Practical Spaces Reference Guide: PERSONAL PAPERWORK

The landscape of personal paperwork is changing! Bills, paystubs, bank statements, product manuals, and many government-issued documents can now be found easily online, but worrying about discarding a document we may later require is a valid and common fear. At the same time, an increasing number of us are working and studying from home and feeling stretched to the limits of our spaces. Since our homes can only contain so many desks and offices, it’s worthwhile to take a closer look at how and why we store paperwork in order to make room for new ways of living in our homes.

Go Paperless

First consider auditing the types of paperwork you are storing (whether in perfectly sorted and labelled filing systems, or in stacks around the house), and look particularly at whether it is possible to go “paperless” with that particular utility provide, insurer, bank, or business. You likely already have, or will have to create, accounts to access billing information online and it may be useful to utilize a reputable password storage app or a physical username and password list in a secure place (think: out of sight and ideally locked away) to keep these passwords organized and handy for when you need them. Receiving emails instead of letters, and using automatic payments instead of manual payments, can free up space on your desktop and in your calendar.

Create Folders

Consider creating a simple and effective series of folders on your computer to store documents should you still have a need to store them. For example:

  • Documents
    • Tax Documents
      • [Year]
        • (Files contained inside year folder with document type in file name)
    • Paystub
      • [Year]
        • (Files contained inside year folder with employer and pay date or pay period in file name)
    • Bills
      • [Provider/Business Name]
        • [Year]
          • (Files contained inside year folder with month in file name)
    • Bank Statements
      • [Bank/Credit Card/Investment Company Name]
        • [Year]
          • (Files contained inside year folder with month in file name, annual statements also named as such)

A robust electronic filing system also includes a strategy for backing up files in case of emergency on a “cloud-based” storage service or on an external drive stored in a safe, secure, and separate place.

Keep Only Necessary Documents

After making the switch to paperless documents where possible, review the age of the documents you have stored. The following chart has been adapted from Martha Stewart’s guidelines for retaining documents in her book Martha Stewart’s Organizing: The Manual for Bringing Order to Your Life (paid link):

Document TypeKeep
Auto RecordsWhile Active; Sales transactions documents 6 years after
Insurance PoliciesWhile Active
Warranties and ContractsWhile Active
House-Related RecordsWhile Active
Paid Bills1 Year (unless they contain tax deductions for home office)
Paycheque stubs1 Year
Credit Card, Bank Statements7 years
RRSP, Other Retirement PlansIndefinitely
Personal Records (Passport, Birth Certificates, Marriage, Divorce, or Immigration Papers, Education Records)Indefinitely
Annual Investment StatementsIndefinitely
Any documents you are unsure about should be retained as a precaution.

The Canada Revenue Agency advises that we retain our supporting tax documents for 6 years.

When discarding paperwork, it is important to make a note of any documents that may contain private or sensitive personal information. Shred any documents containing names, signatures, or addresses, identification numbers, log-in information, financial information, medical history such as prescriptions, or insurance information.

Separate Your Sentimental Papers

Other paperwork that is not of a financial or legal nature, such as artwork, cards, souvenir tickets or other sentimental items should be tackled separately.

Cherish Your Desk Space

Choose a filing storage system that will accommodate all of your retained documents and allow you to keep your desktop as free as possible for active work rather than paper storage. Be sure to clean dust and debris from any drawer or cabinet space you may have cleared while purging old paperwork. Put some thought into how you’d like to use any new open space in ways that will best serve you and your lifestyle.

Maintain Your Filing System

It is essential to remove policies, contracts, warranty information, and other records and documents when they are no longer active and when they fall outside of the recommended retention timeline in order to keep your filing system free of unnecessary paperwork and clutter. Practice a rule of “one in, one out” for documents where possible and conduct a review of your files twice yearly in order to maintain your hard work.

Reach Out for Help

Tackling paperwork and office maintenance can be a stressful undertaking, especially for those of us who have families or are running home-based businesses! Reaching out for help from a professional organizer, particularly one who is trained in office organization, can make a world of difference in being able to get your papers in order, and keep them that way in the future, freeing up more of your valuable time. An investment in creating systems that work to get and keep you organized in the office could also save you money when it comes to keeping up with billing cycles, as well as having all relevant documents at hand during tax time.

Contact us if you think you may need a helping hand for your home office or filing project (no matter how big or small)!

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