Would it surprise you to learn that we use only 20% of the paper we keep? At times it may seem as if there’s an avalanche of paper coming into your home and/or office. You might even feel paralyzed or immobilized by it. 

 5 Easy Things you can do to begin organizing your personal papers:

Purchase a safe. You’ll experience inner peace knowing important documents such as birth certificates, savings bonds, computer back-ups, and passports are in safe keeping.

  1. Create a home filing system. Be sure to include a file labeled “Current Tax Documents”. Throughout the year, this will be the “home” for such items as donation receipts, 1099’s and property tax receipts. When the end of the year arrives, you’ll have many of the items needed to complete your tax returns.
  2. Purchase a shredder. With identity theft on the rise, you should shred items like credit card offers and any piece of mail that contains account numbers, social security numbers and other information regarding your identity.
  3. To track mileage for income tax purposes, keep a small notebook handy in your vehicle. Use www.MapQuest.com to get exact mileage.
  4. Sort and purge existing files. Be ruthless when it comes to items you no longer need. Storage space is a hot commodity these days and your filing cabinets are just as valuable as a shelving unit.

Here are some general guidelines in sorting and purging:

  • Receipts: Keep all receipts used in filing your income tax returns.
  • Cancelled checks and bank statements: Check with your tax accountant, but most will agree that keeping the past five to seven years’ of statements is sufficient. If you receive these electronically, make sure your computer records are back up. I prefer using Carbonite, an online back-up service for your computer. It costs about $1/week and I never have to back up my documents as it does it automatically for me throughout the day.
  • Income Tax Returns: According to my accountant, keep ALL tax returns.  And keep tax-supporting documentation for the past five to seven returns.
  • Utility & Phone bills: Check with your suppliers, but my local phone and utility companies will provide information on past bills if I need it. Many companies now offer electronic statements which reduce the amount of paper coming into your home.

 © Audrey Thomas