How are you enjoying your spring? Do you have spring cleaning and organizing projects lined up? At my house we’re getting central air conditioning installed. I’m very excited that we won’t have to deal with the window AC units anymore.
Tag Archive for: organizing paper
Going paperless sounds like a great idea, but unfortunately, there will always be some papers we need to keep. These papers are often referred to as vital documents. I recommend keeping only one of them, the most recent copy and keeping it in a safe spot. I use a portable fireproof lock box for my important documents.
- birth certificate
- marriage license
- social security card
- military discharge records
- driver’s license copy
- car registration
- car ownership documents
- medical insurance identification card and policy
- homeowners insurance policy
- auto insurance policy
- life insurance policy
- bank checking account number & routing number
- bank saving account numbers
- investment records
- deeds, titles and licenses
- family historical information
- critical addresses and mailing lists
- tax returns
- business records required to survive or rebuild
- will and estate planning documents
If you have questions about papers that are not listed above please refer to my blog article titled Paper: what to keep and for how long. If you’d like more guidance, below are some questions you can ask to help you determine what’s worth holding on to.
What is the specific need and use of this paper?
Is this current and up-to-date information?
Did I request this information?
Will this paper help me complete a project I’m working on now?
Are there tax, legal, or insurance reasons to keep this paper?
Is this information important and referred to often?
When have I needed to reference this type of information? How often?
How easily can this information be obtained elsewhere or again if needed?
Will this information be outdated by the time I need it?
What is the worst that will happen if I throw this paper away?
Is doubt and indecision the only reason for keeping this paper?
Paper management can be challenging, but the more often you make decisions the better off you’ll be.
©May 2021 Janine Cavanaugh, CPO® All rights reserved
Believe it or not there are some Professional Organizers I know who love filing and organizing paperwork. I’m not one of them. In fact, I think the majority of homeowners and business owners would agree with me that the less paperwork we have to file, the better. So how can we file less? The answer is two-fold, reduce the amount of paper that comes in and manage the amount of paper that gets filed.
In order to reduce the amount of paper that comes in, we have to stop it before it gets to our doorstep. What papers can be refused and stopped from coming in? Here are a few simple solutions. Go paperless with credit card statements, bank statements, financial statements, and monthly bills. Get electronic receipts. Remove yourself from direct mail lists and weekly circulars. Have a paper recycle bin in the garage, and toss as much as you can before entering the house.
Once we reduce the amount of paper that comes in, we want to manage the amount of paper that gets filed. There are two actions required to accomplish this. The first one is to educate yourself on what paper is worth keeping and for how long. For your convenience, I have
a detailed list in a previous blog with that title. Just remember everyone has their own comfort level on what’s important and what’s not. Please use your best judgement and if you have questions consult another document professional, such as an accountant, financial advisor or tax lawyer.
The second action required to manage the amount of paper that gets filed is to create your own filing guidelines. Here are a few simple guidelines that I use. File, don’t pile. Label files with titles that make sense to you. Some titles I use are Auto, Bank, Medical, Taxes. Store files virtually and alphabetically by titles. Only file information that you know you’ll reference again. Store vital documents, such as passports, deeds, and licenses, in a special place away from your daily files. Continually remove papers that are outdated, unimportant, incomplete, or not relevant to your current life. Shred paper every week.
Let’s all file less. If you have a helpful paper guideline or need help with reducing, please contact me.
©February 2021 Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer® All Rights Reserved
A question I get asked all the time is, “What papers do I need to keep, and how long do I need to keep them?” So, in response to that I’ve come up with a list of paper retention guidelines. It will help you figure out what to keep and for how long. I must point out that I am not an accountant, CPA, lawyer, or tax specialist. This list is my recommendation, but you must always do what you feel most comfortable doing. If you have questions seek another opinion from one of the previously mentioned professionals.
