Clearing The Clutter In Lock-Down Limbo:

Britain has gone deep-clean crazy”. That was how the Sunday Times columnist, Jon Ungoed-Thomas on 26th April described the sudden, soaring demand for carpet stain remover, washing machine powder and disinfectant products such as Domestos bleach. He cited as an example the members of the parenting site Mumset, who have been utilising the several weeks of confinement stipulated by the UK Government by tidying up around their homes, de-limescaling their bathrooms, wiping light-fittings, vacuuming behind and under sofas and beds and sponging down skirting boards. In particular, long-accumulated paperwork is being sorted,filed and binned.

However, deciding exactly what should and shouldn’t be thrown away and then how to dispose of all the ensuing piles of rubbish, has proved to be something of a challenge, not least because many council recycling and waste depots have been closed due to staff shortages caused by the virus and there have also been restrictions on driving to the ones which have remained open.

Barbara Hemphill, the American author of “Organizing Paper At Home”, has observed that, despite all our technology, this is still a huge problem for many households, where it can be found randomly littering the kitchen table or stuffed into drawers and cupboards. In her book, she offers advice as to what to keep and where, as well as, “most importantly, how to find what you need when you need it” The Saga magazine website likewise points out that the dilemma we all face is that relying completely on digital data can be risky as anything stored on a PC is vulnerable to being wiped out by malware, accidentally deleted, accessed without authorization or all three.

The “Mrs Clean” advisory section on “” notes that, precisely because computers crash and information can be irretrievably lost, a lot of us still resort to printing personal and financial documentation with the genuine intention of filing them for future reference. In practice however, much of it ends up mixed in with the“stacks of old junk ” cluttering our desks and overflowing onto the floor. She recommends that we should immediately get rid of all unsolicited periodicals, catalogues and publicity material without even looking at them” and then arrange any remaining valid correspondence, such as those relating to business or financial matters, into “appropriate classifications”.

The issue then becomes what exactly constitutes “essential information” and how long it should be retained. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) specifies that, as long as we complete our tax return on time each year (by 31st January), we only need to keep the records for the preceding 22 months. Saga advocates extending this to at least two years just in case the HMRC requires further details regarding, for instance, utility bills, payslips, pension income, bank statements and capital gains. However, anyone who’s self-employed should, in addition, hang on to items such as invoices, receipts, dividend vouchers and statements of interest earned with banks or building societies, for a minimum of six years

Both Saga’s website and others such as “” provide lists of what they consider should never be destroyed – such as certificates relating to professional and academic qualifications, birth, marriage, adoption, national insurance, medication, immunisation, and passports, previous as well as current. Saga includes in this category manufacturers’ warranties for, say, a new TV, dishwasher or wardrobe as “even when it has run out, you may be able to get a refund or replacement if you can show the product was faulty on the date you bought it – and it will also be useful if you decide to sell it”.

Furthermore, if your home or car has undergone repairs – perhaps a new window installed or the kitchen renovated – a potential purchaser may want to see evidence of the work that has been done or proof of building regulation consent. Although most homes are entered with the Land Registry, “details of conveyancing procedures from many years ago may not feature in its electronic entries and so can only be accessed by means of old paper deeds”.

Anything else that’s expired (“collections of used airline tickets not excepted”) should, in the opinion of and “The Happy Housie”, be ruthlessly “purged”, without sentiment or nostalgia. The consumer protection organisation “Which”, however, warns anyone about to embark on a major clear-out not to discard anything containing their name, address or financial details without first shredding it. A recent survey of 1,228 of its members has revealed that “an impressive 84% of them own a paper shredder” , mainly because this provides “the obvious first line of defence against identity fraud”.

We should all be acutely aware, declares “Mrs Clean”, that identity thieves frequently go through trash containers in residential areas looking for documents that contain our personal information. She suggests we should cut up our credit cards using scissors, so they can’t be pieced back together again in a recognisable fashion – though this could probably be achieved rather more effectively with the latest shredder models reviewed by the “Which” contributor Andrew Laughlin that can not only handle CDs and DVDs but also have special slots for demolishing credit cards.

Which“ acknowledges that even this apparently ideal method of protecting our personal security is not as simple as it seems: Many local councils won’t collect shredded waste because, they assert, the tiny pieces and paper fibres can clog the machinery at the recycling plants. Moreover, according to the former assistant director for environmental maintenance at Cheltenham Borough Council, Rob Bell, as quoted by the Daily Mail journalist Luke Salkeld, “shredded paper becomes windblown when hoisted into the collection vehicle and creates a litter problem in residential streets”.

HomeShredUK” offer what they portray as the perfect solution: During the lock-down they’ll continue to dispatch their 2, 5 and 10 packs of “Eco-Shred Sacks” ordered online by their domestic clients across the country, who should “fill them in their own time and at their own pace and have them ready for collection and security shredding when normal operations resume”.

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on April 30th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon

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