Posts

Portable safe

What papers need to be kept?

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 recordspassport
  • 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
  • passport

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Will this information be outdated by the time I need it?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

organized file drawer

No One Loves Filing

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
office and paper messa 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

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things You Can Automatically Get Rid Of

My mother-in-law shared this article with me, 10 Things You Can Toss Without Thinking Twice and after I read it I declared, “I can think of a lot more things to toss without a second thought.” So here is my list of 1o .

1.Used gift wrap
I grew up saving gift wrap, tissue paper, ribbons, and bows to reuse again and again. Sometimes it got used and other times it didn’t. So, my current guideline is if it doesn’t get reused within a year it gets recycled or used as filler in packaging. If I over buy and have a surplus amount I donate to Birthday Wishes.

2. Expired medications
Many people ask me about the authenticity of expiration dates on medications. Here is an article that addresses that issue, but ultimately you’ll have to make a decision on the best practice for you and your family. Two places I’ve used for medication disposal are the police station and CVS stores. Your local police station will take back medications and dispose of them properly. Some CVS stores have disposal kiosks inside by the pharmacy for convenient drop offs. The CVS I use in North Attleboro, MA has a kiosks.

3. Plastic grocery store bags
I’ve collected a ton of these since March 13, 2020. How about you? I’ve been itching to recycle them, and I’m happy to see that stores are now taking them back. I brought mine to Target and Stop & Shop for recycling.

4. Boxes for items purchased
The only boxes I hold onto for 6-9 months are technology item boxes. All the other boxes get broken down and recycled within a month.

5. Old text books
Do you know anyone who has ever referenced their old text books? Textbooks for Change is a great organization to support by donating your old text books.

6. Past calendars and date books
It’s tempting to keep old calendars and date books because they provide snapshots into our past. Even though we feel nostalgic about them most of us never look at them again. I keep them for as long as it takes me to create a scrapbook for that year, because they help me remember specific dates. However, once my scrapbook is complete they get recycled or shredded.

old keys7. Keys you don’t know what they open
Random keys have a way of showing up, and we’re convinced that they will open something, but do they? Locks get changed and we often forget how many keys we had for it. A great option for your questionable keys is Keys For Hope. They collect keys to feed the hungry.

8. Batteries that you don’t know if they’re good or not
All batteries don’t need to be recycled but they can. Let’s keep them out of the landfill. Recycle at Interstate Batteries.

9. Adapters that don’t go to anything
It seems like there is a new, updated version of our latest technology purchase, already in stores before we can figure out all the features of our current model. Such speedy advancement leaves us with a lot of adapters and plugs that don’t work. Most Best Buy stores have recycle programs and have bins for recycling in their store entrances.

10. Random screws, nails, and hardware
Where do random bits of hardware come from? I’ve seen them in my home and every client’s home I’ve ever been in. We collect them in a bucket and then recycle the contents of the bucket as scrap metal.

mail boxWhen I was writing down the previous 10 things I realized I kept thinking of paper items that can be tossed without a second thought. So I came up with a list of 10 papers you can automatically toss.

  1. Junk mail addressed to current resident or occupant, unsolicited advertisements, offers, political notices, and charity requests
  2. Paid utility bills
  3. Pay stubs beyond current year
  4. Manuals for items you no longer own
  5. Expired warranties
  6. Previous versions of insurance policies
  7. ATM slips older than 2 months
  8. Outdated mailing lists or contact sheets
  9. Used check register
  10. Medical explanation of benefits as long as the bill has been settled

For more details on what papers to keep or toss read my blog on the subject.

©September 2020   Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer®   All Rights Reserved

pile of papers on table

Paper: What to Keep and for How Long

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

Bank
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

Credit cards
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

Employment
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

Financial
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

Home Improvement
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

Mail
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.

Military
Admission papers – indefinitely
awards and honors – individual preference
Discharge – forever
Military ID – forever

Property/Real Estate
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

Purchases
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

Taxes
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

Vital documents
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

Valentines and Sentimental Cards

Organizing tipI love giving and getting greeting cards in the mail. Valentine’s day is one occasion where I send hand-made cards. I recommend that those who receive them, display and enjoy them for 2 to 3 weeks. Then toss them. For those of us who want to preserve the cards, do so digitally. Take a photo of the cards, up-load them to the cloud, and revisit them every February 14th. This can be done with all sentimental cards.