What To Do With All Those Papers

Everyone has papers and documents stored in their home, but most have more than they really need. I don’t know about you, but I can think of better things to do than packing outdated or unwanted documents. You may have a good filing system in place. If so, go through those papers and get rid of the ones that are no longer needed. If not, then…

Filing System

Home Filing SystemIf you have no filing system in place whatsoever, then purchase some file folders. Sort the papers into categories. Examples include bank statements, insurance, utilities, investments, coupons, taxes, receipts, loans, and so on. Use a file folder for each category.

Every piece of paper that you receive from this day forward should have a place to go, whether it be a letter tray, file folder, or a binder. Sometimes, the best place for paper is the recycle bin.

Buy a filing cabinet or a plastic container. Files should not be placed on the floor or on any surface for that matter. They must have a home. If you find yourself running out of space, then some more decluttering might be in order. Having three filing cabinets is still better than piles of paper on the floor or spread out on top of a desk.

If you kept articles over the years from magazines, newspapers, or printed them off the internet, now might be a time to go through them. You may have a bunch of content you no longer want. The ones you do keep can be placed in a file folder or a binder. With the latter, you can insert each article into a sheet protector and divide into sections according to topic.

Also consider entering information from magazines and newspaper articles digitally. Some articles may only have a little bit of information that you want anyway. For example, let’s say you have three articles about Christmas gift ideas. You could combine the ideas that you like most into one document. That way, instead of having three papers, you have one.

Place a limit on the amount of paperwork you file. For instance, if you need 3-4 binders to house all of your articles, then consider placing a one-binder limit for all articles. This will force you to only keep the material that matters most.

I personally don’t have a lot of documents. I’m really adamant about keeping paper to a minimum. Unless a document is really important or legally required to hold onto, I will not hesitate to shred or recycle it. The less paper you have, the less time you’ll spend categorizing and filing.

Decluttering

Here are some questions to ask when deciding whether to keep papers or not.

Do I Need it? Some papers have to be kept out of necessity. Examples include bills, applications, financial statements, legal documents, notices, receipts, and so on. They may be short-term or long-term. Simply put: if you need it, keep it. Otherwise, rid of it.

Is It Significant? Are the papers still relevant to your life? Maybe you saved an article from years ago, but no longer have any interest in it. Dispose of it or give it to someone who may benefit from it.

Will It Be Used Someday? If you truly believe that a paper will be needed sometime in the future, that’s a good reason to hold onto it. However, avoid the mindset of “I might need this someday” because that is exactly how clutter happens. You may have papers that you thought you would need years ago, but no longer have any use for.

Is it Outdated? Any papers that no longer apply to today should be disposed of.

Can I Get It Somewhere Else? If you can get the same piece of information somewhere else, then it doesn’t have to be kept.

I know that keeping old papers and projects from years past can be tempting. You may have put a lot of hard work into them. But if they are no longer relevant, then you will feel a big weight being lifted off your shoulders when they’re gone. You’ll be letting go of the past, which will help you embrace the present and future.

How Long Should I Keep Documents?

These are just guidelines. Consider your situation, the purpose for the documents, and what you’re comfortable with.

Discard Right Away

  • bank statements

4 Years After Sale or Tax Return Due Date

  • property records (purchase/sales contract, home improvement)
  • investment records (stocks, mutual funds, bonds)
  • tax return backup documents
  • tax returns

Permanent

  • legal documents (birth certificates, marriage & divorce records, etc)
  • loan documentation
  • expensive items (until you no longer own them)

Protect (place in safe deposit box or fireproof safe)

  • insurance policies
  • will
  • medical records
  • passports
  • title policy and property deed
  • stock certificates, savings bonds, stock option agreements
  • appraisal documents
  • social security cards

Tax Documents. Tax rules change a little every year. Ask your accountant about these changes or visit www.irs.ustreas.gov for more information.

I purchase an expanding folder each year to store my tax documents. For employees, a large envelope is more than enough.

Tax documents should be kept for at least three years after they’ve have been filed. This is the amount of time that the IRS has to request an audit, unless your income was under-reported by 25% or more. In such an event, they get 6 years.

I have been told by my accountant to hold on to all my receipts and tax returns for seven years since I’m self-employed.

Credit Cards and Statements. Call and cancel any credit cards that aren’t being used. Statements can be disposed of unless you plan on keeping them for tax deductions.

Relocation Expense Receipts. Moving expenses might be tax deductible if the criteria established by the IRS is met. Expenses may include moving services, toll receipts, airline tickets, hotels, and rental cars. Job-hunting and commuting costs to a temporary workplace also maybe deductible. Even if you’re not sure whether you qualify, keep the receipts anyway to track your expenses.

Settlement Statement. You’ll need the settlement statement when filling out your tax return. Property taxes, prepaid mortgage interest, and a loan origination fee or mortgage points may be deductible.

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