Clutter March 2005
Are you drowning in paper? Not sure where it all comes from or what to do with it all? How long should you keep "important" papers? It seems like the mailbox brings in more paper every year, and the newspapers have more inserts, and everything comes with attached documents. Wasn't the computer age supposed to reduce the amount of paper in our lives and save trees?
The accumulation of paperwork can be overwhelming. It makes the prospect of downsizing your home daunting. It can also be dangerous, when the piles of paper accumulate near the radiators or stove, or when an emergency arises and you can't find documents you need.
The first suggestion on coping with paperwork is to try to adopt the "two touch" rule: when the mail comes in, immediately sort it into the trash, the pieces to look over more carefully, and the really important papers. Trash goes immediately into recycling. Don't look at it again. The next time you have some time between activities, pick up the middle pile, browse and resort into trash or important. The important things need to be dealt with as soon as possible; pay the bills, file the documents, etc.
The second suggestion is to have a good filing system. Use labeled colored file folders to visually sort bills, medical records, warranties, and so on. Keep emergency information in a file that is so obvious that any family member can locate it. Clean out the files regularly.
The third suggestion is to come hear the Brown Bag presentation by Linda Richter of Paperwork Solutions on "The State of Your Affairs" on March 18 at noon. Linda helps people who need individual coaching or assistance with sorting the clutter in their lives.
You might also find helpful the following guide on how long to keep things from "How to Cut Clutter" from Good Housekeeping, February 1996.
Accident reports: 7 years
Bank Statements: 3 years
Cancelled Checks: 3 years
Car records: until car is sold or lease expires
Credit Card Receipts: Until verified on statement
Insurance Policies: For the life of the policy
Legal Documents: Forever in fireproof box
Medical bills: 3-4 years
Mortgages, deeds, leases: 6 years beyond life of agreement
Patents, trademarks registrations, copyrights: forever
Pay stubs: Until reconciled with W-2
Property Records: Until property is sold or 6 years if tax related
Retirement & Pension records: Forever
Sales Receipts: Life of warranty, store return, or 6 years if tax related
Stock and Bond records: 6 years beyond sale date
Tax returns and related items: 6 years
Utility bills: 6 years if tax related, 1 year otherwise
Warranties and Instructions: as long as you own the product
Other bills: Until payment verified or 6 years if tax related.
Susan W. Hoskins LCSW