Monday, July 26, 2010

How Long and Where to Keep Important Documents

Special thanks to my very organized coworker for suggesting this topic.

File drawers overflowing with papers? Here is an easy-reference list of what important documents to keep and how long to keep them. (Note: this article is several years old, so the 2013 reference is no longer valid.)

Documents that you should always save:
  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage licenses
  • Death records
  • Social security cards
Also, keep the most current copies of these safely filed:
  • Wills
  • Deeds and Vehicle titles
  • Passports
  • Divorce and custody paperwork
  • Photocopies of front and back of insurance and credit cards in the event of theft
Wills and other items that might be needed in the event of an untimely death should be stored in a fireproof safe, rather than a safe deposit box. See here for an explanation.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mail, Bills and Paperwork

Key idea: Handle a piece of paper only once. At most, twice.

Mail is one of the most aggravating things to keep up with, because it comes nearly every day. And 90% of it is stuff that we don't need or want. Who wants bills, right?

Here's a typical scenario at our house: My darling husband checks the mailbox when he gets home from work, before he even gets in the house. He drops his briefcase and keys in the foyer and plops the mail on the kitchen counter. After saying his hellos, he pulls out what he wants to look at and sets it back on the pile. Then, if it's a day that I've been at work, we launch into making dinner. The mail gets in the way.

Every house seems to have a clutter catch-all. For some people, it's right inside the front door. At my house and  my parents' house, it's the kitchen counter. A wise woman advised me before we were married, "Figure out what one part of your house always has to be clean [for your peace of mind] and make sure your husband understands that." Turns out, my place is that kitchen counter.

Mail bursting into flames (gas stove) and Christmas cards splattered with tomato sauce are unsafe and inappropriate, so how can you deal with the inevitable flow of paper into your house?
  • First, I open and look through everything in one batch, and pull out what needs attention or is actually fun to read. Hubby and I look at any letters or cards right away, and magazines are placed in the living room for future reading. If something needs to be filed, that goes with the bills. Since we pay our bills online, the outer envelope, return envelope and any stuffing gets put on a pile for recycling. The bills that need payment get set aside to be entered into the computer. This reminds me that I should set up my accounts to receive bills electronically... Look for a future post on why paying bills and managing money online can save you time and money, if you aren't already doing it.
  • Second, recycle as much of the junk paper as possible. I have become a big fan of the Abitibi Paper Retrievers in the area since they provide money for local schools. I usually drop off a paper bag full once a week. To learn more, visit
  • Third, if you have time, try and get off the mailing lists of charities, catalogs or other companies that send you junk mail. That way, they won't sell your name to someone else who will send you junk mail. And of course, make sure you pull out the bills and pay them, so you don't end up getting more mail in the form of late notices.

We've been swamped with credit card offers recently. While I love to recycle, I shred anything that could be simple for an identity thief to work from before I recycle the shredded paper. If you want to be removed from the list for pre-approved credit card offers, you can follow an automated system by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) or visiting This will notify the big three credit bureaus that you don't want such mailings for five years.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Organizing 101

I've been dreaming for several years about starting my own organizing services business. And now, the time seems right to start sharing some of my ideas and how I can help others.

You see, ever since I was a little girl, organizing has been part of my everyday life. My mom laughs as she recalls three-year-old me lining up shoes underneath the bed, or straightening books on the shelf and ordering them by height. Not only do I love to have an organized home, but I love devising systems that improve the way things get done.

I look forward to helping you find ways to save time, money and energy at home, at work, or with whatever you are doing. Check back often for more hints, and please, let me know what you think. I'd love to help you find a solution to your organizing challenges.