Clutter Part II

I received a surprising amount of email on my first post about clutter. And a number of folks asked me how I managed to keep my analog and digital content organized. Could I offer some tips?

I will give up my trade secrets for managing the flow of paper into our household files. At a high-level, there are typically 3 events associated with incoming paper.

Paper arrives

Most of our paper arrives courtesy of Canada Post. Things like bills, statements, ads. Some paper arrives from other sources. Things like mortgages, wills, receipts. And some paper gets produced. Things like online purchase receipts, spreadsheets, word documents. No shortage of paper.

Paper gets reviewed

There are only two actions taken with paper that comes in to our house: we keep it or we throw it away.  Obviously, certain papers, like bills, will trigger other actions. But in terms of managing paper, I like to keep it simple: do we need to keep it or can we throw it away?

Paper gets processed

If paper is to be thrown away, we ensure that any material that contains personal information gets shredded. My wife is an expert in sorting such material and she seems to have a genuine passion for shredding.

Keeping paper requires a filing system. And here is my secret. Over the years, I have tried numerous approaches to filing paper. The one that works best for me is derived from David Bach. In one of his books, Smart Couples Finish Rich, he has a chapter called Find Your Stuff. This easy to implement system works exceptionally well for most of our filing requirements.

I have a dedicated filing cabinet in my office which I find to be a necessity in keeping our papers organized. You do not need to have one to use his system but it obviously helps.

I have eleven sections in my file cabinet. Each section has a tab and a number of file folders.

The first tab is Bank Accounts. In this section I have file folders for each of our bank accounts. I keep these statements on file for the past two years. Older statements get shredded.

The second tab is Household Expenses. In this section I have file folders to put all of our statements for things like Hydro and Telephone. Anything that is related to running the house. I keep these statements for the past two years. Older statements get shredded.

The third tab is Credit Card Debt. In this section I have file folders for all of our credit cards and I keep the statements on file for two years. Older statements get shredded.

The fourth tab is Liabilities. Here I keep file folders for secured and non-secured debt. Things like a mortgage or personal line of credit. The original agreements are always kept on file. The monthly statements are kept for two years. Older statements get shredded.

The fifth tab is Investments. Here I keep track of all my investment accounts, registered and non-registered. I keep the statements on a much longer time horizon as I like to go back and do analysis on things like rates of return. Five years. Older statements get archived into a Banker’s Box.

The sixth tab is Income Tax. I have file folders for all of the income tax submissions going back seven years. Older files get archived into a Banker’s Box.

The seventh tab is Auto. These files keep information related to our cars including maintenance. The files are kept for as long as we own the car.

Tab number eight is Insurance. Here is where I keep all of our insurance policies: house, life, car. These files are held is long as the policies are in force. Any statements are held for two years. Older statements get shredded.

The ninth tab is Employment. Here I keep all of my relevant employment records: contracts, stock option accounts, benefits, salary statements. I only keep the records for my current employer. Otherwise the files get archived into a Banker’s Box.

The tenth tab is Family Documents. Wills, passports, SIN and health cards are filed here.

The eleventh tab is actually the top drawer of a two-drawer filing cabinet. Here is where I store material that I think needs to be kept. Receipts and warranties for purchases, volunteer activities, anything that does not fit into the first ten tabs yet requires storage. I review them each year to see whether they still need to be kept. Alphabetical order. If a particular file is no longer needed, it gets shredded.

This system has worked amazingly well for our household. When the statements come in, it is generally quick and painless to file them. And we always know where our important documents live.

You can learn more about Bachs’ system by visiting the free resources page on his website here. He will ask you to register to gain access to his free resources. It is free. Look for the section called Get Organized With Our Worksheets. And then load the pdf called Find Your Stuff.

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