I was visiting my parents recently with the intention of sorting out their income tax documents to make sure everything was in order for tax filing.
Then they kept coming with bags and bags of paperwork, “What should we do with this?”
I poured everything out onto the bed and started sorting – bank notices for GICs that had matured years ago, their copies of their wills mixed in with advertising that comes with bills and bank statements, receipts from 1989. You get the picture.
I ended up with a pile to be shredded, a much larger pile for recycling, and a nice compact box with labeled files containing their important paperwork.
What to do with paper clutter?
The non-stop stream of paper we get into our homes on a daily basis can be almost unmanageable. From bills to receipts, warranties, and junk mail, we all need a system to toss what we don’t need, manage what we might need, and be able to retrieve something when necessary.
First of all reduce the amount of paper that arrives in the mail. Immediately toss the junk mail addressed to occupant, flyers, pizza menus and charity requests (if you have no interest in donating). Consider eliminating (or reducing) the number of magazines and catalogues you receive, especially if you have no time to peruse them right away and they are stacked in a pile for “later.”
Have a good system for filing your bills, statements, important notices, invitations, and personal letters and pick a regular date to deal with them.
How Long Do You Keep Important Documents?
Yes, you will have to keep important paperwork. For how long depends on what it is.
- ATM receipts once you’ve confirmed the transaction on your bank statement.
- Receipts for general purchases. Toss sooner if you’re confident you won’t be returning the item.
- Bank statements. Be sure to reconcile them on receipt and deal with any errors immediately.
- Credit card statements. Again, confirm the statement is accurate and make sure any returns are noted.
- Monthly or quarterly loan, mortgage, and investment statements once you receive your annual statement summary.
- Utility bills.
- Pay stubs. Check the final amount to your T4 for accuracy.
- Property insurance policies – keep until renewed or changed.
- Tax returns. Save all documentation (receipts, T-forms) that back up the information on your tax return in case of audit.
Until you sell or no longer own:
- Warrantees, receipts, and instruction manuals for appliances, electronics, furniture and other large or expensive items. The receipts will come in handy for insurance claims. Periodically cull through these files to remove paperwork for items you no longer own.
- Home improvement bills. You can use some for various government rebate programs. These are handy when you sell your home if the buyer wants confirmation that the furnace really is brand new.
- Transaction receipts and confirmations for your investment purchases to calculate capital gains (losses).
- Car title and bill of sale and repair/maintenance paperwork.
- Home documents including title and copy of mortgage,
- Birth and death certificates, baptism and confirmation certificates, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, adoption papers, military service records and discharge papers.
- Wills and medical directives, social insurance cards, citizenship records, licenses to practice your profession, trust and power of attorney paperwork, legal case paperwork and contracts.
- Burial plot deeds.
- Life insurance policy paperwork.
- Pension and retirement benefits agreements.
If the documents are irreplaceable store them in a safety deposit box (keep copies in your files). A copy of your will, power of attorney, or medical directives should be with your lawyer, executor and/or trusted friend or family member.
Related: What’s in your wallet?
Destroy old and unneeded paperwork by shredding.
To further reduce your paper clutter, consider e-services at your bank for account and investment statements and confirmations, and e-post or e-mail for your bills.
You can scan your paper files such as bills and receipts into your computer. Create subject folders and files. Back up you data regularly.
You can also access your files easily with off-premise servers such as CrashPlan.com that automatically saves your data.
No more paper clutter!