how do i toss financial documents easily?
April 10, 2012 10:13 AM   Subscribe

i need to do a really deep cleaning of my living space.

i have lots of paper clutter, with a lot of bank statements, retirement statements, bills, etc.--things with personal information that make me worry about identity theft. as i've been cleaning, i've collected the sensitive stuff and then shredded it. but it's just too much to sift through and it slows down the progress to shred each item (the shredder can only handle a little bit at a time).

what can i do with all the "sensitive" items that will render them useless for identity theft? someone mentioned wetting the paper before i toss it, but that is sure to be a huge mess. i'll be tossing most of it into a building trash compressor. taking the stuff to a shredding company is not an option. please help me get the trash out of the apt as fast as possible. i want to toss stuff without feeling i'm being totally reckless with my personal life. thanks.
posted by divinitys.mortal.flesh to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Rather than shredding-as-you-go, how about this:

1. If there's a spot where you keep mailing supplies and giftwrapping supplies, make a box for the old financial materials there.

2. Then, the next time you wrap a gift/package something that needs to be mailed, shred a bunch of documents and mix 'em all up.

3. Use the resultant shred to pad the box.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:16 AM on April 10, 2012

Forgot to mention - the "use the shredded stuff to pad boxes" does get it out of your house at a slower rate, but it's performing a function while you go. Also, since you're not stopping to shred things every two minutes, you can get through the rest of the cleaning.

also, you don't have to ever buy packing peanuts or crap like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:17 AM on April 10, 2012

Your state may have open burning regulation that allow you to burn paper. Check them out and see if you can go and burn your documents somewhere. This is horribly environmentally un-friendly, though.
posted by griphus at 10:18 AM on April 10, 2012

As far as wetting them goes, you can set up a large trash can in your bathtub, and let them soak in there overnight. Mix it up a few times so the papers break up, drain out the water, and throw out what's left.
posted by griphus at 10:20 AM on April 10, 2012

posted by peagood at 10:21 AM on April 10, 2012

You might look up shred events. I have seen banks bring in shredding trucks as a community service.
posted by jennstra at 10:28 AM on April 10, 2012

Many banks have shredding events, as jennstra says. Many copy places or shipping stores (UPS stores) also offer shredding.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:35 AM on April 10, 2012

You're taking this to a trash compactor, right? At which point the paper will just be squished together into a seamless solid mass along with your other trash, old pair of shoes, gross chinese food from the back of your fridge, etc?

I'll be honest - if I had a trash compactor, I'd just throw those documents in there and call it a day. Yes, technically they are decipherable if someone pried the trash-brick apart. But the chances of that happening are quite low; you'd need someone who's willing to not just sort through trash, but separate out solid masses of gunk, just on the chance that there might be documents.

Identity/information theft from trash-picking is real, but it's mostly a thing that gets done at businesses, where there are huge masses of trash that has a relatively high chance of having lots of personal data and a relatively low rate of other kinds of trash (eg, gunky household stuff.) The chances of someone picking out your documents from your compacted trash are not zero, but are probably a lot less than other things that probably don't freak you out on a regular basis - for example, you (probably) drive on US highways and walk across streets where your chances of being struck by a car are a lot higher than the risk you'd take by compacting a few random documents along with your banana peels and whatnot.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:36 AM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I guess I am totally reckless about this stuff. I hardly ever shred anything. I just put it in the recycling bin plain. Not exactly recommending this approach, just saying putting the stuff in the trash compactor (which is going to mess it up pretty good on its own) does not mean your identity will get stolen.

If you're going to wet the stuff down, I recommend taking the water and the paper down to the compactor separately, since the paper will be really heavy and unwieldy once you've gotten it wet.
posted by mskyle at 10:37 AM on April 10, 2012

This may not be the most safe, but in the past I have torn bank statements and such in half so my address is on one side and my account number on the other. Then I throw them in two separate trash cans. I figure peop;e are not going to sift through two trash bags for both sets of info. But maybe this .is not as "safe" as I tell myself it is.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:38 AM on April 10, 2012

Places like Office Depot shred by the pound (if the objection to a shredding company is that it's hard to get to or expensive or something). I take a cardboard box (a diaper box is actually ideal, sturdy and holds a lot of paper, but not so much you can't carry it), put it in the middle of the room I'm cleaning, and toss stuff to be shredded into that. When it gets full I close it up and put it out of the way and start another one if necessary. Then you can either spend an afternoon shredding 8 sheets at a time while you watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, or take the box as-is to Office Depot/Max/etc. They'll weigh it, shred it, and recycle the box.

I've heard of people putting sensitive material on the bottom of the cat's litter box so it gets both wet AND as disgusting as humanly possible, and then disposing of it with the litter, but I have never tried it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:49 AM on April 10, 2012

While you're investigating these other excellent options, last time I moved, I used my TV time to shred in my tiny 7 pgs-at-time-max shredder. Very easy to watch & shred; after compacting the results as much as possible in brown grocery bags, I'd drop them in the recycling on my way to work the next morning. Got 10 years of adult paperwork whittled down in maybe a week. (Anything important got sorted into year piles, which when into large manila envelopes, labeled with the year. All that went into a box that went into a closet during the day so I didn't have to look at it when not doing the sort & shred thing.)
posted by smirkette at 11:35 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a document destruction company come out to my work. They charged about $60 to shred 20 bankers boxes worth of stuff. I would at least price the cost of getting a document destruction company out before writing rejecting that idea.
posted by vespabelle at 12:07 PM on April 10, 2012

Is there a bigger, more powerful shredder at your office or someplace else that you have acess to? My office has an industrial shredder, so I just keep a grocery bag at home for my sensitive paper trash, and when it's full, I take it to work and dump it in the big shredder. My bank (local credit union) also offers free document shredding to account holders, so it might be worth asking yours whether they have this service.

Basically, you've got three options. 1) Shred or destroy the documents yourself (pro: you know it's done and safe; con: it's aggravating, time-consuming, and maybe messy). 2) Have someone else destroy them for you (pro: no mess or work; con: may cost money or involve carrying your papers someplace else). 3) Throw them away and hope for the best (pro: easy and free; con: security worries). The adage is: "Good, fast, cheap; pick two out of three." That's true here too. Decide whether you'd rather deal with the work, the cost, or the worry, and then go from there.
posted by decathecting at 1:34 PM on April 10, 2012

spend an afternoon shredding 8 sheets at a time

The problem with this is: domestic shredders are only rated to a certain duty cycle. Shred too much too fast and they overheat; and then you have to wait longer for it to cool down. Commercial shredders can take more load but are spendier.

I shredded a boatload of stuff with a cheapass shredder last time I moved and it took forever. vespabelle's suggestion of having someone out to collect and destroy it seems very attractive.

(And FWIW, soak-it-in-in-the-bathtub ideas always seem a bit batty to me: coated paper doesn't break down that easily, and disposing of a tubful of paper sludge doesn't seem any easier to me than disposing of bagfuls of paper shreddings.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:35 PM on April 10, 2012

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