Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Clever Tricks for Organizing: Paper Clutter

Papers tend to clutter almost everyone's house. They just seem to creep onto every horizontal surface. Usually it's because you want to keep it out so you don't forget about it, but of course you can't find it when you need it. Frustrating. Here are some tips for organizing paper clutter.
  • "Touch It Once" Rule. When you get the mail sort through it right then. Junk mail in the recycling, anything you need to do something with either do it right then or put it into a to do file. File anything that needs to be filed.
  • The To-Read Dilemma. This is things like magazines, catalogs, newsletters, and newspapers. The easiest solution is a nice basket where you like to read. If you haven't read them within a few months, it might be best to toss it.
  • School "Stuff" Kids can bring home a lot of stuff from school. Treat it like the mail, if it is something that needs action put it in the to do folder (or do it right then), if its something to file away (like a report card) file it away. For papers reminding you of something, write it on the family calendar and recycle the paper. 
  • Filing. You really need a place to file papers. Without it, you may drown in papers. I will caution though when creating a filing system, do not let any file become to large or it ruins the purpose of the file. For example a file labeled "home" may be better organized into categories such as "home insurance," "home repairs," and "home sale/buy documents." 
  • Menus. Consider a binder with clear plastic inserts to stick take-out menus and pizza menus. Keep it in a drawer or cabinet in the kitchen.
  • Coupons/Ads. Make sure to have a filing system for these. If you don't have time to file the coupons the moment you get them, have some sort of basket to put them in until you have time to put them in your system. For ads, if you aren't looking for something specific from them, it's best just to toss them in a recycling.
  • Shredding. A shredder is a great investment to keep personal information safe. Keep it close to where you work on things you may need to shred.
  • Scrap Paper. I like to reuse the backs of paper to print coupons on or for anything that doesn't need to look pretty. To keep it tamed, I keep it in a basket next to my printer.
How Long to Keep Papers
This question is quite common. We all worry about throwing something out we still need. Hopefully this will help out some. 
  • Utility Statements- There really isn't much need to keep these unless you are claiming them as a business expense on your taxes (which we will get to tax documents in a little bit). Some people keep them for a year to be able to compare year to year, although many utilities companies show the year's usage on the bill now. Some people keep the utility statements to use in selling their house, but again most of this information can be found on the latest bill.
  • Mortgage Statements- Definitely keep the last statement of the year which has the tax information on it, but most monthly statements are unnecessary to keep. Once you have paid it off definitely keep the discharge statement for as long as you own the property and for six years after you sell the property.
  • Pay Stubs- Keep these for one year to check against your W-2. If it matches correctly to your W-2 discard the pay stubs and keep just the W-2. (Although you may want to keep the last few from the year if you are planning any major purchases as pay stubs are often asked for as a document for many things)
  • Car- Save the sales receipt, deed, and any repair information for as long as you have the car.
  • Bank Statements- Keep for one year. 
  • Credit Card Statements- If you use it for budgeting or if you refer back to them, keep them for a year. Otherwise the last one for the year is the most important (if you claim the interest on taxes).
  • Investments- Keep what you need for tax purposes. When in doubt contact your accountant.
  • Tax Information- Anything used for your taxes should be kept for 7 years. Each year you can add the new one and discard the oldest.
  • Medical Bills- Most experts say one year if you itemize them. However, having been burned more than once by medical billing I keep mine for several years. My personal story is that I had a kidney stone and received a CT scan. I thought my insurance covered it. Six months later I received a bill saying I needed to pay the entire amount. I called and found out what went wrong and worked it all out. I received no more bills. Two years later I checked my credit report and found I had a collection account for that bill. Because I had recorded all the information on the original bill I got it all worked out.
  • Medical Records- Keep forever. 
  • Insurance Information- Keep current policies and claim information. It's also wise to keep policies for as long as the statute of limitations for your state in case someone tries to make a claim against you. Keep all policies that you have made a claim against.
  • Receipts- Keep for as long as the return period. If you use credit or debit, keep until you check your statement. You can get rid of the rest unless needed for tax purposes.
  • Bills of Purchase- Keep for as long as you own the item.
  • Bill of Sale- Keep with tax documents for the year it was sold.
My Best Advice?
Sign-up for electronic bills/statements. Most online statements are downloadable, so you can download them to your computer (and back them up elsewhere). Save trees and your counter top!

Please let me know if you have any tips, and I will add them above!

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