12 February 2012

Culling through the Clutter - Paper

If there is one area that is out of control in our house, it's paper clutter. Art projects, junk mail, old journals, user guides, appliance warranties, taxes, bank statements, magazines, you name it! So last week, I took some time to cull through a decade of paper. This wasn't my first pass, so it wasn't terrible, but it did make a huge mess in the living room and resulted in a trash bag of paper that probably should have been shredded. Shhh.. don't tell the identity thieves about my white bag of old bank statements buried somewhere in a heap of dirty diapers somewhere on the outskirts of town.

Here are my guidelines for what to keep and how long to hang on to it:

A few things are worth keeping indefinitely:

  • Personal records - social security cards, birth certificates, immunization records, college transcripts, passports
  • Employment history - anything that will help me with a future resume: old performance reviews, job descriptions, cover letters and resumes, certificates of accomplishment (real accomplishments) or for completing on-the-job training type things (Like the Dale Carnegie course). This stuff could probably be digitalized. 
  • Proof of ownership - title to vehicle and boat (ding on minimalism.. yes, we own a boat.. no I haven't seen it in a few years.. and no, I'm not bringing it up to my dearly beloved)
  • Journals - When I die, would someone please burn these before anyone has a chance to read them. I should probably go ahead and do that now, eh? (and yes, I can say "eh".. I lived up north long enough to earn that.)

Others are worth making a file for it, but not keeping forever: 

  • Taxes - the longest you'd ever need to keep your tax records is seven years, but don't take my word for it.. here is the irs guide or ask your accountant. If you organize them well, they don't take up that much space.
  • Receipts for charitable gifts - I really group this with my tax stuff. Anything that'll be deductible or that will count as earned income needs to be in a safe place until tax time and then filed with that year's taxes. If you donate to Goodwill or something similar, you'll want to check out this post: Tips for documenting noncash charitable donations
  • Warranties - as long as they are valid. After a year, no amount of paperwork will get you a new microwave (or whatever it is) unless you specifically paid for an extended warranty. 
  • User Manuals - Do you even have a VCR anymore or did it die before you learned to program the time? Give it up. Only keep manuals for stuff you still own. 
  • Medical receipts - I keep mine for the current tax year. If something drastic happens and we should happen to accumulate more than 7.5% of our income in medical expenses, we've got a valid tax deduction. 
  • Insurance statements - ours is current for six months at a time. I usually keep a year's worth to prove I've had insurance for a solid year. Just incase. 
  • Inspiration Bank - I keep a running list of blog ideas, recipes I want to try and magazine clippings that inspire me. Occasionally, I cull the excess. 
  • Money - Well, gift-cards that I don't need weighing down my wallet, and savings bonds (if I had any), and coupons that I'm likely to use in the near future. 

Most things don't linger around long:

  • Kids artwork - Display it for a few days or until they've forgotten about it.. unless it is a stellar piece and you want to treasure it forever. In that case, frame it. But be picky with the stellar pieces. You could always snap a digital picture of their daily artwork and make a book out of it later. It'd be kinda' cool; time consuming and crafty-mommyish, but cool! 
  • Magazines - if you can't get an eReader subscription, clip the articles you think you want to save, file them and recycle the rest of the magazine. Make sure it leaves your house before the next issue arrives or you'll start a pile. 
  • Bank Statements - in today's digital age, paper bank statements don't even have to come into your home. Move to online banking to really reduce the amount of paper clutter in your life. If we did get paper copies, I'd only keep them until the next one rolled in.. but I reconcile my statement often!
  • Credit card Statements - see "Bank Statements." Most minimalists will tell you not to even have a credit card. We put EVERYTHING on our card and pay it off COMPLETELY ever month. We're debt free, but we use the card to build our credit and for the rewards. (Last year, for Christmas, we used our rewards just like cash on Amazon.com) 
  • Paystubs - I don't actually keep these and my husband gets his digitally. Maybe I should. 
  • Junk mail - from the mail box to the recycle bin. I try not to ever set junk mail on the counter or it'll be in my house for far too long (two exceptions - my kids LOVE to circle toys in the Oriental Trading Magazines and they play with those fake plastic credit cards that come with CC applications)

If you liked this post, you may also like to see my place of inspiration. or this post where I urge you Friends, Unpack your Memories!!!

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