Paper Organization – To Keep or Not To Keep

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 29,132
    Professional Organizer Erin Young discusses some simple rules of thumb, some strategies so you know what to keep and what you can you safely let go of.

    Erin Young: Hi! I am Erin Young. I am with Clutterbusters and today we are talking about ways to reduce the paper clutter in your home.

    One question at the root, most people struggles with paper is what to keep, how long should I keep it, and what can I let go off? Were going to talk about some simple rules of thumb, some strategies, for attacking the paper, so you know what to keep, what you can you safely let go of, and hopefully itll help you to streamline your files and keep your surfaces in our home clear.

    All youre going to need to get started right now is just a piece of paper and a pen just to jot down some notes. So, were ready to talk about what you should keep and what you shouldnt keep. So, lets go ahead and get started.

    As a general rule of thumb, all tax information should be kept. For most people, at least three years, this is for the average taxpayer. You want to keep your 1099 or 1040, your W-2s; all the documentation supporting any deductions that you might take out of your return or your taxes.

    The IRS has three years to audit for any filed return. Six years is what other people with more complicated returns, thats how long they want to hold on to their tax information, and if you are self-employed or if you have multiple streams of income, say from trust funds or mutual funds or that kind of thing, more complicated financial income, you want to hold on to your papers for at least six years. The IRS has up to six years to audit you, if they feel that you have underreported your income by at least 25%.

    Other papers that you want to hold on to forever are just -- keep your tax return period for all the years that youve worked. Its good to hold on to those just in case.

    When we approach to paperwork with Clutterbusters, we have a three-year rule, a six-year rule, and a forever rule. Some general papers that you want to hold on to for three years include; canceled checks. You want to hold on to those for at least three years. Some ways is to get rid of canceled checks include shredding. I had a client take the canceled checks and put them in a sink of bleached water to wash out the ink on them. Figure out the way that works for you, but you dont need to hold on to them longer than three years.

    Current contracts or leases, you want to hold on to those contracts for the life of the contract plus three years.

    Appliance receipts, you want to hold on to these receipts for the life of the product plus three years.

    Housing records, this includes any home improvements that youve made, any additions youve put on the house, any expenses that were incurred during the purchase or sell of your home. You want to hold on to these papers for as long as you have the home plus three years.

    Six years, you want to hold on to bank deposit slips for six years, bank statements, and the investment records. You want to hold on to for the life of the investment and then six years after the sell.

    Papers you should hold on to forever include; tax returns, insurance records, which means home owners insurance, life insurance, fire insurance that kind of thing. All IRA contributions, any real-estate paperwork you have, deeds, loans, mortgages that kind of thing, and all audit reports.

    Papers that you can safely let go of include bank statements older than six years, go ahead and let them go. Old checks if they are older than three years, you dont need them anymore. Old bills like credit card bills, utility bills; hold on to them for two or three years and then let them go; shred if possible.

    Receipts, I guarantee you if you look in any womans purse, youll see a stack of receipts bulging out of her wallet or some pocket. You dont need to keep receipt unless they are for tax purposes or for major appliance purchases or that kind of things. Grocery receipts, gas receipts let them go. Moms, this is tough, that all those pretty paintings that your kids bring home they can stack up pretty quickly. Just hold on to the things that are exceptional, things that are of unique value that stand out from the rest, I guarantee you next year there will be more gems and masterpieces coming through the door. Also, school papers about the bake sale or they white whatever, the white elephant that kind of thing, you can keep them for the life of the event and then let them go. You do want to keep grades and academic records, but for the most part that paperwork can get really cluttered.

    Magazines, catalogues, and newspapers pile up really quick. So, if there is an article that you want to save and reference later, go ahead and clip the article and put it in your files and then toss the rest of the magazine or the newspaper, aside from being big clutter magnets they can be fire hazards as well.

    Try to stop your paper clutter at its source. Unsubscribe for magazines or catalogues that you are no longer reading or using. There is a lot that you can do online days, online bill pay, you can get your bank statements online, you can certainly shop online. So, try to do as much online as you can and reduce the paper thats coming into your house.

    In order to streamline your daily schedules, the contact information that youve got, the notes that you are taking everyday, you have little to do, lets consider one of those electronics planners such as a Palm Pilot or a Blackberry, this will help you keep your purse clutter free as well as the paper that youre bringing into your home.

    So, hopefully these tips will help you feel better about letting go some of those papers and keep your files nice and streamlined with the papers that you know you need to hang on to.