File like a Picky Six Year-Old Eater
This is the final post about how to tame paper clutter and streamline your files. If you missed the three previous posts, here are the links to bring you up to speed:
Easy Does It Filing System , Part 1: http://bit.ly/1NpEAsg
Easy Does It Filing System - Part 2, Process Your Mail Daily: http://bit.ly/1ZBYa5f
Easy Does It Filing System, Part 3: Keep It Simple Sweetie!: http://bit.ly/1WYLRkt
Admit it. For many of you, filing is a one-way street. Papers flow in, but only a trickle will actually flow out. Year after year. No wonder so many of you complain of overstuffed files and suffer from anxiety at tax time!
As I started to work with more and more clients on their files, I began to see a pattern in the filing systems. There's almost always a a mish-mosh of papers spanning many years, and a mix of filing categories. Add in a general lack of information about what documentation to keep, how long, and why and you've got a situation on your hands. Considering no one taught us how to file, it's no wonder that keeping everything forever, "just in case," sounds like a wise plan. At least that's what most of our parents thought.
It's not. Allow me to set you straight!
Saving files falls into three basic categories.
Calendar Year Files
Going forth, I want you to think of filing this way. Each of the three file types are separate foods on a super-picky six year-old's dinner plate. Absolutely no mixing allowed!!!!
Let me break it down...
1. Calendar Year Files -
The Easy Does Filing System is ONLY used to store papers for the current calendar year. Come January, you will pull everything out and start over with the new calendar year. Period. End of story. You already did the big work of processing your mail when it came into your house, so this will literally take minutes. As in maybe one. Remember when you took a minute each day to open the envelopes and recycle all the excess paper? This is where you begin to cash in on all that time you saved! Shred what you're not keeping and neatly bundle up the rest. You are still way ahead time-wise, so you may as well make it pretty!
2. Tax Archive -
Kick tax time anxiety to the curb by creating a solid plan for what happens next to your previous year's papers. This might mean messaging your financial advisor or tax preparer, or researching online. The important point is to get all you questions answered. Know exactly what you need to keep, and what you can shred at the end of the year. This ends the paranoid, freaked-out, worst case scenario guessing!
Once you know exactly what you're keeping and what you're NOT keeping, come tax time you'll be able to assemble what you need to provide in record time!
The feedback I get from my clients who embrace this filing system is that gathering tax documentation up goes from taking several agonizing days of hunting for papers and receipts, down to taking anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. For those of you reading this who are tormented every year at tax time, this alone should be your WHY for embracing my Easy Does It Filing System!
(Pro tip: Make one of your cubbies for tax stuff and throw important papers and receipts in there throughout the year. Then do the Snoopy dance because you're such a smarty-pants think ahead-er!)
I prefer to store my archived taxes and supporting documentation bundled together by year in a banker's box rather than in a file cabinet. Archived files are, for the most part, dead weight. They're papers that are taking their sweet time before they get shredded. You don't need to be navigating around them to get to what you need in a filing cabinet.
Our taxes are fairly simple, so we can actually fit several calendar years in one box. This makes storage easy and efficient. Over time, as you put one year in, you will remove the expired year, shred what you no longer need, and move whatever you are saving into your long-tern files. Not sure what you need to keep permanently? Messaging your financial advisor, tax preparer, or do research online.
3. Long-Term Files -
Long-Term Files are anything you need to keep for a long time - or forever. Only you will know what those are. The deed to your house. Your will and trust. Documentation from marriage and/or divorce. Adoption decrees. Tax returns. Pink slips for your cars. You get the gist...
Long-Term Files can be stored in a file cabinet or file box. Some documents are so vital, they should be stored in either a fireproof lock box or a safe deposit box. It's your choice. Once again, the No Mixing rule applies. It is important to be as isolated and intentional with Long-Term Files files as you can. These files are serious business and need to be treated as such.
Hey Jane! I still have a bunch of files left over! What do I do with them?
Go back through those files and see if they belong in your Tax Archive (by year please), or Long-Term Files. Consider the rest of what you're keeping and if you really, truly need them. If you have files based on an interest that is active and ongoing, for instance, genealogy, you may want to consider another literature sorter to organize those papers and give yourself easy access. I'd also suggest purchasing a desktop scanner. They keep going down and down in price so check them out online. Otherwise, neaten up and organize the remaining files and store them in a different area from your Long-Term Files. Then either recycle or shred the remaining files.
While we're on the subject of shredding, I am going to make a pitch for secure document shredding businesses. For about $5 to $7 a box, you can have your documents shredded while you watch. I know, I know. You have a shredder at home and can do it while you watch Tv. No. This is about how much your time is worth. Spend the money to have it done for you.
Finally, if the Easy Does It Filing System is something that you really want to set up but don't feel confident taking the first steps toward, now would be a good time to reach out to me! A solid, functional filing system is money well spent and will give you one less thing to worry about! I can't help you with your eye rolling 'tween, but I can help you reach peace of mind with your papers!