Declutter Your Life: Ordering Your Paperwork

Order, Not ChaosDid you know disorganization can cost you money and sometimes your peace of mind? Lost receipts make it difficult to return unwanted items. Rebates, over-pays, and the like can expire, resulting in lost money. Misplaced bills often mean late payments penalized by late fees. Duplicate purchases occur when a needed item cannot be located and then sometimes the consequence of excess consumerism ends up with a lease for storage space. Missed appointments and wasted time spent on locating a lost item takes a toll on our peace of mind. Such is the case for developing a record-keeping system that works for you.

It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by the piles of paperwork that can easily grow larger by the week until it feels like the piles are consuming your physical and emotional space. What should you keep? What can you toss? How long should you hold onto records? What does a good organization system look like? This publication is intended to illustrate why a good system is a worthy idea and also illuminate different strategies to order your record-keeping.

Shredded Paper
Shred reconciled bank deposit & withdrawal slips, paid utility bills, expired warranties & service contracts, credit card slips, ATM receipts & deposit slips (after reviewing billing statements).

Your Best Fit
From beginning to end, the key to a good system is finding the best fit for you. And ‘a best fit’ is the system that works best for you. In other words, there is no right or wrong way, just the best fit for you.
For the initial stages of getting organized, you may want to designate a work area where you feel comfortable and transport all the papers to there. This space should be well-lit and close to a shredder and/or trash can. Be sure to have plenty of space for organizing, labeling, and writing. Another way to get started is at the point of the pile. No matter where you work from, in order to be successful make sure you are comfortable and that the lighting is adequate.

Stash or Trash
There’s no need to duplicate effort or overwork. A good place to begin your decluttering process is to determine what to keep and what to toss.

One way to organize your records is by how long you need to hold onto them. Using this criteria, there are four measurements of time with which you can organize your records.

  • Keep forever
  • Keep for seven years
  • Keep for a year or longer
  • Keep for current/month-to-month record-keeping
  • Keep according to the conditions/terms of the situation

Keep Forever/ Permanent Documents:

Birth and death certificates

Marriage licenses/ Divorce decrees Employment records


Social Security cards Medical records

Adoption papers

Military records/discharge papers Household inventory

Education, certifications, licenses Advance directives

(Review/update annually)

Safe deposit box inventory

Defined-benefit plan documents Life-insurance policies


Will/ Estate-planning documents


Settled suits Legal correspondence


Keep for Seven Years:

  • Tax Returns

Keep for a year or longer:

Insurance policies


Health records




Pet records


Passwords (update as needed)


Vehicle maintenance records, titles


Financial account information


Contact information for:

All accounts


Medical providers


Keep for current/month-to-month record-keeping/ Keep for less than a year:

  • ATM and bank deposit and withdrawal receipts
  • Credit card receipts
  • Utility bills

Hold on to the aforementioned papers until the next month’s bill or statement arrives and you are able to ascertain your payment from the prior month posted. For ATM and bank deposits, keep until you reconcile your bank statements. When tossing be sure to shred:

  • Reconciled bank deposit and withdrawal slips
  • Paid utility bills
  • Expired warranties and service contracts
  • Credit card slips (after reviewing your billing statement)
  • ATM receipts and deposit slips (after transactions have been shown correctly on a bank statement)

Keep according to the conditions/terms of the situation/ anecdotally

  • Loan documents- Keep your records until the loan is paid off.
  • Auto title- Keep until you sell the vehicle.
  • Investments- Keep purchase confirmations until you sell.
  • Insurance policies and investment statements- Keep until new ones arrive.
  • Health-related events


Another way to organize your records is by how often you need to gain access:

  • Not often/irregularly
  • Annually
  • Periodically/by event
  • Monthly

Not often/ irregularly

  • Permanent records and timeless documents


  • Access policies for renewals, etc.

Periodically/ by event

  • Health related


  • Access monthly for timely bill paying

Current Documents

Insurance policies


Health records


Pet records


Vehicle maintenance records, titles




Financial account information for:

·Credit and debit card receipts

·Loan agreements



Contact information for:

· All accounts

· Family/friends

Medical providers


Investment files:

(Create folder, digital or paper for each stock, bond, or mutual fund. Save year-end account statements listing periodic deposits and investment earnings, as well as most recent prospectus or annual report.)


Other Methods for Organizing
There are many ways to organize your bill-paying records. Listed below are ideas for your consideration. Organize by:

  • Category
  • Payee
  • Due date
  • Importance

Record Keeping
Take note that your record-keeping system can be either paper or digital or a combination of both. The overarching message of this publication is for to develop a system that works best for you.

Keeping a finger on your paperwork pulse means you take measures to stay your course. Conduct spot checks on a regular basis to be sure you are staying on track. You may want to make regular appointments with yourself to stay on top of the situation. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Family members who benefit from your good intentions can be enlisted to share the load. For instance, clearly label containers at the point the mail enters the house (bills, personal, promotions, etc.) and the person who gets the mail can begin the sorting process right there and then. Keep a trash can handy for that pesky junk mail. See the Reduce Unwanted Solicitations blog for more info on slimming down the clutter in your mailbox.





Posted: April 15, 2019

Category: Home Management, Money Matters, WORK & LIFE
Tags: Declutter, Document Retention Guideline, Document Storage, Junk Mail, Organize Your Records, Paperwork, Stress, Tax Returns, What To Keep, What To Shred

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