Organising Filing CabinetsModern Home Office, Dublin
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What goes in your files? Your file box or your trays should contain files that are relevant to your everyday life, meaning items related to upcoming events or deadlines. That means that papers such as bank statements or medical records don’t belong here. Keep in mind that the goal is to constantly purge your mail-sorting files, moving items out to file for long-term storage or to recycle or shred. Here are the file folders in my file box:1. Bills. All unpaid bills go in this folder. I usually pay my bills as soon as I receive them, so for me, this folder is almost always empty. But I have friends who prefer to pay their bills on a weekly or biweekly schedule. Keeping them in a file means that when it is time to pay, all bills are in the folder and won’t end up lost or overdue.2. Action. Inevitably, you’ll receive mail that requires a response, further reading or follow-up. I place invitations, school forms and pending items in this folder. After the event is over or the item is resolved, I recycle these papers.3. Scan. Scanning is a great way to reduce paper clutter, particularly for documents that need to be referenced but not kept long term. Having a digital copy can give you the freedom to toss the original. I recommend setting aside half an hour every week to scan your documents and store them digitally. It is much less painful to do this regularly than it is to put it off until you have a pileup. Of course, there are times when you may not feel comfortable getting rid of an original document. But for those that you are comfortable tossing, place them in this folder as they await scanning. 4. Shred. As soon as I pay a bill or scan a personal document I don’t need to keep, I place it in my shred folder. I don’t have a home shredder, so when this folder gets full, I take it to my local shredding service or take advantage of my city’s free shredding day. Alternatively, you could shred at home if you have a personal shredder.5. Taxes. Although items in this folder aren’t exactly related to everyday life, I make an exception for this category because I regularly receive documents that are tax-related, such as donation receipts, medical receipts and property tax invoices. It works for me to have this folder right where I open my mail. By the end of the year, my folder contains all the documents I need to complete my taxes. It’s nice not to have to spend time searching through different folders and risk forgetting important tax-related documents.6. Receipts. I’m one of those people whose 90-day warranty item breaks on day 91. So I like to keep my receipts either a) until I’m sure I won’t return the item, or b) until the warranty runs out. If it’s an option, I’ll always choose an email receipt rather than a paper one, for ease of searching later. However, I don’t keep receipts for groceries or items I’ve already started using and that don’t have a warranty. When you sort your mail, what categories are important to you? I recommend you keep fewer than 10 categories in your file box. The idea is that your system is simple so that it is not hard to maintain. Think about what documents you truly need to keep. If you’re not sure what those are, you may want to consider the recommendations in this guide.
Keep or Toss? The Answer Depends on Your CircumstancesWhile the other two categories are pretty clear-cut cases of toss or keep, the handling of other records will depend on your own personal circumstances. 7. Personal Tax ReturnsAccording to the IRS, in most cases, personal tax returns should be saved for three years. However, special circumstances might require you to save your returns for up to seven years. Check IRS.gov or talk to a tax professional for specific examples that might apply to you. Given the clear guidelines, you can feel confident about getting rid of any tax returns and supporting documents that are older than three to seven years. (The relevant time period will depend on your tax circumstances.) And by all means, shred these items when it’s time to let them go.