  • Vulnerability through RFID chips in credit cards and passports.
  • Identity theft from your paper printer.

Thieves can now figure out a social security number by starting with just the last four numbers. Read this blog post by Robert Siciliano, Online Security and Safety Evangelist to McAfee to learn more about this issue.

RFID chips in credit cards and passports are also vulnerable to thieves. New to the consumer, but people have already figured out how to take advantage of this new technology.

Lastly, did you even know that your information can be found on a printer? Security issues are everywhere! The New York Times article on this explains the issue.

Above all, this information is to inform you, not scare you. Set up a system for yourself to safe guard your identity. Be as diligent as possible to protect yourself.

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Janet Schiesl

Janet has been organizing since 2005. She is a Certified Professional Organizer and the owner of Basic Organization. She loves using her background as a space planner to challenge her clients to look at their space differently. She leads the team in large projects and works one-on-one with clients to help the process move quickly and comfortably. Call her crazy, but she loves to work with paper, to purge what is not needed and to create filing systems that work for each individual client. Janet is a Past President of the Washington DC Chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) and was voted 2016 Organizer of the Year by the Washington DC Chapter of NAPO.


  1. Diane N Quintana on January 10, 2022 at 8:59 am

    Jante, this is scary information! I had no idea that these cyber thieves can figure out our social security number from the last 4 digits or that my printer could be hacked. Wow! The question is: how do we safeguard our information?

    • Janet Schiesl on January 11, 2022 at 6:58 am

      Thanks, it is scary. Take precautions, but I don’t know specific safety measures.

  2. Seana Turner on January 10, 2022 at 9:40 am

    I was just seeing a story today about Apple’s new Air Tag, and how people are using them with nefarious intent. They drop them in a person’s pocket or puse and can follow them for hours without being detected. Especially scary for high-profile people.

    Seems like we will always be trying to stay ahead on this one. Thanks for sharing.

    • Janet Schiesl on January 11, 2022 at 6:59 am

      I don’t think you can avoid all security risks. Sad that that is the world we live in.

  3. Linda Samuels on January 10, 2022 at 10:23 am

    Yikes! I didn’t know that printers were vulnerable to theft. I’m a huge fan of shredding most documents, especially the ones with the sensitive information. I appreciate the reminders about identity theft and the ways we can do our best to keep our information safe.

    • Janet Schiesl on January 11, 2022 at 7:01 am

      Just try to do your best. There will always be internet thieves. We need to be thoughtful and careful.

  4. Sabrina Quairoli on January 10, 2022 at 1:26 pm

    Important post! It’s incredible how many people do not care if their information is out there and accessible. This is just one part of it, if one owns a business, there is a whole other level of tasks to do to protect your business and clients’ information. Thank you for bringing this topic to light.

    • Janet Schiesl on January 11, 2022 at 7:02 am

      I see both sides of the spectrum, which I’m sure you do too. People who put everything out there and don’t worry and people who are extra cautious.

  5. Jill Katz on January 11, 2022 at 2:46 pm

    They can figure out the whole SS# from the last 4 numbers??!!?? My clients tend to be more diligent about shredding than I am. For myself, I tend to tear a paper in quarters if it has an account # in it and separate for shredding only if it has my birth date or social (will now be including only last 4 digits in shred pile). Thanks for this post. Information is power!

    • Janet Schiesl on January 11, 2022 at 3:38 pm

      I do the same thing – tearing the corner of the page that has sensitive information on it and only shredded that part.

  6. Katherine Macey on January 15, 2022 at 2:12 pm

    Wow! Some interesting information here. It’s important to take the time to lay down your personal rules for identity protection. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Janet Schiesl on January 15, 2022 at 6:11 pm

      Yes I agree. We always ask our clients how they want to deal with security.

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