Is it workplace hoarding … or record-keeping?

Are work documents taking over your office? If your desk is covered, your filing cabinets are full and your email archive goes back for years, it may be time to ask yourself if holding on is hurting more than it’s helping.

So, how can you make sure you’re only saving what you need?

That’s what one reader asked recently on the Admin Pro Forum:

“People make little jokes about how much paper I keep on my desk, my stuffed file cabinets and the number of old emails I store in Outlook, going back years sometimes, and it was even brought up in my performance evaluation. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been saved because I still had an ‘ancient’ email for reference or a tiny scrap of paper with a bit of info on it that everyone else had forgotten. We’ve all been trained to get rid of this stuff and keep things tidy for the sake of … well, what?” — Rod, state comptroller’s office

To avoid workplace ridicule for your documents, consider making the switch from paper to digital document storage. Reader JoAnn Paules suggested, “Rather than keep pieces of paper, keep electronic files whenever possible. Scan in the document you want to keep and give it a mean­­ingful name. … takes up less room than paper and will be easier to find down the road.”

If there isn’t a legal reason for keeping old documents, consider why you’re holding onto them, suggests Doug Berman, a corporate lawyer with experience in records-retention programs.

“Beyond the legal requirement time periods for retaining records, it may be good for the company to destroy records,” Berman says. “The cost of storage and organizational efficiency are sound business reasons, and hoarding documents can lead to using outdated materials.”

If you’re having problems understanding what to save and what to toss, “it may be a good idea to implement a records-retention program,” says Berman.

Another reader suggested the real problem is a lack of organization. “The problem isn’t that you keep the information … the problem is that you are using your desk as a storage space rather than organizing the information properly,” says Theresa Kasel.

“Come up with a system to store these types of documents. Have subject folders for projects. A folder for each month of the year for items that don’t have a specific project/subject.”