Curb Your Paper Clutter!
Curb Paper Clutter at Home
The weakness of both systems is that you may handle each piece of paper three or four times before you're done with it. Inefficient! And you often end up keeping hundreds of pages per year that you don't need. Here's how to streamline your system and get out from under the pileup.
I am a...FilerPiler
|What's Really Happening||You are a saver. You like to hang on to everything from financial records to magazine articles.||You are using paper as a visual to-do list. "Seeing a bill reminds you to pay it," says Lorie Marrero, author of The Clutter Diet.|
|Your New Goal||To sharply limit which papers get filed and begin emptying out old files.||To simplify your system for processing incoming paper, which will prevent piles.|
|Your New Strategy||Corporate productivity guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, says that all incoming stuff should be handled in one of four ways:|
The 2-minute handoff:If you're holding a paper and it will take only a couple of minutes to do what needs to be done, do it right now. Call that company or jot out that quick thank-you note, then throw out the paper.
Shred/recycle it:Unwanted pages immediately get tossed. Shred anything with identifying bank or Social Security numbers on it. (Some people like to shred anything with their name and address on it, says Marrero.) Use the recycling bin for catalogs, magazines and newspapers—just be sure to rip off the mailing label first.
Put it in the reading bin:For magazines or catalogs you'd like to go through.
Put it in the action bin:This shallow inbox (no more than 6 or 7 inches deep) is for all papers that require action, such as paying a bill or filing. Make a 20-minute date with yourself twice a week to process every item in the bin. You are not done until the box is empty.How to Handle the BacklogMake three 2-hour dates with yourself and go through your files to empty out unneeded pages. Get rid of every paper that you haven't looked at in two years or more, and don't need. (We're talking crumpled recipes and old notes-to-self.) If it's financial or tax-supporting documents, check with your accountant. When the Action Bin starts to overflow, schedule an extra Action Bin date. You are hereby banned from labeling folders "Miscellaneous" or "General." "You'll never remember what's in there," says Marrero. Instead, name the folder accurately ("Letters from Grandma").
Keep for a WhileHow Long?Why?
|ATM Receipts||1 month||Shred as soon as you confirm that your monthly statement is accurate. Be sure to shred them, since some include your full bank account number.|
|Bank Statements||1 year||Once your checking and savings accounts have been reconciled, scan bank statements and save for a year. Consult your accountant about keeping originals if you need to prove tax deductions. Save annual statements for 7 years in case you get audited.|
|Credit Card Statements||1 year||Once you've confirmed that the statement is accurate, keep it long enough to make sure that any returns are noted (if you're claiming expenses as tax write-offs, save it until tax time). Request the annual statement and keep it for 7 years.|
|Loan and Mortgage Statements||1 year||Wait until the year-end statement arrives, then shred the monthly or quarterly statements. Continue doing this until the loan is paid off in full. Save mortgage tax forms for 7 years.|
|Medical Bills||1 year or until paid off||You'll need them to claim any high costs as tax write-offs. Save unpaid bills until they're paid in full—and then save the final proof of payment for 1 year.|
|Tax Documents||7 years||The IRS generally does not audit back farther than 7 years (as long as no fraud is suspected), so save all documentation (receipts, tax forms, annual income statements) that backs up the information on your tax return for only this long. Note that you can scan tax documents and save them on your computer. Save the returns themselves forever.|
|Home Improvement Bills||Until you sell||Proof of spending can sometimes be used to lower your taxes. And you'll need your bills if the buyer wants confirmation that the new roof really is brand-new.|
|Investment Statements||Indefinitely||For investments, keep all transaction receipts and paperwork and annual statements forever.|
If it's irreplaceable—like the items listed below—store it in a safe-deposit box. (Consider first scanning documents into your computer so you also have a copy.)
Family:Birth and death certificates; baptism and confirmation certificates; marriage certificates; divorce decrees; adoption papers; military service records and discharge papers.
Legal:Wills and medical directives; Social Security cards, citizenship or naturalization records; licenses to practice your profession; trust or power of attorney paperwork. (Make sure a copy of your will is with a trusted family member or that he or she has access to your safe-deposit box.) At home, keep passports (it's not a bad idea to put photocopies of each one in the safe-deposit box); legal case paperwork and contracts (divorces, work contracts); jury duty recognition of service.
Auto and property:Car title and bill of sale; home deed and title insurance policy (if you have a mortgage, the mortgage company has your note); burial plot deeds.
Insurance and investment:Stock certificates; life insurance policy paperwork. At home, keep pension and retirement benefits agreements.
Pay statements:No need to save the weekly or monthly stubs, but do save the annual statements in case you need to show proof of employment.
Video: 5 Things to Get Rid of to Curb Clutter in Your Home
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