Auto & other vehicles
Accident records – as long as you own vehicle
General maintenance receipts – 1 year
Insurance documents – keep most recent and discard previous versions
Insurance monthly payments – 1 year
Loan agreement – as long as you own vehicle
Loan payments – 1 year
Purchase agreement – as long as you own vehicle
Sales agreement – 3 years after sale of vehicle
Title -as long as you own vehicle
Warranted services – as long as you own vehicle
Account documents – for as long as you have account
ATM slips – verify against statement then shred
Check register – verify then shred
Loan documents – 3 year after loan has been paid
Monthly statements – 1 to 3 years
Account documents – for as long as you have account
Monthly statements – 1 to 3 years
Purchase receipts – verify against statement then shred, unless for warranty or taxes
Awards – individual preference
Certificates – keep until verified with employee records
Handbook – keep most recent and discard previous versions
Licenses & Contract – keep most recent 2 years and discard previous versions
Pay stubs – until end of year and verified by W2
Pension information – keep most recent 3 years and discard previous versions
Performance reviews – 5 years or job termination
Resume and references – individual preference
W2 and tips – 3 to 7 years or forever
Investment documents & IRAs – 3 to 7 years
Monthly or quarterly statements – 1 year, verify with year end statement
Purchase agreements – for duration of ownership
Sale agreements – 3 years after sale
Year-end statements – 3 to 7 years
Instruction manuals – if used as long as you own product
Receipts for improvements & energy incentives – as long as you own home
Service contracts – as long as you have service
Warranties – as long as they are viable
Insurance (home owners, life, renters, supplemental, vehicles)
Policies – keep most recent and discard previous versions
Statements – 3 to 7 years
Advertisements – recycle
Announcements – recycle
Catalogues – 1 month then recycle
Circulars – 1 week then recycle
Correspondence – individual preference
Coupons/offers/promotions – use or recycle
Greeting cards – individual preference
Invitations – until event, then individual preference
Magazines – 1 month then recycle
Newsletters – 1 month then recycle
Newspapers – 1 week then recycle
Pledges – donate and keep for taxes or recycle
Solicitations – take action or recycle
Medical & Dental
Bills – 3 years after payment verification
Explanation of benefits – 6 months
Instructions – keep until no longer valid
Medication information and prescription slips – read then shred or keep until expired
Reference information – 5 years or until outdated
Routine visits receipts – 1 to 2 years
Surgery and special visits receipts – indefinitely or individual preference
*If you itemize your medical and dental expenses keep all supporting records for 3 to 7 years, including travel, parking and toll records.
Admission papers – indefinitely
awards and honors – individual preference
Discharge – forever
Military ID – forever
Deed – as long as you own
Lease agreement – as long as you lease
home improvement documents – until you sell
maintenance – 3 years
mortgage statements – 3 to 7 years
purchase and sale agreement – as long as you own
Instructions – if used keep as long as own
Manual – if used keep as long as own
Sales receipt – recycle after decision to keep is made, unless for warranty
Warranty – keep for duration warranty
Documents: 1099, 1095 and all forms, alimony, business income & expenses, charitable donations, child care & education expenses, excise tax, gambling, interest statements, investment papers, tax payments, real estate tax, refund receipts, tax return (federal and state), W2s
3 Years – IRS has 3 years from your filing date to audit your return if it suspects good faith errors, and you have 3 years to amend a return if you discover a mistake; therefore keep all tax returns, payment receipts, and supporting documents for at least 3 years.
7 Year – IRS has 6 years from your filing date to challenge your return if it thinks you underreported your gross income by 25% or more
Forever – there is no limit if you failed to file a return or filed a fraudulent return
Utilities – electric, gas, internet, phone, other
Bills – verify then shred
Maintenance – 1 to 2 years
Warranties – until no longer valid
Birth and adoption certificate – forever
Death certificate – forever
Deeds – until sold
Divorce decree – forever
Estate-planning documents (health care proxy, life insurance, living will and will, Power of attorney, trusts) – update every 5 years
Passport – keep most recent
Marriage license – forever
Naturalization papers – forever
Social security card – forever
Titles – until sold
©February 2020 Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer All Rights Reserved
My family is large, and I send over 100 greeting cards a year. If we include the Christmas cards I send each year, the number is close to 200. That’s a lot of greeting cards to organize, and a lot of time spent sending cards. I know, but I like doing it. It allows me to keep in touch, and let my siblings and extended family know I’m thinking of them.
Here is how I’ve streamlined the process. First of all, to keep the greeting cards organized, I have them in a container that allows me to store two rows of cards vertically. The container has no lid, and has a designated spot in my closet in my office. The cards are sorted into categories based on type of occasion, event, or holiday, for example anniversary, birthday, Christmas. Each category is labeled, and stored alphabetically. For example, the anniversary cards are in front of the birthday cards which are in front of the Christmas cards. All this helps me easily flip through the cards to find the one I’ll send.
Second of all, to keep track of what to send when, I have all the special occasions listed on a calendar that I update every year in January. Once my calendar is all set I follow theses steps. At the end of each the month, I pull together all the cards that I want to send in the next month. I address and sign the cards, with my husbands help, so they are ready to go when the time comes. I hold the addressed card in an outgoing mail slot on my desk. At the beginning of each week I pick out the cards that need to be mailed, and put them in my weekly tickler file. I then mail them at the appropriate time. I know this is a detailed process, but it is what helps me remember each and every card and occasion. Maybe this is a process you can use and adapt for yourself.
Here are a few additional guidelines that I follow:
- I don’t allow myself to accumulate more cards than the container will hold.
- I always search my container of cards before I allow myself to buy new ones.
- There is no miscellaneous category in my card container.
- I buy 60 postage stamps at once to save time.
- I print up several sheets of return address labels at once.
I’ve also tried Send Out Cards, an on line greeting card service. They actual mail the card for you, and email you reminders when it’s time to send.
©December 2016 Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer® All Rights Reserved
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