I Hate to File

Dear FlyLady,

I hate hate hate to file and consequently have a huge pile of assorted papers staring me in the face in our office.  Where can I find a list of how long different types of documents need to be kept?  Or do we  need to keep some of the stuff at all?  Sure would be nice to be able to shred some of it.  

Thanks for helping with my “paper paranoia!”

FlyBaby Mary

Dear Mary,

Paper is a big problem for everyone. The reason is because we are afraid. When you let go of the fear; you will find that there is very few items that you need to keep.

Here are some things to consider.

  1. Are you running a business out of your home and deducting a portion of your home on your income taxes?
  2. Do you have medical bills that are deducted on your income taxes?
  3. Are you running a home based business?

The reason I ask this is any record that is for a home based business needs to be kept. Any item you use as a deduction on your personal income taxes needs to be kept. Check on the IRS Website for more details on how long to keep the receipts. You need these records to process our income taxes, but once those records are used for the taxes they can be stored in a bankers box and put away in the top of a closet. This will make room for this year’s records in your filing cabinet. Write the date on the box that you can get rid of them.

Let me give you a tip that I have used for 40 years; quit filing! Here is what I did up until Robert took over paying our bills when he retired.

At the first of each month, I label a file folder with the month and the year. As a bill gets paid, the receipt gets marked paid with the date and a check number. Then it is placed into the paid bill folder. At the end of the year; You have 12 folders with that months paid bills. Now think about this; how often do you need to search for a receipt. Your bank statement shows you what you have actually spent. Put your bank statement in that folder too along with any cash receipts you have hiding in your purse. Everything for that month is in one place. If for some reason you need to search for a receipt; you will only have to go through that folder. Just think about the time saved and the guilt averted!

Another tip for those receipts you have in your purse and car. Take an old spiral notebook and some tape and just start taping them inside of used notebook. Another way is to stick them in an envelope and place them in that folder.

Now if you have a lot of medical bills to keep up with; set up an office in a bag with sheet protectors. This way you can make sure of what insurance pays and what is your responsibility to pay.

Now this is going to feel very strange for you paper hoarders. When Robert started paying our bills when he retired; he did not keep the receipts. They went into the fireplace. At first I was horrified. Then I realized how freeing that was. Our personal bills are not deducted on our income taxes even if though I work from home. He was right! We are not going to be needing to know how much we paid for utility bills and credit card receipts.

Do you have a fire pit at your home? Is it legal to burn in your area? If you answered yes to these questions; then you have a wonderful place to get rid of your paper clutter a box at a time. It becomes the fuel for memories instead of piles of dread and guilt in your office.

Now in order to get your office cleared of paper clutter; you will need.

Several Banker’s Boxes

Magic Marker or Sharpie

Trash can with a bag

1 folder for important documents

Your Office in a Bag for your current bills to be paid (NOT PAID)

Here is what I want you to start with; three banker’s boxes! We are going to clear off the surface of your desk. The reason behind this is so you will have a place to work. Now label the boxes; Left, Right, and Center! Take everything off the left side of you desk, then take everything off the right side, and then put everything off the center. Wipe down your desk so it is nice and clean. Let’s get started sorting. Open up the center box and put your tools handy. Don’t make more piles. Place a couple empty banker’s boxes on your desk, trash can on one side, and you are ready.

You are going to be sorting by two options; trash and date. Grab 6 inches from your pile and start going though each item. If it is a paid bill from 2014; label a banker’s box and place it in there. You can sub-sort that box later if you want to but don’t get bogged down in your perfectionism. Work fast! Set your timer for 15 min and remember to take breaks!

Before you know it; your office will be beautiful again.


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