A common complaint that even well-organized people have has to do with storage of reference material & the archiving of old, completed records.
How long should you keep those important documents?
The short answer is – it depends. I did a little research and found a handful of lists and guidelines for record retention, that I have compiled here for you:
- Automobile records (title, registration, repairs) – as long as you own the vehicle
- ATM receipts – if to 6 years if you need them for tax purposes
- Bank statements – up to 6 years (but you should be able to access these online nowadays)
- Credit Card statements – up to 6 years, again for tax purposes
- Insurance policies – (auto, homeowner/renter, liability, medical, life, etc) up to 5 years after a policy ends, in case of late claims
- Investment purchase records – as long as you own them
- Investment sales records – up to 6 years for tax purposes
- Receipts -
- Appliances – as long as you own the item
- Art or antiques – as long as you own the item
- Clothing – until the end of the return/exchange limit
- Credit Card slips – personal – until you reconcile your statement, business – up to 6 years for tax purposes
- Medical – up to 6 years
- Tax-related – up to 6 years
- Utility bills – up to 2 years
- Warranties – life of the warranty, or as long as you own the item
- Resume -Keep one updated copy of your resume (and keep your LinkedIn account current too)
- Tax Records – Keep this year and the previous 6 years (and next year tax-time ought to be pretty exciting!) These records include:
- Bank statements
- Cancelled Checks (pretty soon these will all be online too)
- Certificates of Deposit
- Charitable contributions
- Credit Statements
- Income tax returns
- Lease and Loan agreements
- Loan payment books
- Pay stubs
- Vital Permanent records – There are a few papers and records that you should keep forever (like Dark Side of the Moon):
- Birth certificate
- Death certificate
- Adoption records
- Citizenship papers
- Marriage certificate
- Divorce certificate
- Last will and testament
- Medical records
- Power of Attorney records
- Social Security records
What can I purge?
Looking at the above list can be a little disconcerting, but those papers really donâ€™t take up that much space. What does take up a lot of space are the things that you do not need (thereâ€™s that pesky 80/20 rule again). Things like junk mail, phone books (seriously, who uses a paper phone book anymore?), expired coupons and special offers, old greeting cards* and invitations.
*[Unless the card or invite has a very special meaning. "Happy Birthday, love Joe" doesn't cut it.]
You know what else can go in the shredder? All of the above items that are past the retention date. And those magazines that you are never going to read. And business cards of people that you will never call or do business with. Old brochures and travel junk. Old maps. That box of recipes that youâ€™ve been collecting but never made a single thing. And clothes that you donâ€™t wear because they are outdated/donâ€™t fit/you just donâ€™t like them.
Take a good, hard look and narrow your focus
I am willing to bet that there is a lot of stuff that you could get rid of, even if youâ€™re not moving. Not only will a good purge make you feel better about where you live, it makes it easier to keep your home and living areas organized.
Storing Your Reference Materials
For reference materials you have 3 powerful tools: A file Cabinet, Bookshelves & Google Desktop Search. For physical record that you need to keep, depending on the format, they should be stored close at hand. Label them clearly,either with their own file folder or a sticker on the spine of th book/binder/whatever. It is important that each item that can go in a file cabinet get its own folder so that you do not have to search though a jumble of paper to find the one that you are looking for.
A useful tip for reference items is to attach a 3×5 card to each item so that you can track how often you use it. Of course, there may be items that you use daily, but you may discover that less-frequently-referenced items can safely be stored elsewhere, or archived. This feature will come in handy when you do your annual “Spring Cleaning” to purge your workspace of things that you do need.
Another recommendation is to scan as many physical records into an electronic format as often as possible. This frees up valuable storage space and these records can be inexpensively copied & stored off site as part of your disaster recovery plan. See this Work.Life.Creativity post:
I implemented a program in my dept. a few years back so we could cut down on the time it took to find documents. Everything to do with accounting is in there which makes our yearly audits a breeze. I burn all of the scans to DVD weekly and take them off site in case something catastrophic should happen to our building. We wouldn’t even miss a beat if the building was gone since all of the software is backed up daily and all of the paper is digitized.
When these records are digitized then Google Desktop Search becomes a valuable tool for referencing them. GDS is capable of indexing every file, document and application stored on your hard drive, including the e-mails in your e-mail client.
This means that you no longer need to print & save those “important” e-mails as they can be saved, tagged & labeled for ease of recovery. As the ultimate e-mail backup tool I have set up my e-mails accounts & e-mail client to BCC every in-and out-bound e-mail message to a special G-mail account for storage in the Cloud – accessible from anywhere.
Don’t forget your Spring Cleaning
There is one last tool I’d like to mention, and that is the “Spring Cleaning” mentioned above. It is important to go thru your workspace at least once a year in order to archive or toss these items that you don’t need anymore. It is remarkable how much stuff can sneak into your workspace when you aren’t looking.
What do you do to control the amount of “stuff” in your workspace? Share your thoughts in the Comments.